The Black Church Is Conflicted on Gay Marriage, But It’s Really So Simple

Black churchPresident Obama just so happened to make his announcement in support of gay marriage the same week I had choir rehearsal. So two days after he shook up the world, I was in the sanctuary of my church when someone brought it up in conversation, thinking—I’m sure—that everyone would share the same view. After all, we are all members of the same congregation.

“I’m disappointed,” one sister lamented. “It would have to be the first black president to come out and endorse this nonsense.” She shook her head emphatically, like the man had signed a bill declaring something utterly ridiculous, like we all have to wear rat fur coats on Fridays from here on out. She was genuinely put out with the prez. 


Now, I’ve got to confess that I’m not the most diplomatic broad on the block. Even when I think I’ve got my tongue bridled and my sassiness in check, it somehow manages to ooze out. So while she and another gentleman took turns batting their disgust back and forth—insisting that they don’t have a problem with gay folks, they just don’t see why Obama needed to support their right to be married—I shifted from one foot to another, trying to find my nice lady tone.

And I did. At first. So by the time they paused in their Obama booing to look at me and ask “So Ms. Writer, what do you think?” I slid into a poker face. “I’m actually proud of him for a few reasons,” I said. “For one, he took a stand on an issue, which has been something I’ve been wanting him to do. Take a firm, unshakeable stand and stay there. Secondly, he’s supporting another minority group. I’m not mad at that.

A sweet awkward silence filled the air as homegirl paused to process what I said. Then she regrouped: “You don’t think homosexuality is a sin?” she half-asked, half-accused.

Le sigh. This age-old question. “Nope. I don’t think it’s as simple as that. It’s not that black and white. And Lord knows it’s not my job to judge, even if it is. Look, if gay folks can’t get married because homosexuality is supposed to be a sin, then theoretically, I shouldn’t either because I fornicated and had a child out of wedlock. And that’s a sin, too.” That was different, she insisted.

Thankfully, it was time to start rehearsal and put the debate on ice before everybody started pulling out their Bibles and interpreting scripture to support their opposing arguments. The conversation wasn’t an isolated experience for me. I was born into and raised up in the black church—African Methodist Episcopal to be exact (holla!)—so her reaction is nothing I haven’t heard whispered in pews or declared across the pulpit before. For as long as I can remember, the super Christians who vow not to judge use Biblical reference to justify their really bad, really self-righteous habit of doing just that.

But I feel like this right here: when one minority becomes instrumental in holding up the rights and progress of another, it’s an even bigger slap in the face. And no one moves ahead. Not black folks, not gay folks, not black gay folks, no one. It’s almost tantamount to saying “you’ve got your struggles, and I’m sorry for ya, but it has nothing to do with me.” And that’s a sad, sad perspective to have. Because what goes on in Mark and Mike or Jane and Jan’s house may not affect me, but their right to make their relationship official does. When you squelch the liberties of one group, should it come as a shock when affirmative action laws are obliterated that help marginalized blacks and Latinos or create special provision to balance the inequality against women? Where does it start and stop?

I do want more black Christian leaders to openly support the President’s declaration instead of letting their public opinion lie in the mercies of their congregants. Allowing ultra conservative super Christians to dictate their public support of gay marriage is just sad. It shows lack of leadership when, in fact, that is the role every minister and evangelist and pastor plays. If you’re going to bring the Word, bring the Word. And the Word says that there is freedom in Jesus. That includes freedom to love and be loved, and not just the hetero folks.

Opening the minds of the masses is part of the call of ministry, and that requires taking a stand, just like President Obama did. It doesn't matter why or when, election year or not. He did it. Now what we as the black Christian community are going to do remains to be seen.

Do you think it’s the responsibility of church leaders to take a stand on gay marriage?

Image via pozek/Flickr

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