If there is a way to miraculously part the Red Sea without black Christians drowning over the same- sex marriage debate, I think civil rights icon and theologian Dr. Otis Moss, Jr. and his son Otis Moss III, pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, may have found it.
Recently, father and son laid out a two-pronged scenario that offers a way for concerned African American Christians to oppose President Obama’s embrace of gay marriage without abandoning him in the upcoming election.
In a statement to African American clergy, Moss III urged fellow pastors and skeptical African American Christians to not only make a distinction between Obama as president and as pastor but also between rights and rites.
“We should never misconstrue rights designed to protect diverse individuals in a pluralistic society versus religious rites designed by faith communities to communicate a theological or doctrinal perspective,” Moss III said. “These two questions are answered in two fundamentally different arenas. One is answered in the arena of civic debate where the constitution is the document of authority. The other is answered in the realm of ecclesiastical councils where theology, conscience and biblical mandates are the guiding mandates.”
Making a plea for separation of church and state, Moss added: “Ecclesiastical councils are not equipped to shape civil legislation nor are civic legislation nor or civic representatives equipped to shape religious rituals and doctrine.”
Meanwhile the elder Moss, a close confidante of Obama, urged dissenting blacks not to make this a single issue election.“Our ancestors prayed for 389 years to place a person of color in the White House,” he said. So the question becomes if Obama is indeed an answered prayer, can one single issue, no matter how deeply felt, break that special bond?
The president’s announcement on gay marriage, even two weeks removed, continues to anger many in the black community. Many of these African Americans see the Bible as the primary source of their lifestyle, and they resent politicians who, in their view, wish to change scripture for the sake of polls, politics and popularity. Recent poll esults are mixed on the issue: A poll by Pew Research Center found that 39 percent of all African Americans support legalized same-sex marriage while 47 percent of whites support it; a new Washington Post/ABC poll, however, found that 59 percent of blacks support gay marriage, the highest levels ever recorded (the Post poll acknowledges a small sample of blacks were polled).
Still, since the issue blew up, I have received numerous angry calls. One exchange went like this:
Caller: Barbara, what... is going on with Obama? I thought he was a Christian.
Me: He is a Christian. Reverends Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and NAACP’s Julian Bond all agree with the president.
Caller: I don’t [care] if the Pope said men could marry each other, until my Bible says that, I’m not voting for Obama.
Me: You don’t have any choice, you certainly couldn’t vote for Romney. Robbing the poor and the widows is also a sin which the Romney crowd does well.
Caller: I have a choice; I can stay home and...vote for Jesus.
But in the younger Moss’s view, if marriage is being attacked, it is not by the president’s evolution on gay marriage but by men viewing women as property, low wages, unfair tax policy and “by clergy who proclaim monogamy, yet think nothing of stepping outside the bonds of marriage to have multiple affairs with ‘preaching groupies.’” That last part might have made some rock throwers put down their stones.
The younger Moss reminded ministers last week of the dangers of being one-issue voters and that Obama is not the president of the Sanctified or Holiness Church. With unmatched eloquence he said, ‘Gay people have never been the enemy, and when we use rhetoric to suggest they are the source of our problems, we lie on God and cause tears to flow from the eyes of Christ.”
But while many African American Christians agree with Moss and condemn hate speech or discrimination against homosexuals they still don’t want the Word of God defining marriage tampered with.
That point was forcefully made by the Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, a faith-based coalition of 34,000 churches made up of 15 denominations and 15.7 million African Americans. “We love our gay brothers and sisters, but the black church will never support gay marriage, which is and it always will be against the ethics and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Obama’s position will cost him a substantial amount of the black Christian vote.”
There is a long road ahead to November. And as African Americans weigh the important issues of jobs, health care, foreclosures and the demise of the middle class, black clergy leaders are counting on Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage losing its punch. Maybe the Moss model of protecting the political rights of gays as well as the religious rites of churches will work a miracle one more time.
Reynolds is an ordained minister and columnist for TheRootDC and the author of six books, including “Out of Hell and Living Well, Healing from the Inside Out,” a spiritual biography which describes her personal battle with addiction and the program she launched to help others. For her other columns:
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