With the recent passage of marriage equality in Maryland, the media has begun to focus again on the supposed conflict between LGBT equality and the African American community. One major focus has been on opposition coming out of Historically Black Churches, which are typically (and falsely) presented as universally unsupportive of the LGBT community. But LGBT-affirming pastors and parishioners are not an anomaly in Historically Black Churches.
Today, a Washington Post article discussed the supposed divide, without including the voices of any LGBT-affirming faith leaders from the Black Church. Just over a week ago, the Washington Post highlighted the support of the Rev. Dr. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton. Rev. Coates was portrayed as the single affirming voice from the Black Church with a number of detractors listed within the article. So it is noticeable that they are absent from this article. GLAAD reached out to the Washington Post concerning the previous article, calling on it to avoid the myth of a divide between the Black Church and the LGBT community.
GLAAD has consistently lifted up other LGBT-affirming Black faith leaders, including the Rev. Dorothy Harris of Unity Fellowship Church of Columbia, Pastor Larry Brumfield with Westminster’s Church of the Brethren, the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington of the Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore, the Rev. Candy Holmes of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, and the Rev. Dr. Dennis Wiley, Pastor of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, Washington. These are just a few examples of LGBT-affirming Black clergy who could be included in a story about marriage equality in Maryland.
National Public Radio took a more nuanced approach, but still reinforced the “Black vs. gay” frame through their call in program, Talk of the Nation. NPR’s Neil Conan recently hosted Rev. Coates to discuss the recent passage of marriage equality in Maryland. While on air, Rev. Coats wisely stated he doesn’t believe “any congregation is unanimous on any issue.” His congregation, he says, is still overwhelmingly supportive:
I would say that the overwhelming majority of our membership, certainly well in excess of 90 percent, 95 percent of those that I've heard from, applaud the stance that I've taken, that the question as a matter of public policy should not be what does our local church believe or affirm as it relates to marriage, but simply do our neighbors deserve the same basic civil liberties. And so they overwhelmingly understand that distinction.
This comes in stark contrast to Conan’s previous guest, Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, who argues that his opposition to marriage equality stems from his religious roots. Unlike Rev. Coates, Bishop Jackson’s stance against marriage equality conflates civil marriage and religious marriage. (Jackson has also stated that he believes being gay is a “satanic plot to destroy our seed,” though for some reason, he stayed away from this rhetoric on NPR.)
While it true that support for marriage equality among Black church goers is less that the national average, a recent report from the Public Religion Research Institute indicates that at least one third of them are supportive. Some local and statewide polls have actually indicated this number to be slightly higher, as they highlight LGBT-affirming pastors.
The lack of affirming voices included in these stories incorrectly frames the Black Church as a uniformly anti-LGBT monolith, which is not the case. These pastors and parishioners who are voicing their support for marriage equality are a part of a growing movement within the African American faith community who have studied scripture, prayed, and discerned that God is calling them to help bring their LGBT brothers and sisters into the full protections that marriage equality can offer. Their voices deserve recognition.
GLAAD has again reached out to the Washington Post with concerns about their coverage of the Black Church and the LGBT community. There is an ongoing dialog with the newspaper. Additionally, GLAAD calls on other media outlets to tell the story of more LGBT-affirming pastors, and to challenge the false and narrow stereotype that the Black faith community is uniformly opposed to LGBT equality.
Miriam Lazewatsky, Faith & Campaigns Fellow, contribued significantly to this blog post.