On Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of gay marriage. On Sunday, one can only imagine the reactions throughout the pulpits in Detroit, but based on the well-publicized protest demonstrated by nearly 50 Black Detroit pastors last year in strenuous opposition to same-sex marriage, it is probably safe to guess that the reaction was less than favorable in the majority of those congregations.
But there are other Black Christian voices who have not received quite so much attention and who are no doubt celebrating the decision. Michael Nabors, longtime pastor of New Calvary Baptist Church who left his post of 16 years ago to become pastor of Second Baptist Church in Evanston, Illinois in January of this year, is almost certainly among that number.
Unfortunately, this reporter was unable to reach Pastor Nabors by deadline for a fresh perspective. However, a look at his controversial and outspoken views on gay marriage expressed just last year offer a window into the views held by those Black Christians, in Detroit and elsewhere, who are outspoken in their opposition to the views expressed by those such as Stacy Swimp, a Flint minister and one of the leaders of the National Coalition of Black Pastors. In Friday’s Detroit Free Press, Swimp was quoted as saying, “The Supreme Court has gone rogue. It created a new law, instead of interpreting the laws…I fear and tremble for my country. The future of America looks bleak right now.”
Swimp suggested that government officials and pastors should ignore the Supreme Court ruling and refuse to perform or sanction same-sex marriages. He was also one of many Black pastors and other Christian leaders who announced their intention on September 23, 2014, to reveal a national strategy to combat court decisions overturning state laws protecting traditional marriage.
“Now is a time for civil disobedience,” he told the Free Press. “Civil clerks who have a Christian conscience should refuse to marry two people of the same gender…They should be willing to disobey the law, even if that means we go to jail or be fined.”
Angered by what he viewed as such an intolerant viewpoint (which Swimp has also voiced in the past), Nabors issued a powerful editorial detailing his strong support of gay marriage and his condemnation of his fellow Black religious leaders whom he viewed as intolerant and homophobic. In an open letter, published on April 3, 2014, in Between the Lines, Nabors said:
“Is it any wonder that such a virulent group of clergy today is using their interpretation of Scripture to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality? They are standing up to claim a sort of spiritual mandate from God that gives them permission to speak for people of faith. Many African American pastors and clergy are absolutely repulsed by those who argue that the issue of gay rights is the modern civil rights struggle of our day. As a matter of fact, many African Americans refuse to stand up and defend the LGBT community because their clergy has taught them that to do so is sinful.
“I am saddened by such a response. I am dismayed by such a response. In fact, my dismay is so strong that in my own way, I recognize my time is far past — to come out of the closet! I am coming out of the closet as a heterosexual, male pastor, with all the privileges this has afforded me in more than 30 years of ministry, to say that I do believe in gay rights. I also believe that if gays love each other in the way I love my wife, in the way that any man-husband loves his woman-wife, it is perfectly fine for them to be married.
“I choose to understand the sacred text in a way that is different from so many other clergy from my generation, background and race. I choose to believe that the sacred word of God so profoundly emphasizes the godliness of love, until godly love is the indicator by which all of us should live.
“Indeed, the utterance of God from Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 teaches those in the Judeo-Christian heritage, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ Jesus would add to this important advice, ‘And love your neighbor as yourself.’”
At Fellowship Chapel (where I happen to be a member, in the interest of full disclosure), Rev. Wendell Anthony gave voice this past Sunday to those in his congregation who feel uncomfortable with the Supreme Court’s decision — and who would no doubt feel uncomfortable with what Nabors said — but took pains to emphasize that he does not harbor any antipathy towards the gay community.
Rev. Anthony also clarified that he does not consider himself at all homophobic, because the “phobic” part of the word implies fear, and fear, as he pointed out, has nothing to do with his unwillingness to support gay marriage. His comments on the decision are excerpted below because they appear to represent the more moderate and compassionate views of the faith-based community who cannot support the Court’s decision, but who also do not fit in with those who choose to demonize an entire population based on their sexual orientation.
It must be pointed out that Rev. Anthony’s role as pastor of a large congregation differs significantly from his role as head of the Detroit Branch NAACP, the largest branch in the country. In May 2012, the NAACP’s national board of directors created shock waves across the country when they voted to endorse same-sex marriage, saying that “civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law … The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure the political, social and economic equality of all people … We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law.”
On Sunday, Rev. Anthony said:
“There are a lot of concerns about this, and I know you have a lot of concerns. Faith-based people have a lot of concerns. Let me say for the record, God loves everybody. The Word is, ‘Whosoever will, let them come.’ That does not mean that I have to endorse, or condone or embrace what they’re bringing. This is a law that says, ‘No states can deny couples of the same sex from being married or getting a license to marry. It does not mandate that the church, private or faith-based institutions have to marry couples of the same sex. It does not mandate that.
“So if a person wants to engage in that, they’re perfectly free and able to do that. People who want to embrace that, you’re welcome to do that. However, that does not mean that as a person of faith (with the understanding of Christianity that I have) that I have to endorse or support that. So I want to make that very clear. I love everybody. So everybody is welcome here, and you’ve never heard me belittle, demean or deride anyone because of their sexual orientation.
“I do respect the law of the land. However I prefer to obey God. … I know the concern that folks have, but I do think that until I, as one who loves the Lord, can see and hear and get a different epiphany, a different revelation, than what I currently have seen … I have seen nothing in Scripture that leads me down that road.
“Don’t mean I don’t love everybody, don’t mean I’m homophobic. ‘Phobia’ means ‘fear.’ I can be against something, or not support something, and not fear it. This has nothing to do with fear, it has to do with the order that God gives.”