N.C. black pastor treads carefully on gay marriage

RALEIGH, N.C. — With only a few days remaining before North Carolinians vote on a state constitutional amendment to ban … Continued

RALEIGH, N.C. — With only a few days remaining before North Carolinians vote on a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, the Rev. Earl C. Johnson took five minutes on Sunday (April 30) to give congregants 10 reasons to vote against the measure.

It was his only concerted effort to wade into a subject considered taboo in most African-American churches: homosexuality. Not wanting to risk his job as senior pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church, or upset his many older congregants, Johnson figured the best approach was to stick to the facts.

The state already forbids gay marriage, he told church members. The state’s top Democrats, including the governor, oppose the measure. The constitutional amendment might strip unmarried heterosexual women of domestic violence protections.

None of the points he outlined touched on the central issue: how the church might respond to gays and lesbians.

“It’s a traditional church,” said Johnson. “When you get to be a certain age you don’t budge on your point of view. It would take years of chipping away at it to change it.”

Most black churches consider homosexuality a sin, and have resisted any attempt to reinterpret biblical passages condemning it. But some pastors are finding ways to skirt — for now — the theological issue, and support equal treatment of gays and lesbians as a legislative concern.

While attitudes toward homosexuality have softened among many religious groups, black Protestants remain among the most resistant. A recent analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that just 33 percent of African-American churchgoers support same-sex marriage, a position that has barely moved since 2001 when 30 percent supported it. Support for gay marriage among white evangelical Christians has remained flat as well.

In North Carolina, where blacks make up 21 percent of the population (nearly double the 12 percent nationwide), the amendment has solid support among many African-Americans. If it passes, North Carolina will become the 32nd state to block gay unions via a constitutional amendment. The state’s residents go to the polls May 8.

Leading the opposition in the black community is the Rev. William Barber, head of the state chapter of the NAACP. Barber has argued the amendment will codify discrimination in the state’s constitution.

Some of the state’s black pastors have heeded his call. “I do not look forward to being part of an effort to polarize people who make different choices,” said the Rev. David Forbes, pastor emeritus at Raleigh’s Christian Faith Baptist Church.

Forbes is not a proponent of gay marriage, but sees the issue as a political one. “This has social justice implications,” he said.

That delicate dance around same-sex marriage was on display recently in Maryland.

There, the pastor of the 8,000-member Mount Ennon Baptist Church just outside Washington came out in support of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The Rev. Delman Coates said his personal beliefs about same-sex marriage were irrelevant. What was important was that all the state’s citizens deserved equal rights, he said.

“It’s helpful for clergy to see the difference between theological questions and legislative issues,” said Josef Sorett, assistant professor of religion and African-American studies at Columbia University. “It can perhaps help to prevent the knee-jerk activism in support of the measure.”

As for Johnson, his 700-member congregation took Sunday’s 10-point commentary in stride.

Adrienne Silvey said she had decided to vote against the amendment before her pastor spoke up. “People of faith should not support any legislation that takes rights away from different people,” she said.

Others, however, weren’t convinced.

“What I would have loved is to hear the opposite side,” said Mary Goode.

For Johnson, who said he won’t repeat his recommendations on Sunday, two days before the vote, the first step has been taken.

“If we don’t start saying something now — and taking small steps toward recognizing people’s civil rights — then we’ll be in trouble when we’re in need,” he said. “What’s the gay community going to say?’You turned your back on us.’”

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  • KateOHanlanMD

    ALL (not some, all) of America’s established experts on family, mental health and child health agree that America would benefit if same-sex couples could have civil marriage to protect their families. Here is why:

    The National Library of Medicine scientific research publications all confirm that sexual orientation is natural, biologically induced in the first trimester of pregnancy, morally neutral, immutable, neither contagious nor learned, bearing no relation to an individual’s ability to form deep and lasting relationships, to parent children, to work, or to contribute to society.

    Sexual orientation and gender identity are like handedness: biological, unchangeable, innocent. We used to think left-handed was evil, as in “sinister” which comes from Latin for “left”, force lefties to use their right hand, even though they never really changed handedness.

    Research reveals variable hormonal levels in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy permanently affect child’s neural circuitry for sexual orientation and gender identity to express on a spectrum between straight and gay, same or opposite gender.

    A little extra testosterone secreted from the adrenals during early pregnancy affects the baby girls’ brains causing nearly half to be lesbian, a tenth to be transgender. Also, a girl twin baby simply sharing the womb with a boy co-twin, in which some of his testosterone from his amniotic fluid gets into her blood, causes about one fifth of girl co-twins to be lesbian. These girls also have the bone structure and physical coordination of boys, so they are good in sports, and thus the stereotype.

    The opposite is also true: a bit less testosterone than usual in a boy’s blood during early pregnancy can make him light in the loafers or transgender. If a boy’s mother has delivered many older brothers before him, which caused her to make blocking antibody to their male proteins, then the youngest brother receives lower levels of testosterone in his blood, resulting in about one fifth of boys with many older brothers being gay. These boys have the physiology and verbal skills and excel in language and visual arts, slightly more like girls, and thus the stereotype.

    Most homosexuals and most heterosexuals will say that they had no choice to be how they are because they were born on the far ends of the spectrum. They firmly claim they were “born that way.” But, some straight and gay folks feel it WAS and IS definitely a choice for them because they were born closer to the middle of the biological spectrum between straight and gay: they are bisexual. Their orientations don’t change from straight to gay, they simply have brain wiring that attracts them to both. All orientation is hard-wired prenatally and none can change it. It is all biological and innocent, and not contagious or changeable.

  • SteveHansen1

    I have one question for Rev. Johnson, and for all other clergy who oppose equal protection for gay people: “How should the church minister to gay people?”

  • MrDarwin

    I wonder if it bothers the anti-gay National Organization “for” Marriage (NOM) and their supporters even a little bit that polls show that when voters understand what Amendment 1 actually does, a strong majority say they would vote against it? It sure seems like they’re counting on it to pass–which it will–because people are ignorant, narrow-minded and mean, if not downright stupid. But I truly believe we’re at the tipping point and this is going to be one of their last victories. And they will milk it for all it’s worth, because they know they’re losing in the long run.