Conservative black clergy back baker who refused gay couple

William Avon Keen, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Virginia, joined conservative black clergy in launching a campaign in support of a Colorado baker who refused to create a cake for a gay wedding. (RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks)

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WASHINGTON (RNS)—Conservative African-American clergy accused LGBT activists of hijacking the civil rights movement and launched a campaign to support a Colorado baker who refused to create a cake for a same-sex wedding.

William Avon Keen, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Virginia, told reporters the civil rights movement’s efforts to gain equal facilities for schooling and health care do not equate with a gay couple’s wedding cake request.

“We had to fight for equal treatment because of the color of our skin,” he said, standing with other black clergy at a news conference held outside the Supreme Court. “Christians should not be forced to support sin.”

‘We Got Your Back, Jack’

The “We Got Your Back, Jack” campaign’s message is that the African-American civil rights struggle and LGBT rights are not comparable, adding to the fierce debate surrounding the case scheduled to be heard by the court on Dec. 5.

One of the images in the campaign depicts “white” and “colored” water fountains along with an “LGBT” rainbow-colored bubbler—all topped with the words, “One of these never happened.”

Dean Nelson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, said the aim of the campaign is the “support of Jack Phillips and all people of faith and conscience who simply want to live their lives, who simply want the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“The government exists to protect those who have diverse opinions and viewpoints, not to punish them,” added Nelson, who also is a senior fellow for African-American affairs at the Family Research Council.

The high court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, stems from a request in 2012 by David Mullins and Charlie Craig, a Denver gay couple, who wanted a wedding cake from Phillips’ shop. Phillips, the owner, refused, saying baking such a cake would violate his deeply held Christian beliefs.

The couple filed discrimination charges against him and won before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and in the state courts.

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‘Trivializes racial discrimination’

The clergy were joined by staffers from Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council Action, advocacy groups siding with Phillips, as well as Janet Boynes, founder of a Minneapolis-based ministry that offers “spiritual guidance for those who choose to walk away from homosexuality.”

Boynes also objected to activists’ efforts to equate the civil rights and gay rights movements.

“I resent having my race compared to what other people do in bed,” she said. “There is no comparison. It only trivializes racial discrimination.”

Reached after the press conference, Cedric Harmon, executive director of Many Voices—a pro-LGBTQ black church movement—rejected the campaign’s premise.

“As a believer myself and a Christian, I don’t believe that anyone in business should be using their religious beliefs to discriminate against any member of one marginalized community because to do so would open the door to discriminate against all other marginalized communities,” he said.

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