Martin E. Marty
Two weeks ago Sightings picked up on some lines written by the influential Evangelical-oriented author, Eric Metaxas. “Not so fast,” he wisely enough cautioned those who consider legalized, same-sex marriage to be inevitable. And yet, hours after he posted this alert, the United States Supreme Court issued a judgment, which made legal same-sex marriage look a bit more inevitable.
"Not so fast," Metaxas would continue to warn: look at many factors in American life and not just at the biased-media that caters to supporters of the cause. He needed evidence for his stand and found it here in Illinois, where the legislature so far has failed to remove legal barriers to same-sex marriage.
You didn’t hear about it?
Metaxas accused the media of creating a blackout about the legislature’s vote and about one of the main reasons for that vote. Citing the National Organization for Marriage and the National Review, he reported that black pastors demanded that state legislators acknowledge the biblical definition of marriage, as they (the black pastors) interpreted it. Quoting the “National” and the “National” sources, Metaxas wrote that these pastors defeated “gay-marriage advocates and their supporters in the legislature in the bluest of blue states.”
Rather than speculate about the future, I’d simply say that Metaxas has alerted the media and everyone else, of whatever race or denomination, to keep their eyes on the black churches. One would not think of trying to cover religion in this blue city in the bluest of blue states without paying most attention to black churches—perhaps after having first noted Catholic archdiocesan news.
Whoever takes a look at the scene finds that, yes, many black pastors and, we presume, congregants, oppose same-sex marriage for reasons rooted in their biblical understanding and cultural expressions.
But a second look reveals profound controversy within black churches.
A year ago (July 31, 2012), the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) drew attention to Chicago and elsewhere when it mobilized to defeat President Obama’s re-election bid. CAAP's founder and president, the Rev. William Owens, called President Obama’s position on same-sex marriage a “travesty” and accused him of “pandering” to the gay and lesbian community. The 3,472 pastor-strong CAAP swayed some legislators, but the President won last November's election.
Meanwhile, of course, the CAAP awakened much opposition. When Owens rejected the claim that the right to marriage for same-sex couples matched other rights, critics quickly stepped up to question his involvement in civil rights causes (he boldly asserted that he had been up front about his views).
Also, since President Obama changed his official opinion on same-sex marriage and since the recent Supreme Court ruling, polls have found an increase in support of same-sex marriage among blacks.
It is too early to tell whether black pastors will carry the same weight they are said to have exercised in the Illinois legislature and can help defeat this “rights” issue one more time.
Metaxas is right: the change in the public’s willingness to support same-sex marriage is “not inevitable.” The public, “the media,” and religious observers—including those of us who do much “sighting” of religion in American life—will do well to sharpen our focus on the vital African-American churches, which are often the most dynamic and influential forces in most of our metropolises.
Those of us who pay attention to the local black churches, to the loyalty so many of them command, to the respect they gain through their ministries, and to the power that goes with all that, have to pay attention to the interplay of the “inevitable” and the “evitable” in these days of sudden and radical change.
Metaxas, Eric. “The False Narrative of Gay Marriage: It Is Not Inevitable.” The Christian Post, June 26, 2013. Accessed July 13, 2013.http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-false-narrative-of-gay-marriage-it-is-not-inevitable-98836/.
Maza, Carlos. “Three Things The Media Should Know About Rev. William Owens And His Coalition Of African-American Pastors.” Equality Matters (blog), August 8, 2012. Accessed July 13, 2013. http://equalitymatters.org/blog/201208080002.
“Black Pastors Condemn Supreme Court For Ruling on Gay Marriage.” Atlanta Daily World, June 26, 2013. Accessed July 13, 2013.http://www.atlantadailyworld.com/201306267036/Original/black-pastors-condemn-supreme-court-for-ruling-on-gay-marriage.
“The Black Church.” BlackDemographics.com. Accessed July 13, 2013.http://blackdemographics.com/culture/religion/.
Author, Martin E. Marty, is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School.