The peculiar debate that has emerged within the black church since President Obama announced his support for gay marriage is intriguing, to say the least. On one hand, you’ve got Rev. Al Sharpton and other pastors who are close to the president working hard to put out the political fire. On the other hand, you’ve got pastors such as Jamal Bryant, who are expressing extreme disappointment in the president’s remarks.
What baffles me about the conversation, however, is why everyone seems so shocked that the president expressed his support for gay marriage in the first place.
Let’s think about this for a second. President Obama is a Democrat and a liberal. Liberals come in pretty much the same package: They favor a woman’s right to choose, they fight for labor unions, they want healthcare for everyone, they want gun control, they love protecting the environment and they hate Guantanamo Bay. Most importantly, they favor gay rights in general, including the right to marry. That’s why the vast majority of gay Americans happen to be members of the Democratic Party.
So, what’s with all the outrage over President Obama’s announcement? Did his arm-waving in the church convince you that he somehow disagreed with the right of gay citizens to marry?
After swimming in a big pool of my own confusion, I then thought about my experience within the black church. My father is a pastor and my mother probably should be. In this experience, I’ve noticed that there is a “stop snitching,” code of silence in the black church when it comes to being gay. As I mentioned in a previous article, it’s OK to be gay in the black church, as long as you don’t put all of your business on “Front Street.”
So, by publicly expressing a sentiment that everyone already knew he believed in the first place, President Obama has violated the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of homosexuality in the black church. Before this week, he could leave certain questions unanswered, and allow the black community to see him as the sanctified man they wanted to believe that he was.
By making his position clear, President has removed all ambiguity, like the husband who finally confirms to his wife that he really is having an affair. She might have instinctually picked up on his cheating ways in the past, but was able to live in the comfort of denial. When he finally “fesses up” to his relationship shortcomings, there is little room to deny that he is something other than the person you desire. Lines in the sand have been drawn, ultimatums have been issued, and decisions have to be made. Life is suddenly far more complex than it was before.
I am not sure how the gay marriage debate is going to end for President Obama. Michael Eric Dyson likely added a layer of complexity to the problem by using the term “sexual rednecks” in reference to those who oppose gay marriage. While I personally have no problems with gay marriage myself, the truth is that there is danger in proceeding with the debate without at least showing some degree of respect toward those who have dissenting opinions. Shouting down the opposition and treating them like dummies will only further solidify diverse viewpoints, leading some to hunker down in their own perspective. No amount of MSNBC propaganda can penetrate the psyche of a devout church member who’s believed the same thing for the last 40 years.
The black-liberal divide is now firmly out of the closet. Gay might be the new black for some, and it may really have to be the new black in order to replace votes in the next election. This could get really messy.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and author of the forthcoming book, “The RAPP Sheet: Rising Above Psychological Poison.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.