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DREAM WORKS: The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
DREAM WORKS: The 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 28.

Hijacked message?

Religion | Anniversary of the March on Washington highlights divisions over homosexuality among black leaders

Issue: "50 years after the bomb," Sept. 21, 2013

As Americans observe the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the 1963 March on Washington, African-American leaders are divided over the role of gays and lesbians in the civil rights movement. The original movement of the 1950s and ’60s, bolstered by legions of Christian pastors and laypeople, focused on racial integration. Some African-American clergy were troubled over even permitting a role for the openly gay Bayard Rustin, who organized that year’s march. Today’s political climate has changed dramatically, with black leaders feeling heavy pressure to affirm gay activism.

In the lead-up to August’s commemoration, Washington mayor Vincent Gray personally retracted an invitation to Grammy award-winning gospel singer and pastor Donnie McClurkin, who was to perform at a pre-anniversary event (“Singer silenced,” Sept. 7). McClurkin is a former homosexual who now speaks about how Christ delivered him from the gay lifestyle. The dis-invitation was reminiscent of pastor Louie Giglio having to withdraw from President Obama’s 2013 inauguration, because of earlier comments Giglio made about the sinfulness of homosexual acts.

The issue of gay advocacy is particularly difficult among African-American Christians, who tend to be politically liberal but socially conservative on issues such as sexuality. W. Franklyn Richardson of the National Action Network, which organized this year’s March on Washington, argues that black Christians can agree to disagree on homosexuality. Gay and lesbian groups participated in the march’s ceremonies, Richardson acknowledged, but he insisted that the event was “not a platform to advance anybody’s agenda.”

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Traditionalist black Christians contend that gay activism and civil rights represent starkly different issues. In a much-discussed 2012 article for The Gospel Coalition, pastor Voddie Baucham of Spring, Texas, said that “gay is not the new black,” because while ethnicity was involuntary, homosexuality entailed choices and actions. Conservative writer Star Parker, responding to the Donnie McClurkin controversy, called on African-American Christians to “take back” civil rights from homosexual activists and secular politicians who had “hijacked” the movement.

Gideons battle

Handout

The Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is warning the state’s school districts that they will sue those who allow the Gideons International to improperly distribute Bibles to students. The ACLU says that they have discovered that certain teachers and principals allow the Gideons, well-known for distributing Scripture to schools and hotels, to give out Bibles to entire classes, with no opportunity for other religious groups to pass out their literature. Many Kentucky districts have no written policy about how to handle requests from groups like the Gideons, the ACLU asserts. They charge that the Gideons have “exploited” the lack of clear procedures to find sympathetic school employees who will permit unrestricted Bible distribution.

A recent decision against the Gideons by Ontario, Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal could foreshadow a possible outcome of an ACLU lawsuit. In response to a complaint by an atheist parent, the tribunal ruled that the Niagra School District illegally allowed the Gideons to give out Bibles in schools without affording the same opportunity to other groups. When the school district asked parents’ permission to allow the Gideons to give their children a Bible, the atheist parent countered by requesting to distribute secularist books. When the district refused, the parent sued for discrimination. —T.K.

Thomas Kidd
Thomas Kidd

Thomas is a professor of history at Baylor University and a senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. His most recent book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.

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