By The Associated Press
ATLANTA, Jan. 21 – Churches have an obligation to help end the “poisoned atmosphere” surrounding the acceptance of gay men and lesbians, the Rev. Al Sharpton said at a weekend summit organized by a national black gay rights group.
The group invited religious leaders to brainstorm ways to get their message of tolerance across to clergy, who are some of the most influential figures in black communities. Several portrayed it as a civil rights issue.
“Our dialogue is the possibility of being acknowledged, loved and accepted. It can happen,” said Donna Payne, vice president of the National Black Justice Coalition, composed of black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists.
Sharpton, a former Democratic presidential candidate, said Jan. 20 that black church leaders need to acknowledge that homophobia affects everyone’s civil rights.
“You cannot talk about civil rights and limit who’s included,” Sharpton told about 150 people at First Iconium Baptist Church.
He said it is every church’s obligation to help end the “poisoned atmosphere…. The church should have a front seat in the car leading toward dialogue, leading toward tolerance.”
In 2004, a predominantly black Atlanta-area church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King is an elder held a march calling for a national ban on gay marriage.
King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, has called gay marriage a civil rights issue and denounced proposed amendments to ban it.
“History has shown that every time a church has gone on the side of exclusion, they have been wrong,” said Pat Hussein, an activist and summit participant. “Hopefully there can be things made right.”
The Rev. Kenneth Samuel, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain, received a standing ovation when he called for equality for all people and an end to hate crimes targeting gay men and lesbians.