Hundreds of black ministers and activists are in Dallas this week to discuss refocusing the political efforts of black churches back on fighting social injustice instead of the “Christian right’s” battle against abortion and homosexual “marriage.”
Black churches need to get back to their roots of fighting for racial equality and stemming the tide of poverty, said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who organized the three-day National Conference and Revival for Social Justice in the Black Church with the Revs. Joseph Lowery and Jesse Jackson.
“If I was to ask the black preachers if their congregations are having problems with Medicaid, have loved ones in Iraq, youth violence, education or employment, 70 to 80 or 90 percent of them will say yes, but if I ask them if they are being asked to perform gay marriages, only 1 percent likely would say yes,” Mr. Sharpton said.
Part of the conference agenda is to engage black ministers to focus on mobilizing black voters for the midterm congressional elections, how the church should deal with poverty and economic parity, public morality, voting rights and the war.
“This is not a question of what is more important or less important, but these two issues just don’t reflect the entire spectrum,” Mr. Sharpton said, referring to homosexual “marriage” and abortion.
For decades, Democrats have maintained a strong relationship with black ministers, who supported their political agenda. But black ministers and their congregations have begun to support Republican causes, mainly related to religiously charged social issues.
“At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that — regardless of our personal beliefs — constitutional principles tie our hands,” said Sen. Barack Obama, yesterday in a keynote speech at a separate conference sponsored by the progressive Pentecostal Sojourners.
The Illinois Democrat said “at worst” some liberals dismiss religion in the public square by “using the word Christian to describe their [political] opponents and not as people of faith.”
“I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people, and join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy. We first need to understand that Americans are a religious people,” Mr. Obama said at the Call to Renewal: Building a Covenant for a New America.
The Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, founder of Los Angeles-based pro-family and entrepreneurship-focused Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, said Mr. Sharpton’s conference only shows the desperation of the Democratic Party, which he says has not only lost power in Congress, but in the black church as well.
“Their agenda hurts the black community; the fact that these ministers are saying that gay marriage and abortion are not Christian issues makes it clear that they are not men of God,” said Mr. Peterson, who is not going to Dallas.
Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., pastor of the Hope Christian Church in Lanham, who is a Democrat, but has stood with Republicans — holding rallies against same-sex “marriage” and lobbying Congress against filibusters on President Bush’s judicial nominations over their beliefs on abortion — said the adversarial division is not necessary as both sides share common goals.
“Jesse and Al are decent people who have done a lot for our community; they simply have different opinions on how to address our problems, and it doesn’t do us any good to have these fights over political agendas,” said Mr. Jackson, who also is not attending the Dallas event.
“There is a new black church that Al and Jesse don’t speak to, and they are threatened by the new black megachurches and their pastors; and they tend to talk about us as if we are just uppity Negroes, asking ‘why can’t they just fall in line,’” said Bishop Jackson, whose church has more than 3,000 members.
Mr. Sharpton, who has been a member of the Pentecostal and Baptist churches, said his goal is to begin to establish dialogue with everyone, and “keep the lines of communication open.”