Gay Marriage, GOP, and the Black Church

One of the most interesting subplots of the 2004 Presidential election was the staunch support some prominent black church leaders gave to both President Bush and the Republican Party, particularly in regards to the GOP’s conservative stance on social issues like abortion rights and gay marriage. Bucking tradition, these growing voices continue to urge the African-American join the Republican Party in their fight for family values.

When I consider some these church leaders, a number of whom are prominent mega-church pastors and televangelists, especially through the lenses of Charles Marsh’s God’s Long Summer and its revelation of how one’s view of God shapes one’s actions, their position becomes all the more curious to me and blatantly hypocritical since they are side stepping other social issues that certainly garnered a great deal of God’s attention.

While abortion and the gay marriage controversy are crucial social issues that merit and even demand the Church’s attention, so too are the very issues that the Old Testament prophets and more importantly, Jesus, addressed like poverty and just treatment of all persons. I am deeply troubled that the aforementioned black leaders say very little about civil rights and the devastation of poverty. What good does it do to decry the sin of abortion when you support policies that also abort the futures of those children are living? Where is the challenge to the Bush administration and the GOP about policies they support (such as the de-funding of Headstart) that hurt children and the poor?

Black leaders who maintain such a myopic course are no better than those black NAACP leaders who took Cleveland Sellers to task for “moving too fast? in his quest for racial justice and peace. There can be no peace, however, when one party is forced to be silent on issues that God’s Word is not silent on. The “bifurcation between proclamation and practice? is obvious here.

The question stands: how can any respectable black pastor or church leader who claims to follow Jesus and the Word so closely ignore the implications of the very kingdom of the God Jesus preached? Does the Gospel give us license to pick and choose what social issues God is most concerned with and profit from it in the process via faith-based initiative grants? This tension between the faith professed and the values preached through the bullhorn of political rhetoric may be best explained by Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, a book still as relevant today as it was when first published nearly fifty years ago.

First, there is certainly an element of Christ transforming culture in this situation. The church leaders fully believe that it is the Christian church’s responsible to transform culture, particularly using the ballot and legislation. They clearly see a sin-riddled culture slouching toward Gomorrah and believe that a godly Supreme Court and godly politicians are vessels of change who can advance their agenda to usher in the reality of the kingdom of God, returning the United States to its roots as a “Christian? nation. As Niebuhr states, “man the creature, working in a created world, lives, as the conversionist sees it, under the rule of Christ and by the creative power of and ordering of the Divine Word.? But in their quest to transform culture, their selectivity manifests without apology or even explanation and issues such as poverty, racism, and sexism are quietly and implicitly set aside as “less important? like forgotten children.

This perspective may be rooted in both a dualist and conversionist approach to perceiving Christ and culture. On one hand, dualists “tend to think of institutions of culture as having largely a negative function in a temporal and corrupt world.? This insight certainly brings to mind the rhetoric surrounding the so-called “gay agenda? that I have heard for the last two decades. The inherent evil of the object of disdain and disapproval becomes the subject of sermons and books. Once the position and parties related to the said object are demonized, the champions of righteousness become more vocal, pointing to their pet issues as the reason for the moral disintegration of our culture and country.

On the other hand, the conversionist understands “man the creature, working in a created world, lives, as the conversionist sees it, under the rule of Christ and by the creative power of and ordering of the divine Word.? With this perspective of God and humanity, they offer their biblical approach to the solution and marry it with political power to guarantee the transformation of culture and society.

That is exactly what is happening now as prominent black church leaders continue to join the ranks of the Republican Party. I am certainly not upset or dismayed that any black person would align themselves with the GOP. But even as a conservative evangelical Christian who believes that both abortion and gay marriage are inherently wrong, I also do not want to vilify any group of persons, however I may disagree with them, simply to horde political power and faith-based dollars for my ministry. Nor do I wish to be a hypocrite who will kindly step over a homeless person or turn a blind eye to impoverished children in my own neighbor as I make my way to march against the “unrighteousness? those who support abortion rights and gay marriage.

My own perspective resonates with the observation of Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA: “Marriage is more threatened by adultery and we don’t have a constitutional ban on that.? Perhaps the black leaders who are joining the ranks will be able to convince their white counterparts in the GOP to pass policies that honor God’s creation and the very people he created in his own image. We would do well to call the Church of Jesus to repent for the terminal adultery in the pulpit and pew that is destroying heterosexual marriages and creating a very bad testimony for the world as well as for the dangerous policies that hinder the poor and their children. Only then will the black ministers who support the GOP agenda bring their message into balance for the good of the Church and for their communities.
Charles Marsh, God’s Long Summer. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 157.
Marsh, 6.
Niebuhr, Christ and Culture. (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1952), 195.
Niebuhr, 194.
Neela Banerjee, “Black Churches Struggle Over Their Role in Politics.? The New York Times.
March 6, 2005.

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