In many ways, African Americans were the original
conservatives. The majority of us live below the poverty line, so we have to be able
to take a small piece of meat and turn into a meal for six. We've been doing it
for years. At my church, too, we've always had to conserve -- robbing Peter to
pay Paul and borrowing from John to pay Matthew.
However, there are black ministers who continue to be conservative in
the wrong ways. The majority of black churches practice "don't ask, don't tell" policies, saying, "We
love gays and we love lesbians, but we hate the sin they're committing." They
say this even when they know there are gays and lesbians sitting right there in
their pews and singing in their choirs. If you're black and gay, you'll keep going to that church anyway because it's part of your culture. But the church keeps pushing them into the closet.
What's your response to that argument of "hate the sin and love the sinner"?
I say that being gay is a fundamental part of who people are.
Psychologists who once said that gay people could be "converted" have come
forward and apologized. It's understood now that people are just born
differently. They should not be despised for it.
These ministers are the same ones who tell me, "Oliver, this
is not a civil rights issue like we went through 50 years ago." But it is a civil rights issue! When you stand
up and preach against the gays and lesbians, that's discrimination. It's pure
and simple to me.
Do you think Obama's support of gay marriage is really going to make a difference in whether black people turn out for him at the polls?
That's a sad truth. Some influential ministers are telling their congregations to vote for Romney, who opposes almost everything else the black community supports. But not many will. They'll vote Democratic -- if they vote. But I do think a lot of them won't vote at all this time.
That's why I really appreciate what the president did. He took a real risk. I've actually written him a letter, telling him I'd like to go to Washington and shake his hand. Of course, he hasn't answered -- and I don't blame him. If he invited me to Washington, it would really exacerbate the issue.
Even if you meet your
fund-raising goal, you're going to have to struggle to build up your
congregation again. Have you thought about moving to a new area where more
people might share your views?
No, because that would be the antithesis of what it means to
be a follower of Jesus. Jesus could certainly have played it safe. But that's
not what he did -- he challenged the rules, even when it made him unpopular with
Besides, this community needs our church. We have young
people here who can't read or write. We have single women who can't feed their
families and are turning to prostitution. There are drugs being sold right
across the street from our church. Our main goal should be reaching out to the
community -- and that's what we will be focusing on once this fund-raising effort