Bishop Horace Smith, speaks as Francis Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago and members of African-American Clergy Coalitions join in opposing redefinition of marriage legislation at news conference , Friday, April 5, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times
Updated: April 12, 2013 2:24AM
There was a time at the Illinois Statehouse when using African-American ministers as political props was all the rage.
ComEd touted support from black preachers to pass a bill to raise its rates. AT&T did the same when it passed a major piece of legislation. Before the national real estate and banking crash, the mortgage industry fought a bill to crack down on excessively lenient home loans by putting black ministers up front.
And though the ministers were obviously just doing a bit of payroll shilling, their state legislators took them quite seriously.
ComEd and AT&T won their fights.
The mortgage industry lost, but only because House Speaker Michael Madigan called in every favor he could think of to pass his bill. But then Gov. Rod Blagojevich used his veto powers to basically gut the measure, so Madigan eventually lost and the industry won.
For whatever reason, the big corporations have mostly stopped recruiting African-American ministers to front their causes.
But there’s a new group called the African-American Clergy Coalition that is trying to make some waves in Springfield, and they’re doing a pretty good job.
The group claims on its website that it exists to provide resolutions to problems “affecting the lives of African-American and other oppressed people.”
Right now, though, the only issue the group is tackling is gay marriage. The ministers are against it. Solidly against it, despite the thick irony of declaring support for the oppressed while fighting to deny civil marriage rights to others.
The pastors are doing a very good job so far of intimidating black legislators into backing away from their previous support. Their push has all but halted the momentum of gay marriage backers, who had high hopes when the state Senate approved the bill in February.
Along the way, some of those ministers have picked up a few bucks. For example, Bishop Larry Trotter of the New Century Fellowship International was paid $1,000 out of the group’s new political action committee for “clergy consulting.” Bishop Lance Davis of the New Zion Christian Fellowship Covenant Church was also paid $1,000 for “clergy consulting.”
So far, the group has reported raising $72,000, all of it from the National Organization for Marriage, which was heavily involved in passing California’s statewide proposition that declared marriage to be solely between a man and a woman. NOM is run by white folks who have recently made outreach to the black community a top priority. Polls have consistently shown that African-Americans are not nearly as supportive of gay rights and gay marriage as whites.
Of that significant NOM cash pile, the African-American Clergy Coalition has so far reported spending just $11,250 to actually air radio ads blasting gay marriage.
They don’t really need the ads. For decades, African-American churches have been at the center of black political life. Candidates, black and white, flock to the churches during election time, seeking a few kind words of praise. What the pastors say generally goes.
This is America and church pastors have the absolute right to weigh in on the issues of the day. The prospect of losing their religious tax exemptions is extremely remote because the IRS almost always gives churches the benefit of the doubt.
But the upcoming gay marriage vote here in Illinois is taking place on a national stage. The pastors need to be very careful to make sure they dot all their “i’s” and cross all their “t’s” because a very bright light may be shone in their direction.