Same-sex marriage has been a hot-button issue in today’s culture, but nowhere has the issue been more divisive than the religious world.
Mainline Christian denominations have debated the topic for many years, with some splintering over the matter of ordination of gay clergy and the blessing same-sex unions.
So no one was surprised when President Barack Obama’s recent statement of support for same-sex marriage also resulted in controversy. Obama’s statement, made during a May 9 interview on ABC, has religious as well as political implications, many local clergy say.
“It’s a hot-potato subject right now,” said the Rev. J.A. Reed, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in northeast Oklahoma City.
The Rev. Lee Cooper Jr., senior pastor of Prospect Baptist Church, agreed.
“All of our churches have gay and lesbian people in our congregations. We don’t like to bring it up, but it is important for us to discuss it,” he said.
“One of things we can’t afford to do as Christians is to take a total stance of condemnation. We have to walk in love and compassion.”
The Rev. Ben Brammer, senior pastor of Northwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, said he does not agree with the president’s statement.
Brammer said the issue is complex.
“Contrary to views that seem to pick and choose Bible verses that support their beliefs, I believe that a holistic, literal interpretation of all of God’s Word does not leave room for same-sex marriage. However, it is not the only societal issue that derives from the inherent sin nature of human beings,” Brammer said.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Scott Hamilton, associate pastor of Church of the Open Arms, a United Church of Christ congregation, said he does agree with Obama’s statement of support. Hamilton, who is gay, is director of the Cimarron Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocacy and education on behalf of Oklahoma’s gay, lesbian and transgender community.
“I fully agree,” Hamilton said of the president’s statement. “It is fully aligned with my personal theology and my denomination’s theology. We believe equality is fundamental to our faith.”
The Oklahoman asked Reed, Brammer, Hamilton, Cooper and other clergy to share their views about Obama’s statement and its implications on religion and politics. Below are clergy comments about Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, along with each minister’s church and denominational affiliation.
The Rev. J.A. Reid, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, National Baptist Convention
“It’s a hot-potato subject right now. I don’t think the president was expressing his personal opinion. He’s concerned about being the president for all people — being the president for equality. What I think he is really saying is people have the right under the Constitution to make that decision (for same-sex marriage). You cannot legislate morality, and that’s a moral decision.
“I don’t think this will affect the presidential election because it’s only one issue. This particular issue does not change my confidence in him. Personally, I don’t believe in same-sex marriage. At the same time, even if I disagreed with the president, there are so many other issues that we American citizens need to be concerned about.
“He’s done a tremendous job as president. I appreciate him having the nerve to take a stand, whether I agree with him or not. He’s concerned about justice and equality for all people.”
The Rev. Victor McCullough, senior pastor of Quayle United Methodist Church, United Methodist
“I honestly could see it coming. He used the words that his thoughts were evolving. I’m pretty sure he was under some political pressure to make such a statement, especially when the vice president (Joe Biden) came out with such a statement earlier.
“It doesn’t line up with my beliefs. My denomination’s official stance is one that does not come out in favor of homosexuality. The General Conference of the United Methodist Church decided here recently not to change the (denomination’s) language, but I’m quick to say that our church also is very clear unequivocally that the role of ministry is to be for all persons, regardless of their sexuality. We minister to all people, although our official stance is against same-sex marriage.
“I believe it (president’s statement) will have some ramifications, and those ramifications will affect our social and political landscape. But I think many of Obama’s supporters are able to distinguish between religious/spiritual issues and political issues, particularly African-Americans who have supported him in the past because I think they realize that there are more issues that we have to be concerned about other than sexuality.”
The Rev. Ben Brammer, senior pastor of Northwest Baptist Church, Southern Baptist
“I disagree with him in his positive stance regarding same-sex marriage. It is a good or bad precedent depending upon your view regarding same-sex marriage, so I think it is a bad precedent. The president’s statement does not line up with my religious beliefs. We will see in a couple of months (if it affects the election), but I believe it will be very significant.
“The Christian community and society at large needs an articulate, biblical response to a complex moral issue. We are responsible for how we use our sexuality, to God. Contrary to views that seem to pick and choose Bible verses that support their beliefs, I believe that a holistic, literal interpretation of all of God’s Word does not leave room for same-sex marriage. However, it is not the only societal issue that derives from the inherent sin nature of human beings. God intended, from creation, that the family consist of a male and female united to glorify God. Unfortunately, homosexuality and immoral heterosexuality offends the God of the Christian Bible.
“I need a Savior as much as one practicing homosexuality does. There is not a special place in hell reserved for homosexuals. Nor is there a special place in heaven for heterosexuals. Our sexual practices do not determine our eternal destiny. What does? Our response to the claims of Jesus. The question becomes, ‘What do you do with Jesus?’ The answer to this can and will determine our behavior.”
The Rev. Rick Stansberry, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church, Roman Catholic
“I wasn’t really surprised (about the president’s statement supporting same-sex marriage) because I think the popular culture seems to be heading that way, and I think all politicians, they will say things that they (think) will make them popular. A lot of career politicians, they say what they need to say. President Obama, no disrespect intended, he came out of that whole Chicago political machine that has its way of doing things.
“Obviously, our Catholic position is very clear. We view marriage as a sacrament. We believe marriage was created by God between a man and a woman, and the two ends of a marriage are the good of the spouses and procreation. This goes back to the Scriptures. The Gospels are full of references to that same concept. It’s not meant to be prejudicial against people. It’s just the way it is.
“It’s hard to tell (if Obama’s statement will impact the presidential election). I think it will have an effect because that issue is out there, and the president did kind of hedge his bets. It could be one of those things that is a backlash on him. Overall, I don’t think the country is in favor of it (same-sex marriage). The president said the states have voted on it. They voted it down, even those (states) that are surprising.”
The Rev. Scott Hamilton, associate pastor of Church of the Open Arms UCC
“I fully agree (with the president’s statement). I think that it’s a very good precedent because it’s a game changer. For example, if a president came out in favor of equal rights for women it would have made it very difficult for a president after that to come out and say, ‘I don’t think women should have equal rights.’ The same thing for Lincoln abolishing slavery. It would have been difficult for another president to say, ‘I think slavery is OK.’ That’s why I think that this is a game changer for the American people.
“This is fully aligned with my personal theology and my denomination’s theology. We believe equality is fundamental to our faith. Most people don’t know this, but the third-century church did have a liturgy for same-gender unions. I’m saying it (the Bible) was politicized. I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but it has been translated and retranslated and mistranslated so much that I believe we have to approach the Word with an attitude toward openness. That’s why I find it so disturbing that the church has been so culpable in a teaching that is destroying lives and destroying families.
“The Sunday after the president’s announcement, I read it verbatim at my church, and there was a standing ovation. I think it has the potential to hurt him in the election. He put principles above politics, and I believe him that his beliefs on this issue evolved. For the president to make this statement when he did took extra courage.”
The Rev. Lee Cooper Jr., senior pastor of Prospect Baptist Church, dually aligned with Progressive National Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention
“I am opposed to same-sex marriage; however, I think some consideration needs to be given to civil unions so that life partners will have access to pertinent information for loved ones who are in hospitals and in other situations. It is a civil rights issue, but I must stand on God’s Word and what it has to say. God’s Word has more to say about adultery than homosexuality, and yet in this society, we choose to place greater importance on some sins than others.
“We are not one-issue people, because we’re dealing with imperfect people. One issue is not going to change my vote. There are a myriad of things that will affect my vote. One of things we can’t afford to do as Christians is to take a total stance of condemnation. We have to walk in love and compassion. As we look at these issues, we must remember to be human and humane, and I think that’s why it’s a civil rights issue.
“There are people who say this is a big issue (against Obama), but the same people who have said Mormonism is a cult will vote for (presidential candidate Mitt) Romney, who is a leader in the Mormon church.
The Rev. George Young, senior pastor of Holy Temple Baptist Church, Progressive Baptist
“I wasn’t surprised at all. He seems to be very affirming. It goes right in line with the (repeal of) ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I think it (Obama’s statement) is good. I think it is affirming. It says to another segment of our population, ‘We don’t understand everything, and we don’t want to create an environment where people feel uncomfortable or unsafe.’
“I have had not one single same-sex couple approach me for counseling or to be married, ... but when that point comes, I want to be the person that can sit down and discuss this. I think that if we really believe God is who we say God is, that the possibility that there are people that are born with whatever makeup that they may have, it’s got to be a possibility. It’s my job to accept folk as they are. Sexual preference bias is one step away from bias based on the color of one’s skin.
“There are Scriptures, many of them, that are misinterpreted. You have to take them into context of where they were spoken. We need to be careful taking Scripture out of context.
“The president’s statement is not going to change my view of him. In fact, I have a better view of him. I didn’t know he was that strong. It’s a bold statement for him to make. The Sunday after the president made his statement, some people expected it was going to be the subject of Afro-American church sermons. At my church, we celebrated our graduates and mothers on that day, Mother’s Day.
“I think that people are smart enough to realize that one particular issue does not dictate how you are to vote. It might impact him, but not to the extent that it’s going to cost him the election.”
The Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention
“For a Biblical Christian, the issue is clear: Marriage is between a man and a woman. The president’s actions run counter to historic American values and 2,000 years of Christian history. Most egregious of all is his misapplication of the truth of Scripture in trying to appeal to the Bible to substantiate his errant approach. Changing the truth of Scripture to accommodate a political view does not change Scripture. While the president has a right to his political perspective, he does not have the power to eradicate the truth of God’s Word.”
The Rev. Rodney Fouts, senior pastor of North Church, nondenominational
“We love all people regardless of their choices. We believe that Jesus clearly communicated that marriage is one man and one woman as found in Matthew 19.”