Pastors and gays in D.C.

Gay-420x0Having spent part of the 1990s covering Colorado's controversial gay rights limitation measure Amendment 2 (which was passed by voters but declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court), I know there are always more than two sides to these debates. That's part of what makes a recent Washington Post story so intriguing. The Post has done many stories about the District of Columbia Council's pending vote on same-sex marriage. A Nov. 25 story, "Church's influence on politics shifting: D.C.'s same-sex marriage debate pushes some clergy further to the sidelines," by Tim Craig and Hamil R. Harris, contains plenty of nuance and depth.

The article addresses the complaint by Rev. Patrick J. Walker of the New Macedonia Baptist Church, and others, that Christian leaders have less clout than they once did:

The clout of the local faith community, particularly the black church, in D.C. politics has been declining for decades. But with the council heading for a vote next week on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, the near-certain passage of the legislation has come to symbolize both political and spiritual changes in the District.

Ministers who oppose same-sex marriage say they now feel belittled, ignored and isolated by a government that no longer views the clergy as a mighty political force. Activists, political leaders and some ministers who have come to tolerate, if not embrace, same-sex relationships argued that socially conservative ministers just chose to fight a battle they had lost years ago as the city changed around them.

The article explores two important nuances of this developing story. First, the religious landscape in D.C. has changed. Second, some clergy--including some who hold traditional sexual morality--have decided not to involve themselves in current political battle.

Not all church leaders see the inevitable passage of the same-sex marriage bill as a commentary on their influence in the city. Indeed, more than 200 local religious leaders have come out in favor of same-sex marriage, reflecting the large network of progressive churches in the city.

And even among the more conservative, mostly Baptist, religious leaders, there is disagreement over how aggressively to wade into the issue.

While Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and other ministers who oppose same-sex marriage dominate the headlines, many of the city's well-known faith leaders have purposely avoided becoming publicly entangled in the debate.

The Rev. Morris L. Shearin, pastor of Israel Baptist Church and former head of the city's NAACP branch, said he is steering clear of the debate because "there are more substantive issues" to "focus on, like education and fair housing."

"My perspective is framed by my understanding of Scripture," said the Rev. Derrick Harkins, 50, pastor of 19th Street Baptist Church. "But that may not be relevant to someone who doesn't form their life around the understanding of the Bible. . . . I would never, never want to say or do anything that marginalizes or dehumanizes anyone."

This article by Craig and Harris dove into the debate, yielding a perspective that was more nuanced than earlier pieces that framed the issue as a simple pro-and-con debate and may have left the impression that some outspoken clergy were crusading homophobes.

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