Should the state tell black pastors what to preach?

church and stateYou remember how New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael famously asked how Richard Nixon could have won the presidency considering how everyone she knew voted against him? Well, I feel like Pauline Kael a lot since I live in Washington, D.C. If there is a less diverse political environment out there, I'm not aware of it. I was shocked that Bush won in 2004 because we went 90 percent for Kerry. I don't actually know anyone who voted for Bush and lives in D.C. Anyway, all the action for political office is in the Democratic Party. The other interesting hallmark of D.C. politics is that near as I can tell we like a good number of our political candidates to be -- How does one say this delicately? -- clinically insane.

Which brings us to Lori Montgomery's piece in the Washington Post about how five mayoral candidates in our fine city are all agreeing to erode the barrier between church and state by shaping what is being preached in Washington churches.

Now, as you are reading the relevant portions, let's think of what would happen if a bunch of conservative groups in Omaha required mayoral candidates to pressure Methodists to handle doctrinal issues differently, such as how they view the sanctity of life for unborn children. Or what if other conservative groups required candidates to pressure Unitarians to change their tune on Christianity's scandal of particularity? Here we go:

The five major candidates for D.C. mayor pledged last night to promote tolerance for gay men and lesbians in the city's black churches and to combat attitudes that led two prominent local ministers to denounce homosexuality from their pulpits.

But only two of the five -- D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and former telecommunications executive Marie C. Johns -- expressed unequivocal support for same-sex marriage, an ideological touchstone in the city's powerful gay community.

Now really, since when is it any business of these five mayoral candidates to tell pastors in black churches what they should or should not preach?

I mean, just imagine the outcry if special-interest groups forced public officials to make campaign promises to change what is taught in mosques. Just imagine the outcry, again, if conservative groups pressured candidates to tell pastors in the United Church of Christ how they should preach the Bible, particularly with regard to homosexuality.

And the thing is, if this were happening in my imaginary scenarios, most reporters would know to call First Amendment scholars up to air their grievances.

Montgomery's story covers a debate hosted by the District's largest gay political organization, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. So I rather understand that she didn't speak to any First Amendment scholars who could respond to this idea that politicians should tell black pastors what to preach. Still, might members or pastors at these black churches have been available for a response?

church stateUnfortunately, coverage of this very issue -- the divide between Washington's black churches and its gay community -- has been lacking.

The candidates were asked about a sermon last month in which Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr., pastor of Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, referred to gay men as "faggot" and "sissy," as well as the Rev. Willie F. Wilson's sermon last summer in which he claimed that lesbianism poses a grave threat to the black community. . . .

Later, Brown pounced again, accusing [council chairwoman Linda] Cropp [D] of making "a very homophobic remark" when she said that closeted gay men who also have sex with women have spread AIDS among women. Cropp recited her long record of support for gay causes, including enactment of the city's domestic partnership laws and legalization of adoption for same-sex couples.

"Language is cheap!" Cropp yelled, rising from her seat. "Nobody's record is stronger than Linda Cropp's record! Sitting here, put ’em all together, they can't beat the Linda Cropp record!"

Man does Mollie Ziegler love that candidate trick of speaking in the third person.

But anyway, notice how in the coverage of this story on how black pastors discuss homosexuality, never is the idea engaged that they have a theological defense for their remarks. I'm not taking sides on the issue, just noting that a defense of their perspective is rarely given space in the pages of the Washington Post. It's almost as if the newspaper authorities have decided that opposition to homosexuality is wrong and not worthy of engagement. And since the battles between black churches and the gay community don't seem to be going away, the Post does a disservice to its readers by not better explaining the theology of black churches.

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