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June 26, 2015

With Thursday’s 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, same sex marriage became legal in all states. Today, conservative white pulpits across America are lit up with both angry, fist-shaking rhetoric, scriptural distortion, weeping, and, of course, vows to continue to seek a by wasting tithes and offerings—biblically mandated to serve the poor and in need—on fruitless pursuit of a political solution. This is what conservative white churches routinely do: engage society’s ills by means of politics. It is completely out of step with the personal example of Jesus Christ, Who walked the earth under the shadow of the Roman Empire, among the most perversely corrupt pagan societies the world had ever seen. Homosexuality was freely and openly practiced in Jesus’ day, as were gross displays of depraved sexual conduct of all orientations—hence the term “Roman Orgy.” Yet, there is no record of Jesus ever once having mounted any campaign or having spent the donations of the faithful in some fruitless effort to rail against the empire. Since the rise of Jerry Falwell, the white conservative fundamentalist church in America has been woefully out of step with that example, often railing in unbridled hatred towards those it deemed immoral. Jesus spoke little of morality and did not wrongfully comingle morality and spirituality.

By contrast, the conservative black church will be largely silent. This is what the black church in America routinely does: nothing. Current events are rarely spoken of from the pulpit, and the black church—of all persuasions—has been caught in the crossfire between biblical truth and the moral imperative of civil rights for more than a century. Our doctrinal beliefs concerning homosexuality are a matter both separate and apart from our fundamental belief in the equality of all people. In that light, we must defend the bigot’s right to preach hate if we are to be free to preach love. Which is not to ever equate sexual orientation with fascism but to separate whatever your particular peccadilloes concerning homosexuality are from the basic right of all men and women to be free and equal members of society, entitled to all of the dignity and equal protection that view entails.

I imagine nearly all black churches will be discussing the massacre in Charleston more so than the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling or even the Supremes saving Obamacare by some very hairy twisted logic. However, much like our fundamental right to free speech, the court’s ruling on LGBT marriage extends well beyond the scope of the immediate question and has profound significance for all of American society—the black church most especially.

Had the Court failed or even declined to rule on Obergefell, the power of the Fourteenth Amendment—which provides specific and notable protections for African Americans—would have been diminished. As angry as the conservatives, including an increasingly unhinged Justice Scalia, may be, I agree that what was at issue was not the morality of homosexual marriage or even the rights of states to regulate marriage, but the power of the U.S. Constitution to guarantee our basic freedoms under the law. Civil rights cannot and must not be determined by a majority vote or ballot amendment. This was the fundamental argument of the Civil Rights movement: we can’t wait for America to become more enlightened and vote to give us rights and protections the Constitution guarantees us; the Constitution either works or it doesn’t. It’s fairly convenient for Black America to embrace that concept where our interests are concerned while turning a deaf ear to other constituencies.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, emphasized that rights under the Constitution weren’t restricted to those granted in the voting booth. He clarified that “[t]he issue before the court here is the legal question whether the Constitution protects the right of same-sex couples to marry.” Justice Kennedy noted that that court action is an appropriate forum to answer the question because “individuals who are harmed need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right.” The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment, “…requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.”

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts stressed that only a handful of states had recognized same sex marriages with laws made in voting booths and legislatures. It wasn’t political process that made same sex legal but court rulings, a move that he found concerning. Justice Scalia agreed, writing that the case was a “threat to American democracy.”

With all due respect to Justice Scalia, the greater threat to American Democracy is to weaken the U.S. Constitution by selectively applying its values and protections. Similarly, the church must look not to the U.S. Constitution, nor to the Levitical Holiness Code, nor even to The Apostle Paul. Conservative white churches and nearly all black churches I have experienced in my life tend to teach this false Old Testament doctrine, this Pauline doctrine. Memo to the church, white and black: Jesus Outranks Paul. In the final analysis, all of the liturgical complexity boils down to this: the church, white, black, Asian or what have you—must look to Jesus. This is what we routinely do not do, placing emphasis on Paul or Moses or whomever else, and using their words to supersede or overlay those of The Master. We routinely turn away from Christ, to Paul, to Moses, when we cannot find ammunition for our hatred and loathing within the Gospels. We look beyond Jesus because, obviously, Jesus is not enough for us. We’ve formed our opinion and keep flipping pages until we find some line of scripture we can rip out of context to justify behaving like idiots.

Beloved: if you call yourself a Christian, you must look to Jesus. The trite phrase has lost none of its truthfulness: What Would Jesus Do? What is the example? What is in the record? Stop putting Paul ahead of Jesus. Stop flipping back to an ancient Law we are no longer under.

Following Jesus requires courage. Learning to love, to get past our flesh to discover love, to practice love, requires courage. It’s easy to shake your fist and to go along with the go-along. I invite each of us to stand up, if not specially for same-sex marriage or even the U.S. Constitution, but stand up for Jesus. Jesus said not one recorded word about homosexuality, about gay marriage, about any of the stuff the white conservative church spends billions on politicizing—money much better spent housing the homeless and feeding the hungry. These politically-focused “churches” and “pastors” are actually neither. In straying so far from the model Christ left us, they are practicing a deceived religion rather than an active faith, which makes these places much more like witch’s covens than houses of worship because Christ is not actually glorified there. The pastor takes to the pulpit and rails against Obama, Obama, Obama, Obama. The spend outrageous sums contributing to political groups and printing pamphlets and flyers in advocacy of treating entire segments of society like second-class citizens.

Beloved: that is not a church. The Church’s mission is not to create God’s Kingdom here on earth, nor to enforce God’s “Law” upon people by political means. The mission of the Church is simple: to tell people about Jesus. This is rarely done. Past all the rhetoric and pulpit thumping, the actual telling-people-about-Jesus part is an afterthought, tossed in before the benediction. We can fistfight over gay marriage all day if you want to, the bigger threat facing America is a church that refuses to follow Christ.

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