By LAURA DOUGLAS-BROWN JAN. 2, 2009
The Atlanta Black LGBT Coalition last week called on Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic church where Dr. Martin Luther King served as pastor, to remove Pastor Rick Warren as the keynote speaker for its upcoming MLK Day service.
“Rev. Warren’s hateful opposition to civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and reproductive rights for women, and his intolerance of diversity contradict the values of freedom and equality that this day represents,” the group said in a Dec. 24 press release.
The coalition called on Ebenezer’s pastor, Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, to rescind the invitation to Warren to speak at the Jan. 19 service.
The church did not respond to an interview request by press time.
“Bestowing Rev. Warren such a prominent role does not foster greater understanding between divided communities. Instead it drives more wedges between disenfranchised communities that are continually pitted against each other by the agents of racism and homophobia,” the gay coalition said.
Held each year to commemorate the national holiday honoring King, the church service at Ebenezer attracts media, politicians and civil rights leaders from around the nation. Last year, then-Democratic hopeful Barack Obama spoke to the church the day before the national holiday, delivering a rousing call to responsibility that included a challenge to black churches to renounce homophobia.
Obama told the mostly black audience that “our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community,” in part because “we have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them.”
This year’s MLK Day service takes place the day before Obama will be inaugurated as the nation’s first African-American president. Warren, pastor of California’s Saddleback Community Church and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” has also been tapped by Obama to give the invocation at his Jan. 20 inauguration, sparking outrage from gay activists who note Warren’s vocal opposition to gay marriage.
“I don’t know what Rev. Warnock’s motives are. I do know that the invitation is an affront to queer communities,” Craig Washington, a leader of the Atlanta coalition, said in an interview. “It does nothing to unify the community, it drives the wedge deeper. I think Ebenezer, like Obama, is seeking to find some political currency with the conservative movement in this country.”
Another group of Atlanta activists is organizing a protest during Warren’s speech at the church. Jeff Shade is one of the organizers for the massive Nov. 15 rally at the State Capitol for marriage equality and the smaller Dec. 13 “All I Want for Christmas is Equal Rights” picket at Lenox Mall. Schade said they are organizing another event for Warren’s visit, although details were not finalized at press time.
“I’m not exactly sure what direction it will take. Martin Luther King Day here in Atlanta is a big day, so we’re clearly trying to be positive, and send the right message,” Schade said. — Matt Schafer contributed
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