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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Unnatural alliances: Some black clergy are too eager to sell their birthright to the GOP

"If the KKK opposes gay marriage then I'd ride with them."
-- the Rev. Gregory Daniels, Chicago minister

Take a good look at that quote. It's kind of shocking to think of a member with the clergy being so full of hate over the issue of gay marriage that he'd side with a group like the Ku Klux Klan, with it's history of racial hatred and lynching blacks all the way through the first half of the 20th century.

For an even great shock, consider this: the Rev. Daniels is a black minister.

Daniels and a growing number of black clergy members are becoming puppets of the extreme right as Republicans and right-wing fundamentalists strive to drive a wedge between two traditionally Democratic groups - blacks and gays. We saw it happen as the results of the 2004 election rolled in and we see it continuing to happen. Take, for instance, the recent kick-off for "Black Contract With America on Moral Values" in Los Angeles. The event attracted about 100 black ministers, but they were mostly window dressing for the event. It was the white Lou Sheldon, of the anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition, who did all the talking.

While it's true that politics does make for strange bedfellows, the courtship between Republicans (along with radical religious fundamentalists) and black ministers is an unlikely pairing. Perhaps the black clergy have poor memories and don't recall it was under the Democrats that the greatest strides in civil rights were made - over the objections of the Republicans. Or maybe the black clergy are truly models of Christian forgiveness in overlooking the past of right-wing leaders like the Rev. Jerry Falwell who began his career in the pulpit preaching the gospel of segregation. (To his credit, Falwell has since recanted his segregationist past and said he "misunderstood" God's will on the issue. That doesn't speak highly of his current rants about gays and lesbians if he's only batting .500 when it comes to deciphering God's will.)

I hate to inject a note of cynicism into the debate, but the swiftness with which some black clergy members went toadying up to the Republican puppetmasters might also have something to do with wanting to carve out a slice of BushCo's "faith-based initiative" pie for themselves.

I truly understand how some blacks resent the struggle for gay rights being called "civil rights." Gays were never sold as property or lived in slavery (though some could be referred to as slaves to fashion trends). Gays were never denied the right to vote. There were never any separate "gay" and "straight" public drinking fountains. For the most part, the average gay has more access to education and health care and makes more money than the average black person. Viewed superficially, it's little wonder that many blacks resent gays wrapping their struggle in the banner of civil rights.

The only thing that comes close to being as shameful as the era of slavery in America's history is the genocide of Native Americans. Even on the world stage such tragedies as the Holocaust, Stalin's gulags, Pol Pot's Cambodian killing fields and the "ethnic cleansing" that swept Serbia, Rwanda and, now, the Sudan, were of relatively short duration compared to the years of slavery that affected entire generations of blacks. So pervasive are the effects of slavery that we continue to be affected by the reverberations of those times yet today. But civil rights was never meant to be decided on the basis of a "my peoples' suffering trumps your's" basis.

If gays have been insensitive in using the phrase "civil rights" to describe their struggle, so too have blacks been less than understanding of the issues that should unite their search for equality with gays. Up until 50 years ago, miscengenation laws prevented blacks from marrying anyone of a different race. Gays and lesbians today can't legally marry. Prior to the passage of civil rights laws, blacks could be denied employment on the basis of their race. With the exception of a few large cities and a small number of states, gays can legally be fired or denied employment because of their sexual orientation. It was only by an executive order by President Harry Truman in 1948 that blacks were integrated into the military. Today, gays and lesbians can serve in the military - but only if they agree to hide a basic part of their identity.

Instead of seeing the common thread of discrimination that units the struggle for all civil rights, the black ministers who have aligned themselves with the Republican right have bought into the fear-mongering and religious-base bigotry that only a few decades ago was directed against them.

I remember growing up during the civil rights movement. My grandfather, who I learned much later had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his younger days, would rant and rave about those "uppity" blacks (though "blacks" was not the word he used; the least inflammatory to ever got was using the word "colored") and cheer the news clips showing cops turning fire hoses on demonstrators or setting police dogs on them. He could back up his beliefs about the inferiority of blacks with his Bible, too. According to my grandfather, blacks were the descendents of Noah's youngest son, Ham, who in Genesis 9, is cursed by Noah: "The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers." Ham, he explained, was the progenitor of the black race and thus, according to the Bible, was meant to live in slavery.

With the exception of a few hardcore racists, no one believes that today. But it was "common knowledge" at one time.

Locally, the issue of gays and blacks is being brought home by the April 5 vote in Kansas on an amendment banning same-sex marriage. Yesterday's Kansas City Star carried an article headlined Gay-marriage amendment campaigns go into action that mentioned a Memphis, Tenn.-base group called the Coalition of African-American Pastors is planning a rally in Kansas City, Kan., on the Sunday prior to the election. The website for CAAP features photos of George Bush and Bill Frist and is apparently so new that a number of its links provide an "under construction" message.

So Kansas City will come face-to-face with black clergy members acting as puppets for right-wing Republicans and the radical religious fringe.

No doubt they will step up to the microphone and tell how the Bible condemns homosexuality. The irony will be lost on them how the same book was used 150 years ago to justify keeping their ancestors in chains. If they realize their new-found friends on the right used the same book 50 years ago to justify segregation and "Jim Crow" laws in the south, they won't mention it.

But as long as they are turning to the Old Testament for advice, perhaps they should take a fresh look at the story of Esau and Jacob and how Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a single meal.

Perhaps it's not too late for them to realize that selling one's birthright seldom has a happy ending.