The Preachers: Mini-Profiles
The white leaders of the anti-gay, evangelical right are well known — James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Lou Sheldon and many others who are virtually household names in America. But black churchmen who have joined the historically white-dominated Christian Right movement against homosexuality and homosexuals are far less familiar to the general public. Here, presented as a complement to longer pieces on Chicago's Rev. Gregory Daniels, the Washington, D.C., area's Bishop Harry Jackson, and the Atlanta area's Bishop Eddie Long, are a series of short profiles of 10 leading black religious voices in the anti-gay movement.
Bishop Wellington Boone
A spokesman for the patriarchal and largely white Promise Keepers evangelical men's movement, sidekick to Focus on the Family leader James Dobson and a popular guest on the "700 Club" hosted by Pat Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network, Bishop Wellington Boone preaches that homosexuality unchecked "will result in the ultimate destruction of society."
Boone is a strict Christian "dominionist" who advocates replacing constitutional democracy with Biblical law. He takes literally the language in the Bible that he feels outlaws homosexual behavior.
Boone's liberal critics have suggested that the bishop is overly beholden to white Christian leaders, to the point that Huffington Post writer Max Blumenthal last year labeled him a "minister of minstrelsy." Boone had already lost all credibility with many blacks after he said in his 1996 book Breaking Through that he wanted "to boldly affirm Uncle Tom. The black community must stop criticizing Uncle Tom. He is a role model."
To many African Americans, being called an "Uncle Tom" is as offensive as calling a gay person a "faggot." But while Boone has called on blacks to stop hating Uncle Tom, he has no problems with either epithet. As he told the audience at Dobson's "Value Voters Summit" last year: "I want the gays mad at me. … Back in the days when I was a kid, and we see guys that don't stand strong on principle, we called them ‘faggots.'"
Rev. Keith Butler
The Rev. Keith Butler is the pastor of Word of Faith International Christian Center, which has more than 22,000 members. Called "one of the Detroit area's most outspoken opponents of homosexuality" by the Detroit Metro Times, Butler wrote in a 2003 Detroit Free Press editorial that "the gay lifestyle is based on a behavior choice that endangers family, children, and the core of society. …
The attempt to push this decadent lifestyle into mainstream society … is simply wrong."
Ironically, Butler's church has produced several gay pastors, such as the Rev. James Karl Jackson of Detroit.
A Republican since 1980, Butler served one term on the Detroit City Council before running for the U.S. Senate last fall. He said God handpicked him to clear out Democrats, who are "on the wrong side of Judeo-Christian issues." But God apparently had other plans. Butler never made it past the primaries, losing to Republican sheriff Mike Bouchard.
Rev. T. J. Graham
The Rev. T.J. Graham has a hard time staying off the subject of homosexuality. When he was interviewed by the Intelligence Report last September about an anti-immigration rally that he'd helped organize, Graham had trouble keeping his focus on the Mexicans at hand. Again and again, his contempt for homosexuals kept spilling into the conversation.
"A homosexual called in and said he was born that way," Graham said at one point, referring to a caller to his WVOL-AM radio show. "You are not born that way. It's a choice." A little later, he added that if any Klansmen showed up at his rallies, he'd be "supportive" of their presence there.
After all, he said, "This affects their families, too."
During last September's anti-immigration rally, Graham launched into a tirade against a counter-demonstrator who had shouted at him angrily. His exchange with the bespectacled woman started out over immigration. But an enraged Graham began attacking her sexuality within seconds.
"You need to find out who God is!" the reverend shouted. "And God said man shall not lie with man as with woman, nor woman with woman, as a man!"
It was then that Heather Cross was joined by Andrew, her husband.
Pastor Ken Hutcherson
A former National Football League linebacker, Ken Hutcherson recently told the Seattle Times: "I have a tremendous ego. That's why I played pro football. I'm taking that same ego … and now putting it in for the glory of God to do his will and his work."
In Hutcherson's mind, doing God's work means excommunicating gay members of his church, rather than ministering to or counseling them, and leading high-profile campaigns against equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. In 2004, Hutcherson organized a "Mayday for Marriage" rally in Seattle that drew 20,000 supporters and a second rally in Washington, D.C. that attracted 140,000.
The next year, Hutcherson threatened to organize boycotts of corporations that supported a proposed Washington law to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. After Hutcherson told Microsoft's general counsel that 700 evangelical Microsoft employees attended his church, Microsoft withdrew its support of the bill. The company later reversed itself again and renewed support for the bill, which passed.
Now, Hutcherson is trying to gather enough signatures to place an initiative to overturn that law on the fall 2007 ballot. He has allied himself with a network of ultra-conservative Slavic churches in Washington and California. Last year, he traveled to Latvia to meet with conservative politicians there. In January, Hutcherson appeared at Transformation Center Church in Seattle, where he shared the stage with Wade Kusak, the rabidly anti-gay host of a Russian-language radio show.
Kusak told the congregants that God had "made an injection" of Slavic evangelicals into the Seattle area so they could work with Hutcherson. "In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin," he said.
Rev. David Onouha
Bishop Peter Akinola
In Africa, it's not the aridity of the land, the headlong intrusions of agribusiness, or even the scarcity of clean water that is having a deleterious effect on the environment. No, according to Bishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, it is homosexuality that is killing the Earth.
In a column Akinola wrote last December on his church's website, he put it like this: "Homosexuality does violence to nature. … This lifestyle is a terrible violation of the harmony of the eco-system of which mankind is a part. As we are rightly concerned by the depletion of the ozone layer, so should we be concerned by the practice of homosexuality."
Akinola's Nigerian colleague, the Rev. David Onuoha, said homosexuality is simply not in the African's nature. In a column entitled "The Absurdity of Same Sex Union," he adds that homosexuality is "a satanic doctrine."
Remarkably, both African Episcopalian ministers have been actively involved in promoting anti-homosexual religious doctrines—in America. When American Episcopalian churches began to fracture over disagreements on condemning homosexuality last year, Akinola heightened the drama by starting the Anglican Church of North America. His church is exclusively for orthodox Episcopalians — meaning absolutely not for gay Christians.
Onuoha, meanwhile, has promoted his "reparative" therapy for gays and lesbians in America, despite the fact that the American Psychological Association and many other professional bodies long ago dropped homosexuality from their lists of mental disorders. "Those who have passion and lust for same-sex union are perverts," he says. "Perversion is a psychological disorder that can be corrected."
Rev. James Meeks
The Rev. James Meeks is a key member of Chicago's "Gatekeepers" network, an interracial group of evangelical ministers who strive to erase the division between church and state. A stalwart anti-gay activist, Meeks has used his House of Hope mega-church to launch petition drives for the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a major state-level "family values" pressure group that lauded him last year for leading African Americans in "clearly understanding the threat of gay marriage."
With over 22,000 members, Meeks' congregation was large enough to buoy his successful 2002 campaign for state senator. Last year, he ran for governor as a virtual single-issue candidate, drawing national support from Christian fundamentalists by boldly vowing to fight marriage equality at every turn. Meeks eventually dropped out of the race.
Meeks and the IFI are partnered with Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defense Fund, major anti-gay organizations of the Christian Right. They also are tightly allied with Americans for Truth, an Illinois group that said in a press release last year that "fighting AIDS without talking against homosexuality is like fighting lung cancer without talking against smoking."
Bishop Alfred Owens
In a Palm Sunday sermon delivered in April 2006, Bishop Alfred Owens served up his own macho recipe for what it takes to be a Christian.
"It takes a real man to confess Jesus as lord and savior," the Washington pastor roared. "I'm not talking about no faggot or no sissy."
Owens, the head pastor of the 4,000-member Mount Calvary Holy Church of America, is a member of Mayor Anthony Williams' Interfaith Council. After the Palm Sunday sermon, the mayor demanded that Owens apologize for his comments. Owens responded with these words in a letter to The Washington Post published on May 18, 2006: "I used words that [a local human rights group] has denounced as offensive. … On any given Sunday, I preach about love, faith and holiness, and, yes, about hell and sin.
"For that, I offer no apology."
Rev. Jesse Peterson
Los Angeles, Calif.
Whether speaking out against Mexican immigrants, affirmative action, or marriage equality, the Rev. Jesse Peterson is a reliable go-to African American for almost all things bigoted and conservative.
If his home state of California ever legalizes same-sex marriage, Peterson says, "It will destroy the family, especially the black family." Peterson has also said that Mexican immigrants will destroy the black family, as will the twin evils of affirmative action and welfare.
Peterson heads up a group called Brotherhood of a New Destiny, or BOND, that states its purpose as "rebuilding the family by rebuilding the man" — an emphasis on men over women that echoes the patriarchal ideology of black nationalist groups like the Nation of Islam. Remarkably, Peterson finds the ultimate solution for black people in white people, without whom "in 10 years America would be a ghetto," he says in his book SCAM.
But at the end of the day, Peterson's main concern is homosexuality and its alleged destructiveness. Homosexuality, says the reverend, "is not about love, it's not about civil rights, it's about sex — nothing else. You cannot get love from a homosexual relationship."
Rev. Willie Wilson
When a Washington newspaper published the contents of an anti-gay sermon delivered by the Rev. Willie Wilson in 2005, it put a major dent into the Rev. Louis Farrakhan's Millions More Movement March scheduled for later that year.
Even though Farrakhan and his march ally, New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabazz, had repeatedly attacked homosexuals, Wilson's sermon, delivered at his Union Temple Baptist Church, was more inflammatory still. Despite Wilson's position as national executive director for the Millions More Movement, his words stirred a hornet's nest within that movement.
"Lesbianism is about to take over our community," Wilson said in his sermon. And to gay men: "No wonder your behind is bleeding. It's destroying us."
Millions More Movement staffers and advisers resigned in protest, including the Rev. Amina Binta, who told the Washington Blade, the gay and lesbian newspaper that broke the sermon story: "I don't care to eat their fare, because they're serving up a steady diet of homophobia that is very venomous."
When the Millions More march finally arrived on Oct. 15, 2005, Wilson personally blocked an official of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights group for black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, from the stage. Wilson's actions came even though representatives of the group were told by march officials earlier in the week that their speaker would be welcome.
Wilson's intervention didn't help turnout any. Despite being open to men, women and children — as opposed to the 1995 Million Man March, which was for men only — just an estimated 100,000 turned out. That was far short of the almost 1 million people who attended its predecessor.