For his part, Manning welcomed the news that the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force was investigating his case. “That’s exactly what it is. It was motivated by pure and simple hate,” he told New York’s Daily News, adding, “Gay people are just outright bullies,” and “I expected them to act in a very violent way.”
Which raises the obvious question: Which is more violent: a sign that reads “God is gay” or one that says, “Jesus would stone homos”?
The issue isn’t new: The recently deceased Fred Phelps, pastor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, was well-known for his counterintuitive “God hates fags” messaging displayed during countless military funerals—often of young veterans from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The difference here is that Manning, by virtue of the church he leads and the community in which it is based, is aligned with an African-American church tradition historically steeped in support of civil rights and equality. His prominent location alone, at the intersection of Harlem’s 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue, places the debate about homophobia in the church squarely at the heart of the black community.
And in contrast to Manning, the Rev. Delman Coates believes that “we need more black clergy with enough prophetic courage to speak out against this ignorance” instead of promoting it.
Coates, who leads Mount Ennon Baptist Church, a mega-church in Clinton, Md., with more than 8,000 congregants, has been an outspoken critic of anti-gay religious rhetoric. He was an ambassador of President Obama’s 2012 campaign and was recently nominated to run for lieutenant governor of Maryland.
“I find these signs completely un-American and un-Christian,” Coates told me. “It’s un-American because we live in a society in which we enjoy both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. And it is un-Christian because it is antithetical to the spirit of Christ—who taught us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And who said, ‘He who is without sin must cast the first stone.’
“Consensual love between same-sex couples was never condemned in the Bible,” Coates continued. “When people refer to the stories of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah, they need to understand that sexual rape and violence is what was condemned there, not love. I consider myself an evangelical and a conservative minister, but these guys are applying ideological perspectives to the religious texts that simply are not there. The black church in America has historically been a place where the ideals of freedom, justice and inclusion were promoted both socially and politically. That’s our rich history. I am disturbed by people who use this as a platform to demean the humanity of others.”
In answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” Coates replied, “I think Jesus would accuse a lot of these people of identity fraud. In fact, identity fraud is a major problem in pulpits across America. And Jesus wants his identity back.”
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.