Can Black preachers be trusted?

By Sinclere Lee

Can Black preachers be trusted to negotiate with the Bush administration for the Black community? Not until they get real jobs, and stop begging for handouts to help themselves.

For example, a group of so-called conservative Black pastors held a summit on the "protection of Biblical marriage," part of a growing list of church-based campaigns that Republicans hope will split a core Democratic constituency.

"There's been this confusion that African Americans at large agree with homosexual marriage. They do not," said Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., who is helping organize summits in five other cities.

Tuesday's meeting, which drew more than 100 Black clergy, mirrored other events black churches have held since the November election. In the presidential race, the GOP made common cause with some black leaders over blocking same-sex marriage, hoping the issue would chip away at the overwhelming black support for Democrats.

"(Republicans) believe they got more Black voters because of these cultural issues and they're going to try to cultivate that," said Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate political science professor at the University of Chicago.

Jackson, who started the nonprofit High Impact Leadership Coalition, said Democrats have strayed from core social justice issues such as poverty and civil rights while ignoring Christian teachings on abortion and gay marriage. A recent Gallup Poll found that just 36 percent of blacks support same-sex marriage.

"The Democratic Party is going to have find its voice," said Jackson, a registered Democrat who voted for Bush in 2004. "Right now the Republicans are in power, so it would be wise to work with them."

The centerpiece of the summit was the "Black Contract with America on Moral Values," which calls for stronger families, counseling in jails and job creation, in addition to condemning gay marriage. The name plays off the conservative agenda that GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich used in the mid-1990s.

Jackson appeared with the Rev. Lou Sheldon, leader of the Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition. Sheldon's group has lobbied aggressively for legislation to ban same-sex marriage and has received funding from Republicans in the past.

On Tuesday, Sheldon called homosexuality a curable social disorder and said of Jackson: "We want to partner with him and stand along with him."

Other Black groups assailed the partnership.

"Black folks should be the last people on the Earth who should want to discriminate against another group of people," said Jasmyne Cannick, a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, an advocacy group for black gays and lesbians.

Eleven percent of Black voters opted for Bush last year, up from about 7 percent in 2000. Top Republicans have said they hope their next presidential nominee can reach 30 percent in 2008.

Harris-Lacewell said Republicans have historically received between 9 percent and 12 percent of the black vote. The danger for Democrats, she said, is that Jackson's movement will cultivate enough distaste for their platform that Blacks won't vote at all.

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