TALKING TO PEOPLE OF FAITH: Black Theologian Argues for Equality

Guest Blogger: Rev. Randall Bailey

Three events have profoundly impacted my view of Same Gender Marriage. My late brother, Mark Aaron, who died in 1991 after a three year struggle with HIV/AIDS, was involved in varied relationships. One of the more positive relationships was with Bobby, who was a waiter at an upscale restaurant in Atlanta. Bobby and Mark became a budding couple and were together at all family gatherings. We were all pleased at the development in Mark’s life, especially as it signaled positive changes in his own behavior and his own feeling good about himself. On Thanksgiving Day 1986 Bobby proposed to Mark at the dinner table presenting him with an engagement ring. Mouths fell open. Some protested that this was going too far. I remember sitting there thinking to myself, “This is weird, but it does seem to be the logical next step in their relationship. Maybe we should give it some support.” When I voiced these sentiments I was talked down. Their relationship ended soon thereafter. I wonder sometimes how that relationship would have developed over time, had the family been more open.

In November of 1989 at the American Academy of Religion there was a Womanist Panel which debated whether the Lesbians should be put out of the movement, since such behavior was against the Bible. (Womanism is a Christian theological system which begins with the experiences of Black Women as a major source for theological speculation.) There was much support for the proposal. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, the first Black woman to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church and the first Black woman from the US to receive a PhD in Ethics took the microphone. She stated that Womanists negatively critique Feminists for only dealing with gender and not also dealing with race and class and thereby show Feminists not to be liberationists. She then stated that were Womanists to adopt heterosexism (a term I had never before heard), they would be giving up the claim to being liberationists, since they would be embracing an oppressive ideology which would say only those who are and practice heterosexuality are to be considered normative and acceptable. It hit me at that moment that this was clearly a justice issue and I would have to rethink my own thoughts on the subject.

In 1995 I delivered a plenary lecture to the Racial and Ethnic Minority Conference of the Association of Pastoral Care. In that lecture I was advocating for our going beyond oppressive elements in the Christian tradition and in the biblical text. I addressed racism, sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, and heterosexism. One of the attendees took me to task on my final point, reminding me that “God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve” and charged me with bringing havoc to the Black community with my views. I asked, “Then who made Steve, if not God?” I then argued that the patriarchal stances in Genesis 2 should not be embraced, especially around issues of procreation as the primary reason for marriage and sexual activity. Since the questioner looked to be about my age, mid-fifties, I then advanced that were she to adhere to her interpretation of Genesis, then she would agree that post-menopausal women should cease from sexual activity, since they could not conceive. She vehemently argued against that claim, to which I asked, over the laughter of the audience, “Then why can one group of non-procreators be allowed to marry and have sex while another group cannot?”

These three events in my life have shaped my views around Same Gender Marriage. To say that gender is the primary determiner of marriage, means that the primary function of the institution is procreation. If so, we should require sperm tests and ovary exams before issuing a Marriage License. If we in the Church deny the Institution of Marriage to those who are in same gendered relationships, we are saying that they are not fully human and cannot share their love and commitment to another in the face of community and that they are not deserving of psychological, emotional, social, economic, political, and spiritual support to face life’s challenges. In essence we would be saying that they are not made in the Image of God. We would also be saying that justice is not a key component of our theological understandings.

***Randall C. Bailey, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Hebrew Bible at Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA is a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality. Dr. Bailey is married to Ms. D. Jean Lewis Bailey, formerly of Memphis, TN, and they have two young adult children.