By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
LANHAM, Md.—Black pastors who defended biblical marriage feel they now have targets on their backs for not viewing same sex marriage as a civil rights issue, shared Reynold Carr, director of missions for the Prince George’s Baptist Association in Lanham, Md.
But he and several other pastors in Prince George’s County see the battle is not so much about homosexuality as it is about a growing belief that the Bible is no longer the standard for truth in today’s society.
Over the past few years, these pastors have stood on the front line in the campaign against same sex marriages, landing them in a cover story in Focus on the Family’s June/July 2011 edition of Citizen magazine.
Presently, the pastors are gearing up for the next battle, a statewide ballot referendum in November to challenge the legalization of same-sex marriage, which Maryland Governor Bob O’Malley endorsed and Maryland’s House of Delegates and Senate passed. If left unchallenged, the law will take effect Jan. 1, 2013.
BaptistLIFE sat down with these pastors to hear their side of the conversation.
Harold Dugger, pastor of First Baptist Church of Capitol Heights Md., expressed concern that pastors aren’t educated enough about the issue.
Focusing on religious liberties, he said pastors will not be mandated to marry homosexuals, but if churches want state money for their programs, such as daycare and poverty programs, they will have to practice equal opportunity employment among heterosexuals and homosexuals.
“Their church constitutions are not going to protect them,” he said, acknowledging that many churches have not stepped up for fear of losing their tax-exempt status.
“If you don’t stand up, you will lose the money you are receiving now,” he cautioned. He understands the fears pastors face: pressing the issue may alienate big givers in their churches, upsetting building programs; or city officials, feeling opposed, may slow down the processing of city permits.
“Or,” added Dugger, “there is possible hidden homosexuality in the church.”
Nathaniel Thomas, senior pastor of Forestville (Md.) New Redeemer Baptist Church in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., was careful to clarify that the pastors were “not about hating because people are gay.” He pointed to Romans 1, a passage that enumerates homosexuality in a long list of sins common to all people.
“The Bible makes all of us uncomfortable,” Thomas said. “We all have sin in our lives.”
“We are more infatuated with telling the story than living the story,” said Dugger, expressing concern that pastors are more storytellers than prophets. “I think we fear the Lion’s Den we preach about. I think we fear the Paul and Silas prison experience ourselves. It’s okay to tell it as a story but I don’t want to experience it as a reality.”
He added, “We’re not dealing in the prophetic. It’s more performance, than it is prophetic.”
Carr said, “We know we are living in the last days. We know that conditions are not going to get better and will get worse. But we still have to preach! We still have to be salt and light—that city on a hill… We still have to stand up and speak up.”
“I am thinking this fight for marriage is a symptom of a wider issue—a much wider failure/conflict,” shared Keiffer Bent, pastor of Berwyn (Md.) Baptist Church, noting Christians rally around different issues, such as abortion and same sex marriage every 10 years or so. He said, instead, Christians should target the wider issue that keeps perpetuating the symptoms.
He recalled a cartoon, which featured two castles, representing the Christians and the world, each with their own flags. The world’s flags, representing such things as pedophilia and pornography, were full of holes shot out by Christians trying to fight against them. The Christians’ flags—a righteous flag, a holiness flag, an inerrant scripture flag—were untouched.
Instead, the worldly opponents managed to shoot away at the castle’s foundation.
“Every time we shot off one of the world’s flags, another one would rise up. And the same time, they were targeting our foundation, which is the Bible. That’s what we were built on,” Bent said.
Bent said the wider conflict is that Christians have failed to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13). He said he didn’t blame the gay guys. He blames his profession.
“As ministers, we have failed tremendously—terribly—in raising up a godly generation… We have failed to transfer our faith to our children.”
The pastors also focused on the dilemma of divorce among Christians.
“The reason we have the problems we have in the institution of marriage is because so many of us try to handle the institution of marriage in accordance with the dictates of the world as opposed to the dictates of the Word of God,” said Anthony Minter, pastor of First Rock Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He noted the real struggle why the divorce rate is so high in the church. “It’s because we don’t approach it as holy matrimony. We don’t deal with it in the way the Bible has told us to deal with it.”
“Jesus Himself supported the institution of marriage but He also said the reason we have divorce is because…. you folk are hard-hearted and selfish,” Carr said. “You are thinking only about yourself.”
Ultimately, the pastors hope churches will stand up—before it’s too late.
“For me, [this whole situation] has been, while rewarding, it’s been frustrating,” said Thomas. “I would have thought that the church would have rallied with enthusiasm. I have not seen that enthusiasm.”
Saying he hopes to see more white pastors and churches involved, Thomas continued, “It appears that our opponents have been painting the church as haters, particularly the black church. They have very effectively attempted to make the same sex marriage issue fight a black church thing when, in fact, it is not. It is a Christian issue. Matter of fact, it’s a spiritual/religious issue,” he said, noting the Koran, the Jewish Torah, and the Christian Bible all have passages which define marriage.
“There are those who are sitting back, waiting to see what the black church is going to do, and it’s bigger than that,” he said.