August 21, 2007

Washington DC Black Church Becomes Battleground for Same-Sex Unions

This from the Washington Post:

Never in a "million years" did Robert Renix think he would find a Baptist church that would accept someone like him: a black Baptist gay man. Never mind one that would allow what happened one Saturday last month, when a tuxedo-clad Renix stood in front of the pulpit at Covenant Baptist Church in Anacostia, exchanging vows with his partner, Antonio Long.

It didn't turn out to be that simple, though.

About 140 members jammed into the fellowship hall a few weeks later for a tense meeting about the recent decision of Covenant co-pastors Dennis and Christine Wiley to conduct same-sex union ceremonies. Some expressed their opposition through Bible verses, saying they were worried that Covenant was getting a reputation as a "gay church." Others wept as they defended the Wileys, said people who were there.

For years, disputes over homosexuality have convulsed predominantly white Protestant denominations -- Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian and Presbyterian -- but they have only recently hit black churches.

"It's going to be a real challenge," said the Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, minister at Fellowship Baptist Church in the District and founder of the annual National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality. "We're just beginning to really deal with it."

Most major historically black denominations have taken strong stances against homosexuality.

The National Baptist Convention USA Inc., the nation's largest predominantly black denomination, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church forbid clergy from officiating at ceremonies for same-sex couples, and Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of God in Christ consider homosexuality a sin. The Progressive National Baptist Convention, of which Covenant Baptist is a member, has not taken a stand on homosexuality or same-sex unions.

The Wileys say the backlash in their church caught them by surprise. For years, they have preached that homosexuality is not a sin. Despite the objections, they performed another same-sex union ceremony Aug. 10, for a lesbian couple.

Although the Wileys face opposition, they say they believe they are being called by God to preach acceptance of gays as part of the social justice agenda long embraced by black churches.

"We, as African Americans, should be the last people in the world, based on our history, to turn around and oppress others," said Dennis Wiley, who took over as Covenant's pastor from his father, the Rev. H. Wesley Wiley, 22 years ago.

Kudos to the Wileys for literally practicing what they preach. They took a stand on what they believed was the right thing to do and are sticking with it, something that is all too rare in our society.

There is much more detail in the Washington Post article I linked to, using Covenant Baptist Church as a case study in how black churches, even ones that profess to be gay affirming, deal with the reality of same-sex unions; not very well, it appears.

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