In my article on The NAACP’s Divorce from the Black Church (published in the Harrisburg, PA Patriot-News under the title “Gay marriage issue splits black church and NAACP”) I made the claim that most African American Christians will stand firm on God’s word, and against same-sex relationships. I believe that will be the case. But the pressure to do otherwise is becoming greater and greater all the time.
A recent Associated Press article makes these observations:
Black voters, led by black churches, have played key roles in blocking same-sex marriage in states like California, where 2008 exit polls indicated about 70 percent black opposition, and Maryland, where black Democrats were part of a statehouse coalition that stalled a gay marriage bill in 2011.
But blacks – like other Americans – have become more supportive of same-sex marriage in recent years. Black support has risen dramatically since 2008, when only 26 percent of black people favored gay marriage and 63 percent were opposed, according to Pew.
As Americans in general, and African Americans in particular, become more accepting of same-sex marriage, the pressure on the black church to conform to the prevailing winds in our society will intensify.
Unfortunately, much of the pressure for the black church to cave on the issue of same-sex marriage will come from its own clergy.
A good example is a recent sermon preached by the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Rev. Raphael Warnock. Ebenezer Baptist has a storied history as the church once pastored by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and his father, Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr.
According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Rev. Warnock felt compelled to preach on the subject after President Barack Obama expressed his support for gay marriage. The article says,
Warnock told the congregation no matter what side they are on regarding gay marriage, the church is about being inclusive.
“There are gay sisters and brothers all around us,” he told the congregation. “The church needs to be honest about human sexuality. Some of them are on the usher board, they greeted you this morning,” Warnock said.
The teaching of this sermon is clear – the church should accept not only homosexuals, but their lifestyle as well. Ebenezer Baptist has no word of correction or reproof for those of its members who are actively involved in homosexual relationships. Instead, they are taught that their lifestyle is acceptable to the church, and by extension, acceptable to God.
The article went on to quote another black clergyman who has earned great respect and influence for his service in the cause of equal justice.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a giant of the civil rights movement who delivered the benediction at Obama’s inauguration, said he agrees with Obama on gay marriage.
“I believe in equal rights,” Lowery said. “You can’t believe in equal rights for some. That’s an oxymoron.”
However: “Do I like it? I’m uncomfortable with it,” said Lowery, 90. “We grew up under boy-girl, man-woman, courtship and marriage.”
What I notice about both these statements is that neither deals at all with the Scripture’s teaching regarding homosexual relationships. (Of course, it is possible that either or both addressed that issue, but the article didn’t report it). It seems that Rev. Lowery believes he must overcome the indoctrination of his upbringing. In reality, what he is attempting to overcome is the clear teaching of the word of God.
Perhaps it is understandable that pastors who teach their congregations acceptance of homosexual marriage as a “civil right” don’t want to bring Scripture into the discussion. It is difficult to explain away the Bible’s explicit testimony of God’s abhorrence of homosexual relationships, as expressed in passages like the following (from the New King James Version):
Lev 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.
Lev 20:13 If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
1 Cor 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,
1 Tim 1:10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine,
Rom 1:26-27 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
When the teaching of the church ceases to be firmly anchored in Scripture, practically any doctrine can be justified. Ideas such “inclusion” and “equal rights” sound compelling, especially to African American ears. But when those concepts are applied in ways that contradict the clear teaching of Scripture, the result is a disastrous slide into relativism. When there is no firm foundation, it becomes impossible to resist drifting with the flow of our culture.
The church desperately needs to remember the wise counsel, so important it is given twice in identical verses, of the Bible’s book of wisdom:
Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
Faithful pastors will approach any issue first from the perspective of Scripture, rather than that of our culture. The intense pressure to conform so as to avoid being called bigots and worse will not sway them. They understand their God-given responsibility in these challenging times:
2 Tim 4:2-3 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
Faithful pastors have come to terms with the fact that they cannot be both God-pleasers and men-pleasers! They know that because of the influence they exercise over God’s people, He will hold them to a higher standard of accountability for their faithfulness to His word:
James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
Will the black church stand firm against same-sex marriage? Actually, that’s not the real issue. The important question is:
Will the black church stand firm on the word of God?
If it does, the issue of same-sex marriage will take care of itself.
Photo Credit: MD Shelton via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)