Three Things The Media Should Know About Rev. William Owens And His Coalition Of African-American Pastors
August 08, 2012 2:44 pm ET by Carlos Maza
Over the past few weeks major news outlets have largely failed to identify Rev. William Owens – head of the recently-formed Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP) – as a key player in the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) race-baiting strategy, treating him instead as a legitimate representative of the black faith community’s position on marriage equality.
Owens garnered national attention in July after criticizing President Obama for endorsing same-sex marriage, comparing him to Judas for allegedly betraying black voters who supported him in 2008. He also weighed in on the Chick-fil-A debate by comparing opposition to the fast food giant to racism during the Civil Rights Movement.
Here’s what media outlets need to know about Owens if and when they decide to cover his remarks about Obama’s support for marriage equality:
1. CAAP Doesn’t Represent The African-American Community
Although Owens claims his organization represents 3,742 African-American pastors, CAAP’s influence appears to be pretty limited. The organization doesn’t speak on behalf of any religious denomination, and its sole mission appears to be to attack Obama and other black leaders who support marriage equality.
As Right Wing Watch recently pointed out, CAAP’s effort to collect 100,000 signatures for its anti-marriage equality pledge had barely mustered more than a thousand signatures by May (over three times less than the number of CAAP’s members).
CAAP’s tepid support might have to do with the fact that a majority of African-American voters who are aware of Obama’s support for marriage equality actually approve of his position. Even among voters who oppose same-sex marriage, the issue isn’t a major priority, with the overwhelming majority of them continuing to support Obama despite his announcement. As The Washington Post’s Robert P. Jones wrote earlier this week, “there is simply no evidence” that Obama’s support for marriage equality “is driving a wedge between Obama and black voters.”
2. CAAP Is A NOM Front Group
In reality, CAAP is little more than a front group for NOM, which has an interest in driving the media narrative that being African-American is somehow incompatible with supporting marriage equality. As The Washington Post’s Lisa Miller wrote last week:
Owens isn’t a story. He’s a figurehead in what political operatives call an “Astroturf” campaign. It looks like a grass-roots movement, but it’s really a political stunt.
Owens has been, for years, a religious liaison for the National Organization for Marriage, a conservative lobbying group whose aim is to block or roll back same-sex marriage legislation wherever it occurs. Though he told me in a phone call that he receives no compensation from NOM, his new campaign called Mandate for Marriage, aimed at urging African Americans to withdraw their support for the president, is made possible in part by individuals affiliated with NOM. “We have asked a few people for contributions – some of them from the National Organization for Marriage,” he told me.
To drive home the point: The day after Owens’s press conference, NOM’s president, Brian Brown, went on Fox and said that “key Democratic constituencies do not support same-sex marriage.” NOM created a truth and then went out and proclaimed it. [emphasis added]
3. Owens Is Central To NOM’s Race-Baiting Strategy
NOM came under heavy criticism earlier this year after internal memos revealed that the organization had planned to “drive a wedge” between the African-American and gay communities. According to NOM’s memo:
The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks—two key Democratic constituencies. Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right; provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots…
NOM’s “wedge” strategy has been in full swing over the past several months, with Rev. Owens serving as one of the key players in the effort to pit African-Americans against the LGBT equality movement.
Last year, during the height of New York’s legislative debate over marriage equality, Owens was the subject of a NOM video titled “Will the Black Church Rise Up in New York For Marriage?” In the video, Owens accused the gay community of trying to “steal” the civil rights movement from the African American community:
OWENS: It is our job as black people … let’s don’t let them take that from us and make it a sham and make a mockery of it.
OWENS: Don’t let them steal it. And they will steal it if we do nothing. They will steal it if we do nothing.
In response to the controversy surrounding its internal “wedge” memos, NOM produced a video in April doubling down on its race baiting rhetoric. The video – “Is Gay Marriage a Civil Right? Black & Latino Leaders Speak For Themselves” – once again features Owens’ “they will steal it” comments, following a slide that asks:
Is it really “Race Bating” When African-American and Latino Leaders Oppose Gay Marriage?
And just last month, NOM released another exclusive video spotlighting CAAP’s criticism of Obama and the NAACP, including a speech in which Owens claims that African-Americans feel “peer pressure” to support marriage equality. The video also featured a number of other CAAP members who repeated the claim that “homosexuality is not a civil right.”