It is a sad beginning to Black History Month when a group of black preachers have so forgotten the past that they agree to be tutored in "moral values" by Republican operatives in sheep's clothing.
Don't get us wrong: Some of our best friends are Republicans. But the recent invasion by Karl Rove's minions into the heart of black communities and black churches across the country -- most recently on Tuesday at the Crenshaw Christian Center, one of Los Angeles' biggest churches -- has been downright offensive.
Seventy pastors apparently turned out for Tuesday's meeting, which was supposedly organized by conservative black ministers who had backed George W. Bush in November and who are seeking to promote what they say is a new agenda for the black community.
Are they doing it with programs that bring jobs, education and opportunity? Nooooooooooooo. They are doing it with a campaign against gay marriage. They are unveiling a "black contract with America on moral values." That's right, Newt Gingrich is back and he's black! And in case you didn't know, gay marriage, not gang violence, gay marriage, not hyper-unemployment and undereducation, is what has destroyed our jobs, closed our schools and forfeited our opportunities.
That the ideological descendants of the architects of Jim Crow would be setting up shop in inner cities to structure a solution to the problems of being black in America is beyond ludicrous.
And the focus on gay marriage is a fundamental betrayal of the civil rights movement in this country. If these people have their way, it will be the first time since Jim Crow that discrimination against a group of people is written into law. Everywhere you see the phrase "gay marriage," just remember the word "miscegenation." Listen to the arguments they're making: It's unnatural. It's against God's plan for humanity. Haven't we heard that before?
These ministers also claim a deep concern for the "unborn" who are aborted. OK. We all want to reduce the number of abortions. But this is best done through economic empowerment to support a family and through contraception for effective family planning. The fact is that abortions have increased in some states under President Bush, according to a study from Fuller Theological Seminary, after both teen pregnancy and abortions declined under President Clinton.
The saddest part is that these ministers, who have inherited a legacy of respect, leadership and authority, would squander their profound birthright for a bowl of faith-based porridge. The underbelly of this Republican initiative is the promise of funding for church programs. That's a true sellout.
The black church has always stood with the oppressed and never the oppressor. It has not been in the forefront of the "pro-life" movement because it recognized that prohibiting abortions leads to the maiming and death of thousands of poor, often black, women. It has not been in the forefront of the movement against gay marriage because it doesn't adhere to the biblical literalism of many fundamentalist churches and looks more to the compassion of Jesus than to conservative legalism.
If the black church took the Bible literally we would still be "slaves obey[ing] your masters" (Ephesians 6:5). The gospel of freedom that has been the hope and strength of the black church is still a powerful and meaningful message to millions who are weekly inspired to struggle harder, study longer and love so fervently that hate, discrimination and prejudice wilt under its persistent presence.