Same-sex marriage debate a distraction from more pressing social justice issues

September 13, 2012

The Rev. William H. Lamar IV is pastor of Turner Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hyattsville, Md., and a contributor to The Washington Post’s local faith leader network.

I played tee ball as a youngster. I recall vividly a teammate who crushed the ball off of the tee with the bases loaded. And this is where it all went downhill. As the ball sailed into the gap between the second baseman and the center fielder, my teammate ran from home plate to third base. Yes. That’s what I said. He ran to third instead of first, and the base runners devolved into a confused state, running aimlessly and being tagged out one by one by one. I was never much of an athlete. But sitting in the dugout 33 years ago I could tell that error would cost my team the game.

The current debate over same-sex marriage in many black churches gives me a feeling of déjà vu. We are running to third instead of first. How can we talk about same-sex marriage or homosexuality for that matter without talking about sex and sexuality first? In my humble opinion, we are running in the wrong direction and starting in the wrong place.

Christians are a people of the book, and that book, the Holy Bible, never shies away from talking about sex. The language about a husband and wife becoming one flesh found in Genesis is a euphemism for sex. Ruth uncovering Boaz’s feet is a euphemism for sex. No euphemism is needed for the voracious sexual appetite of King Solomon or the tragic sexual appetite of King David. Prostitution, concubinage, levirate marriage, rape and incest permeate the scriptures. Speaking of rape and incest, when was the last time you heard a teaching or a sermon on the rape of Tamar and her cries for justice after experiencing the unspeakable? How might congregants be healed by an excellent exegesis of that passage amidst all of the hurt and pain that molestation and rape have caused in our communities? And this is not just a Hebrew Bible affair. Christians at Corinth were not known for their Victorian sexual mores.

The black church shies away from frank discussions about sex while claiming to be Bible-based and scripture-centered. You cannot be those things and not talk about God’s good gift of sex and how it is to be used to God’s glory. How is being fixated on homosexual activity helping young men and women facing puberty deal faithfully and healthfully with their newly discovered urges? How is it helping the chaste singles and the sexually active singles in the pews? How is talk about gay marriage helping widows and widowers who cannot marry because it would upset their incomes but who are sexually active in their later years because they still crave human intimacy and they ain’t dead yet? Why aren’t we talking about these sexual issues at all or at least alongside issues of homosexuality?

The black community has always known about homosexuality. This is not a new discovery. And we know that homophobia is rampant in our community. But I can say unequivocally that the black church’s unofficial stance on homosexuality has always been Clintonian – don’t ask, don’t tell. Only in recent years has the vitriol of the right caused this to be a predominant issue in our churches.

Sex matters and we should talk about sex. But what about the fact that in many urban school districts, 50 percent of our children will not graduate from high school? What about the fact that there are 16.4 million poor children in America and there are 7.4 million children in America living in extreme poverty? What about the fact that Romney and Obama are pulling a politically dishonest sleight of hand by gearing their campaigns toward a rapidly disappearing middle class and not even uttering the word poverty? What about the fact that rich, guilty people are treated better than poor, innocent people in our system of jurisprudence? And what about the fact that the sinister war on drugs is really a war that strips citizenship from countless black men because enforcement efforts are concentrated in ghettoes and not in suburbs where whites sell and do the same amount of drugs statistically? If these issues are not our top priorities and crafting public policy to address these disparities is not our consuming passion, then we are running in the wrong direction.

I am all for talking about sex. People of the book should talk about sex. But talking about homosexual brokenness without talking about heterosexual brokenness is intellectually dishonest and more than that, it reeks of self-righteousness and scapegoating. It seems that we have become expert at confessing the sins of the homosexual bedroom while ignoring the sins of the heterosexual bedroom. We have traded in robust discussions of justice for paper-thin discussions of so-called morality. If we keep running in this direction, I am not sure that our team will be victorious.

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