Conservative Black Pastors Fight Bill on Hate Crimes
At Issue Are Sermons Against Homosexuality

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 28, 2007

A coalition of conservative African American pastors is lobbying Congress to vote against a bill that would extend federal hate-crimes laws to cover gays, saying they fear it would prevent them from preaching against homosexuality.

Several pastors last week urged House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), a sponsor of the bill, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against the proposed Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

They say it would pin the hate crime label on their sermons against homosexuality, which they consider a sin.

"This bill will offer a status for gays, lesbians and transgender people under the equal protection status that can muzzle the black church," said Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham and founder of the High Impact Leader Coalition. "This law can be applied in the way that can keep the church from preaching the Gospel."

Gay activists compare the bill to civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

"This legislation is needed because gay, lesbian, bisexual individuals are not protected under the law," said Bishop Kwabena "Rainey" Cheeks, pastor of Inner Light Ministries in the District and a member of the Human Rights Coalition. "Right now, people are being fired, being attacked on the streets, and we want the same civil rights protections as others have in this country.

The Rev. Marvin Winans, a Detroit pastor and member of the Grammy Award-winning Winans family, met with Conyers on Tuesday to lobby against the bill. "This is a specific bill, no matter how well intended, that will hurt America," he said.

Among the groups opposing the bill are the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Family Research Council and Exodus International, a coalition of formerly gay Christians. The Unitarian Universalist Association, Integrity USA and the NAACP support the bill.

Despite the controversy, some of the most prominent pastors in the African American church are silent on the issue.

"In the church where I grew up, there wasn't a don't-ask-don't-tell policy," Winans said.

Phil Pannell, a longtime gay activist in the District, said he believes African Americans should be more understanding about discrimination toward gays.

"African Americans, more than most people, should know what it means to be a target," he said.

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