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Controversial Rev. Rick Warren to Speak at King Memorial Service

By Matthew Cardinale, News Editor, The Atlanta Progressive News (December 22, 2008)

(APN) ATLANTA – Controversial pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, who at least once has compared homosexuality to incest, has been booked to be the keynote speaker at Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Commemorative Service, according to a copy of the program obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

The service is scheduled for January 19, 2009, at 10am, at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and is included in the official program of the ten-day King Center’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration which begins on January 10.

Local homosexual activist Darlene Hudson says she learned the news when contacted by APN and expects there will be protests.

Hudson was part of a small group of protesters in 2004 when King’s daughter, Bernice King, marched against same-sex unions in Atlanta along with Bishop Eddie Long.

"I'm completely baffled by this Rick Warren piece," Hudson said. "Inviting someone of his caliber, of comparing GLBTQ people to bestiality, that's a pretty low blow in our community, and to pedophiles, that's pretty grappling information to try to deal with."

"I don't think it's gonna be very favorable within the gay community. As soon as this begins to move through the community, there's gonna be some quick organizing around it. You can't just sit idly by and allow this rhetoric to continue," Hudson said.

"I think they should call for an apology before he goes up," Hudson said.

"If we have to take some stands, I know our community will. We don't have time for this kind of hate this guy can perpetuate."

Warren’s upcoming speech in Atlanta was first noted on Blog for Democracy.

"My mind is confused about how Rev. Rick will talk about Dr. King's legacy of equal rights and then still preach about who is excluded from God's love," blogger Bernita Smith wrote.

Warren made national headlines in recent days when equality activists criticized Warren’s selection to give the invocation at President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Warren not only was a supporter of California’s Proposition 8, which, as previously covered by Atlanta Progressive News, sought to redefine marriage--after the courts had previously redefined it, in California--to mean one man and one woman.

Warren also compared homosexuality with incest in recent remarks to Beliefnet.com.

"The issue to me is... I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."

Warren’s upcoming King speech is on January 19; the inauguration in Washington, DC, is the following day.

The King Center did not immediately return two voicemails seeking comments, left for Steve Cline and Barbara Harrison.

COMMUNITY REACTION

Community members had mixed reactions to the planned King memorial speech. Homosexual activists were livid, while progressive Black leaders expressed a range of views.

"It’s just absurd. It’s ridiculous. In my opinion, nobody should be given a platform that’s that divisive," Betty Couvertier, WRFG radio host and homosexual activist, told Atlanta Progressive News. "They’re promoting discrimination."

"He [Warren]... puts the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community... in this other place that doesn't give us humanity. People talk about civil rights and human rights," Couvertier said.

"I think it's inappropriate for him to be involved in the inauguration. I think it’s inappropriate for him to be involved in the King event," State Sen. Vincent Fort, a prominent civil rights leader, told APN.

"What he represents in his slander of the gay community-- it is slander--seems to be antithetical to the spirit that Obama was communicating during the campaign as well as the spirit of the King Center--antithetical, at cross purposes," Fort said.

"Rick Warren in his slander of the gay community seems to be divisive at best. There are people who say he’s not so bad because he proposes greater emphasis on poverty and the environment. That's all well and good," Fort said.

Fort said he didn’t think someone would be invited to speak who “has good views on poverty or the environment but [says] we don't like Black people."

"It's troubling. We’re not saying don’t talk with him, don’t communicate with him. There should be conditions. We could talk to him and meet with him, but to have him a central figure, that's a little bit different," Fort said.

"He should not play a symbolic role in this kind of event, we don't need to put him out there as a lead figure," Fort said.

"If it had been me, I probably wouldn't have invited him. Hopefully he can grow to become more tolerant," Fort added.

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks declined comment. "I don't agree with everyone they invite. They can invite who they want to invite. I don't work at the King Center. Who they invite is their business," he said.

"I disagree with Rick Warren on gays. He also talks about HIV, poverty, and global warming. Those are issues I agree with him on," Rev. Timothy McDonald of the First Iconium Baptist Church said.

"If we concentrate on those issues we might find some opening on issues I disagree with," McDonald said.

"How are we gonna build bridges? Dr. King always talked about dialogue with those opposed to us, those who disagree with us," McDonald said.

"I would be disappointed if the homosexual activists were not upset... but [they] should not expect the whole nation to be upset," McDonald said.

"We can have some dialogue on the gay issues. I disagree with [his comments regarding] incest and all that. If I don't work with him, how is he gonna change it?" McDonald said.

"I would say to my gay brothers and sisters, the sun will still rise on January 21. He's not going to say anything about gays or incest. I just don't want folks to blow up," McDonald said.

"The keynote address, I do not agree with. Several of those they've had for 10 years I said they never should have chosen them. They chose them for whatever reason and the sun still came up the next day," McDonald said.

"Would I go run down there to hear him? No," McDonald said.

BRIEF BACKGROUND ON KING DAY EVENTS

It is ironic that in fact, the first King memorial march, which took place in Memphis, Tennessee, the day after King was assassinated, was co-organized by his friend and advisor, Bayard Rustin, who was openly homosexual.

As previously reported by APN, Rev. James Orange, who passed away earlier this year, had been the annual organizer of the King March taking place on his birthday each January.

Rev. Orange ensured that march–which was one part of an annual series of events preceding King’s birthday–continued to have an activist focus.

"He [Orange] was doing it under the MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change. About 10 years ago, the King Center decided they no longer wanted to sponsor the march," State Rep. Tyrone Brooks told APN in an interview for Rev. Orange’s obituary.

"That’s when he decided he would just organize a committee of activists and he would continue to sponsor the march. He didn’t tell me that they ever gave him a reason," Brooks said. "I said, we don’t need the King Center to do the march, we can do it."

Today, the march is completely separate from the King Center events.

Orange founded the M.L. King Jr. March Committee-Africa/African American Renaissance Committee, Inc., in 1995. He and Rev. Joseph Lowery registered the organization with the State of Georgia in 2001.

The current CEO of Africa African-American Renaissance is James’s son, Cleon Orange. His wife, Cleophas, is Secretary, as of an April 2008 filing.

For the past seven years, the King March festivities have included an annual Bayard Rustin breakfast, organized by an ad hoc group of activists.

The King Center has typically not included the Rustin breakfast as part of its schedule of events; however, Rev. Orange, while he was alive, had included the breakfast in his calendar, Hudson said.

As of today, Rev. Orange’s King March website, while not completely updated, does list events for 2009 on its homepage, including the Rustin breakfast.

Several homosexual activists have participated in planning in the King March for several years, Hudson said.

Next year’s march is being organized by Rev. Orange’s wife and daughter, Hudson said.

At least two planning meetings already took place at the King Center although the events are separate from the King Center, McDonald said.

BRIEF BACKGROUND ON KING FAMILY CONFLICT OVER HOMOSEXUALITY

The conflict over equality for homosexuals has been a recurring theme in the history of the King family.

As mentioned earlier, Rustin worked behind the scenes to advise King on nonviolent organizing strategy and helped him build the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yet, he did not receive much credit for his work because opponents of the CRM used Rustin’s sexuality as a wedge issue to distance Rustin’s colleagues from him.

For example, former US Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., once told the media there were “immoral forces” within the CRM, presumably referring to Rustin. King at one point distanced himself from Rustin in order to work with Powell on legislation.

Rustin co-organized the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Three weeks before the march, former US Sen. Strom Thurmond charged Rustin of being a homosexual socialist with an arrest record, all of which were true.

Shortly thereafter, King defended Rustin, and the two began working together again.

Rustin and King co-organized what is today the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, had both been supporters of homosexual equality.

One of their daughters who was very supportive of equality, Yolanda King, passed away in 2007.

Another one of their daughters, Bernice King, as mentioned earlier, joined with Bishop Long to march in Atlanta against same-sex unions, in 2004, stirring national controversy.

"25 or 30 years ago, the barometer of human rights in the US were Black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regards to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian," Rustin said shortly before his death.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News, and is reachable is matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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