Black Church Divided on Same-Sex Marriage

Blogging the Beltway: A heated forum shows that black Christians are not monolithic on the issue.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(The Root) — On day 2 of the national meeting of the Conference of National Black Churches (day 1, in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus, focused solely on voting matters), black church leaders explored a range of issues: economic inequity, technology and the black church and how faith leaders can foster healthier communities. But Thursday’s hottest topic was covered on the spirited panel about same-sex marriage.

Coincidentally, the forum kicked off several hours after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, declaring it unconstitutional. Not so coincidentally, it came a few weeks after President Obama endorsed marriage equality.

W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches, who moderated the conversation between theologians and ministers throughout the room, said, “The CNBC felt this was too important of an issue to have a two-day conference and simply say nothing about it.” While he pointed out that all nine denominations that comprise CNBC officially oppose same-sex marriage, he also acknowledged that black Christians are pluralistic on the issue.

That diversity of thought was evident throughout the two-hour discussion, with support expressed for all sides represented (through utterances of “Amen” and “Preach,” as well as hollers and claps). Before opening up the forum, which included much debate over specific biblical passages, Richardson said, “We must never be in a place where we can’t discuss what we disagree with.”

The Bible in Historical Context

Biblical scholar Obery Hendricks, of Columbia University’s religion department, framed the discussion from a nuanced look at what the Bible says (and does not say) about homosexuality. Analyzing Old and New Testament passages from the political and cultural contexts in which they were written — including verses from the books of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Romans and Corinthians, often used to support anti-gay sentiment — he concluded that they actually offer no consensus on homosexuality at all.

“What I think is problematic is that the black church — and a lot of it has to do with preachers — don’t get into the text deeply enough. They’ll take a verse and act like that’s the entirety of it,” said Hendricks. “I just want to present the complexity of it … and ultimately we go with our own consciences. But we cannot demonize anybody. We have to remember that gay people are people. They’re just people who want the same things that we want, and we have to stop treating them as just ‘gays,’ as ‘the other.’ ” 

A Contradiction of Creation

Based on his reading of the Bible, John Hurst Adams, an African Methodist Episcopal minister and founder of the Conference of National Black Churches, voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage. “I love the president, but I don’t think he’s got nothing to do with that,” he said, adding that he will continue to support President Obama politically.