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Why are Black Clergy Anti-Marriage Equality?

By Antonio L. Ellis
On May 9, 2010, President Barack Obama said in an interview with ABC News “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” With that one statement, he made it clear that he believes that it’s wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships from getting married. Obviously, the President has spent time giving this issue serious consideration, and his view has been shaped by conversations with his family, his friends, neighbors, and the people who work with him at the White House. In the interview, he said that he had discussed the issue around the dinner table with his wife and daughters. He said he’d heard from service members who, even after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, felt constrained because they weren’t allowed to get married.  In the end, the President said, he believes it’s important to “treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

The President’s statement resulted in knee-jerk reactions from religious leaders throughout America, particularly those who lead Black Mega Churches. The majority of Black pastors disagree with marriage equality; some are in limbo; while a few are in support of same-sex marriage. Most Black pastors who disagree with marriage equality say they feel “betrayed by the President.” It is ironic that in 2007, the President highlighted eight issues during his campaign. Those issues were education, environment, equal rights, health care, jobs and the economy, national security, student loan forgiveness, and the Wall Street reform. Interestingly, those same ministers were content with the Presidents’ decisions as long as they were benefiting over the past four years. This seems to be a reflection of selfishness. None of these pastors challenged the President when he signed the health care bill, captured Bin Laden, or decreased unemployment rates.

Most of these pastors are using the bible as their platform against President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage. First and foremost, everyone should realize that he is the President of the United States of America, not only the Christians of America. Same-gender marriage is more about equal rights, and less about personal religious beliefs, traditions, and jargon. Contrary to popular belief, the quest for marriage equality stands parallel to what African Americans endured in order to achieve voting rights, equal employment opportunities, among various other rights that Blacks were not privy to prior to the civil rights movement. Many religious leaders seem to have forgotten that White slave owners used the bible to justify why they enslaved people of color. Even President George Bush claimed to be a devout Christian, and said on many occasions that he was led by God for his political decision making, specifically regarding abortion and same-gender marriage. However, he seemed to have turned a deaf ear to God regarding other issues that tangibly impacts everyone such as education, health care, etc. In regards to issues outside of abortion and same-gender marriage, the rich and famous seemed to have been the only beneficiaries. After President Bush used those two issues to get re-elected, ironically he no longer spent time focusing on those two issues that really have little importance on the broader society. However, if politicians say they are anti-abortion or same-gender marriage, it is nearly a guaranteed method to gain votes from religious people of color.

Interestingly, a remnant of Black pastors who adamantly protest against same-gender marriage has faced public morality issues themselves over the past decade. For example, well known Black ministers – Rev. Jamal Harrison-Bryant and Bishop Eddie Long have used the bible as their foundation to speak out blatantly against same-gender marriages. In December 2004, the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church of Atlanta Georgia, Bishop Eddie Long, led a 25,000 person march against gay rights and marriage equality.

Contrary to what Bishop Long marched against, on September 22, 2010, the Bishop who is known for his public crusades against homosexuality faced serious allegations. Two young men who were members of Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church filed lawsuits claiming he used his position as their spiritual counselor to coerce them into sexual relationships. The men – Anthony Flagg, 21, and Maurice Robinson, 20 – alleged that Long used a private spiritual ceremony to mark a “covenant” between them, with both becoming his “spiritual son.”

On February 16, 2008, the highly regarded pastor of the Empowerment Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church of Baltimore Maryland, Rev. Jamal Harrison-Bryant, was featured in The Baltimore Sun Newspaper reporting that he and his wife, Gizelle, filed for divorce after being married for 5 ½ years. In Gizelle Bryant’s filing, she accused her husband of adultery, cruel treatment, and “excessively vicious conduct” that caused “reasonable apprehension of bodily suffering so as to render cohabitation unsafe.” To add insult to injury, Rev. Harrison-Bryant’s adultery behavior allegedly resulted in a 17 year-old member of his congregation becoming impregnated.

Bishop Long and Rev. Harrison-Bryant are highly regarded pastors in the African American Christian community. It’s about time Black pastors agreed to disagree, however, at the same time be fair to all persons, including same-gender couples who desire marriage. How can a pastor adamantly preach against same-gender marriage and be reported for molesting teenage boys? Better yet, how can a pastor preach anti-marriage equality and be reported for impregnating a 17 year old congregant? This article does not seek to separate Long and Bryant from other anti-equal rights clergy. The only thing that separates these two ministers and others are the fact that “they were exposed.” The obligation of the faith community is to build each other up, not tear one another down.

Although most Black pastors are against marriage equality, other pastors are standing for equal rights for all people, not excluding those of the LGBT community. A few of those pastors and ministers include Dr. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University, Dr. Ronald Hopson of Howard University, Dr. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago Illinois, Rev. Aaron Jones-Wade of the Community Church of Washington DC United Church of Christ and Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, among several others.

In closing, I quote a verse from the National Negro Anthem “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray.

Keep the Faith!

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