Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bishop Harry Jackson's Claims Divisive and Untrue

Jackson's Claims Divisive and Untrue

July 1, 2007
by: Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson
Sylvia Rhue, Ph.D.

Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland is leading the misguided attempt to scare Black ministers into backing his efforts to derail the much needed Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act also known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In doing so he is distorting the facts about a law which would provide local law enforcement with addition tools to stem the tide of intentional acts of violence and murder.

Contrary to Bishop Jackson's assertions, this bill will not "muzzle clergy", and it is not "anti-Christian". This bill should be passed because it is fair, overdue and much needed. The House passed a version last May and the Senate should pass it as well.

Bishop Jackson's claims are based on bias that is divisive, destructive and untrue. Hate crimes laws punish violent acts, not beliefs or thoughts, not even violent thoughts. The proposed federal statute does not punish, nor prohibit in any way, free expression of one's religious beliefs.

Pastors will remain free to condemn, demean, defame and dehumanize their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered congregants and neighbors as they feel called by their religious beliefs. This bill will not change the First Amendment and we would not support any law that undermined this precious freedom.

On the other hand, we work with clergy who respect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and honor the many gifts they have brought to the Church, especially to the Black Church. We believe this is the American way—we value the separation of church and state. We also believe it is the authentic way of Christ.

We also suggest that Bishop Jackson take a course in basic human sexuality since so much of his resistance to equal rights for LGBT people lies in his stated assumption that homosexuality is a "choice", while being black is not. Sexual orientation is not a choice. It is a innate, God-gifted, morally neutral state of being.

We hope and pray that Bishop Jackson will focus some attention on Christ's message of inclusion as we did when we invited him to speak to our members during our recently held Black Church Summit at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia. From that experience alone the good Bishop should have known that we would never support a law that would silence him in his own pulpit.

Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson
Sylvia Rhue, Ph.D.

The writers are respectively the Chair and Director of the National Black Justice Coalition's Religious Advisory Committee.

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