Black Churches and Same-Sex Marriage


BETTY ROLLIN, correspondent: Joel and Scott Tinsley-Hall combined their names when they married in Iowa three years ago. They were both brought up in conservative religious homes, which made their paths to this marriage long and difficult.

JOEL TINSLEY-HALL: It was ingrained in me that me being homosexual is terrible. I remember in the bathroom I would cry myself, just cry because I knew I was going to burn in hell and I used to pray to God, oh, please change me. If I’m gay, then take it away from me. Take it out. Take it out. Take it out. And I prayed and prayed and prayed, but, you know, it didn’t go away.

SCOTT TINSLEY-HALL: I was raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church. My dad was the music minister of the church. There were expectations, like he said, that you’re not gay. If you are, you can change and you can become straight.

Scott and Joel Tinsley-HallROLLIN: Before they married, they first tried to find a church that would accept them, which they did in the mid-west. And why was it important for them to marry?

JOEL: We deserve the same rights, so me being a homosexual male, if I am in love with my partner for 7 years, I should have that same right to marry him. It’s not a religious thing, it’s an equal rights thing.

SCOTT: It was a chance for me to stand before my family and friends and put my relationship on the same level as theirs.

JOEL: That’s right. Plus there’s that whole protection aspect of it as well, because, you know, if you have a civil union, let’s say if Scott got sick, his family could come in and deny me visitations in the hospital.

ROLLIN: Now in Baltimore, Scott and Joel have found the Open Church where their pastor, Rev. Brad Braxton, is a strong advocate for gay marriage.

REV. BRAD BRAXTON (The Open Church): The love that my lesbian, my gay, my bisexual, my transgender friends share, one with another in committed relationships is equally as valid in the sight of God, not just the State, but in the sight of God, as is the love shared by heterosexual couples.

ROLLIN: What makes you sure that God does want this?

Rev. Brad BraxtonREV. BRAXTON: Because God is love. I am persuaded that God is love, and that for me is the fundamental message of scripture.

BISHOP HARRY JACKSON (Hope Christian Church): How is it that the group that says it’s being discriminated against takes all the authority, all the privilege, all the rights, pulls all the levers and has greater rights than the rest of us?

ROLLIN: Not too far away in Beltsville, Maryland, Bishop Harry Jackson has been a major opponent of gay marriage.

(to Bishop Jackson): Where does it say in the bible that homosexuals shouldn’t marry?

BISHOP JACKSON: It says it all over. Start with Deuteronomy, Leviticus, 1st Corinthians, go on and on….

ROLLIN: It says homosexual shouldn’t marry in the Bible?

BISHOP JACKSON: No, there’s a prohibition against homosexual activity.

Bishop Harry JacksonREV. BRAXTON: I take the Bible with the utmost seriousness. Yet I realize that there are times when the Bible misbehaves. It is not at its best self. The Bible promotes genocide, the Bible lessens half of the human race in its dehumanizing statements when it talks about women. The Bible says a lot of things.

ROLLIN: Many pastors in Maryland and elsewhere have weighed in on this issue. Rev. Al Sharpton:

REV. AL SHARPTON: This is not an issue about gay or straight, this is an issue about civil rights. You can not be for civil rights for African Americans but not for gays and lesbians.

ROLLIN: Rev. William Owens on the issue of civil rights:

REV. WILLIAM OWENS: (Coalition of African-American Pastors): When I was a boy, you couldn’t drink out of a white water fountain, you couldn’t go to a white restaurant, you couldn’t go to a white hotel. They’ve never been denied those rights.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe that gay couples deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country.

ROLLIN: Now that President Obama has come out in favor of gay marriage, Bishop Jackson and others want their congregations to deny the President their vote.

BISHOP JACKSON: Just because somebody’s skin is black you’re going to support an anti-God, anti-Gospel agenda, no wonder you can’t get a job. Beware my Christian friend, you should not vote for Barack Obama.

ROLLIN: Rev. Braxton believes that the reason that many African Americans oppose gay marriage has to do with their history of being denied the right to marry as slaves.

REV. BRAXTON: When you are disallowed a right and you are requesting to get the right, one of the best ways to do that in the face of those who hold power is to show that you are morally respectable. And so heterosexual marriage and lifting up the family, that is the morally respectable way. And anything that deviates from that my in fact bring again upon us that whole cycle of shame and violence, and that is so deep in African American culture.

BETTY ROLLIN: Most African Americans are against gay marriage. Even so, the percentage of African Americans who support gay marriage is up from 21% in 2004 to 40% today.

SCOTT TINSLEY-HALL: As more people are open with their sexuality, our friends, our family, our mothers, our fathers, our grandparents who may have at one point had a different view, say “Wait, that’s my grandson I’m talking about now, or that’s my son, or that’s my nephew,” and that’s what’s going to change the church eventually. It’s going to bubble up from society. As society changes, the church will change.

ROLLIN: Same sex marriage is legal in 6 states. If Maryland votes in its favor, it may be the first state to legalize gay marriage as a ballot initiative. For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Betty Rollin in Baltimore, Maryland.

  • b

    This article seems like an emotional glossy overview without delving into the details of the different perspectives. An interesting legal take on this is presented here:

  • Marco Luxe

    What are anti-equality people so afraid of? There are enough civil marriage licenses to go around; more than enough. Commitment and interdependence is good for society. This is almost the definition of society. Committed married couples are good for society. Period…. not that anyone should be even voting on someone else’s civil rights.

  • clifton seale

    Dear Ms. Rollin,
    I enjoyed seeing your interview with Joel and Scott Tinsley-Hall. My partner and I are in a similar situation.
    We were both previously married and each had children. I was divorced when we met, but my partner was not. We both grew up in conservative Christian families in which homosexuality was not an acceptable lifestyle. We were born in the early 40′s during WWII, and fear was the basis of everything we knew. Hitler, Stalin, McCarthy, the cold war, Communism’s spread to Cuba, you name it. Our whole lives were lived in fear: of governments, our parents, society and our God. My feeble attempts to escape the sword of Damocles led me to try by any means possible to do what I had been taught was right, or go directly to Hell. I hid my sexuality as long as I could. I had known I was gay by the time I was 8 or 9. even though I hadn’t acted on it yet. I loved opera and classical music, wanted to be a pianist, and served as church musician in the junior choirs, adult choirs, and finally as the organist/choirmaster. by then the oppression of the church led me to try a more accepting and open place of worship. I became an Episcopalian in 1963 and never looked back. To still try to be straight, I found a girl, we married and had two beautiful children. My partner took the same path, marrying and having two children, and became a pastor. We met at a church where I was organist and he was a visiting pastor. We spoke then, and kept in touch. Our love began to grow as we got to know each other, and my partner soon divorced and moved in with me. That was 25 years ago. We did not have the option to marry anywhere in this country at that time. We knew we’d stay together for the rest of our lives. We became domestic partners by law in New York State when he was about to undergo surgery. He also made me his health proxy at that time to insure that I could visit and make health decisions for him if he was not able to make them for himself. Although we did recently exchange rings, we had no ceremony although many of our friends have had commitment ceremonies and marriages in New York since our law was passed. We still struggle with racism and discrimination (we are a bi-racial couple) plus family issues: some of our family members still find it difficult to accept us as a couple even after all these years. Because our federal rights would not be changed if we married now, we have decided to wait until the US Law is passed for equal marriage. We have done what we could to show the world and fill out the forms to prove we are a couple, even if the federal government doesn’t acknowledge it. I hope the law is passed before too long so we can take advantage of it. We don’t have THAT much time left. I don’t expect my ex-wife, children and grandchildren to come to any acceptance of our situation, but I certainly do want the state and country to treat us as full-fledged citizens of the USA. Rev. Braxton is correct that several things in the Bible no longer apply to modern civilization. Not eating shellfish, any animal with a cloven hoof is unclean, and other so-called abominations had to do mostly with the preservation of food and the cooking of food. It was also much more important in the desert 6000 years ago to procreate for the planet. We’ve obviously done a little too much of that, so we could thin the herd. I do believe God’s gift of children is one of the great miracles of life. Not everyone is cut out to be a good parent, and there are many kinds of families today for whom children are not an option. Gay couples younger than we are adopting more frequently now and proving to be excellent, loving parents. All of this is to say that I believe the Bible is a true and holy book, but some interpretations may be ambiguous, or may not pertain to modern life. Many mainline Protestant churches are liberalizing their views, and more will follow. I am so proud of our brothers and sisters who have taken the brave steps that they have in coming forward and insisting on the right to love and be loved, and have the state and society acknowledge their legitimacy. I hope full equal acceptance of equal marriage rights for all citizens comes quickly. We want that option before we die. It’s going to be a tough fight, but one we can win, so we all can really be free. Thanks so much for the interview and the topic.

  • Channah

    The couple wanted a church that would marry them. So, it is a religious thing. Why not a ceremony conducted by a judge or J.P.?

    I do think that all marraiges should be performed as a civil ceremony. Much of Europe does it this way. Then, if the couple wants a religious blessing, they can then have a religious ceremony. But, the legal marriage should be a civil ceremony done by the state. Then, you do not get into all of these ”what is right and what is a sin, etc.,”.

  • Barbara Judd

    Bless you, Betty Rollin for supporting the rights of all people, to be treated equally. I hope and pray that Maryland makes this election a landmark for the future.

  • Jeannie Hemphill

    I LOVE your Braxton: “I am persuaded that God is love!!!!” Amen!
    and: “I take the Bible with the utmost seriousness. Yet I realize that there are times when the Bible misbehaves. It is not at its best self. The Bible promotes genocide, the Bible lessens half of the human race in its dehumanizing statements when it talks about women. The Bible says a lot of things.” Amen, amen!!!
    Thanks for this link

  • Vanessa Ochs

    Reverend Braxton is an inspiration and not just that: he is a deep and careful reader of scripture,

  • Ashley H.

    First of all, it is disappointing to here someone refer to the Inspired Word of God as not being ” at its best self.”.
    And to come from a supposed religious teacher. …
    It seems that so many are worried about what is popular and not how God feels.

    I agree God is Love. That is the only quality that the Bible says God is. 1 John 4:8

    However, it was love that moved him to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with its filthy practices, to protect the few righteous ones that fled from it.

    God as well as myself do not hate those who are Gay or Lesbian, but rather the ACTIONS.

    Due to imperfection brought thru sin from our first parents Adam and Eve there are many unnatural desires that humans have. What about bestiality? Should marriage to animals be next? I think that would be appalling to all of us right?

    So how do you think the Almighty feels when he see the original marriage arrangement being defiled?

    Think about the angels who were made neither male nor female….what did they do? They formed an unnatural desire to cohabit with the women of the earth. God was displeased then, just as he is now.

    Please do not lose trust in the Holy Scriptures. They are our guidebook for life.

    Jesus said God’s Word is TRUTH at John 17:17.

    There is no other standard to live by.

  • Eric Biggs

    Christians who object to gay marriage on the basis of Biblical passages are often well-meaning, but they are misled and incorrect. The key passages in Leviticus that form the root for most of the rest of the Bible’s sparse anti-gay language were a mistranslation from the original Hebrew, which talked about the pernicious temple prostitution and other degenerate practices prevalent in the time of Moses. Moses was against these, not gays. The error carried forth to the Septuagint, about the time of the Apostles, and Paul, who studied the Old Testament, would have picked this up. A great deal of the New Testament was Paul’s work. Jesus, however, did not condemn homosexuality, and said that all those who loved him would enter the kingdom of heaven. “All” means “all.” It is a mistake to redefine the inclusive language of the New Testament by using the more restrictive, tribalist language of the Old.

    The King James Bible also carries forward this error in translation, as have most bibles printed since 1600. This is one of the clearest examples of my fellow if somewhat closed-minded followers of Christ assuming that they know from isolated words and images what goes on in the mind of Christ, the Holy Ghost, and God, when by definition the mind of God is greater and more unknowable than mortals can fathom. We can find God in our hearts and minds, but only through feelings like compassion and forgiveness, not through rejecting love in favor of an evanescent, self-built, spurious truth.

  • Ashley h.

    @ Mr. Eric Biggs

    By mentioning the Christ and God and Holy Ghost, you are obviously a person who does read and respect at least one Bible and that’s commendable.

    You mention there was an error in translation with the King James and others, that Paul continued….True the King James Version Bible has some things that are inaccurate in them and that’s why its a VERSION, not a translation.

    However, how does Bible translation that you find accurate measure up in the portraying of how God feels about homosexuality? Does it include the Sodom and Gomorrah account?

    Now you mention how Jesus did not condemn homosexuality, however, did you notice the precedent or example he set for marriage in

    (Matthew 19:4, 5) . . .In reply he said: “Did YOU not read that he who created them from [the] beginning made them male and female 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’?

    He was specific in quoting correctly how the Father originally began and wanted the marital arrangement to continue, between a MAN and a WOMAN.

    Anything outside of that, is considered fornication. Bottom line.

    Here is a thought from Jude, Jesus’ own half brother

    (Jude 7) 7 So too Sod′om and Go·mor′rah and the cities about them, after they in the same manner as the foregoing ones had committed fornication excessively and gone out after flesh for unnatural use, are placed before [us] as a [warning] example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire. . .

    So this is not even from Paul, since you dispute his writings, this is from a totally different source.

    In reality, you should have the same sentiments as Paul did concerning the Holy Scriptures

    (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) . . .All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work. . .

    We have several preserved copies of the original renderings to find the accurately translated Bibles, but at no point should you doubt running principles and laws that are through out the entire Bible.

    True Paul was privileged to write more Bible books that anyone but who was he inspired by?

    (2 Peter 1:20, 21) . . .For YOU know this first, that no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation. 21 For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.

    This was the Apostle Peter saying this, so we can be sure that the preserved original renderings and those Bible translations that honored that, is what we should cling to and not what we as imperfect humans want to believe.

    When you get a moment, check to see what Jeopardy put as the most accurate Bible translation. You might find that one useful. I use that translation and I love it.

    Take care

  • Ashley h.

    Also let me reassure you, just because that particular translation is my preferred, I read from several different Bible translations. So I am not partial to just one.

  • Pastor Scott Imler

    The sin for which Sodom and Gomorrah paid was inhospitality not homosexuality. The point of the story is the mistake of Lott, for conflating the crowd’s blood lust for vengeance with sexual desire as evidenced by Lott’s response – offering up his two virgin daughters to satisfy the wrong kind of lust. (Now there’s some family values for you.) The crowd wasn’t horny, they were angry and violent and sought to brutalize the messengers of Go, which is why Lott’s daughters were no solution.

    While I appreciate the equanimity of the black pastors who believe that marriage equality is a civil rights issues, I take exception to the blinkered notion on either side that the oppression of blacks and the oppression of gays are the same. Gay folks have never known the indignity of their entire family being owned nor blacks the dehumanization of being disowned by their enitre families for being born black. Black folks get lynched because white folks fear them. Gay folks lynch themselves because they fear themselves.

    While the issue are not the same, the solution is: Love he Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your might and love your neighbor as yourself, which whether you are black or gay necessarily means loving yourself first.

  • Ashley H.

    @ Mr. Imler-

    Hello how are you? Those were some interesting points you made about the difference between homosexual rights versus those of black persons.

    However, I was trying to find the verses that spoke of the exact reasons that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. I just scanned through several translations and I see where God told Abraham that their sin was grave. The scriptures never say anything about them being inhospitable. Even Lot and Abram parted ways so to speak, the scriptures just say (Genesis 13:12, 13) . . .. “13 And the men of Sod′om were bad and were gross sinners against Jehovah.”

    The only sin that was specific was their immoral conduct of homosexuality that the angels clearly condemned when they blinded them.

    (Genesis 19:4-11) 4 Before they could lie down, the men of the city, the men of Sod′om, surrounded the house, from boy to old man, all the people in one mob. 5 And they kept calling out to Lot and saying to him: “Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intercourse with them.” 6 Finally Lot went out to them to the entrance, but he shut the door behind him. 7 Then he said: “Please, my brothers, do not act badly. 8 Please, here I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with a man. Please, let me bring them out to YOU. Then do to them as is good in YOUR eyes. Only to these men do not do a thing, because that is why they have come under the shadow of my roof.” 9 At this they said: “Stand back there!” And they added: “This lone man came here to reside as an alien and yet he would actually play the judge. Now we are going to do worse to you than to them.” And they came pressing heavily in on the man, on Lot, and were getting near to break in the door. 10 So the men thrust out their hands and brought Lot in to them, into the house, and they shut the door. 11 But they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, from the least to the greatest, so that they were wearing themselves out trying to find the entrance.

    Not saying that they weren’t guilty of other sins, but the scriptures are not specific on those. Well, from what I have researched. I may have overlooked some things.

    If you find those verses, I sincerely would like to check the references myself.
    Thank you and I look forward to examining what you find.

  • Ashley H.

    @ Mr. Imler-

    Here is another reference that proves to me that those cities were condemned and destroyed for their homosexual practices along probably other things:

    (Jude 7) 7 So too Sod′om and Go·mor′rah and the cities about them, after they in the same manner as the foregoing ones had committed fornication excessively and gone out after flesh for unnatural use, are placed before [us] as a [warning] example by undergoing the judicial punishment of everlasting fire. . .

    Let me know what you find. Thank you.