Pastor Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland gets it. You’d like to think that more men of the cloth got it as well, especially those African American pastors who had suffered the indignity of bigotry. Maybe the adage is true that “those who felt the pain in the past are the first in line to deliver the same pain to others”. That is such a terrible thought and one that comes from the dangerous combination of wrath and self serving pride. Neither of these, singularly or in combination, would be considered an answer to the question, “what would Jesus do”? Most Christians learn early on that being vengeful and judgmental is just plain wrong, so you’d think all ministers would be passing that word along but, in fact, Pastor Coates’ support of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill in Maryland puts him in the clear minority among his African American “Christian” brethren.
Getting it doesn’t always come easy. The pastor himself has known for decades that his cousin, a gay man, was HIV positive. Despite losing touch with him over the years, he recently reached out to him and “apologized for participating in this conspiracy of silence”. But this man did so much more than apologize over the phone. He ceased being silent about the injustice and he testified in a heated hearing at the State Capitol, supporting the bill legalizing same-sex marriage. This my friends, is the true definition of coming out as a straight ally. For a long time I’ve said that there can’t be enough straight allies. None are more valuable to the cause than one who leads a congregation of 8,000 people, as Pastor Coates does. It’s important to say as well that there are few straight allies that had to stick their necks out any more than this good man.
It’s also important to say that most of those opposed to the bill say their opposition is based on their religious beliefs. Let’s not even get into the whole separation of church and state issue. Nor should we bring up the fact that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. We, as Americans can believe whatever we want. I would never deny that for anyone, but I don’t want someone else denying it for me (or mine) either. If I want to hear someone tell me what the Bible actually means, I would rather it be someone who earned their doctorate in Theology from Columbia University, like Dr. Coates, than a lawyer who was voted into the legislative branch. It was great to hear him note that people who claim the Bible shows that God hates homosexuals are misreading the text. As a scholar, the pastor knows that the original and ancient versions of the Bible don’t include the anti-gay quotations referred to today.
For those who may not be aware, those quotes were only added at the behest of King James, (James VI, King of Scotland and James I, King of England, one and the same), known for three things in particular; gaining the crown as an infant, preferring the company of men rather than women, and blaming that on “a curse of witches in his youth”. As a part of his witch hunts, he actually participated in beating women until they admitted to being a witch. (Of course today, we know that a good bleeding would have done the trick.) I’m sorry, but I think it’s important to know some of the history of a monarch whose name appears on the cover of most of our Bibles. Seriously, doesn’t it strike you as odd that when God delivered the Ten Commandments to Moses, he forgot to mention his “abhorrence” of homosexuality? I don’t believe God “forgets” anything. By the way Newt, he certainly didn’t forget to list adultery in the Top Ten. I’d stay inside during a thunder storm if I were you.
Getting back to Pastor Coates though, he stated accurately that supporting same-sex marriage will not compel churches to perform those unions and will not, (and should not); interfere with the practice of religion. My favorite quote from him is, “I think that using private, religious beliefs and local church practices for legislation establishes a dangerous precedent in America. We have fought for inclusion, for freedom of religion, so that means if I want to be free to exercise my own religious beliefs, I have to extend that same courtesy and right to others, regardless of what I may think they do in private.” Those thoughts stand alone and they need no clarification. They should be read again and again, especially by those who (claim to) want to return to the principles of our founding fathers. These are those very same principles, without that whole “voting allowed only by white, land-owning males” issue. Ironically, wasn’t it the injustices of King James and his ilk that chased many of our forbearers here in the first place? I’m just saying……
The last thing we need here are witch trials. I doubt I could get a not-guilty verdict in one of those anyway. But I feel pretty comfortable meeting my maker knowing that (most) of the things I’ve done have been with the right intentions. I’ve tried to make amends for those things I’ve done with the wrong intentions. That will remain as I continue to be a straight ally to those who might not have the appropriate numbers to make things happen electorally. I’m so very happy to see that I have Pastor Coates on my side. It will be looked back on in the future as the correct side of history. The witch trials? Not so much.