LETTER: One Pastor Comes Out For Marriage Equality

By Rev. Dr. Michael C. R. Nabors

Senior Pastor of New Calvary Baptist Church, Detroit

March, 4, 2014

In looking at the rapidly changing terra firma around me, I must offer a confession that I am deeply embarrassed to say, has been far too long in coming. On Feb. 24 a seismic event took place in the City of Detroit, where I have served as a pastor for 16 years. Over 50 of my fellow clergy gathered together at First Baptist World Changers Church to state their unalterable opposition to same-sex marriage and their desire to convince Gov. Snyder and the Michigan legislature to keep the ban on same-sex marriage in our state.

The gathering received local, state and national news. Yet the fervor that caused my fellow clergy to become public advocates against same-sex marriage is the same fervor that certainly serves presently as "first shut up in my bones."

Their understanding of scripture is the foundation upon which they state their case. My understanding of scripture is the foundation upon which I state my case. They have a belief in what "God's will" is regarding homosexuality. I also have a belief in what "God's will" is regarding homosexuality.

Every now and then major shifts occur in the evolution of humankind. However, most people are too busy doing whatever it is they do to notice. I must admit that I have fallen into the category of being too busy to notice how an entire page is being turned in this book of life, traveled by men and women for eons.

I am not a historian but I love history. It seems to me that for those whose leanings are towards some kind of evolution in human strivings, that the first major shift probably happened with the division of the Neanderthal man from the Homo Erectus man. With nothing recorded, we can only surmise why one group went down the road to extinction and the other went down the road to stewardship over the Earth's resources. Another shift would certainly have been early man's ability to "capture" fire, taming it and applying it as a critical tool for shaping progress and a future. A third shift would have been early man's astonishing discovery of the wheel and how such a discovery brought even more progress to the life of human beings.

After these early shifts arrived more pivotal and central shifts, which would catapult human activity to higher heights altogether. We know more about these later pivotal and central shifts, in part because of their enduring, robust contributions to our way of living.

Somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia, a King wrote the first laws to govern human community. We pay homage to the King thousands of years later by noting that the Hammurabi Code was the first form of polis (politics, government) in history. Not far away ancient Egyptians learned to control the incredible instruments of irrigation and agriculture. For the next 3,000 years they would be one of the most powerful nations on Earth, with contributions to human evolution in the areas of science, math, astronomy, art and religion - to name a few.

Then the 4th century B.C. burst onto the scene, and from the formation of a multiplicity of Greek-states, a civilization, the likes of which the world had never known, Greece arrives with Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander the Great. In three successive generations and in one central location (Athens) comes Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, who charted the progress of logic, philosophy and learning as keenly as Copernicus would chart the universe 1,000 years later.

On and on the list goes; Rome and its development of the Republic, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, all the way to our current age of Specialized Knowledge, the Age of Information Technology and the Global Age.

But along the way there has been challenge, controversy and objection. One of the greatest challenges to any change occurring in the wheel of human evolution is religion. In one way or another, religion challenged the progress of scholarship and intellectual growth, advancements in mathematics and science, discoveries in astronomy, development of human cooperation beyond racial, ethnic and geographic divides, gender inclusivity and racial equality.

Almost since the Christian church began, it became embroiled in controversy that focused on issues of the day. Jesus was asked, "To whom should we pay tribute, Caesar or God?" Leaders of the early church would contend and argue for centuries about whether Jesus was fully human or fully divine. Church leaders often rebelled against scientific discovery and advancement because they so often contradicted what was written in the Bible; Galileo and Copernicus were denounced by the church. Each scientist had to renounce his discovery to avoid being ex-communicated.

Martin Luther was denounced by the church for disagreeing with its misuse of authority and resources. Martin Luther King, Jr. was denounced by southern clergy for using non-violence as a protest vehicle for the civil rights of Negroes.

Is it any wonder that such a virulent group of clergy today is using their interpretation of scripture to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexuality? They are standing up to claim a sort of spiritual mandate from God that gives them permission to speak for people of faith. Many African American pastors and clergy are absolutely repulsed by those who argue that the issue of gay rights is the modern civil rights struggle of our day. As a matter of fact, many African Americans refuse to stand up and defend the LGBT community because their clergy has taught them that to do so is sinful.

I am saddened by such a response. I am dismayed by such a response. In fact, my dismay is so strong that in my own way, I recognize my time is far past - to come out of the closet!

I am coming out of the closet as a heterosexual, male pastor, with all the privileges this has afforded me in more than 30 years of ministry, to say that I do believe in gay rights. I also believe that if gays love each other in the way I love my wife, in the way that any man-husband loves his woman-wife, it is perfectly fine for them to be married.

I choose to understand the sacred text in a way that is different from so many other clergy from my generation, background and race. I choose to believe that the sacred word of God so profoundly emphasizes the godliness of love, until godly love is the indicator by which all of us should live. Indeed, the utterance of God from Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5 teaches those in the Judeo-Christian heritage, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Jesus would add to this important advice, "And love your neighbor as yourself."

In conclusion, I want to add that my remorse is not just regarding how many of my contemporaries misuse and misquote the sacred text because of narrow, homophobic views on gays and gay marriage. But my remorse is also because of my silence regarding the matter for so long. From my earliest days in seminary over 30 years ago, I learned the bigness, the wideness and the engulfing presence of God's love. Since then I have learned that if God could love me, and keep on loving me, despite my own ups and downs, my own rights and wrongs, my own shortcomings and transgressions, my own humanness, then God truly loves us all.

So I do believe that God loves gays in the same way that he loves those who are not gay. No difference.

At the same time I fear that this issue will divide the universal Christian church with the same velocity that the issue of slavery divided the American church over 150 years ago. A civil war erupted that was the worst our nation has ever experienced. I pray that enough of us in God's church have learned a lesson. Let us overcome our hang-ups by recognizing He was hung up (on the cross) for all of humanity! What does this mean? It means God loves us all; black and white, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, male and female, gay and straight.

Thank God, I can breathe easier now. I'm out.

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LETTER: One Pastor Comes Out for Marriage Equality

Dr. Nabors is Senior Pastor at New Calvary Baptist Church in Detroit, and an Assistant Professor, Director of Graduate Programs and Director of Student Life at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary. He can be reached at michael_nabors@msn.com

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