Black Church Pastors Walk Thin Line on Rights of Gays; BIBLE Some Passages Are Ignored, Others Held Up RIGHTS Traditional Black Support of Equal Rights at Issue

Article excerpt

Byline: Khristopher J. Brooks

Not long ago, the Rev. R.L. Gundy learned the City Council was considering a city ordinance change aimed to extend basic human rights to Jacksonville's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

At the time, he didn't know many specifics about the proposal, but he still made it a priority to voice his opinion.

"I told them that this was wrong on the first day they were considering it," said Gundy, vice president of Jacksonville's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "I told them they have no idea how much harm this would do and they don't know what they're getting themselves into."

Gundy isn't the only one who opposes the proposed change. Many local black pastors say they support equal rights for everyone, but there's something morally wrong with this law. They take offense to the LGBT community demanding rights by asserting that gays and lesbians are no different than any other minority group that has fought for equality.

"But to say it's the same as black folk, well, to me, it's not the same," said pastor Gary L. Williams of First Baptist Church of Mandarin. "It's being made to sound the same, but it isn't.

"I was born black. This skin isn't coming off. I had no choice."

In early May, Councilman Warren Jones, who is black, filed a bill that hoped to outlaw discrimination in hiring or promotion, housing or access to public accommodations like hotels, movie theaters and restaurants based on a person's sexual orientation. The bill has backing from former Jacksonville elected officials and city business executives.

The City Council intended to vote on the bill this month, but members cannot agree on some specifics of the language. So the bill has stalled and likely won't be voted on until late July.

Meanwhile, Mayor Alvin Brown has been hush about his stance on the bill. Caught between social liberals and conservative black churchgoers, both of whom helped vote him into office last year, he has given no clear answer when asked in public for his thoughts.

LEVITICUS

Black pastors and their congregation members opposing homosexuality is a topic that flows through Jacksonville and spreads through the nation, making Williams and Gundy one of many pastors who hold similar views.

In fact, a 2009 analysis of a Pew Research Center survey found that 40 percent of African-American respondents identify themselves as Baptist, a denomination known for its literal interpretation of Bible passages. Of the responding group, 46 percent said homosexuality should be discouraged.

Baptists and many other religious denominations typically point to Leviticus 18:22 ("Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination") and Leviticus 20:13 ("If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abominationa...") when they say homosexuality is wrong. Williams from First Baptist called it a sin.

"Even if someone says they're born this way, it doesn't make it right," he said.

Pastor Mark Griffin of Wayman Ministries said opposing homosexuality is one of the less important stances in the black church, one so small that it's unlikely their collective voice could sway City Council's vote.

However, any opposition from African-Americans or their pastors - no matter how large or small - could be seen as hypocritical.

Opposing a law that expands human rights to the LGBT community is, in essence, seeking to deny a segment of the population equal rights.

"And that's where African-Americans are caught because they have historically been at the forefront of championing equal rights for everyone, but not with this segment of people," said the Rev. Tim Simpson, managing editor of the journal Political Theology and a religion instructor at the University of North Florida.

IGNORING PASSAGES

Simpson said black pastors and their congregations have long been able to advocate for equal rights for themselves while opposing homosexuality because African-Americans dismiss certain passages of the Bible and interpret other sections more literally. …