Mayor Says Pastor Should Apologize for Words on Gays

Bishop Alfred Owens preaches at Sunday services
Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr. at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast. He is under fire for a service he gave last month. (Dennis Drenner for The Washington Post)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mayor Anthony A. Williams threatened yesterday to remove a prominent minister from his interfaith council if the minister does not issue a public apology for derogatory remarks he made about gay men during a Palm Sunday sermon last month.

Williams (D), who made his position known at his weekly news briefing, said he had been unsuccessful in trying to contact Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr., pastor of Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church.

Owens can be heard on an April 9 church recording saying, "It takes a real man to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. I'm not talking about no faggot or no sissy."

The mayor said yesterday: "If you can be shocked, saddened and disappointed all at once, I really am, because I really have to condemn remarks made like that whenever they're made against any group on the basis of sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity or anything else."

Williams said he expected public contrition from Owens. "Otherwise, we would have to discontinue that relationship, and I would really regret that because he really has been a great leader in our city."

A woman who answered the phone yesterday at Owens's Northeast Washington church declined to comment and said the minister was not available.

The church recording was obtained by the City Paper and denounced by the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Men and Women. The group issued a news release asking that Williams remove Owens from the 21-member council, of which he has been an honorary member since March 2005.

Earl Fowlkes, head of the International Federation of Black Prides, a D.C.-based organization that highlights issues concerning the black gay community, applauded the mayor's actions.

"The mayor is showing a lot of courage in issuing the statement," Fowlkes said. "The mayor cannot allow someone who is on the council to be a bigot."

The Rev. Clark Lobenstine, executive director of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, agreed with the demand for an apology.

"There is not a theological criterion for being appointed to the mayor's interfaith council, but service on the council does commit us to work in a respectful way with all persons in this community," said Lobenstine, who is also a member of the interfaith council.

But the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray, executive director of the D.C. Baptist Convention, a group of local Baptist churches, said the mayor should not ask Owens to say he is sorry.

"It's not an elected official's place to approve or disapprove of the pronouncements of clergy on any topic," Haggray said.

On Saturday, Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King wrote an open letter to Williams, urging him to address Owens's comments.

Staff writer Caryle Murphy contributed to this report.

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