Open letter on President Obama’s message on gay marriage
Greetings in the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This past week, President Barack Obama endorsed same sex marriage. That endorsement has led me to offer a few prayerful pastoral thoughts to you.
Those thoughts begin with the reality that the African Methodist Episcopal Church does not endorse same sex marriage because there is no Scriptural support for same sex marriage. My ordination can be revoked if I perform a same sex marriage or allow the church to be used for a same sex wedding.
The positive law of the AME Church also, however, says:
- that clergy should not perform weddings for those who are "unequally yoked with unbelievers" or marry church members without obtaining the consent of their parents.
- that clergy who remarry while their spouses are living shall be expelled from the Church.
- that divorced lay members can only remarry when documentation of their legal divorce is filed with their Quarterly Conference.
Those three stipulations are a part of our positive law, but as time has passed, they've been less than vigorously enforced.
My thoughts are tempered by my awareness that not every citizen of the United States of America embraces my Theology, that all Christians don't agree on matters of faith and order and that the United States of America is not a Theocracy, but a representative democracy that:
- embraces "...life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in our Declaration of Independence,
- operates at its best on the principle of equal justice under the law, and,
- Constitutionally mandates the separation of church and state.
President Obama did not "dictate" how people of faith should define marriage. He's not "Reverend" or "Rabbi" or "Imam" Obama, but "President" Obama who is bound by virtue of his office to pursue civil rights and equal justice under the law for all citizens.
My thoughts are also a result of my pastoral experience. I embrace the AME Church's belief in the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for salvation. I've also, however, seen church members struggle with life's often difficult realities. I've always had and still have colleagues and congregants labeled as "homosexual" who have played critical and beneficial roles in the church as committed Christians but have understandably shied away from discussions of gender for fear of ridicule or condemnation.
I've counseled women who've been brutally abused by husbands who used Scriptural admonitions about "ruling their wives" to justify their brutality. I've counseled members who've fallen in love after divorce but hesitate to remarry out of fear that doing so would be sinful. I've counseled those with addictive behaviors who fear that their present struggles and past shortcomings prohibit their being active and productive members of the church.
My pastoral and personal experience have led me to appreciate our human frailty which led God to sacrifice His only Son so that we could attain salvation - not because of who we are and what we do, but in spite of who we are and what we do. It's also worth remembering what God's Son said to a very religious person who wanted to test Him and asked Him what was the greatest of God's mandates. Jesus said that God's greatest mandates are that we love God with every fiber of our being and love others as we love ourselves.
My experience as a Christian, as a pastor and as a citizen leads me to respectfully suggest three things for your prayerful consideration:
- That our President, like each one of us, is a flawed human being who struggles with difficult choices,
- That our President is an elected official whose responsibility is not to set forth principles of faith and order but to champion the civil and human rights of all citizens, and,
- That while the church cannot endorse candidates, we should consider our respective choices for President and every other elected office not on the basis of any single issue, but on the broad range of issues critical to our well being and on the basis of what's good, fair and beneficial for all citizens - regardless of their faith or lack thereof.
As Christians, we should affirm and stand by our beliefs. As citizens, we should pray for our President and pray that America will really become "...one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all."
May God's blessings, peace, power and prosperity be with you.
The Reverend Joseph A. Darby
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