I know. It’s been two years. I’ve been busy.
I dusted off my blog this evening because Twitter only allows 140 characters and Facebook is not suited for long, rambling remarks.
Especially when it comes to talk about the black church and gay marriage.
I do not think being gay is an abomination. I’m sure I did once. But I don’t anymore.
President Obama declared for the first time on May 9, 2012 in a White House interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts that he supports same-sex marriage, after nearly two years of saying that his views on same-sex marriage were “evolving.” Reactions to the president’s remarks have been swift, predictable, and for the most partisan.
At least one well-known black minister has not hesitated to voice his disappointment with the president’s comments. Says Rev. Jamal Bryant of Baltimore, Maryland, the president has some explaining to do to his black church constituency. I disagree. Obama doesn’t have any explaining to do to the black church about his position on same-sex marriage. I co-sign my colleague’s, Leslie Callahan, comment on her Facebook page reminding us that Obama is the president of the United States and not the pastor of the United States.
While I am proud there’s a black man in the White House I am not one of more than fourteen thousand fans of the “I love it when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is President” Facebook Fan page. Can’t do it. But neither do I want to wake up in the morning with the public thinking Jamal Bryant’s comments represent the best (or only thing) response black clergy have to Obama’s comments on same-sex marriages. (In fairness, I should disclose that I know Jamal Bryant personally and I am disappointed with his comments, though no entirely surprised.)
…biblical teachings on human sexuality (if teachings are what we can call the inchoate biblical passages that deal with sexual issues) don’t serve us well today. We know too much…Human sexuality is powerful, confusing, dangerous, many times beautiful, most often messy.
I’ve already stated on this blog that I do not think being gay is an abomination. I’m sure I did once. But I don’t anymore. And while I’m still evolving on the issue of gay marriages, I don’t oppose it enough to clobber its supporters nor do I support it enough to blast its opponents. Not trying to be coy or clever. It’s just that I am fierce about what matters to me and not easily baited by topics that don’t strike a match in me.
Until now I’ve been content to stay out of the gay marriage fray. Until I read Jamal Bryant’s claim that the POTUS has some explaining to do to his black Christian constituency.
Same sex marriage, in my opinion, is not a biblical or theological issue; it’s a social and political one. Traditional and conservative Christianity is going to lose on this issue.
I disagree with those who see legalizing same sex marriage as a threat to the Bible, Christianity, or the institution of marriage. I agree that legalizing same sex marriage is a threat to thousands of years of tradition. But that isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I would be a slave, and a barefoot and pregnant one at that, if tradition hadn’t been questioned or challenged. Not to mention that lots of other important scientific knowledge we now embrace would not be known to us if we’d stayed tied to the biblical cosmos.
The Bible meant well in its edicts on human sexuality. But not many of us, including Rev. Bryant, would not want to live in biblical times. And not just because there was no running water back then. We wouldn’t want to live in the moral and social universe it advocates where wearing glasses disqualifies you from serving at God’s altar, contact with a menstruating woman makes you unclean, and adulterers must be stoned to death. Yet I understand what made our biblical ancestors want to contain this powerful, chaotic force known as human sexuality. But biblical teachings on human sexuality (if teachings are what we can call the inchoate biblical passages that deal with sexual issues) don’t serve us well today. We know too much. (The same laws probably didn’t serve people well back then either.) Gay love is as old and tenacious as heterosexual love. And love and sexual desire have a tendency to make a mockery of rules. Human sexuality is powerful, confusing, dangerous, many times beautiful, most often messy. Laws are good, but laws are limited.
I am willing to question tradition, even my own cherished tradition and refuse to embrace any part of tradition that flies in the face of what Jesus ultimately lived and died for: unselfish concern for the other; honesty, integrity, equality, and fidelity; and sacrificial love.
Is marriage ordained by God? On those days when the marriage is going well, I like to think that God brought me and Martin together. But on those days when it’s a hot mess and we’re both looking for the exit sign, well, we will both probably say that we should have ceded to the many signs (and friends) that said a marriage between the two of us was doomed. In other words, marriage is ordained by God when it’s a good marriage. But when it’s a hell hole you have every reason and right to exit when it’s wrong for everyone involved. Here’s what those of us who support same sex unions have got to get across to our Christian friends who think of same-sex unions only in sexual terms, and that is that same-sex unions are not simply about sex and power, but love and commitment. Why are we so quick to to tell LGBTQ individuals seeking the rights and recognition of their unions that marriage is ordained by God when many of us don’t honor our own marriage vows or turn a blind eye to the indiscretions of our friends?
Those of us who are products of the 60s and 70s never thought we’d live long enough to see the day when “liberal” would be a bad word. Many of the rights and privileges women and minorities enjoy today are the results of the tenacious agitation of liberal-minded people over the centuries. But now “liberal” has been replaced by “progressive.” So, I guess I’m a progressive Christian if progressive means I am willing to question tradition, even my own cherished tradition and refuse to embrace any part of tradition that flies in the face of what Jesus ultimately lived and died for: unselfish concern for the other; honesty, integrity, equality, and fidelity; and sacrificial love.
What I’m sure of is that I’m no libertarian nor am I a sex positive feminist. I don’t believe “anything goes.” Civilized societies have a duty to protect its citizens from the violent impulses of other citizens. Even if the laws prove imperfect and don’t put an end to the acts they criminalize. Victimized sex can not be tolerated. Rape is unacceptable. Pedophilia is indefensible. (Even though the Bible often soft-pedals rape and is downright silent about pedophilia, something Christians never talk about.)
Speaking as a former Pentecostal who remains Pentecostal in her heart, I say this in sum to my fellow conservative Christians: the train has already left the station. The POTUS does not owe all of us in the black church an explanation for changing his mind on gay marriages. The president is a politician and a Christian. And the politician knows that the momentum is on the side of legalizing same-sex marriage. Even if it doesn’t happen in this latest round of state votes. Same sex marriages will be legalized in my life time (and I’m a cancer survivor so you know I’m on slippery ground here). Social change has always preceded legal and religious change: women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, interracial marriage, and black civil rights movement.
Black Christians will have to find another sign to point to as proof that despite the fact that there’s a black man in the White House, the world is still coming to an end.
Dr. Renita J. Weems is a bible scholar and an ordained elder in the African Methodist Church. Formerly a member of the faculty of Vanderbilt Univeristy and former Visiting Professor at Spelman College, her scholarly insights into modern faith, biblical texts and understanding of the role of spirituality in everyday life make a much sought after author and speaker. She earned her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College, and her Master and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is an eloquent contributor to Beliefnet.com and her own blog Somethingwithin.com.