How would you react if there was a church in your neighborhood posting inflammatory anti-gay messages each day? That's the situation faced by some residents of Harlem, New York City, which is home to the ATLAH Worldwide Church — a case study in self-aggrandizement, considering it only has one location. And some members of the community aren't keeping quiet about it: anti-gay preacher James David Manning is rejected by many of his Harlem neighbors, and that's a very, very good thing.
It's possible you haven't heard of Manning before, fringe fundamentalist figure that he is. But if you have, you're probably familiar with his bombastic, aggressive style of preaching, as he's given voice to a multitude of inane ideas through the years. A brief refresher:
- He's a birther, and has referred to President Obama as "a long-legged mack daddy," called his mother "trash," and insists that Obama "was born trash."
- He believes Obama is a homosexual, which (obviously) he views as a problem.
- He thanked George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin, likening it to a biblical stoning.
- He engages in juvenile name-calling — stuff like referring to black independent media CEO Elon James White as "Ellen," which is less creative homophobia than some middle-schoolers I've run across.
I could go on for a solid 2,000 words just on this stuff, but it's not worth the space — suffice to say, Manning is the epitome of religious zealotry leading to some very bleak places. Which is why it's reassuring to see him get a face-to-face condemnation from some the people subjected to his raving signs. A representative example:
Now, if Manning took the advice of some of his community's sensible, tolerant voices, the fire-breathing signs would be a thing of the past. And while it's clear he doesn't plan to yield on this point, it's still refreshing to see him called to account for the bigoted messages in public. (While the video isn't available for embed, you can view it here, courtesy of WPIX.)
In particular, Manning was called out by Sharifa Ferryman, a woman who told him she felt badly hurt by his inflammatory signs, which she'd see while out walking with her wife.
So your words that are on your sign are what you're preaching in your church? The words that are up there, you're practicing in your church? Obviously, you're putting these hateful words up here, and that's what you believe.
Manning then insisted that the words on his signs "were not hateful," which is belied by, well, virtually every example you can find.
Manning then called Ferryman "demon-possessed," which, you know, sounds kinda hateful. Her response was perfect, even though it clearly fell on deaf ears: "Because I love a woman the way you love a woman?"
While it's not always possible to change minds, this is just one example in a slew of recent stories of people standing up to anti-gay bigotry in the communities, both in situations where it's rooted in a fundamentalist faith interpretation, and when it's being enforced by the state. Some noteworthy examples:
- Arizona's Rabbi Irwin Wiener, who wrote a nuanced, impressive condemnation of anti-gay Tempe pastor Steven Anderson, a "man of God" who's cited executing gay people as a solution to the AIDS crisis.
- Florida man Chuck Chapman, who (as detailed by The Advocate) refused to submit to jury duty while his county clerk of court refused to host or facilitate any same-sex weddings.
- Oregon 16-year-old Makaila Ragan, who made a particularly inspiring example — she stood alongside a pair of anti-gay demonstrators with her own sign, stating "I love gays." She received verbal abuse from the anti-gay adults, according to the Daily Mail, but stood her ground nonetheless, eventually inspiring dozens more members of the community to join her in solidarity.
Basically, if you see intolerance and/or bigotry in your community, and you're in a position to speak out without imperiling your physical safety (anti-gay violence remains a big problem in the United States), try to draw some inspiration from these people's examples. With any luck, for every James David Manning, there are a hundred Sharifa Ferrymans and Makaila Ragans out there.