Dawsey: Are Black Ministers Standing on Wrong Side of History in Gay-Marriage Battle?

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As a federal judge began Tuesday to examine a case that could obliterate Michigan’s Constitutional ban on marriage equality, a good portion of the state’s ministerial class — led by numerous black church leaders — has doubled down on its antiquated rhetoric and maintains a fight that it surely will lose eventually: 

The trial “is an unjust threat to voting rights,” said minister Stacy Swimp of Revive Alive ministry in Flint. “We are standing here united ... not ashamed to stand up for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for the institution of marriage. God defined marriage and 2.5 million people went to the polls (in 2004) to reaffirm what God has said.”

The pastors said they are part of a silent majority who support traditional marriage, but whose voices are being drowned out by those supportive of same-sex marriage.

“We’re trying to send a message to our elected officials that the people spoke in 2004,” said Pastor Roland Caldwell Sr. of Burnette Inspirational Church in Detroit.

Supporters of gay marriage point out that views have changed over the past 10 years. A majority of Michiganders now back gay marriage, according to a survey released last week by the LGBT group Equality Michigan.

But the pastors said Monday that the laws of God are eternal and can’t change because of the shifting culture.

Quoting from Martin Luther King Jr. and the Bible, the pastors said that gay marriage violates the teachings of Christianity. Swimp quoted from King’s famous letter ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ to say that “we have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” that don’t conform the law of God. The majority of pastors at the press conference were African-American.

“It’s going to tear the foundation of the family asunder,” Pastor Caldwell said of gay marriage. “It’s going to have a devastating effect.”

This is, to put it politely, arrant horse shit. 

Moreover, it’s the sort of horse manure that offers yet another unmistakably clear indication that it’s long past time for African-American communities to embrace a more secular brand of politics.

For starters, these attitudes obviously fly in the face of the sort of Constitutional basics that we were expected to learn in elementary school civics class: We live in the United States, not Uganda, not Afghanistan, not Saudi Arabia. The partitioning of church and state is a cornerstone principle of this country. 

Yep, you’re free to have your Bible or Qur’an or Torah — but as citizens of an avowedly secular country, we have every right to expect our political process to render decisions based on reason and evidence, not a Judeo-Christian religious POV. 

In the U.S., marriage is a function of the state — not of the church. Nobody needs preachers in order to get married. 

If you don’t want a lesbian couple having a ceremony in your sanctuary, your church can shut them out. But City Hall belongs to all of us, not just some Escalade-driving pastor.

And it should be equally as available to all.

Disingenuous Ministers

Constitutional contradictions aside, though, it’s also the sheer abject disingenuousness of these ministers’ stance, the complete ahistorical nature of their complaints, that are so frustrating. 

Really, how do African-American men invoke Dr. King and “voting rights” in one breath and in the next basically say they don’t give a damn what voters decide when that decision doesn’t conform to their  interpretation of murky passages from a book written before people understood germs, heliocentricism or pregnancy? 

How sad is it that so many of our so-called “leaders” would rather keep a death-grip on Dark Ages mysticism than acknowledge that, in the 21st Century, black folks have no business dabbling in the sort of dark, narrow, anti-intellectual bigotry that has so conscribed and threatened our own humanity on these shores?

You can’t urge continued discrimination against others — even on the grounds that your gods said so — and then try to name check freedom fighters like Martin Luther King Jr. 

That is the very essence of hypocrisy.

Unlike gays, black Americans didn’t have to depend on the enlightenment of a voting majority to achieve most of the broad social basic gains we fought for. We won those gains on the streets and in back-room negotiations, with our unyielding insistence that America live up to ideals that it would often rather preach about than practice. 

We won them with our blood and with our very lives.

Up to the Voters? 

But what if we had had to depend on the ballot box? 

How far would the Civil Rights Act have gotten were it put to popular vote? What if the U.S. had continued to leave anti-miscegenation statutes up to the states to decide? Suppose the nation had been called on to vote on whether the citizenship of freed slaves should be Constitutionally protected.

Perhaps these ministers should consider that the next time they want to promote the wisdom of treating equal rights for hated and unprotected classes of people as something best left to majority rule. 

Finally, how much longer are we going to tolerate blatantly dishonest scare tactics such as the claims that gay marriage would threaten heterosexual bonds? 

I’m still waiting for even just one of these preachers — men whose own choir stands and pulpits contain any number of closeted homosexuals — to explain why my wife and I should fear for our relationship merely because two men got hitched. 

I’ve never gotten that answer, and honestly I don’t expect one. Why? Because “traditional” marriages are no more in jeopardy of falling apart because of marriage equality than pro players are of “catching the gay” because Michael Sam or Jason Collins shares a locker room with them.

But the insistence otherwise keeps too many of us ignorant, compels too many of our people to choose fantasy over fact, be that fact the incontrovertible reality of evolution or the labyrinthine complexities of human sexuality.

Stupid Things

And the fear-mongering will persist for as long as it works, for as long as it can send our people into the streets saying utterly stupid things like this.

It will persist for as long as we continue to dance to the drumbeat of ignorance and paranoia, for as long as we refuse to see glaring similarities between the denial of marriage equality and the tirades of men who once warned that equal rights for blacks would lead to the destruction of America and the "mongrelization of the white race."

Remember, those men too were often preachers who claimed a “Biblical basis” for their hateful views. They too swore that their opposition to equal rights was all that was keeping America the Beautiful from devolving into a decrepit moral wasteland. They too insisted that they were standing on firm, unshifting ground. 

But when the smoke cleared and the ignorance gave way to truth, we came to understand that the only thing these men really ever had been standing on was the wrong side of history.

Black leadership need not join them.

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