They love President Barack Obama. But when it comes to his support for same-sex marriage, some of the nation’s leading African-American clergy are divided, sometimes passionately.
Meeting in Washington on Thursday, the Conference of National Black Churches couldn’t reach agreement. As a group, the only thing they found conclusive was that the Bible – Old Testament and New – presents no consensus when it comes to homosexuality. But most of the ministers, pastors and theological scholars expressed firm positions on where they stand when it comes to marrying same-sex couples.
“I love all homosexual brothers and sisters, but my discipline says I can’t marry them,” Bishop John Adams, an African Methodist Episcopal minis ter and former conference chairman, said to cheers. “Same-sex marriages are not being approved by the Christian community because it is a contradiction of creation. . . . The species continues by the procreation of male and female.”
Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University sociology professor who holds a doctorate in religion from Princeton University, scolded African-American clergy members who rail against gay marriage and homosexuals yet still take donations from them and allow them to serve as church ushers and to sing in or direct church choirs.
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“Some of the most homophobic preachers there are probably gay themselves,” Dyson asserted to hoots and hushes in the ballroom. “I’m not saying you must be secretly gay. My point is that the gay self has been so constructed and demonized that even the gay person, as a rite of passage, hate(s) the gay self . . . in order to gain legitimacy in black church circles.”
Thursday’s public debate reflected one that’s already taking place in some form in African-American churches across the country since Obama, previously a gay-marriage opponent, declared his support earlier this month amid growing pressure from within the Democratic Party and close advisers to embrace the issue.
Obama’s stance set off waves of concern about how African-Americans, who’ve generally opposed same-sex marriage at higher rates than whites have in the past, would react in an election year. But a ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that 59 percent of African-Americans now support gay marriage, up from 41 percent earlier this spring and last summer.
While attitudes may be changing within the African-American community, the African-American church appears to be a different matter.
The nine denominations of the Conference of National Black Churches, which reach 10 million people, all oppose gay marriage, said the Rev. Dr. Franklyn Richardson, the group’s chairman.
Hilary Shelton, the director of the Washington bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, warned conference members Thursday not to let Obama’s gay-marriage position become a distraction that puts them on the political sidelines this November.
Shelton reminded the group that President George W. Bush received 11 percent of the African-American vote nationwide in 2004 and 16 percent of the African-American vote in Ohio largely because of same-sex referendums that were on some state ballots.
“That evil genius Karl Rove was able shave 4 percent of the African-American vote off,” Shelton said. “That happened then, we can’t allow it to happen now, which is why we’re having this conversation.”
Adams said he supported Obama despite the president’s gay-marriage stance.
“I love the president,” he said. “But I disagree with him.”