This article was first published in the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News print (7/15/12) and online (7/14/12) editions under the title “Gay marriage issue splits black church and NAACP.”
As I was growing up in the segregated South of the 1950s, the NAACP was an important part of my world. I heard about it in school – many teachers and principals were members and openly advocated for students to become involved. But it was in church that the influence of the NAACP was most pervasive. Often, pastors and other church leaders were officers in the local branch, and the NAACP was considered, in effect, an arm of the ministry of the church.
Now, however, with the organization’s decision supporting same-sex marriage, it appears that the black church is no longer welcome in the NAACP. In response, the NAACP will find that it is no longer welcome in much of the church. And that is a shame.
Formed in 1909 to counter the accelerating disenfranchisement of African Americans by southern state legislatures, as well as legally sanctioned racial discrimination throughout the nation, the NAACP led the fight for equal rights. In an era when blacks could be lynched with impunity throughout the South, the NAACP fiercely advocated for the rights of African American citizens to be protected from unwarranted attack.
In 1954, under the leadership of its chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall, later the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court, the NAACP effectively reshaped modern America by bringing and winning the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which resulted in the outlawing of public school segregation throughout the nation. Because of many such successes, the NAACP has had an enormous impact for good in our society.
Throughout its history, the NAACP’s greatest base of support has been the black church. It is safe to say that without that support, the organization could have accomplished little. Now, however, the NAACP has apparently decided that it can dispense with the support of black Christians, and in fact, can safely thumb its nose at them. That, at least, is my reading of the decision this past May to endorse same-sex marriage. Claiming that “marriage equality” is a civil right, the NAACP board voted 62-2 to back that policy. In doing so, the NAACP decisively cut itself off from its roots in the black church.
Based on the comments of NAACP leaders regarding their decision, I doubt they really understand how unbridgeable is the gap they have created. For example, National Public Radio reported how the head of the Indiana NAACP, Barbara Bolling, responded when asked about the reaction of members in her state. She said with a laugh, “Right after it was announced, kind of a little firestorm started.” And when one of her branch presidents resigned in protest, Bolling thought it was just “an emotional thing.” National Chairwoman Roslyn Brock says of those who oppose the group’s move, “we hope they will evolve and stand firmly with us.”
What these NAACP leaders fail to grasp is that, for most members of the black church, it’s not an emotional thing, nor an issue of personal preference. It’s an issue of biblical authority. The black church’s opposition to same-sex marriage is firmly rooted in passages such as Romans 1:26-27, which says, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”
For Bible-believing Christians, such statements of scripture are decisive for our attitude toward homosexual relationships. We will never “evolve” to a stance of approval. For that reason, the black church as a whole will never follow where the NAACP is attempting to lead us. Not now, not ever.
In effect, the NAACP has demanded of the black church: You must choose between us and God. I believe most of us will say with the apostle Peter, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).