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We will break the silence

As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Did Three Decades Ago,
Black Clergy Must Continue to Address
Difficult Issues Affecting Their Congregations

Rev. Carlton W. Veazey
Washington, D.C.

April 4, 1998 marked the 30th anniversary of the death of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, I choose to celebrate his life and reflect upon his work. After all, he was the voice in the wilderness crying out against racial hatred and intolerance. From the pulpits of churches, he along with black clergy and parishioners broke the silence and laid the foundation for a community to stand with dignity against terrorism and inequality.

Even after his death, African Americans made great strides in our political, social and economic life. Dr. King's legacy garnered affirmative action legislation, opened doors for the Reverend Jesse Jackson to run for presidency, and paved the way for entrepreneurial opportunities like Oprah Winfrey's multibillion dollar Harpo Production Company. Because he believed in us, we persevered, and it is his dream that motivates me to rekindle the spirit of the Black church and break the silence around issues of sex and sexuality. I also have a dream.

In 1996, my colleagues and I developed the Black Church Initiative of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice to assist Black religious leaders and the African American community in addressing teen childbearing, sexuality education and other reproductive health issues within the context of African American culture and religion. Like Dr. King, we stepped out on faith believing black clergy and laity would have a powerful impact on the future of African American spiritual life. As a result, the Religious Coalition sponsored its first National Black Religious Summit On Sexuality last summer. The Summit confirmed that we were not alone as African American clergy who felt unprepared to address issues related to sexuality, unwanted pregnancies, and reproductive health. Most clergy at the Summit who had attended seminary indicated they received no training in sexuality and reproductive health issues. I knew then in the words of Victor Hugo, "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

So it was not surprising to see nearly 300 black clergy and laity convening at the Summit to discuss sexuality issues. At the conference, 100 black clergy drafted a consensus statement declaring that they would create a biblical and spiritual theology that includes sex, sexual orientation, and sexual ethics and vowed to create local and national partnerships with congregations to address sexuality issues. A survey taken at the end of the Summit showed that 100% agreed that sexuality education should be a part of their church ministry or programs. Furthermore, 89% indicated that they felt more prepared to assist their congregation in dealing with teen pregnancy issues.

Dr. King broke the silence in the '60s through creative non-violence despite the onslaught of racist terrorism. With the same kind of dignity and grace in the face of adversity, the Religious Coalition through its Black Church Initiative and the National Black Religious Summit On Sexuality will impact a community and a country-- one church, one mosque, one ministry at a time.

Black clergy, laity, and health advocates will reconvene in July on the grounds of Howard University's School of Divinity at Summit II. We will develop constructive models from which Summit participants may enact programs and services through ministry that provide spiritual understanding of complex issues surrounding intimacy and sexuality. We will meet the challenge. We will break the silence.

On April 4, I celebrate(d) the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I pray that our steps, as his, are being ordered in the word. Thank you dear brother for the ability to dream and thank you for giving us hope.

The Reverend Carlton W. Veazey, Executive Director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 1025 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 1130, Washington, DC 20005

Published in In Motion Magazine - May 17, 1998.