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President of NC NAACP Writes "Open Letter to Clergy Who Are Trying to Confuse African American Voters on Wedge Issue of Marriage Equality"

By Jen Jones on 09/13/2012 @ 05:18 PM

Two weeks ago, it was politics as usual over at the hate-peddling National Organization for Marriage (NOM), one of the main funders for the campaign in support of Amendment One. Taking a page from its widely discredited playbook to pit people of color against LGBT people, NOM announced a new radio ad in North Carolina to turn African American voters away from President Obama for his support of marriage equality. You can listen to the ad here.

Rev. Dr. William Barber II

Rev. Dr. William Barber II

The star of the ad? None other than Patrick Wooden, one of the more prominent anti-LGBT figures who emerged during the pro-Amendment One campaign. Click here for a sampling of his inflammatory remarks about the LGBT community.

In response, Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President of NC NAACP--a trusted ally in the fight against Amendment One--again went into action, writing an "Open Letter to Clergy Who Are Trying to Confuse African American Voters on Wedge Issue of Marriage Equality."

We share the letter here to reflect on a lesson taught to us by Martin Luther King Jr., and reiterated time and time again by Rev. Dr. Barber during the Amendment One fight: "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere."

Open Letter to Clergy Who Are Trying to Confuse African American Voters on Wedge Issue of Marriage Equality

While the NAACP does not endorse candidates for President of our nation, we vigorously debate the issues that should shape national, state, and local elections. And we will challenge those who attempt to mislead our communities. Some clergy are wrongly criticizing and distorting the views of the President on the issue of marriage equality. They are trying to confuse African American voters. They have a right to their opinions but to mislead demands a response. These clergy - whatever their motives - are woefully mistaken if they believe such tactics will work.

President Obama is President of the United States. His position as leader of all Americans represents the noble commitment he made by oath to all Americans when he took office. The President, a former professor of law, respects the 1st Amendment, which preserves the right of and freedom from religion. He, like the Constitution, recognizes that every church has the constitutional right to decide, depending on their faith tradition, how to address the issue of marriage within their ecclesiology. The President also respects the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which he also swore to uphold. This makes it his solemn duty to guarantee the "equal protection rights" of every citizen. Civil marriage is a right protected by the constitution, despite how one feels about what constitutes a marriage personally or religiously. The President swore to uphold the rights of all the people, not just some of us. His position is the same as Republicans like Dick Cheney.

Those who insist on distorting and criticizing the President for doing his sworn duty insult the Civil Rights Movement. These clergy ally themselves with the same extreme right organizations and people who have spent millions of dollars trying to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act, what most historians say was the most important achievement of the Civil Rights Movement. These clergy have allied with the same regressive forces determined to re-segregate and rob our public schools of adequate funding. These forces spend millions trying to block workers' rights to organize; trying to force minorities, the poor, the elderly, and students to spend money to obtain voter photo ID's to exercise their right to vote; trying to cut the time and opportunities to vote; turning their heads away from the gross racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

These are the same extremists who are stirring the pot about "gay marriage" and other code-slogans they dream up, all designed to divide and conquer the 99% who obviously can out-vote them. Their strategy is based on an arrogant assumption that we, the sons and daughters of the Civil Rights Movement, are too dumb to see through their Trojan Horse trick. They believe they can use wedge issues to seduce us into being a part of their scheme to deny LGBT brothers and sisters of their fundamental rights. This will not happen on our watch!

Many are disturbed and feel compelled to respond to the single-issue moral litmus test being used to publicly denounce the President. Those who are manipulating this wedge issue are unwilling to acknowledge his attempts to lift the poor, lift the jobless, protect the weak from the powerful, provide health care to the sick, educational opportunity to the children, protect voting rights, and protect the rights of all Americans, all of which are efforts that clearly line up with the primary moral concerns of the Judea Christian faith. This intentional ignorance renders their critique suspect and void of credibility.

We believe the issues that should shape our evaluation of Presidential candidates and others is where do they stand and what are their plans regarding 1) economic sustainability, poverty and labor rights, 2) educational equality, 3) healthcare for all, 4) disparities in the criminal justice system and 5) defending and expanding voting rights and voter participation.

Theologically, from a bible-centric perspective, and from the Judeo Christian faith I practice, the issues that should dominate our public square are: How we treat the poor. How we treat the sick. How we treat children. How we treat women. How we treat those on the margins. How we treat the outcasts of society.

There are more than 300 scriptures on these issues, more than any other moral issue noted in the scripture. The second most noted sin in the bible is mistreatment of the" least of these", and the most noted is the sin of idolatry and self-worship, selfishness, and attempting to raise oneself to god status in judgment of others. Let us remember scriptures like these that set the normative posture for faithful service in the public arena:

Luke 4

God's Spirit is on me;

he has chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, "This is God's year to act!"

Or Isaiah 58

'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?

Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

'Well, here's why:

The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.

You drive your employees much too hard.

You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight

You fast, but you swing a mean fist.

The kind of fasting you do won't get your prayers off the ground.

Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:

a day to show off humility?

To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black?

Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?'

'This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice,

Get rid of exploitation in the workplace,

free the oppressed,

to cancel debts.'

When you look at voting records and public policy positions carefully, the same forces fighting us on voting rights, educational equality, economic justice, addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system, are the same forces sponsoring and paying for the current attacks on the LGBT community and the President.

No matter our color. No matter our faith tradition. Those who stand for love and justice are not about to fall for their trick. No matter how you feel personally about same sex marriage, no one, especially those of us whose forebears were denied constitutional protections and counted as 3/5ths of extra votes for their slave-masters, who were listed as mere chattel property in the old Constitution -- none of us -- should ever want to deny any other person constitutional protections.

What is most concerning about these clergy who try to suggest that this one wedge issue is the standard for measuring the moral fiber of our President, or anyone else for that matter, is that they seem to dismiss the essential call of the Judea Christian faith -- to love everybody. We are commanded by our faith and God to care for the stranger, especially those on the margins as Jesus did.

Is it an act of love for these clergy to unite themselves with groups like the Family Research Council, the National Organization on Marriage, and other elements who have been classified as Hate Groups by national organizations who track the extreme right? Is it an act of caring for strangers, when these clergy embrace the right-wing philosophy of othering people? Of demonizing fellow human beings whom God clearly and dearly loves? Is it an act of Christian love to claim allegiance to scriptural standards that say so little about what God says so much and so much about what God says so little? Have these dismissed the "weightier matters of the law"-- issues like poverty, caring for children, protecting women, the vulnerable, the least of these, and healing the sick? Do they fail to realize that it is even possible to be religiously heterocentric, without being constitutionally and socially homophobic? I pray that we will stop this denunciation of the President and other public servants and judge Him and them by the totality of their service and not through schemes designed by those outside our community to divide us for their own sinister and cynical motives. Yours in the Spirit of Truth and Justice,

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II
President North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP


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