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.
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.
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?