The re-election of President of Barak Obama is beginning to signal mixed reactions among a great number of African American Church goers. Just a few of the policies defining Obama's second term have, thus far, focused on spy planes (drones) and universal health care (better known as Obama-care).
Perhaps the most controversial policy which has at the same time alienated a large segment of his African American base, though, has been his homosexualist agenda which seeks the redefinition of marriage. Just late last month, Obama on his three-nation African tour provoked opposition with host country, Senegal and its President, Macky Sall, over remarks challenging the country's laws and policy regarding homosexuality. According to a June 27th CNN report, Obama stated, "but when it comes to how the state treats people -- how the law treats people -- I believe that everybody has to be treated equal." He went on to say, "regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation ... people should be treated equally, and that's a principle that I think applies universally," Senegal is one of 38 countries in Africa that criminalizes homosexuality. News of the Obama administration's push to advance a homosexualist agenda dates back to 2010; since this time, Sierra Leone has felt pressure by the U.S. to soften it anti-homosexual policy in exchange for economic support. Conservative leaders in Islamabad have described Americas forced policy in their country as tantamount to a cultural terrorist attack. Just recently Obama canceled a scheduled visit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin over his recent signing of an anti-gay law, which, according to an August 7th LifeSiteNews.com story entitled, "Obama to Leno: Opposing Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Propaganda Violates Basic Morality," fines advocates of same-sex marriage the equivalent of $156.
Obama's recent quip in Senegal has elicited rebuke from leaders and cleric throughout the African nation. Kenyan Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi sharply responded to Obama by saying, "those people who have already ruined their society...let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go." Deputy President William Ruto of Kenya remarked that Kenya is committed to the nuclear family as taught by the scriptures: "those who believe in other things, that is their business . . . We believe in God." Ruto further stressed that Kenya is both a sovereign and God-fearing nation. The religious commitment evoked by several of these nations is akin to the view taken by a large majority of African American Christian churches. In light of most public policies that affect the Christian church in general, how is policy on sexual behavior to be interpreted and acted upon by the church? Against the backdrop of the U. S. Supreme Court's ruling against the Defense for Marriage Act (DOMA), and fourteen states that now perform and recognize same sex marriage (including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, D.C., New York, Maryland, Maine, Washington, Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota and California), a number of mainline Protestant churches have likewise followed suit or are close behind.
But where does the Black Church stand in all of this? This query is all the more pronounced in light of the recent passage and recognition of same-sex marriage in Britain; such legislation has prompted a law suit to force the Church of England and other churches there that oppose such lifestyles to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and recognize these relationships as normative. According to the August 2nd Daily Mail newspaper, despite the promise made by Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, that no church would be forced to conduct same-sex marriage against their will, Barrie Drewitt-Barlow and his partner Tony have been given the green light to sue the Church to force their hand in performing their marriage ceremony. Drewitt-Barlow, a millionaire and father of five small surrogate children, exclaimed. "I want to go into my church and marry my husband . . . The only way forward for us now is to make a challenge in the courts against the church."
The Church of England bans same-sex marriage. Needless to say, depending on how the British court rules, this will have wide-ranging implications here in North America (particularly in light of Obama's recent push) including within the Black Church.
Since the Black Church is not a sole unified institution, variant views already persist; while many may think of the Black Church as reflecting the rhetoric of Obama's former Chicago pastor, Jeremiah Wright, others may readily think of mega-church Bishop T.D. Jakes; both, however, reflect one of several categories of the Black church. Wright, who is now retired, pastored an African American congregation which does not have distinct origins within Black historic life and tradition.
His church, Trinity United Church of Christ (UCC), was and still is a Black caucus church: a predominant Black congregation within a predominant White denomination. These type churches can also be found within the Presbyterian Church bodies (PCUSA; PCA; EPC; Cumberland Presbyterian); the United Methodist Church (UMC); the Disciples of Christ; the Anglican or Episcopalian Church, and some Catholic bodies, among others. Here, in most cases, governing church policy tends to be more socially liberal and informed than theologically orthodox.
The Black Church reflected from many of the mega-church fellowships can be classified as "New Paradigm Churches;" such churches blur the lines with regard to church polity and governance: here you may find Bishops in the Baptist tradition or other congregational church style settings, or a plethora of non-aligned, non-denominational Christian fellowships or newer type denominational groups which have emerged within the last forty to fifty plus years (House of the Lord Pentecostal Churches; Word of Faith/Word-faith groups; Full Gospel Baptist, etc . . .). New Paradigm Churches and Black Caucus Churches are to be distinguished from historical Black Church denominations which as noted by sociologist C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mymaia in their work, Black Churches in the African American Experience (University of Duke Press, 1990) consists of three Black Baptist bodies (National Baptist Church; Progressive Baptist), the three Black Methodist denominations (African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal), and the Church of God in Christ.
While there may be some commonality among the various categories of Black churches, social and theological emphases emerge. The seven historic Black Church denominations remain largely evangelical in their theology: holding to a Trinitarian matrix of God, the lordship of Jesus Christ and the authoritative witness of the Bible.
The historic roots and rise of early African American churches was part of those fellowships that resulted from 18th and 19th century revivalism that swept across America; like all institutions of the time, the Black Church reflected the spirit of the age. This largely continues to date.
When Obama first came out publicly in support of same-sex marriage (May 9th, 2012), he espoused a re-envisioned Christian understanding based on human-centric interest (humanism). This type of readers centered Christian theology and biblical interpretation equates the love of God ethic with human agendas, while at the same time ignoring a clear godly prescript under which love has been bestowed; godly love served as the basis wherein humanity was redeemed from its sinful nature and selfish imaginations; redemption, obedience and submission to God's design served as the constricted prescript wherein love operated and manifested.
A type of Christian humanism persist today which seeks to redefine, morph and misconstrue truth and the word of God. This essentially signals what it means to be Christian living in a Post-Christian society; with regard to the Black Church, another way of putting it is that this is what it means to be a Black Church in the age of Obama.
[Jamal-Dominique Hopkins (Ph.D., University of Manchester, U.K.) is C.E.O. of the non-profit Christian think tank, the Institute for Advanced African American Christian Thought (IAAACT). He is the author of Thinking Out Loud: Thoughts and Reflections on Life, Faith, Culture and Crisis (Journal Publication, 2013), and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. To contact him or to contribute to IAAACT, phone 626-354-8438 or visit www.iaaact.weebly.com.]