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CNN Exchange: Commentary

Sharpton: Sexually-based issues dividing black churches

By Rev. Al Sharpton
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: A longtime political activist, Rev. Al Sharpton is president of the National Action Network. In 2004, Sharpton ran for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- During my 2004 presidential campaign, I was fond of saying that it was high time for the Christian right to meet the right Christians. That sentiment is even more appropriate today, more than a year-and-a-half after evangelicals catapulted George W. Bush back to the White House.

We are a country now locked into an unrighteous conflict overseas, a country where racial equality is still far from realized, and a country that continues to allow poverty to run rampant from coast to coast.

Yet, some high-profile black ministers continue to employ an agenda focused solely on sexually-based themes, like denying a women's right to choose an abortion or a gay couple's right to marry, to rally their congregations and drive a wedge through our people.

Not only are they speaking narrowly on the issues of gay marriage and abortion, but even as the Supreme Court is today taking on affirmative action, there has been silence from the black church.

Many African-Americans recognize the narrowness of scope of these beliefs. To that end, we held a conference -- The National Conference and Revival for Social Justice in the Black Church -- in Dallas, Texas, last week where more than 100 ministers restated and reemphasized what issues are of dire importance to the black populace as a whole.

And the message was clear. As the 2006 midterm elections approach, we must redouble our efforts where it counts -- fighting racism, ending the scourge of poverty, and, perhaps most importantly, continuing to press for equality at the ballot box.

As we met in Dallas, a few House Republicans scuttled a planned vote on reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act. But if the rumors of GOP efforts to keep blacks away from the polls in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 are true, it shows that the main purpose of the 1965 landmark voting rights legislation -- breaking down inequality at the polls -- has hardly been recognized.

That's why I'll be traveling to Florida and Ohio soon to push for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and against new anti-voting legislation, such as a regulation from Secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Blackwell, that could, according to the New York Times, "...hit voter registration workers with criminal penalties for perfectly legitimate registration practices."

Another guiding principle expressed during this three-day event that saw ministers from all over the country, representing all sorts of congregations was the need for the black community, like the Israelites in the Bible, to never forget who led us out of bondage and to be unyielding in following their tenets until they are realized.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the man who did the most to break us out of the shackles of racism, rallied to end the heinous war in Vietnam and battled for blacks to be treated like others, with dignity and respect.

And he performed all of his acts under the banner of Christianity. The church was his home base. The organization he founded was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was a man of piety who saw Christianity for what it truly is -- a religion that promotes peace and equality above all else.

But it seems that some have chosen to ignore or have simply forgotten the big-picture vision promoted by Dr. King and his kin.

This is particularly egregious considering that many of those who preach their limited view of Christianity do so inside so-called "megachurches" throughout the South, and without Dr. King's tireless work and leadership, blacks would never have been allowed to own the property under which these megachurches stand.

To be clear, no one is denying anybody's right to preach what he or she believes. But we refuse to allow the few to speak for the many. We will not sit idly as these ministers tarnish Dr. King's legacy by promoting their small-minded causes to the detriment of the battles truly worth fighting.

Last week in Dallas, the movement to take back Dr. King's legacy, for the majority of African-Americans who recognize that standing by his beliefs and preaching is equally important today as it was when he was alive, continued with renewed fervor.

And we're hardly done. At the end of July, the The National Conference and Revival for Social Justice in the Black Church will reconvene in Augusta, Georgia, where the fight against racism and inequality and for social justice and universal voting rights takes another step forward.

What is your take on this commentary? E-mail us

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer. This article is part of a series of occasional opinion pieces on CNN.com that offer a broad range of perspectives that express a variety of thoughts and points of view.

Your responses

CNN.com asked readers for their thoughts on Al Sharpton's commentary. We received a lot of excellent responses. Below you will find a small selection of those e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and spelling.

While I don't normally agree with Al Sharpton on many issues, I do agree with him on this. Our churches and their leadership have taken a pious position of exclusivity where they sit in judgment of others. The God I believe in and the Bible I read say that judgment should be left for God.
Jack, Atlanta, Georgia

African-American ministers standing up against the abortion genocide in the black community? I guess Mr. Sharpton and I differ on what constitutes a "small-minded cause."
Katherine, Nashville, Tennessee

I can't speak for the black churches, but the Rev. Sharpton's comments are valid for so many faith communities. Let's go back to the original vision, the gospel and reorder our priorities. Then and only then, will the poor be housed, the hungry fed and the sick healed...
Joanna White, Annapolis, Maryland

Rev. Sharpton's views are his own and not representative of all black Americans. His views on same sex marriage, black voting problems and lack of equality for blacks in America are not mainstream with black Americans, which is why he must hold a conference on these issues as no one else accepts his premise that these are our major problems. Black America's major problems are as Bill Cosby iterated -- single parentage, drugs and the ganster hip hop mentality of young black people.
Aaron Walker, San Diego, California

I totally agree with the statements made by Rev. Al Shapton. It is "high time" that someone of influence speaks about the brainwashing that continues to exist in the Black Church. That is, pastors and church leaders of our black churches should teach the "true" gospel of Jesus. Instead, many of our Black Church pastors are selling out our people for a "few pieces of silver."
Dr. Carlo P. Walker, Houston, Texas

Black preachers are focusing on same-sex marriage and abortion, because these, and nothing else, represent the primary moral issues of our times.
Mike Partyka, Frisco, Texas

You have hit the nail on the head!! It is not just black churches but also white churches that worry more about abortions, gays, etc. than what this administration has done to this country. You wonder what it will take for some people to wake up.
Connie, Louisville, Tennessee

There is a saying in warfare -- the Army is always prepared to fight the last war. Mr. Sharpton and others who attempt to shape the opinion of black voters attempt to fight the war they see in front of them with the strategy and soldiers of the previous war. The battle against racism will be won through economic freedom. Economic freedom is obtained through social equality and education.
Dennis Parker, Sparks, Maryland

Thank you, Rev. Sharpton! Would that anglos in America had a voice such as yours to point out what so many white Christians overlook: While we're being distracted with non-issues like gay marriage and a bogus "war on Christmas," poverty, crime, war, disease, corruption, and destruction of the environment go unchecked. Surely these issues are more important to people of faith, black or white.
Lisa Zhito, Nashville, Tennessee

Mr. Sharpton has apparently lost all touch with the greatest part of the Christian community he claims to represent. The few should not speak for the many. The many are able to speak for themselves and have done so through the ballot boxes repeatedly over the past eight years, and hopefully, they will continue to vote their Christian beliefs...very different from those of Mr. Sharpton.
Robert, Virginia Beach, Virginia


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Rev. Al Sharpton urges African-American ministers to unite behind pocketbook and ballot box issues.

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