Opportunity for Alliance

Center Field

YouTube videos of an Aug. 18 news conference illuminate the radical right’s strategy of recruiting African-American ministers to attack progressive policies, and point to practical linkages between gay rights and women’s rights.

Last Saturday, as I prepared to testify for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance at two D.C. marriage-related hearings set for Oct. 26, I received a call from my friend the Rev. Mark Thompson, an African-American civil-rights activist. I told him of my plan to address the anti-gay lies of marriage-equality opponent Bishop Harry Jackson. Thompson pointed out Jackson’s participation in the news conference, which was held jointly by the National Black Pro-Life Union and Priests for Life to attack the proposed national health care reform. They said some off-the-wall stuff.

At the news conference, anti-gay activist Alveda King (who calls herself ”Dr.” despite only having an honorary Doctor of Laws), director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life, introduced speakers who claimed that the Democrats’ health care legislation promotes abortion and euthanasia. King has written, ”Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother.”

Dr. Donna J. Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, claimed that ”under the proposed health care bill, I could lose my job for refusing to kill your unborn child.”

Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union, stated, ”In a time when America is spiraling down into an abyss of debt, joblessness and economic turmoil, President Barack Obama has been putting a great deal of his time into a big push to kill as many children as possible.” She claimed that abortion leads to mental health problems in women, something not recognized by either the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association.

Bishop Jackson accused the health care legislation of ”reverse classism” for discriminating against wealthy people like him. Referring to D.C., he added, ”In this city, 75 percent of the people who abort their babies are black. Therefore, it is absolutely racist as well. … It is genocidal in its impact.”

So by respecting a black woman’s right to choose abortion, I am supporting genocide? It is hard to see how such inflammatory rhetoric, or King’s comparison of aborted fetuses to slaves, helps to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Here we see the unsavory company that Bishop Jackson keeps. He and his cohorts gratuitously seek to racialize the abortion debate, just as they portray same-sex marriage as a threat to children. They peddle junk science to conceal the religious origins of their positions. And they embrace a fundamentally authoritarian approach to public policy, one diametrically at odds with the liberation at the core of the civil-rights movement.

This dissonance troubles many African-American clergy such as Rev. Thompson, who are resisting alliances with the radical religious right. Thompson is an associate minister at D.C.’s Israel Baptist Church, and is pro-choice. He led prayers at a Dupont Circle candlelight vigil on May 31 for Dr. George Tiller, the director of a clinic in Wichita, Kan., who was murdered in church earlier that day for being, as one right-wing website called him, ”America’s most notorious abortionist.”

Thompson’s allies include Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, who writes, ”While our member organizations are religiously and theologically diverse, they are unified in the commitment to preserve reproductive choice as a basic part of religious liberty. Our rational, healing perspective looks beyond the bitter abortion debate to seek solutions to pressing problems such as unintended pregnancy, the spread of HIV/AIDS, inadequate health care and health insurance….”

This focus on people’s problems instead of on polarizing politics is more consistent with the pastoral mission traditionally associated with churches. Jackson’s preference for stoking and exploiting divisions should not lead us to mistakenly put all religious groups in his corner. In D.C., more than 250 clergy have signed a statement affirming civil-marriage equality.

Many of the ministers in D.C. who oppose marriage equality also oppose allowing women to serve as ministers. Meanwhile, many voters who are skeptical about gay rights are also mistrustful of the religious right, which gives us an opening. Improved coalition efforts would strengthen the hand of women’s rights and gay-rights advocates against those who cynically use black ministers to camouflage their intolerance.

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