By Patricia Wilson-Smith
As the 2012 Presidential Election makes its way towards the ever-important party nominating conventions, African Americans in this country are busy waging a quiet war within over its continued support of President Obama.
The issue? His personal stance on same sex marriage.
Just this week, a group calling itself The Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) announced that they will actively oppose President Obama’s re-election bid on the basis of his evolved opinion of same sex-unions. As a “…grass roots movement of African American Christians who believe in family values”, they apparently liken gay marriage to something so heinous that they’re willing to cede the election to a party whose policies have done more to wreck the American family than anything else in this country ever could.
I’m struggling with the idea that some black churches in this country would so suddenly and vehemently turn on President Obama based on a single statement of his personal opinion regarding same-sex relationships. After all, he didn’t sign a gay marriage bill into law; he has no power to do so unilaterally. He simply discussed the matter with an interviewer, admittedly after being ‘outed’ (pun intended) by Vice President Biden a few days prior. But there’s another reason for my inability to fathom what would make these churches turn on not only the first African American President, but the Democratic Party. The fact that I know what many, many black Americans know about so many of our churches – that they have a very complex history regarding homosexuality – especially as it relates to its gospel musicians – that make the collective gasp of horror over President Obama’s stance seem, well – a bit hypocritical.
In my early teens, I was a gospel musician myself, in the Midwest, during the time when the art form was shaking off the shackles of the more traditional sound, in favor of music that was livelier, more rhythmic, and much more like the popular R&B music of the time. It was the mid-eighties, and in my hometown, there seemed to be an endless number of gospel choirs and singing groups, headed by openly gay ‘ministers of music’, some affiliated with local churches, and others who had formed community choirs made up of singers from various congregations and denominations across the city. So much amazing music, so many talented men making the music – and most of them gay.
And when they performed – whether it was playing instruments, directing choirs, or filling the tenor sections, they packed houses, in scenes that were repeated in black churches all over the country. The gifts of so many of these talented, gay men filled the pews of churches with eager believers anxious to be soothed and inspired by the music they made, and to leave an offering to boot. I can recall being amazed then, as I am now over never hearing a single complaint from the pastors and congregations who were the beneficiaries of all those offerings, when it came to the personal lives of the musicians responsible.
It bears noting that the AIDS epidemic of the late eighties to mid-nineties literally wiped out that generation of talented men in my hometown, many of whom were some of my very good friends. In my opinion, it begs the question – how many of those men who died, may not have had they been able to express their love for one another in committed relationships, that afforded them all the rights of a legal marriage?
A stretch, you think? Maybe. And maybe it’s unfair to force a discussion with the collective black church on this basis alone, since every black pastor in the country can’t be indicted on how they may or may not have dealt with the question of homosexuality among its musicians. But the debate over whether or not we should put our support behind President Obama in the same numbers we did in 2008, on whatever basis, is one that we must have as a community right now, before it’s too late. So it made perfect sense to me, when a good friend suggested that the question should come down to an examination of the simplest interpretation of the teachings of the Bible, and how they align with the policies and core beliefs of each of the major parties.
This question takes me back to my bible-school days, where I learned what many of the very same ministers who make up CAAP I’m certain must be teaching a new generation of bible learners, each and every week. Coming from the book of first John, chapter three, verse 17:
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (NIV)
How is it then, that black ministers can threaten to oust President Obama, when it was he, who fought so hard against the Republican establishment to extend unemployment benefits to those who needed them so badly after being financially routed by eight years of Republican policies and fat-cat Wall street trickery? And how is it then that they would even consider not voting for the man who responsibly ended the war in Iraq, bringing thousands upon thousands of black fathers back to their families, children, and communities? And what earthly sense could it possibly make, to help remove a man from office who most recently has introduced an initiative that will (finally) take a look at what’s happening with African American students in the educational system, and turn the country back over to the party that has never, and I mean never offered a single meaningful solution to the issues that plague the black community?
It makes no sense whatsoever. And so we have to be brave enough to call them on it. All of them. Including the members of the CAAP.
Many of the Conservative African Americans I know are very quick to remind me that it was the Republican Party who led the movement to free enslaved blacks. But here’s the thing – whatever their past actions, whatever their past beliefs, the differences between the two major parties as they exist today couldn’t be more clear. Today’s Republicans believe in lower taxes for the wealthiest among us, minimizing the role of Government in helping the needy, and an ‘every-man-for-himself’ healthcare system that sees tens of thousands of dead, uninsured Americans as an acceptable statistical reality. Democrats believe in fair tax rates that support revenue levels that make it possible to help more of the needy, and a more pronounced role for Government in ensuring that everyone in this country receives a level of healthcare that will keep the nation strong and ready for its challenges. Republicans claim ownership of family values and Christian principles, but it is Democrats who consistently fight to prevent the needy in this country from going without. And so it is the dichotomy of what Republicans say they believe, and what they espouse via their policies that make it impossible for those in the black church who believe in real Christian stewardship to seriously consider throwing their support behind them, or for that matter withholding their support from President Obama, which amounts to the same thing.
The bible is clear on how Christians must conduct themselves in their dealings with the needy, which is why I believe as a collective voting bloc, we have no choice. African Americans must stand up to the ministers around the country who have used a single man’s opinion about one issue to drive doubt into the minds of their flock about what’s best for this country. It is irresponsible, it is morally wrong, and it could wind up leaving the country in the hands of those who to quote the Apostle John, “love with words from their tongues, but not in truth”.