Like other conservative churches, many historically black congregations are unhappy with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
And for many of them, there is an additional rub: the court majority’s acceptance of the legal argument that same-sex marriage is a matter of civil rights.
Black churches were at the forefront of the civil rights movement that swept away legal discrimination against black people in the 1960s. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, is that movement’s icon.
The more the gay rights movement has likened its struggle to the black civil rights movement — and the more the public has accepted that analogy — the more many black Christians have bristled.
“You can’t equate your sin with my skin,” Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of Mt. Hope Christian Church in Maryland famously said after his state legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.
The Roman Catholic Church still opposes same-sex marriage, but some mainline Protestant denominations recently have changed their policies. The Episcopal Church now allows it, following the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ. But many individual churches and members strongly disagree.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lets its congregations decide for themselves. The United Methodist Church prohibits gay marriage in its churches or by its clergy, but some pastors have performed them in protest.
Many black churches are affiliated with Baptist denominations and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which remain opposed to same-sex marriage because of their understanding of Scripture.
The Pew Research Center reported recently that while 59 percent of white Americans now support same-sex marriage, only 41 percent of blacks do.
The 225-year-old First African Baptist Church, the oldest black congregation in Lexington, believes in the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. But the Rev. Nathl Moore said the Supreme Court ruling hasn’t been a big topic of conversation in the congregation.
“We don’t condone all activities,” Moore said, “but we still love.”
Main Street Baptist Church’s website lists the traditional definition of marriage among its beliefs. Church leaders have discussed the court ruling, the Rev. Victor Sholar said.
“Our concern as a church at large is that there will be much slander and attack” because of religious objections to same-sex marriage, Sholar said. “We are still a pluralistic society. People will still have different views.
“But we continue to make mention that we welcome all persons in our church,” he added. “We’re like a hospital. We want to make people well.”
Main Street Baptist has a unique association with black civil rights. The church was founded in the 1850s on land Mary Todd Lincoln’s family owned beside her childhood home. Her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, personally conveyed the property to the church for $3,000 in 1863, the year after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in the Confederate states.
Sholar is among those who objects to comparing the gay rights movement with the black civil rights movement.
“It was an issue of human rights,” he said of the black civil rights movement and “had nothing to do with sexual preference or orientation. I think that is somewhat offensive to those who look at history. It’s apples to oranges, really.”
The Rev. Anthony Everett of Wesley United Methodist Church, whose denomination opposes gay marriage, respects the various religious beliefs on the issue. But he disagrees with trying to distinguish black civil rights from gay civil rights.
“It’s problematic sometimes for African Americans, because people are saying we haven’t really accomplished all the things we need to do with race and now here comes the next group that’s using the civil rights movement as a platform,” he said.
“It’s like my pain is worse than their pain,” he said. “We’re all in pain. Let’s all deal with the pain without worrying about whose pain is worse.”
Everett noted that Bayard Rustin, one of King’s main advisers and strategists during the civil rights movement, was gay.
“There wouldn’t have been a March on Washington had it not been for him,” Everett said of Rustin. “Do we just ignore him and ignore the battles he had to deal with? If you’re about social justice and human rights, you’re about all of that for everybody.”