NEW YORK – The words that the Rev. James A. Forbes chose to share with the roomful of black gay and lesbian faithful might have come straight from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Forbes reminded his listeners that discrimination has no place in this world and urged them to lay down the notion put forward by some black ministers that they are less favored by God.
“Your job is to get up every day and be grateful to God for your DNA,” Forbes said. “It took an artist divine to make this design!”
Forbes, senior minister at the Riverside Church, was among several religious leaders and politicians who attended a revival meeting Sunday aimed at countering what organizers said was a surge in anti-gay rhetoric coming from pulpits in conservative parishes.
The program for the event bore the pictures of 10 black men and women who were murdered, or severely injured, in recent years in attacks believed to have been motivated by their sexual orientation.
Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields likened the treatment of homosexuals today to the discrimination she faced growing up black in the old South, and Arun Gandhi, a grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, drew parallels to the repression once experienced by nonwhite citizens in South Africa.
Religious conservatives have chafed at similar comparisons between the gay rights movement, and civil rights struggles of the past.
The issue has been an especially sensitive one in some predominantly black congregations, where pastors have maintained that homosexuality is a sin or a social disorder that should not be compared with race or ethnicity.
Last winter, hundreds of black clergy attended summits aimed at opposing gay marriage held in cities across the country. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest daughter even led a march through Atlanta to advocate a ban on gay marriage.
Speaking at the Riverside Church, the Rev. Cari Jackson of the Center of Spiritual Light said some conservative black clergy had, perhaps unintentionally, incited hate against lesbians and gays by repeatedly condemning them as sinners.
“Like our slave ancestors,” Jackson said, “we are being spiritually, psychologically and physically abused.”
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