Media Courts Black Clergy on Gay Marriage

News outlets are flooded with Black clergy responses to President Obama's same-sex marriage announcement. Are we all playing the politicians' game?

The weekend has passed and it seems like every major news outlet has published an article (or three) about how Black clergy are responding to President Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage. I’m tempted to refer them to Terry Mattingly’s GetReligion question from last Tuesday: “Do … editors realize how offended many African-American pastors are when told that they are important simply because of their political clout, and not their roles as pastors and community leaders?” Instead I’ll refer you to our own contributors’ reflections on the issue, before directing you to the onslaught.

Divining Percentages

America’s Black churches were “conflicted” about the president’s position at Sunday services, USA Today reported. “Some churches were silent on the issue. At others, pastors spoke against the president’s decision Wednesday — but kindly of the man himself. A few blasted the president and his decision. A minority spoke in favor of the decision and expressed understanding of the president’s change of heart,” the article said. How USA Today knows what all the nation’s Black churches said and did yesterday, I have no idea, but that’s what its reporters wrote.

Evolving or Not With the President

At CNN, the Reverend Kenneth L. Samuel said he “evolved” on the issue just as the president did, and cited a gay friend’s suicide as a factor. Conversely, the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant told the network that the Black church sees same-sex marriage as a “human rights” issue and cannot embrace “gay bashing” or “homophobia,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean endorsing same-sex unions.

In another article, Black liberation theologian James Cone said it is “unfortunate” that Black Christians oppose same-sex marriage. The Rev. Fred Robinson disagreed.

Conditional Support

In a third CNN article, the Rev. Emmett Burns, “a politically well-connected black minister,” is quoted as saying he supported President Obama in 2008, but held a public event at his Baltimore church last week to withdrew that support. Likewise, the Rev. Beverly Brown told the Orlando Sentinel that she’s “trying to separate his personal view from his political view.” However, she said she’ll continue to support the president as long as his views stay personal and he doesn’t push for same-sex marriage to become legal everywhere.

Doing Damage Control

Perhaps anticipating this type of reaction, the president “gathered eight or so African-American ministers on a conference call to explain himself” about two hours after making his May 9 announcement, The New York Times reported.

Fighting Amongst Ourselves

Stating the obvious, The Times also reported that the fight over same-sex marriage is not simply sacred vs. secular. “Religion is on both sides in this conflict. The battle is actually church versus church, minister versus minister, and Scripture versus Scripture.”

Michael Coogan, a lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew Bible at Harvard Divinity School compared the conflict to that which existed when slavery was debated. “The proslavery contingent quoted the Bible repeatedly, saying that God has all these commandments about slavery and nowhere in the Bible, including the New Testament, is it stated that there’s anything wrong with slavery,” Coogan said. “The abolitionists also quoted the Bible, but used the same sort of more general texts that supporters of same-sex relationships are using: love your neighbor, treat others as you would have them treat you, the golden rule.”

Homosexuality Historical ‘Non-Issue’ for Black Christians

Some might be surprised to read that homosexuality was a “non-issue” in Black churches until the 2004 presidential election, according to the Rev. Madison T. Shockley II. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Shockley said that’s when “anti-civil union and marriage equality laws were put on ballots in key states to draw ‘values voters’ to the polls” and “part of the Republican strategy was to have white evangelical leaders actively recruit black clergy to the anti-gay movement.”

Playing Politics With the ‘First Gay President’

Speaking of political maneuvering, with a provocative cover photo of the president sporting a rainbow halo, Newsweek dubbed him the “first gay president” and said, “For once Democrats aren’t worried about the image that projects” because “demographics are on his side” and “the campaign has seen another week elapse where the Obama economy was not front and center.” That, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asserts, is the whole point of Obama’s “historic” announcement.

What do you think?

Are clergy and journalists playing the politicians’ game?

About the author, Christine A. Scheller

Christine A. Scheller is a widely published journalist and essayist, and an editor-at-large at UrbanFaith. She lives with her husband at the Jersey Shore and in Washington, DC, where she helps facilitate dialogue between scientific and religious communities.
  1. hello

  2. Grace and Peace to all, I have been reading and listening to all of the political and religious leaders regarding Same Sex Marriage. As a Pastor and a religious leader, I dont aggree with the President on this matter, however, I understand the situation the struggles he went through. But, my message is to all of the Religious leaders, Pastors, Bishops and Ministers — not voting for President Obama due to his views on Same Sex Marriage is a vote for Mitt Romney and his views on stripping the Social Services that support the middle class and the poor. I would like to bring this to you attention – “what you do to the least of them you do even unto me” – I pray each of you are seeking God for guidance in this matter – for me, I dont want Mitt Romney to be President, because I know that the churches in America will not be able to talk care of the poor, widows and orphans like the government has been for years. Think about it, Social Sercurity cut, Food Stamps (SNAP) no longer in effect for most of the people who is receiving this benefits, Medicaid no longer in effect – children will not be covered, Medicare is cut, most seniors not be covered or have to pay more then ever before. It is important for Pastors to know, that this will effect your congregation tremendously! We need to have a President, Senate and House that is for all the people not just for the 1 percent of the population. No voting will elect Mitt Romney and the Republican Party and the end of Most of all the Social Services that help the poor.

    Grace and peace be unto you all, from God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

    • Am I imagining tnhgis, or does every single book on marriage written by women neglect to state that men are not marrying because of the preposterously unfair legal structure leveled against men?Venker & Schlafly’s “The Flipside of Feminism.” Carolyn Graglia’s “Domestic Tranquility.” Countless others.Left wing or right wing, no woman wants to acknowledge what every MRA web site has on its banner: presumptive paternity and no-fault divorce are deal-breakers.Why is this so hard for women to grasp? Or is it just that no woman wants to set into motion the demise of their financial golden parachute when she decides to jump out of the plane?I have always had a hard time swallowing the “Gov’t-sponsored, feminist-driven financial redistribution scheme” concept that many men claim marriage really is, but the more I have been looking into the matter, the more marriage just looks like a way to keep her floating at his expense.Sorry for the bleak cynicism, but the statistics on marriage kinda bear me out.

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