By Jeff Kunerth, The Orlando Sentinel –
ORLANDO, Fla. — Shortly after President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage, the NAACP reiterated its contention that gay rights — including the right to marry — are civil rights. Both statements of support followed North Carolina becoming the 31st state to pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
To NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, those laws — passed with the overwhelming support of black voters — codify discrimination against gays.
“It’s the responsibility and history of the NAACP to speak up on the civil rights issues of our times,” Jealous said at a news conference. “The NAACP now firmly opposes all efforts to restrict marriage equality.”
The NAACP and gay activists contend gay rights are a natural extension of the fight for equality that began with blacks and women. Both movements were founded and fought on a moral high ground found in the Bible.
The problem the gay community has had in enlisting what should be a natural, empathetic ally in the black community is the strong evangelical nature of most black churches, which interpret the Bible as the true word of God. Black pastors cite biblical passages that condemn homosexual behavior as sinful and an “abomination.”
As a result, black pastors find themselves aligned with some of the same churches and denominations that once barred blacks from being members, and supported slavery and segregation. Polls show 62 percent of blacks oppose gay marriage while more than half of all Americans favor same-sex marriage.
“What I hear is gay rights is ‘OK, I want to be treated fairly, but I want to be able to engage in sexual behavior that is contrary to what the Bible says,’ ” said Pastor Beverly Brown, executive pastor of Redeeming Light Center in Eatonville.
Black pastors see nothing written in the Bible that equates same-sex relationships with heterosexual relationships and nothing that includes gays in the definition of marriage. Marriage is not just a legal document, but a holy covenant between a man, a woman and God, said Pastor Frank Thompson. No exceptions.
“My perspective does not see marriage as a civil right,” said Thompson, senior pastor of The Worship Center Orlando in Pine Hills. “We’re talking about someone taking an action to participate in a social, legal, contract that I believe the Bible does not support.”
Brown says she can empathize with gays because she remembers the days of segregation and discrimination, but the Bible is consistent throughout that marriage is reserved for a man and a woman.
“For me, the bottom line stops at the Bible. You can’t change it, no matter how accommodating we want to be,” Brown said.
Both Brown and Thompson say they find Scripture speaks against slavery and segregation, and for equality for women in the church and society, but they find no such evidence on behalf of gays. Their common ground with white evangelicals is belief in the biblical black and white that homosexuality is unacceptable.
“As a faith leader, I am always going to be somewhat offended when you ask me to change, or go against, the tenets of my faith,” Thompson said.
But some black pastors argue that gay civil rights is a natural extension of the quest by minority groups to be treated equally.
“I do believe they (NAACP) are right that it is a civil rights issue and not a religious issue,” said the Rev. Randolph Bracy Jr., former NAACP branch president and pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando. “As a civil rights leader, I see this in the long sweep of history as another step (toward equality).”
Bracy favors gay rights because Jesus’ ministry was aimed at society’s outsiders. It’s a gospel of inclusion — the acceptance of people who are condemned, ostracized and discriminated against. In today’s society, Bracy said, that includes gays.
“I believe that Jesus came to deal with those who are disaffected, those who have been disenfranchised, who have been disinherited,” he said. “Jesus gave us a mandate to deal with ‘the least of these.’ The gays are the least of these.”
Others contend gay rights go beyond the Bible to the basic rights of all Americans.
“Gay rights are unequivocally civil rights because they are about human beings living in a civil society and their basic fundamental rights,” said the Rev. Bryan Fulwider, senior minister of First Congregational Church of Winter Park.
Fulwider finds the same Scripture that was used by abolitionists, black civil rights leaders and women’s rights advocates to rebut the biblical arguments for slavery, segregation and the subjugation of women now applies to gays.
“Over and over again, whenever the Bible talks about welcoming the one who is not like us, that is a call to open your heart and life to the other — whether sexual orientation, gender, race, culture, creed or religion,” Fulwider said.