How Will African-American Clergy React to Obama’s ‘Evolution’ on Same-Sex Marriage?

Black ministers have been among the most vocal opponents of gay rights, yet liberals seem scared to call them out.

Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post

As anticipated, the result of the 2004 presidential election came down to one state. In the hope of swaying the outcome in their favor, Ohio Republicans put a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot, causing the left to stridently overreact. Battle lines were drawn and the right came out to vote in force largely because of this divisive issue.

Among the most vocal groups supporting the ban were the state’s African-American ministers, who roared against homosexuality from their pulpits Sunday after Sunday with the kind of righteous joy usually reserved for those popping out of the River Jordan’s baptismal waters. The amendment won, and so did the candidate who supported it, George W. Bush. Exit polls indicated the large number of voters who showed up specifically in support of the ban was the deciding factor in the election.

Since then, in state after state and city after city, initiatives, referenda, and ballot issues to ban gays from marrying have popped up, all sponsored by Republican governors, legislatures, mayors and city councils. Teaming up with the GOP in many of these battles have been black ministers from the inner city who often boasted they would remain in the forefront of this particular struggle as long as breath remained in their bodies (or as long as right-wing cash poured into their coffers).

In the midst of neighborhoods rife with social, financial, and law-enforcement issues, including single-parent households, sky-high unemployment, crime, drugs, gangs, teen pregnancies, abandoned houses, failing schools, dwindling police, fire, and social services, life-and-death health-care debates, and widespread hopelessness—these crusading clerics chose the single issue of same-sex marriage to take their “Here I Stand” position.

Following Obama’s dramatic endorsement of same-sex marriage this week, it will be interesting to see how these ministers react.

If, as is likely, many swallow their silver-tongued, fire-and-brimstone tirades against gay marriage and instead preach the words of forgiveness and reconciliation, perhaps it may be time to take a closer look at the motivations behind the gay-bashing practices of so many of these black men of the cloth. Could it be that their bible-thumping moralizing is perhaps a sign of their impotence?

Since the civil-rights triumphs of five decades ago it certainly could be argued that the leaders of the black church have failed their flocks. Aside from gaining inroads into the political world and helping elect black officials, it's obvious that—on myriad levels—the lives of many urban blacks keep getting worse while black church officials do little other than ride around in Cadillacs.

The reasons for this dire situation are numerous, but what responsibility do the black church and its pastors have? Could they have done more for their blighted communities than simply build personal fiefdoms and live large? In order to divert attention from their failures, have they chosen to gang up on gays to maintain some sort of sway over their congregants?

Of course, executing an anti-gay agenda puts black churches in lockstep with a vast majority of other Christian denominations throughout the country, most notably the Catholic Church, Mormon Church, and white conservative evangelicals. What is unusual, however, is that while liberals and progressives scream to the high heavens when it comes to the repressive sermonizing spewed forth by the representatives and followers of the Pope, Pat Robertson, and Joseph Smith, nary a peep is heard regarding the discrimination against homosexuals preached from hundreds, if not thousands, of black pulpits around the country virtually each Sunday.

It’s certainly understandable the left would be supportive of African-American struggles and more hesitant to criticize them than they would conservative Republicans, with whom liberals differ on practically every issue. Still, perhaps the left needs to speak out without worrying about being on the receiving end of the knee-jerk charge of racism.

A vivid example of this hypocrisy was the hysterical reaction four years ago to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage in the state. In the aftermath of the vote, the left exploded. Donor lists of those who gave money to pass Prop 8 were pored over, contributors were “outed” and retaliation against all “guilty” parties was threatened. In response to the revelation the Mormon Church had donated considerable cash to the cause, cries went up to “Nuke Utah.”

What was all but ignored, however, was the heavy lifting done by scores of black churches to pass Prop 8, an effort which resulted in a 70 percent black vote for the ban (by far the highest percentage among racial and ethnic groups). And when a handful of liberal voices meekly pointed out these statistics and called into question African-American voting patterns on “cultural” issues, editorials popped up on progressive websites charging racism.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

Obama’s bold stance on same-sex marriage practically assures this issue will be prominent in the presidential campaign. Republicans are hoping Obama’s position will further energize their zealous base while cutting into his support among Latinos, Catholics and even African-Americans. Meanwhile the administration is counting on progressives and young people being energized in their support of equal treatment for all Americans and independents being generally turned off by right-wing religious fanaticism.

In the end, a major factor in the reelection of Obama will be the level of enthusiasm and turnout among blacks, which will certainly be influenced by the African-American clergy. Wouldn’t it be ironic that the issue that could dampen, even slightly, Obama’s chances for victory is one based on discrimination against a particular group of people?