The Rev. Willie F. Wilson, one of the city's most prominent pastors, issued an apology last night for remarks he made in a recent sermon that denounced lesbianism.
Wilson said he wished to apologize to anyone offended by his sermon July 3 at Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington. At points in the sermon, he disparaged lesbianism in graphic language and warned that it was about "to take over our community."
"Some people in the community were offended by the language I used in my message, which I will admit was intemperate," Wilson said in a telephone interview. "I apologize to anyone who was hurt by the language that I used."
He added: "I do not apologize for raising a very serious issue concerning our young girls, some as young as 10 and 11 years of age, who are engaging in same-sex relations."
Reported first in the Washington Blade, Wilson's sermon has drawn sharp criticism from leaders of the gay community and political and civic figures. Planners for the Millions More Movement, a major demonstration of black unity scheduled in October for which Wilson is national executive director, have called the remarks divisive and out of keeping with the spirit of the event.
According to accounts published elsewhere, Wilson gave explicit and derogatory depictions of sexual activity between women.
Wilson said the sermon, which was recorded, was not intended for a wider audience.
"As a preacher and teacher, I have a responsibility to address social issues in our community and to make some type of biblical and moral response," he said. He said his preaching was separate from his role with the Millions More Movement.
He also apologized last night for comments he made about black women. Those remarks prompted meetings this week between Wilson and women on the steering committee of the planned march.
In his sermon, Wilson asserted that one reason women become lesbians is because a "lot of sisters [are] making more money than brothers."
He also said his son told him that he couldn't get a date to the prom because "all the girls in my class are gay. Ain't but two of 'em straight, and both them ugly."
Wilson said irate calls about the sermon flooded his telephone line and prompted him to change his number.
"I have learned that people can take your message out of context," he said. "I have a right and responsibility to preach to my congregation. They took my message and spread it all over the world."
He said he is being called "a bigot and hater. It hurts because you know that it is not true."
Wilson added that his commitment to women is known.
Joe Madison, a morning radio host on WOL (1450 AM) whose show has been dominated by the controversy, expressed satisfaction with the apology and said that with Wilson's right to preach comes responsibility.
The Rev. Candace R. Shultis, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which has many gay members, said she was "glad he apologized." She also said she hoped Wilson would "work on his understanding of sexual orientation" so that he would not offend again.