Black church leaders gathered at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington this week to discuss the future direction of the black church and what they said was the importance of advocating the causes of abortion rights and greater inclusion of homosexuals.
The event, part of this year's 12th annual National Black Church Summit on Sexuality, featured workshops that spoke of the importance of pro-choice reproductive rights and ending what speakers said were failed federal abstinence approaches to sex education in schools.
While the issues that the black pastors spoke of are considered controversial and taboo among many churches, Carlton W. Veazey, a Baptist pastor for nearly five decades and one of the speakers that appeared at the event, summed up the purpose of the conference as one that would help highlight what he described as the special role of black churches as agents of social change.
"We can teach our young people, 'Yes, I believe in abstinence only,' but I also believe I have to be realistic enough to tell my young people how to protect themselves and to keep from becoming pregnant," Veazey told Cybercast News Service, while explaining his opposition to abstinence education programs.
Black churches are hardly a uniform group, however, and there are many in the black community who would take offense at the conference's supportive views of homosexuality and abortion.
Abortion, in particular, has been a thorny issue in black communities as blacks reportedly account for as much as one-third of all abortions in the country, despite accounting for only 12 percent of the population.
Many black leaders, including Alveda King, niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., have called abortion a "racist, genocidal act" and are preparing to boycott the NAACP's annual convention next week in Cincinnati for what they say is the group's harmful support for abortion.
"Abortion kills 1,452 black infants every day in this country. Sadly, the black community and its leaders are largely ignoring the slaughter. On July 14, 2008, LEARN (BlackGenocide.org) with assistance from CBR Midwest will confront the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at its annual national convention in Cincinnati, OH, about its unwillingness to substantively address abortion," said the Rev. Clenard H. Childress, Jr., founder of BlackGenocide.org, and one of the boycott's organizers in a statement.
Veazey, however, dismissed the voices of black pro-life advocates.
"They talk about abortion, and I tell them 'you are the ones who believe in the fetus, you all worship the fetus, and then when the baby really gets here you all abort them,'" he told Cybercast News Service.
"I say you abort them every time I drive through southeast Washington, where there's a lack of health care, lack of housing, lack of opportunity. Some of those kids are aborted walking around. And do you know where they go when they are aborted? They go to jail. They go to the criminal justice system. They go to drugs. But these are the same kids that they were so anxious to bring here," he added.
But Childress said that the harmful effects of abortion were incalculable.
"The physical and psychological maladies caused by abortion are deliberately hidden from unsuspecting women," he said in a statement.
Through the National Black Church Initiative and the annual National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice has worked to reduce the high rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the African American community.
The interfaith coalition of national mainstream religious organizations was founded in 1973 "to safeguard the newly won constitutional right to abortion."
Among the speakers at their July 9-11 summit were Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the Majority Whip for the U.S. House of Representatives and leader of the Democrats' Faith Working Group, and former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.