Their press release has this heading, “National Coalition of African-American Ministers Stand Together to Protest Same-Sex Marriage in America.” In the press release are these words, “We find the opposition’s attempt to yoke their homosexual agenda to that of the Civil Rights Movement extremely disturbing.” These Ministers held a news conference in Washington on Thursday, June 24. While in Washington, the “Coalition will call upon the Congressional Black Caucus.” It is their statement, the assumptions that seem to undergird their statement, and their press conference that prompt me to raise this question. WWMD? What Would Martin Do?
I make an effort to imagine what Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist preacher whose life was so intertwined with the Civil Rights Movement would do in response to those who seek to “protect” the Civil Rights Movement from the quest for civil rights for persons whose sexual orientation is homosexual. The following are imagined answers to the question I have posed.
1. The Civil Rights Movement embraced more than the struggles of Black persons to gain civil rights, it included all of those who because of color, gender, nationality, sexual orientation and any other reason, were denied their constitutional rights. That I believe was at the heart of the message of Martin Luther King. How do we achieve the “Beloved Community” that he often spoke of, while excluding some folk?
2. Martin Luther King was misunderstood by many persons in the African American community and beyond when he felt compelled to speak out against the war in Vietnam. He did not separate and segment the struggle for human rights.
He believed that when some in the human community struggle, the rest of us can be neither indifferent nor silent. His “Beyond Vietnam” speech given a year before he died, has relevance for our present, post-war, war in Iraq.
The fact that he spoke out against the injustice of the war in Vietnam as being relevant and related to the “Freedom Movement” in America causes me to believe that if he were alive today he would be in despair over the efforts to disconnect the rights of the Gay community from the rights of African Americans.
3. In his preaching and in his activism, Martin King addressed this question in Scripture, “What doth it profit a man (or woman) to gain the whole world and lose their soul?” Clergy through the ages have sought to be “unbought and unbossed” by the forces that may not abuse us, but who have no qualms about using us.
A clergy colleague who has observed the emergence of significant and distinguished black clergy as supporters of the “Marriage Amendment” that would exclude same-gender marriage, has made this comment, remembering the words of actor Cuba Gooding, Jr. in one of his movies: “Show me the moneyî and I will become an ardent supporter of the Marriage Amendment. My colleague has in mind the financial grants available through the Bush administration’s “Faith-Based Initiative.”
It is difficult for me to imagine that Black clergy who have such outstanding pulpit skills, a deep commitment to Black liberation and authentic concern about the impact of this crucial election year on the African American community and the nation, would allow the possibilities of financial grants to influence them.
Finally, history reminds us through the Prohibition experience, that making the U.S. Constitution an exclusive document violates its intent. African American Ministers in support of a U. S. Constitution that excludes? How can this be? The spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. must be in anguish because of the actions of some of his clergy colleagues.
African American Gay and Lesbian persons who are in the families, in the churches and the communities where these Ministers are, I imagine, find themselves quoting those powerful words from Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN today: “I am invisible simply because people refuse to see me.” The African American Church, from pulpit to pew, must cease pretending Black Gay and Lesbian persons do not exist!
Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell (Retired) is the Co-Convener of United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church, a ministry of the Reconciling Ministries Network.