Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III had this to say on Sunday there at Trinity United Church of Christ about marriage equality.
Let the church say “Amen.”
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III had this to say on Sunday there at Trinity United Church of Christ about marriage equality.
Let the church say “Amen.”
I know. It’s been two years. I’ve been busy.
I dusted off my blog this evening because Twitter only allows 140 characters and Facebook is not suited for long, rambling remarks.
Especially when it comes to talk about the black church and gay marriage.
President Obama declared for the first time on May 9, 2012 in a White House interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts that he supports same-sex marriage, after nearly two years of saying that his views on same-sex marriage were “evolving.” Reactions to the president’s remarks have been swift, predictable, and for the most partisan.
At least one well-known black minister has not hesitated to voice his disappointment with the president’s comments. Says Rev. Jamal Bryant of Baltimore, Maryland, the president has some explaining to do to his black church constituency.
I disagree. Obama doesn’t have any explaining to do to the black church about his position on same-sex marriage. I co-sign my colleague’s, Leslie Callahan, comment on her Facebook page reminding us that Obama is the president of the United States and not the pastor of the United States.
While I am proud there’s a black man in the White House I am not one of more than fourteen thousand fans of the “I love it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is President” Facebook Fan page. Can’t do it. But neither do I want to wake up in the morning with the public thinking Jamal Bryant’s comments represent the best (or only thing) response black clergy have to Obama’s comments on same-sex marriages. (In fairness, I should disclose that I know Jamal Bryant personally and I am disappointed with his comments, though no entirely surprised.)
I’ve already stated on this blog that I do not think being gay is an abomination. I’m sure I did once. But I don’t anymore. And while I’m still evolving on the issue of gay marriages, I don’t oppose it enough to clobber its supporters nor do I support it enough to blast its opponents. Not trying to be coy or clever. It’s just that I am fierce about what matters to me and not easily baited by topics that don’t strike a match in me.
Until now I’ve been content to stay out of the gay marriage fray. Until I read Jamal Bryant’s claim that the POTUS has some explaining to do to his black Christian constituency.
Same sex marriage, in my opinion, is not a biblical or theological issue; it’s a social and political one. Traditional and conservative Christianity is going to lose on this issue.
I disagree with those who see legalizing same sex marriage as a threat to the bible, Christianity, or the institution of marriage. I agree that legalizing same sex marriage is a threat to thousands of years of tradition. But that isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I would be a slave, and a barefoot and pregnant one at that, if tradition hadn’t been questioned or challenged. Not to mention that lots of other important scientific knowledge we now embrace would not be known to us if we’d stayed tied to the biblical cosmos.
The Bible meant well in its edicts on human sexuality. But not many of us, including Rev. Bryant, would not want to live in biblical times. And not just because there was no running water back then. We wouldn’t want to live in the moral and social universe it advocates where wearing glasses disqualifies you from serving at God’s altar, contact with a menstruating woman makes you unclean, and adulterers must be stoned to death. Yet I understand what made our biblical ancestors want to contain this powerful, chaotic force known as human sexuality. But biblical teachings on human sexuality (if teachings are what we can call the inchoate biblical passages that deal with sexual issues) don’t serve us well today. We know too much. (The same laws probably didn’t serve people well back then either.) Gay love is as old and tenacious as heterosexual love. And love and sexual desire have a tendency to make a mockery of rules. Human sexuality is powerful, confusing, dangerous, many times beautiful, most often messy. Laws are good, but laws are limited.
Is marriage ordained by God? On those days when the marriage is going well, I like to think that God brought me and Martin together. But on those days when it’s a hot mess and we’re both looking for the exit sign, well, we will both probably say that we should have ceded to the many signs (and friends) that said a marriage between the two of us was doomed. In other words, marriage is ordained by God when it’s a good marriage. But when it’s a hell hole you have every reason and right to exit when it’s wrong for everyone involved. Here’s what those of us who support same sex unions have got to get across to our Christian friends who think of same sex unions only in sexual terms, and that is that same-sex unions are not simply about sex and power, but love and commitment. Why are we so quick to to tell LGBTQ individuals seeking the rights and recognition of their unions that marriage is ordained by God when many of us don’t honor our own marriage vows or turn a blind eye to the indiscretions of our friends?
Those of us who are products of the 60s and 70s never thought we’d live long enough to see the day when “liberal” would be a bad word. Many of the rights and privileges women and minorities enjoy today are the results of the tenacious agitation of liberal-minded people over the centuries. But now “liberal” has been replaced by “progressive.” So, I guess I’m a progressive Christian if progressive means I am willing to question tradition, even my own cherished tradition and refuse to embrace any part of tradition that flies in the face of what Jesus ultimately lived and died for: unselfish concern for the other; honesty, integrity, equality, and fidelity; and sacrificial love.
What I’m sure of is that I’m no libertarian nor am I a sex positive feminist. I don’t believe “anything goes.” Civilized societies have a duty to protect its citizens from the violent impulses of other citizens. Even if the laws prove imperfect and don’t put an end to the acts they criminalize. Victimized sex can not be tolerated. Rape is unacceptable. Pedophilia is indefensible. (Even though the Bible often soft-pedals rape and is downright silent about pedophilia, something Christians never talk about.)
Speaking as a former Pentecostal who remains Pentecostal in her heart, I say this in sum to my fellow conservative Christians: the train has already left the station. The POTUS does not owe all of us in the black church an explanation for changing his mind on gay marriages. The president is a politician and a Christian. And the politician knows that the momentum is on the side of legalizing same sex marriage. Even if it doesn’t happen in this latest round of state votes. Same sex marriages will be legalized in my life time (and I’m a cancer survivor so you know I’m on slippery ground here). Social change has always preceded legal and religious change: women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, interracial marriage, and black civil rights movement.
Black Christians will have to find another sign to point to as proof that despite the fact that there’s a black man in the White House, the world is still coming to an end.
Thought I’d poke fun at my Baptist friends today here on the blog. That’s right: Baptists. You know the ones who open their mouths and say things like, “I’m Baptist. What religion are you?” Don’t get upset: I’m married to a Baptist so you Baptists can’t be all that bad. In fact, every now and then you Baptists actually get it right. You actually act like Christians. LOL.
Take the Baptist church in DC where I spoke earlier this week. Okay, I confess: I preached a revival there. I spoke for their two Sunday morning services and again on Monday and Tuesday nights. Baptists got me to do a revival. Something I rarely, rarely do at this age. I haven’t preached a revival in y-e-a-r-s. Only a special Baptist church could get me to get me to do a revival. And Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, DC is a very special church. For one thing, it has a husband and wife co-pastor team: Rev. Dr. Dennis and Rev. Dr. Christine Wiley, pastors, scholars, progressive theologians, and activists. Dennis has a Ph.D. in theology (specializing in liberation theology) from Union Seminary in New York and Christine has a D.Min in pastoral counselling from Garrett Evangelical Seminary. It was beautiful to behold the two of them ministering together. Equal authority. Equal burden. Equal pay. That’s what I’m talking about.
But having a husband and wife co-pastor team is not the only thing that makes Covenant special. The church is an open and welcoming congregation to all peoples, regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Of the seven houses of worship in Washington with predominantly African-American congregations that are welcoming to lesbians and gays, Covenant is the only Baptist church that welcomes and affirms gay and lesbian congregants. Gotta admit that the church went through a difficult patch a few years back when the pastors officiated at a union ceremony for a homosexual couple. Hundreds of members left the church because they unable and/or unwilling to embrace a theology that embraced same-sex loving couples. Three years later the church is growing and rebuilding and a serves as a testimony to God’s love for all people. Now I like to think I’m pretty progressive and have worshipped in some pretty progressive environments, but I must say I was delightfully surprised to step up onto the pulpit this past Sunday morning where I was to speak for the Women’s Day service and find that the worship leader was a transgender woman in a man’s suit . “Alrighty Jesus,” I said to myself as I took her hand and smiled. I looked out at a congregation which on one hand looked like any other black Baptist church I’ve visited: young and old, DC natives and transplants from the south, male and female, poor and not-so-poor, young and old. And others. Lesbian and gays, some were couples with children, and some were not. And a sprinkling of white faces. “Perhaps I’m glimpsing what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like…” I thought to myself as I sat there singing and clapping with the rest of the Covenant congregation.
Finally, special shout out to St. Paul Baptist Church in Philadelphia for breaking with tradition and calling a woman Rev. Dr. Leslie Callahan to be the 5th pastor in the church’s 119 years of existence. Dr. Callahan is Assistant Professor of Modern Church History and African American Religion at New York Theological Seminary. Kudos to St. Paul Church and Pastoral Search Committee for their courage and vision. Those of you in the Philadelphia area should drop by St. Paul on Sunday, May 31st should go over and support my friend Leslie on her first Sunday there in the pulpit. (Can’s join her on Sunday, leave her a message on her blog.) Leslie joins a small, but growing number of black Baptist churches across the country who have had the courage and good sense to call women to be their pastors.
Ah yes, you Baptists aren’t so bad afterall. I like Baptists today. Even the one I’m married to.
(By the way, you Baptists: Christianity is a religion, a world religion in fact; and the Baptist tradition is one of many denominations, sects, subgroups within Christianity like Catholicism, Methodism, Episcopalianism, Pentecostalism, etc.)
We could, I suppose, move on from the “Blame Blacks…Blame Black Homophobia” discussion and post a new topic today. But I’m not ready. And judging from the emails I’ve gotten, others of you aren’t ready just yet either to drop the discussion. This is one of those that we all need to chew on some more, both those who support and those who oppose same sex partnerships.
I want to believe that Something Within fills a void in blogosphere. It’s one of the few blogs where Christian conservatives and Christian progressives, thinking women on the Right and thinking women on the Left, folks who go to church and folks who wouldn’t step foot in a church if their life depended on it can air their differences–with passion, but without insult and namecalling. I visit a lot of blogs and weigh in on some of them from time to time, but hardly any of them, at least the really smart ones, are blogs by folks who think much of religion. In fact, most of the blogs I visit daily are blogs where pelting Christians, Christianity, and especially the black church scores you lots of points. I try to set a different tone her on this blog.
So, I admit to you: this week is my first time as a black, a woman, and a Christian minister thinking out loud about the issue of gay marriages. Strange, isn’t it? Life during all those years as an academic in liberal universities convinced me about the rightness/righteousness of standing against homophobia. But I never gave much thought to going so far as to support gay marriages. Until now. Until this week. Your comments these last few days have forced me to dig deep and think about why not marriage and to find a way to explain to both myself and others why not marriage.
That said, let’s sit with the topic of gay marriages for another day or two. Let me say that I appreciate the tone and the thoughtfulness of the comments here on the blog. (A few obnoxiously feral comments tried to make their way onto the board, but were deleted.) I’m happy to see that both opponents and supporters feel free to speak their mind without fear of being slammed.
Here’s another angle on the topic to consider then.
My friend Ruby writes this morning in response to statements by marriage opponents:
Come on everybody. Our history of oppression should tenderize our hearts not harden it? We who know the bitter blows of oppression should be on the frontlines for justice not even because we agree with the issue but because our experience bend us toward what is right!
Perhaps that’s the issue, Ruby. There are many who do not put the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement on par with each other. Why not? Because they don’t see gay rights as a civil rights issue, perhaps? Because they see gay rights as a lifestyle issue and not a human rights issue, perhaps? Because they think homosexuality is a sin or just plain wrong, perhaps? Because they need convincing, as Therese says in her comment, that there’s a difference between same sex loving people demanding the right to marry and, let’s say, a blood brother and sister demanding the right to marry, perhaps? Where is the line in the sand even for those in the LGBT community? What kind of sex and sexual unions do you oppose? And for Christian conservatives who write complaining that the word “sin” hasn’t been used much around here when talking about homosexuality, what makes homosexuality a sin? Because the Bible says so? Come on, you and I both know that there are lots of practices the Bible deems reprehensible and unacceptable that modern Christians don’t take to the streets denouncing (e.g., divorce, sex during menstruation, eating pork, shaving your hair if you’re a minister). Why homosexuality?
Now students, you may pick up your pens and start writing…