Same-sex marriage is too hot and current a topic for the Conference of National Black Churches to not tackle during the organization's two-day meeting in Washington this week. But just like the Bible, in which there's no conclusive consensus on homosexuality in its various scriptures, pastors from nine denominations found themselves at a standoff, and sometimes passionately so.
Because African-American ministers and their flocks are so passionately divided on same-sex marriage, Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, who also happens to be a minister, said he felt like "Travyon Martin looking at George Zimmerman."
"Black people and same-sexuality is not an easy place to be. I'm trying to stand my ground," he said to laughter.
According to Dyson, many African-Americans have reservations about same-sex unions because they have problems with sexuality more broadly because of the stigmas and stereotypes that have historically been placed on Black heterosexuality.
"So we're really resistant to others who come along and challenge the norms of sexuality. Having said that, we have to mature and grow. We have to challenge ourselves to dig deeper into our Biblical and theological reserves and assert the primacy of love above any interpretation," Dyson said. "There are no asterisks in the Bible when it comes to 'loving the lord, thy god with all thy heart, mind and soul and thy neighbor as thyself' and if we abide by that, I think, biblical admonition then all the others will fall into place."
He also likened Black-church resistance to the LGBT community to the kind of racial prejudice that was once rampant in the U.S.
"The biblical application of narrow theological understandings is akin to white racists who were trying to justify their bigotry toward Black people by appealing to the Bible and their church standards and theology," he said.
African Methodist Episcopal Bishop John Adams, one of the Conference of National Black Churches founders, provided a counterpoint to Dyson. Although he has earned a reputation for challenging the status quo, Adams is very much opposed to same-sex marriage.
"I love all my homosexual brothers and sisters, but my discipline says I can't marry them," he said. "Same-sex marriages should not be approved by the Christian community because it is a contradiction of creation.… The species continues by the interaction of male and female. If I say God is creator, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve."
Adams also said that he loves President Obama and he would support him even though he's "wrong" on the issue.
NAACP Washington Bureau chief Hilary Shelton warned against allowing differences of opinion over a civil rights issue and religious rites to prevent congregants from turning out in November and, like Dyson, said that opposition to same-sex unions is prejudicial.
"People of the same gender should be able to enter the same contracts, like marriage, adoption and powers of attorney, like everyone else. Otherwise it's discriminatory and it's unconstitutional," he said.
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