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Black clergy hypocritical on same-sex marriage issue

Cardinal Francis George members African American Clergy Coalitijoopposing legislatiallow same-sex marriage Illinois April 5 2013.  |  John H.

Cardinal Francis George and members of African American Clergy Coalition join in opposing legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Illinois on April 5, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 10, 2013 6:37AM

When it comes to the debate over gay marriage, I have to ask myself: What would Jesus do?

Would the man who ate with harlots and thieves have organized his disciples to block passage of legislation that would have allowed same-sex marriages to be legal?

Or would Jesus have been too busy healing the sick, feeding the hungry and visiting the prisoners to even get involved?

Surely slavery deprived human beings of their God-given rights. But I don’t recall reading that Jesus and his followers challenged the despicable practice of one man owning another.

So I’m not impressed that a group calling itself the African American Clergy Coalition has geared up to battle a bill that would legalize gay marriage in Illinois.

The coalition is attempting to persuade 20 Black Caucus members, who may be the key to passage of the legislation, to vote against the measure.

The coalition, led by the Rev. James Meeks, has partnered with Cardinal Francis George to conduct an “aggressive street campaign” that includes robocalls to African-American households.

“It’s time for the church to wake up,” said Meeks, who also was a vocal opponent of same-sex marriages when he was a state senator.

But it seems hypocritical for black clergy to put this kind of energy into blocking people who want to get hitched legally while doing so little about the absence marriage in the communities where most of their congregants live.

To his credit, in 2010, Meeks challenged 25 unmarried couples in his church to take the plunge at his expense.

Unfortunately, marriage rates in the black community have been in decline for decades. In 2011, there was a lot of moaning and groaning when the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that only 52 percent of black women will marry by age 30. That means 48 percent of black women will sit out their prime childbearing years, or give birth without the support of a committed spouse. Today, 70 percent of black children are born outside of marriage.

Researchers blame a host of factors for black people not getting married, including high unemployment and their failure to inherit or accumulate wealth. Instead of marriage, a lot of people have serial relationships that may or may not involve cohabitation. The problems associated with these kinds of arrangements are well-documented. Children of unstable families are more likely to do poorly in school and end up in the criminal justice system.

Nisa Muhummad, the founder of “Black Marriage Day,” pointed out in a recent interview that communities thrive when marriages succeed.

“In those communities marriage goes hand in hand with lower crime, increased property values and better schools,” Muhammad told the Huffington Post.

Additionally, black clergy need to be careful about where they throw stones.

Despite the hostile attitudes they may encounter, there are gays and lesbians in the black church, and some of these young people are being victimized.

For instance, the black church was recently rocked when the pastor of one of the country’s largest megachurches was caught up in a gay sex scandal.

In 2010, five young men accused Bishop Eddie Long, of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, of lavishing them with gifts and coercing them into sex acts. Long admitted giving the gifts but denied engaging in sex with the men. The pastor settled the cases out of court.

Despite the settlement, one of the accusers, who said he was gay, released a tell-all book in February alleging that he and Long were in an abusive gay relationship.

Regular churchgoers have heard stories like this before.

But I’ve heard more condemnation from clergy over the issue of gay marriage than over the lurid allegations that surfaced in the Long case.

Last year, when President Barack Obama changed his position on gay marriage, causing some pastors to urge their congregations not to vote for him, the Rev. Otis Moss, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, felt compelled to address the issue.

“Same gender couples did not cause the high divorce rate, but our adolescent views of relationships and our inability as a community to come to grips with the ethic of love and commitment did. We still confuse sex with love and romance with commitment,” Moss said.

I think Jesus would choose love and commitment over judgment every time.

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