Thursday, January 5

Sometimes multi-tasking just doesn’t work.

The rising tide of gun violence in Boston’s outer neighborhoods has sparked a new burst of grassroots outreach by the City’s black clergy along with a steady stream of sermons condemning the violence and spurring neighborhood residents to greater courage, commitment, cooperation, and community.

A recurring theme of these sermons is complacency. In today’s Metro, the Reverend Bruce Wall, pastor of Dorchester’s Global Ministries Christian Church, argued that following the Boston Miracle of the 1990s, there was widespread complacency among the black clergy and community leaders who had played such a vital role in the faith-based campaign that helped law enforcement sharply reduce urban violence. As a result, the amount of grassroots work being done in the community dropped, leading to the new wave of street violence that Boston is now experiencing. “There was a lot of neglect of the Boston Miracle,” Wall explained, “because it was so successful.” Wall has also claimed that Boston’s black clergy were so busy fundraising for their outreach programs and competing with one another for grants, that the unity that produced the Boston Miracle broke down:

“When money came to Boston, all of us went after those resources...but what happened was that ministers who loved each other and trusted each other all had to go after the same pot of gold…Everyone stopped trusting each other because no one knew what the other was saying to get the resources. The money coming in helped to create the division…What has to happen now is that we have to push—united—for those resources and be careful not to trash each other.”

Could it also be that Boston’s black clergy were too busy attacking same-sex marriage? When one hears Wall’s stinging critique of his fellow pastors for dropping the ball and growing complacent to the battle waging in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that at least part of the problem was that Boston’s black clergy moved on to another battle: the same-sex marriage debate. In the grassroots campaign to mobilize their parishioners against marriage equality for same-sex couples, how much time and resources were wasted by The Black Ministerial Alliance and the Boston Ten Point Coalition, the very same organizations that played such a crucial role in the success of the Boston Miracle, all while a brutal war continued to wage in some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods?

However, it’s not simply a matter of coming together and refocusing their attention on the killings that have shattered the Boston Miracle. The problem is that at least some of Boston’s black clergy feel that the solution to the problem of gun violence is a return to a more traditional morality, including sexual morality. Many black pastors blame urban violence among black youth on what they see as the breakdown of traditional values in the black community, and they respond, in part, with a conservative emphasis on traditional marriage, a disdain for single-parent households, and contempt for what they deem irresponsible sexual behavior.

The problem is that by taking sides in the Culture Wars (as a way of winning the street wars waging in places like Roxbury and Dorchester), it seems to me that the black clergy and the larger black community are playing into the hands of conservative politicians whose fiscal policies ultimately undermine black families and hurt the inner city. Morality is not the problem. Racism and economic inequality are; as are tax cuts for the wealthy and budget cuts that eliminate much needed social programs. Black clergy are doing exactly what the Republicans want them to do. They are placing a greater emphasis on the so-called moral issues than they are on the larger socio-economic issues that are the root cause of violence among urban black youth.

Boston’s black clergy are not going to solve this problem alone. They will, however, be part of the larger solution by continuing to play an important role in grassroots community organizing IF, that is, they can stay focused and remember who the real villains are and what are the real social ills plaguing our society: namely, racism, poverty, unemployment, inequality in the public school system, drug addiction, and easy access to guns, not same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry.

Pictured above is the Reverend Gregory Groover, pastor of Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church, who has been amongst the most vocal black pastors urging the black community to come together to end gun violence. However, back in February 2004, Groover was more concerned about ending same-sex marriage. He argued that “the voice of God” told him that same-sex marriage is wrong. Groover forgets that it was also the “voice of God” that told ante-bellum Southern slaveowners that slavery was right.


Blogger Perspective said...

deano, you should write for an academic journal.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you on this one to a large extent, but it's not just the focus on same sex marriage and traditional sexual morality that's thrown the BMA and 10-point coalition off track. Remember that the SJC case was just over two years ago. Well before that, there were budget cuts, welfare "reforms," and numerous other injustices hitting communities of color, and the BMA wasn't taking nearly as prominent a leadership role as they should have, nor as they did later on same-sex marriage. Shit, when Romney essentially tried to dismantle the state's affirmative action system, the fight was led by groups like the Lawyer's Committee on Civil Rights and the Union of Minority Neighborhoods. Maybe they were working behind the swcenes, but I didn't see ministers at those rallies.

You also point out that Black ministers have been doing exactly what Republicans want them to; this is quite true, but far more direct! Eugene Rivers met at least once with President Bush about his "faith-based" initiative, which was in part a clear effort to buy off churches of color. Very sad to see someone who should know better allow people like Bush to use him as a prop. To his credit, this was early in Bush's first term, but the point stands nonetheless.


9:46 PM  
Blogger Will said...

Dean, an unpleasant and deeply unfortunate by-product of this return to "traditional morality" campaign will be to reinforce the traditional homophobia against gay men of color. The myth that black men just aren't gay causes a great deal of suffering--more and more are beginning to come out, but they need support, not reproach from their own community.

11:38 AM  
Blogger jjd said...

Its a fine line to tow between voicing a return to religious morality while side-stepping the implications that has to homosexuality. It's not difficult to understand why black homosexuals have an especially difficult time finding acceptance in their community when religion is so stressed as central to their moral character. What is surprising, is how forgiving all of us can be to someone who "falls down" into violence or petty crime but that same tolerance of understanding disappears when discussing someone's genetic proclivity. Until religion can reconcile genetic fact to the bible, I'm afraid of an ugly return of homophobia.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Will said...

jjd, you don't think there's ALREADY been an ugly return to homophobia?

1:26 PM  
Blogger jjd said...

Yes will, you are correct in that homophobia has already returned.

I guess I meant to say a continually increasing, klaxons sounding, bible thumping roar that only gets louder and louder.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write that "morality is not the problem. Racism and economic inequality are..." I don't think that morality can be so easily dismissed. Is racism not immoral? Is it just the "black" clergy that is opposed to gay marriage? Value systems drive debates on morality and unfortunately too many educated and otherwise intelligent people appear to embrace skewed value systems - white, black, or otherwise.

7:33 PM  

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