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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Black Church and The POTUS

Black Art Depot

I'm fascinated by the way the 'evolution' of the President's position on Marriage Equality is being played out in the Press. 

It's being called 'historic', and I suppose it is. Mr. Obama is, after all, the first sitting President to 'come out' in support of Marriage Equality in such clear, unequivocal terms. And, he did so citing his faith as a "practicing Christian".

Bravo,  Mr. President.

What is even more fascinating - when it's not thoroughly annoying - is to watch how the Press is spinning the story about the Black Church and their reaction to the President's statement. 

They talk about 'the Black Church' as if they know what they're talking about.  I think there are at least a few reasons for that. The first is that these are predominantly white folk talking about the Black Church. The emphasis of their storyline is not so much what the Black Church thinks about Marriage Equality but how the Black Vote will be affected in November. 

It's the racism version of wedge politics.

I mean, do you really think, in the privacy of the voting booth, that all those people of color are going to vote for Mitt "I like to fire people" Romney based on this one issue of human sexuality and not look at both his past record and his future plans - not just political rhetoric - to address economic recovery, unemployment, education, health care, immigration, and a whole host of other issues that seriously impact quality of life in this country? 

C'mon! How insulting to the intelligence of people of color! Pul- eeeze!

The other problem is that, for the most part, they are talking to Black Pastors who talk about the Black Church as if it were one, monolithic, monochrome, unified entity.

That's a bit like saying that The Episcopal Church is supportive of Marriage Equality. We are not. I think it's fair to say that The Episcopal Church has 'evolved' in its acceptance of LGBT people. For the most part, many will ordain them, bless the covenants they make, and even elect a few (two, thus far) to the episcopacy, knowing of their sexual orientation well before their elections and consecrations. 

We've also come a long way, baby, in advancing the case to develop liturgical rites of blessings on the covenants made by two people of the same sex. It looks like we are actually going to move General Convention to authorizing those liturgical rites, but, as they say in the Opera, it ain't over till the fat lady sings and she won't do that until sometime in July in Indianapolis. 

Having said all that, it also must be said that there are dioceses and bishops and clergy and laity in churches all over The Episcopal Church who will provide a 'warm welcome' to LGBT people, and even more warmly take our pledge or tithe, even let us sing in the choir and arrange the flowers on the altar and carry the cross in procession but will not bless the covenants we make nor support a candidate for ordination to any order of ministry.  

That is the truth of it, despite the fact that canons in The Episcopal Church are very, very clear that there can not be - will not be - any discrimination in this church of ours. Ever. For any reason. Including gender and sexual orientation.  

It's fair to say that The Episcopal Church is fairly progressive on most social issues, but to say, "The Episcopal Church is supportive of Marriage Equality" is to make a generalization that is too broad to be accurate.  

We're evolving and have evolved faster and closer than say, our United Methodist sisters and brothers, but the marriage canons in The Episcopal Church, last time I checked, define marriage as being between 'one man and one woman'. 

Personally, I don't think that's going to change for at least the next two General Conventions.

We could use the same example for any other church. We know what the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church think about contraception but if you want a more accurate picture, talk privately to some of the folks in the pews of most any Roman Catholic Church in America.

So, to present The Black Church as being unified and united in their position of homosexuality in general and Marriage Equality in particular is to not have talked privately with some of the families who sit in the pews. 

Old Time Religion
As one African American mother of a drag queen son who was dying of AIDS said to me way back in the early days of the pandemic, when her preacher, like most preachers around the country, were condemning people with AIDs, "There's what the preacher hears God say and then there's what I hear God say, and God say one word of Truth: Love. So, listen to my preacher preach in church and I come home to my children - all my children - and I love."

I suspect there's more of that than we know.

Indeed, compare and contrast these two statements.

The first comes from the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church, a megachurch in Baltimore, Md., who expressed disappointment with the president’s new position on same sex marriage:
“[T]he church has no shades of gray when it comes to marriage. Our faith reserves marriage for a man and a woman. President Obama, as a product of the Black church, is fully aware of that. Knowing this, the President made this endorsement without calling or preparing any of us. For many of us, it felt like a betrayal,” Bryant wrote.

The influential minister went on to point out that “many Black pastors feel jilted.”
Okay, now read the press release authored by the Rev'd Al Sharpton and signed by the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition for Black Civic Engagement, and Julian Bond, chairman emeritus of NAACP.
 “As leaders in today’s civil rights movement, we stand behind President Obama’s belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to join in civil marriages. We also affirm that individuals may hold different views on this issue but still work together towards our common goals.”
All of these folks are, as Pastor Bryant called Mr. Obama, "products of the Black Church".

Which begs the question: is this about the Black Church or Evangelicals who happen to be Black? 

Does the comment about feeling "jilted" reveal more about the ego or the soul?

We know that the Bible has been used as a weapon of prejudice even before it rolled off the printing press and was bound together in sheets of paper.  No one knows better than most African Americans that to begin an argument with, "What the Bible says...." is to set off on pretty shaky ground.

In 1968, a 25 year old Jerry Falwell declared that segregation was justified on the ground that God 'himself' had divinely ordered the separation of the races.

The Motherboard
Using Genesis 9:18-27 as "our guide," Falwell went on to declare that, "The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line." Referring to a fellow pastor who had told him that "a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife," Falwell concluded that integration "will destroy our race eventually."

Thirty years later, in a Washington Post Magazine interview, Falwell recanted his segregationist views and acknowledged that he had distorted the Bible's message under the influence of his Bible college teachers. "You don't know how hard it is to purge yourself of these things," he said. "Unless you've been there, you just don't know. It's the strongest grip."

Yes, Jerry. Some of us know. Some of us have known that for a very long time. Problem is, it's still got a strong grip on your heart and soul and mind with regards to human sexuality.

Forty-five years after the 1967 Supreme Court ruling declared Virginia's Virginia's prohibition of interracial marriage to be unconstitutional, a 2011 Gallup Poll revealed that 86% of Americans approve of interracial marriage. That was up from 4% in 1958, 20% in 1968, 48% in 1994, and 77% as recently as 2007.

A recent Gallup Poll revealed that 51% of Americans agree with President Obama's statement on Marriage Equality.  Forty-four percent of Americans supported marriage equality in 2010, while 53 were opposed. When Gallup first polled on this issue in 1996, only 27 percent of Americans supported full marital rights for same-sex couples.

Behold the evolution of a culture! We ain't there yet, but we're getting closer every day.  By the time November rolls around, I'm thinking that those percentages will increase beyond our best hopes and wildest dreams for equality and 'equal protection under the law'.

Here's the thing:  As President Barack Obama correctly told ABC News' Robin Roberts, the national debate over same-sex marriage involves civil - not religious - marriage and civil - not religious - laws. Churches and other religious groups - of any ethnicity, creed or color - are not obligated in any way to endorse practices they consider antithetical to their beliefs.

Striving for a "more perfect union" should never be influenced - or nuanced - by anyone's religious preference or practice. 

And, pitting 'the Black Church' against a Black President is more than annoying. It's destructive. And, it's just flat out not true.

Here's what another Black Pastor in Maryland had to say. Listen to the Rev'd Delman Coates, PhD, the senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, MD.
"After listening to Christians debate their support of or their opposition to homosexuality, I came to the conclusion that one's personal religious beliefs should have no bearing in determining whether other American citizens deserve equal treatment under the law.

The issue of civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples is an issue of public policy, not theology.

As a Christian in this country, I value my religious freedom, but I also recognize that I cannot impose my religious beliefs on others in matters of public policy.

As a Christian minister, I believe my role is to live in my faith, not to legislate it, and as long as the State does not seek to regulate the Church, the Church should not seek to regulate the State.

While there are a range of theological views about same sex marriage, all Americans can stand united under the banner of extending civil liberties and justice to all citizens.
People of faith will not allow their theological diversity on this or other issues to be exploited for political gain. The welfare of our nation rests upon growing our economy, preserving the social safety nets for the poor and the elderly, and creating a civil society of mutuality, tolerance, and respect."
Will the pastor of the 'real' Black Church please stand up?

I fully expect both Pastor Byrant and Pastor Coates to stand tall and proud and claim to have an equal share in the identity of the Black Church.

And, there ain't nothing in the world wrong with that. 

So, please, could we stop with the apoplexy about the 'Black Church' and the POTUS? 

Can we Christians begin to focus on combining our efforts to end prejudices like racism, sexism, homophobia and heterosexism and continue the struggle to bring forth the reconciling love of God incarnate in Christ Jesus and lived out in what Dr. King called "The Beloved Community"?

No matter your creed or color, your gender or sexual orientation, you position of power or status in the community, it's just the right thing to do. 


IT said...

Well said. It's like the media saying "Christian" and meaning "fundamentalist evangelical".

The rate of acceptance of inter-racial marriage actually is similar to the rate of acceptance of same sex marriage. (See here.) The difference is that by the time inter-racial was polling at 50%, it had already been 25+ years since it had been legalized.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - I couldn't agree more.

Paul (A.) said...

In North Carolina there is the Rev'd William Barber, who spoke out in advance of the Amendment 1 vote. Also see his news conference.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Paul. I think North Carolina has developed coalitions that will be long-lasting and life-changing. They are charged UP after suffering this defeat! The fundegelicals have overreached. Again.