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Who Would Jesus Stone?

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The Rev. James Manning wants to stone all homosexuals. The pastor of Atlah Missionary Baptist Church in Harlem said as much in a recent YouTube video, where he called upon his fellow Christians to take up stones against gays or be guilty of "advocating lawlessness." It is the law, he further claimed, "stoning of the homos is now in order; stoning is still the law." Jesus would want this, he concluded, and would himself stone gay people. And so all last week the message on the billboard outside his church read, "Jesus would Stone Homos."

This is the latest eruption of homophobia from Rev. Manning, who last month posted on the church's billboard, "Obama has released the homo demons on the black man. Look out black woman. A white homo may take your man." One gets the sense that he believes himself to be on a roll.

What is most remarkable about Rev. Manning's call to violence, however, has been the non-response from the surrounding community and greater New York area. Perhaps in the name of "free speech," Rev. Manning has been allowed to spew his hatred from his pulpit and the sidewalks of 123rd Street. But this is not "free speech," it is hate speech. And no other religious organization in the city or the nation would be allowed to call for the death of an entire group of people without there being an equally strong reaction and some serious repercussions.

Why the non-response?

I think it has a lot to do with the Rev. James Manning himself. Unfortunately, he is an all-too-typical example of another hate-mongering Christian who has replaced Christ's example of peace and love with fear and loathing. But it is dangerous to dismiss James's statements as the nonsensical blathering of a theologically illiterate nut-job. He speaks with the type of misguided certainty that has historically led to civic unrest, torture, and death. One need only look at some countries in Africa for examples.

Thanks to the persistent fear baiting of a few evangelical preachers in the US, several countries in Africa have staged an all-out war on gay people. Uganda and Nigeria have recently passed some of the most stridently anti-gay laws in the world. Uganda's "Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014" (formerly the "kill the gays bill") criminalizes same-sex acts with the threat of up to life in prison. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni justified signing the bill into law by arguing that homosexuality is a pernicious influence from the West, threatening Uganda's "way of life." The Democratic Republic of Congo, among other countries, is considering a similar path with regard to its gay citizens. Rev. Manning would have the US join them, turning "free speech" into governmental policy.

The non-response is also likely due to the location of Rev. Manning's church. Although Harlem has not been majority African American for over a decade, it is still so in popular imagination. So, I suspect that when Rev. Manning says "gay," those who hear him think "black." And as several recent events in our country have shown us emphatically, there is far too little outrage when a black body is threatened, violated, or killed. If Rev. Manning's church were even a few blocks south of 123rd Street, there would have been an entirely different response. In other words, let him take his call to stone gays to the West Village or Chelsea and see what happens. We can be assured that there would be an active and engaged response from the community unlike the quiet whispers of passive disapproval rummaging throughout Harlem.

Rev. Manning's recent homophobic eruptions also demonstrate the degree to which political and religious conservatives hate President Obama. Since his "evolution" on gay rights, President Obama has been the target of conservatives who accuse him of lessening the nation's moral values. Rev. Manning holds President Obama personally responsible for the existence of homosexuality among black men. Obama has "released the homo demons" on them. And this view is not uncommon. The Rev. Franklin Graham (son of Billy) has recently gone on record praising Vladimir Putin for Russia's anti-gay laws. "In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues," the evangelical leader proclaimed. When you hate the President of the United States enough to praise Vladimir Putin, you really hate the President. The Reverends Manning, Graham, and a host of other conservatives hate the President just that much, largely due to his stance on gay rights.

Ultimately, however, Rev. Manning and his congregation are just another sad example of a black Christian congregation that has forgotten their history. It is a history that not long ago placed them on the other side of that kind of bigotry. If one replaces "blacks" and "Negroes" for "gays" or "homos" on Rev. Manning's church signs, we as a country would be right back where we once were. These signs are a disgrace to a history that makes their very existence possible. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't take a bullet so that black ministers could spew hatred in historically black neighborhoods.

And Jesus never stoned or advocated the stoning of anyone. The only thing Jesus said about stoning was "he who is without sin" should cast the first one. Add that to the fact that he said absolutely nothing about homosexuality and it is a strange theology indeed that calls for the stoning of gay people.

Rev. Manning's homophobia is dangerous and is an affront not only to historic Harlem, but also to the Christian tradition. He has never been happy with Harlem and has been attempting to shape it into his theocratic vision for over 20 years. So perhaps it is time for him to leave. I am not saying Rev. Manning should be run out of Harlem, but I am saying that it is worthy of some thought.