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Sharpton: Church uses money and power to persecute gays but ignores poverty

by Nick Cargo

On Sunday, Rev. Al Sharpton slammed major faiths for using their resources and power to pass California's Proposition 8 while showing indifference to issues affecting Americans such as poverty, social inequality and economic sabotage. The Church, he said, was silent until California affirmed marriage rights for its same-sex couples.

Sharpton was the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Ecumenical Service held at Atlanta's Tabernacle Baptist Church to welcome the Atlanta-based Alliance of Affirming Faith-Based Organizations, whose mission is to unite gay-friendly churches.

"The only way we are going to combat all of these other conservative organizations is with another religious voice," said co-founder Pastor Dennis Meredith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, in particular, raised about half of a total $35.8 million in support of the voter-driven California initiative Proposition 8, currently being legally challenged after its passage last November. Church members were also encouraged to donate their time and labor. Proposition 8, should it survive, would write the language of the state's statutory gay marriage ban, ruled unconstitutional in May 2008 by the California Supreme Court, directly into the state's constitution.

"There is something immoral and sick about using all of that power to not end brutality and poverty, but to break into people's bedrooms and claim that God sent you," Sharpton told a full house on Sunday.

"It amazes me," he said, "when I looked at California and saw churches that had nothing to say about police brutality, nothing to say when a young black boy was shot while he was wearing police handcuffs, nothing to say when they overturned affirmative action, nothing to say when people were being [relegated] into poverty, yet they were organizing and mobilizing to stop consenting adults from choosing their life partners."

"I am tired," he went on, "of seeing ministers who will preach homophobia by day, and then after they're preaching, when the lights are off they go cruising for trade...We know you're not preaching the Bible, because if you were preaching the Bible we would have heard from you. We would have heard from you when people were starving in California--when they deregulated the economy and crashed Wall Street you had nothing to say. When [accused Ponzi scammer] Madoff made off with the money, you had nothing to say. When Bush took us to war chasing weapons of mass destruction that weren't there you had nothing to say.

"But all of a sudden, when Proposition 8 came out, you had so much to say, but since you stepped in the rain, we're going to step in the rain with you."

As a presidential candidate in the 2004 election, Sharpton made his stance on marriage equality clear while opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment and defending the LGBT community against what he saw as "gay-baiting" for votes by the Bush campaign. "This is an issue of human rights," he said. "And I think it is dangerous to give states the right to deal with human rights questions. That's how we ended up with slavery and segregation going forward a long time...Whatever my personal feelings may be about gay and lesbian marriages, unless you are prepared to say gays and lesbians are not human beings, they should have the same constitutional right of any other human being."

Another memorable Atlanta visit for Sharpton was as keynote speaker for the National Black Justice Coalition's first annual Black Church Summit in January 2006. There, he criticized black denominations that preached against their gay and lesbian members rather than embracing them.

"It's not a question of bringing the issue of the gay and lesbian community to the church. It's about having an open discussion because they're already there," he said. "All of us know that this is nothing new. The only thing new is to have an open discussion on how we deal with it."

"Adultery broke up more marriages than gays did," he added, revealing that a member of his family was gay and dismissing the notion that gays were a "threat" to marriage.

The Reverend also warned against playing politics with civil rights. "[Social conservatives] will start with the gays but they will end with everybody else," he said. "If you give the Pat Robertsons of the world the theological right to condemn some, then you give them the right to condemn others."


Originally published on Tuesday January 13, 2009.

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