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New Book Explores ‘Homophobia in the Black Church’

It's expected that a marriage equality bill will resurface in the upcoming veto session of the Illinois General Assembly. But whether it will have the votes for passage that it lacked in the spring session remains unknown.

Among the fervent opponents of same-sex marriage are many African-American churches. Just why that is is the subject of a new book called "Homophobia in the Black Church: How Faith, Politics and Fear Divide the Black Community." We’re joined by its author, Chicago area journalist and freelance writer, Anthony Stanford.

Below, an excerpt from the book.


As governor of Texas, George Bush gained a heap of experience learning the pros and cons of using taxpayer dollars in secular and spiritual endeavors. It also didn’t hurt that the openly religious Bush remained true to his political base by first promising to alter and then radically changing the way that religious organizations and government interact. Bush’s motivation and commitment were steadfast, and were attributes that his supporters and political foes saw as confirmation of his strong personal faith. As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush had made faith-based funding a key feature in his domestic policy. It was something that Bush said would level the playing field for faith-based providers, making it easier for them to compete for federal funding on an equitable basis with others.
However, political adversaries of the newly elected president’s faithbased program alleged that there was a political strategy at play, which prompted a groundswell of controversy. Faith-based initiative opponents from the left and right claimed that the Republican Party (GOP) and Christian Conservatives were using the federal funding to target African American churches, ministers, and religious organizations. They alleged that the GOP was willing to do this to gain black voter support and a foothold in the Black Church. Some faith-based funding antagonists were adamant when leveling this powerful charge that struck some as very credible.
From the start, similar accusations had been made by challengers of Bush’s domestic agenda, preventing bipartisan support for the president’s key domestic plan. Opponents were gaining momentum by asserting that the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI)—and plans to drastically change the relationship between the federal government, churches, and other religious organizations— might compromise the separation of church and state. They bolstered their position by saying that faith-based initiatives would likely erode established safeguards aimed at preventing a blurring of the line.1 By putting the Constitution in play, faith-based foes were able to slow support for the recently elected president’s domestic plan. However, in the end, the expansion and sweeping reforms related to federal funding for religious and charitable organizations would eventually prevail under the Bush administration.
Whatever Bush’s motivations were, it turns out that faith-based initiatives were a mix of good and bad that garnered strong support and stout opposition from their inception. Yet over a decade later, the lasting effects of Bush-era faith-based initiatives on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are not entirely known. There is however, convincing proof that faith-based competition and a dependency on federal funding may have exacerbated an already strained relationship between the black LGBT community and the traditional Black Church. It’s also possible that those who opposed Bush’s domestic philosophy, believing that it had a quid pro quo feel that favored the conservatism of people like Grover Norquist, Karl Rove, John Dilulio, and evangelical conservatives—all architects of faith-based initiatives—were likely onto something.
It turns out that speculation about federal funding and the taxexemption status of churches and other religious organizations was on the mind of Iowa Republican senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA). Senator Grassley, a devout Baptist, announced in 2007 that his office would look into the spending practices of some of the nation’s wealthiest megachurch ministers. Grassley was particularly interested in the so-called Prosperity Preachers, who use a prosperity theology focused on the premise that God provides material wealth for those he favors. Among those investigated were two prominent members of the black clergy, one of whom had been a recipient of faith-based federal funding during the Bush administration. A black megachurch minister from Atlanta, Bishop Eddie Long, captured Senator Grassley’s attention. Bishop Long had also caught xiv Introduction the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which named him “One of the most homophobic black ministers in America.”2
Bishop Long is one of the Bible-toting black religious extremists whose fierce inflammatory rhetoric against black LGBTs is well documented and central to an increasingly intolerant homophobic black culture. So it is not surprising that Long, along with other black ministers who espouse hateful preaching against black LGBTs, was one of the earliest supporters and recipients of Bush-era faith-based funding. It is also what prompted some to believe that the competition for faith-based funding, and the expectation of ongoing federal financial support, had helped to encourage a campaign of animosity against black Christian LGBTs. The possibility that faith-based funding had facilitated and amplified discrimination against black homosexuals, by an already unsympathetic black community, seems entirely plausible.
Homophobia in the Black Church lays bare the long drawn-out struggle between the Black Church and black Christian LGBTs. It lifts the veil on the secretive and vicious homophobic black culture that punishes and exiles many black homosexuals to live their lives in the shadows. Going further, it examines the ways that black Christian LGBTs, who are often already victims of their families and communities, are scorned by black religious leaders and made to suffer what is tantamount to a social crucifixion that some believe was amplified by competition for federal funding.
The consequential discussion about the legislative maneuvering that made it possible to fund openly religious organizations in a whole new way is necessary. However, great care was taken when writing this book to avoid a wonkish and technical reporting of the political gamesmanship involved in fulfilling President’s George W. Bush’s commitment to compassionate conservatism. Members of the black clergy who publicly proselytize against the LGBT community are identified in this book to show how the exploitation of the Black Church by Christian evangelical conservatives was instrumental in subverting the Black Church and promoting the ideology of Christian evangelical conservatism. Now, over a decade since the dawning of Bush-era faith-based initiatives, and as “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) has been rescinded, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the predilection to homophobia and longing of some black clergy to feed at the trough of federal funding. It’s also a fitting opportunity to reveal how they were handily co-opted and used by GOP conservatives and religious extremists to create a nightmarish state of affairs for black LGBTs.
Advancement of the key domestic agenda of the Bush presidency represents the fulfillment of a promise made by candidate Bush to the conservative wing of the Republican Party and Religious Right. By putting into practice faith-based programs that were aimed at resolving the country’s social problems, the newly elected president’s viewpoint of compassionate conservatism would be realized. In furtherance of this, Bush’s action to establish the OFBCI, coming only nine days after his swearing in, was seen as proof of his allegiance to the most conservative wing of the Republican Party and Christian Coalition loyalists. To evangelicals, family-values supporters, and Christian Conservatives like Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, the president’s campaign of compassionate conservatism had gone from a presidential hopeful’s political vision to a reality that was coming to fruition in the Bush White House.
It was an enormous step in that the president had fulfilled a campaign promise to go forward with a national agenda that was in harmony with that of key supporters who had boosted his candidacy among Christian Conservatives and party traditionalists. However, a number of things prevented the smooth ratification of the president’s plan, among them vocal opponents of the domestic agenda who contested its legality. Organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), resisted the advancement of H.R. 7, known as the Community Solutions Act of 2001, on the basis that it violated the First Amendment. They and others raised concerns about the increased possibility of religious and sexual discrimination that faithbased programs proposed by the president might present. The authorization of the Republican domestic plan ultimately came down to Bush’s use of his presidential executive powers to initiate an historic transformation in the way that churches and other religious organizations would be treated by the federal government and Bush White House.
Black political leaders and clergy had either not yet recognized the possibility for increased intraracial discrimination that the Bush domestic programs presented for black LGBTs, or chose not to speak out. Prominent leaders like the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, for example, seemed preoccupied with the idea that the Bush administration was conspiring to exclude him, and other black leaders, from planning and policymaking related to faith-based initiatives. Reverend Jackson said, “I know the subplot: This is an attempt to play one group against the other.”3 Read the complete Introduction here.
Excerpted from Homophobia in the Black Church: How Faith, Politics and Fear Divide the Black Community by Anthony Stanford. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of ABC-CLIO, LLC, Santa Barbara, CA.