LGBTQ activists of African descent have pondered what would be the catalyst to rally those African American Christian ministers to support same-sex marriage and engage the Black community in a nationwide discussion.
Last week, the answer arrived in President Barack Obama’s support of marriage equality.
“We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others, but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know: Treat others the way you would want to be treated… I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts…” Obama told Good Morning America’s news anchor Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview.
Just as Obama could no longer shrewdly fence-sit on the issue while winking a stealth nod to LGBTQ voters, Black ministers who quietly professed to be an ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community could no longer stay closeted from their congregations.
For these African American ministers, the liability of Obama losing his 2012 re-election bid is far greater than being publicly outed for not being in lockstep with their homophobic brethren.
“The institution of marriage is not under attack because of the president’s words,” Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago told his church on Sunday. Moss is the successor of President Obama’s former and infamous pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.
But for many African American ministers in opposition to Obama’s stance on marriage equality the institution of marriage, at least within the Black family, is under assault, and LGBTQ people further exacerbate the problem.
These ministers, some who are allies for LGBTQ civil rights but draw the line on same-sex marriage, espousing their opposition to same-sex marriage as a prophylactic measure to combat the epidemic level of fatherlessness in Black families. In scapegoating the LGBTQ community, these clerics are ignoring the social ills behind Black fatherlessness such as the systematic disenfranchisement of both African American men and women, high unemployment, high incarceration, and poor education, to name a few.
In his homily Moss also stated, “Gay people have never been the enemy, and when we use rhetoric to suggest they are the source of all our problems, we lie on God and cause tears to fall from the eyes of Christ… We must stay in dialogue and not allow our personal emotional prejudices or doctrines to prevent us from clearly seeing the possibility of the beloved community…”
Immediately following President Barack Obama’s public support for marriage equality, a coalition of African American civil rights leaders signed their names to an open letter affirming their solidarity with Obama on marriage equality. Signees include Dr. Joseph Lowrey, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Melanie Campbell, of the National Coalition for Black Civic Engagement; Julian Bond, of the NAACP; and Rev. Al Sharpton.
Since Obama has come out with his support, many in the Black community are working tirelessly to counter the barrage of attacks the he has received from opposing Black clerics.
For example, Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, Associate Dean of Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology, has a petition going around the country asking African American clergy and scholars for their support on behalf of the president’s stance to counter the stereotype that “Black folks are against homosexuality and gay marriage.”
Another petition going around the country aimed at reaching and informing African American voters, particularly Black Christian voters, about wedge strategies to divide the community this 2012 election year is NoWedge2012.com
In stressing that the Black religious community is not theologically monolithic, the petition states “There is a greater diversity in Black America on the cultural and theological understanding of sexual orientation than the media or popular culture give credence (recent polls show that African Americans are equally divided on marriage equality). We acknowledge that it was President Obama’s faith that guided his shift in embracing marriage equality. Our community has the ability to hold different positions and not demonize what is perceived to be the ‘other.’ In light of this complexity, Black America should hear from candidates with policy positions that are holistically beneficial for our community as a family.”
Right-wing organizations like National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which support presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, are actively courting Black churches for their strategic 2012 election game plan to drive a wedge between LGBTQ and African American voters. And the Black community mustn’t fall prey to this.
And the thought that the first African American president could lose his re-election bid because of homophobic views on marriage equality led by Black pastors — that would be tragic. The actions of those Black pastors would be remembered throughout history.
Obama is president of the United States and not pastor of the United States. He’s president of all the people, not some of the people.
And as African Americans who have battled for centuries against racial discrimination, we have always relied on our president and his administration to fight for and uphold our civil rights, because too many pastors across the country and throughout the centuries wouldn’t.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.