A growing number of black ministers are joining the debate over same-sex marriage. As legislators in New Jersey and Maryland consider whether or not to allow gays and lesbians to legally marry, a few African-American preachers and pastors are expressing views on the issue that break with the status quo of the black church on the topic.
Take for instance, Delman Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Maryland. As of late, Coates has received much criticism for taking a pro-same-sex marriage stance, as reportedby the Washington Post. However, it appears that the criticism is coming from voices outside of his church.
For some, it may be ironic that Coates’ parishioners have not flinched, but Rev. M. William Howard, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, NJ and father of theGrio’s Deputy Editor Adam Howard, said the issue is a relational one.
“If you have a pastor who has established himself as a credible leader of the congregation, the parishioners tend to know the pastor’s heart and the pastor’s character. You might say that while he may or may not have spoken directly to this issue to them before, he may have spoken about related questions,” Rev. Howard said
Howard believes there is a comparison that must take place between the people who don’t know the pastor personally and those who do.
“We can condemn a lot of things we are not familiar with. They know him,” Howard added. “I can see where a pastor might say something that riles the congregation or he might do something that riles the congregation, but that generally that comes out of the blue[.]”
If a congregation is listening to a pastor week in and week out, Howard thinks they tend to know what he thinks about hot button issues.
Coates is not the first pastor or preacher to come out in support of same-sex marriage.
However, he does appear to part of a small minority. Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, has been very vocal in his support of the issue. So much so, that Sharpton has been working to rally black preachers and ministers in the cause – most recently in Maryland.
In a Human Rights Campaign video Sharpton states, “As a Baptist minister, I don’t have the right to impose my beliefs on anyone else. So if committed gay and lesbian couples want to marry, that’s their business. None of us should stand in their way. All of us must fight for what’s fair…”
Howard shares a similar sentiment. For him, the church and the secular government have two very different functions.