Tea Party figurehead U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the keynote speaker at an awards dinner that kicked off the Coalition of African American Pastors’ 8th Annual Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., this week.
“Senator Paul is one of the most prominent leaders in Washington because he understands issues that affect all Americans and is willing to offer solutions that will make their lives better. We are proud to have him featured at our Awards Dinner,” said the Rev. Bill Owens, president of CAAP, in a statement. “The 8th Annual Leadership Conference will serve as a forum for those willing to stand up and speak out for many in the disenfranchised black communities of America.
With the help of strong leaders like Senator Paul, these are goals that CAAP is certain can be achieved.”
Despite that glowing praise, a list of other invited guests that includes Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and the conference’s co-sponsorship by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in the District, Owens insisted the group is a nonpartisan one that does not endorse “anybody.”
“Senator Paul will be here to discuss inequities in education and the prison system—that’s all he can talk about,” the 74-year-old retired pastor, who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, Tenn., during the 1950s and ‘60s, told the AFRO in an interview before the event.
“We are not for any political group. We deal with the issues Blacks face every day, [so] if the Democrats are not addressing [those] issues we go at them; if the Republicans are not doing right, we will go at them.”
For example, said Owens, many CAAP members voted for President Obama, but they now find themselves at odds with the administration’s stance on several issues, particularly same-sex marriage, abortion and more.
CAAP describes itself as “a grass-roots movement of Christians who believe in traditional family values such as supporting the role of religion in American public life, protecting the lives of the unborn, and defending the sacred institution of marriage.” The group surged into the national spotlight in May 2012 when Owens and other members took to the airwaves to rail against President Obama’s changed stance on gay marriage and the fact that religious groups were being forced to recognize such unions. The group has become the “Black face” of the anti-gay marriage movement and is backed financially and otherwise by right-leaning conservative groups like the Family Research Council, American Family Association and the American Principles Project, according to an August 2012 USA Today report.
Bishop Aubrey Shines, a CAAP member and senior pastor of Glory to Glory Ministries in Tampa, Fla., said many Black pastors were “broken” and experienced “buyer’s remorse” after Obama announced his support for gay marriage and have become more open to GOP ideas.
“The Black clergy is not a monolithic group. We’re not married to any political party, and for the first time conservatives are capturing the ear of Black clergy because of the religious liberties that are being violated by this administration,” he said. “If Hillary Clinton thinks she is going to ride into office on the coattails of the failed policies of this administration she is mistaken. It’s not going to happen.
“Black and Hispanic clergy have awakened,” Shines continued. “We will not be bamboozled by this political agenda.”
CAAP’s leadership conference will convene under the theme, “Rebuilding our Families and Reclaiming the Peace and Prosperity of our Cities,” and will tackle issues such as the breakdown of the Black family, waning Black wealth and entrepreneurship, school choice and Christian education, and justice and prison reform.
“We’re not going to sugarcoat anything [and] we’re going to make some strong statements,” Owens said. “Black people are suffering more than anybody in this country and somebody has to stand up for the little guy.”
The leadership conference will also allow CAAP to better organize itself and to establish its policy advocacy agenda. According to Shines, that will include rallying support to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, more colloquially known as “Obamacare.”
“We need to rethink this entitlement, socialist idea as it comes to medicine…. It doesn’t work,” Shines told the AFRO. “This country is being thrust into something that it is not ready for.”