President Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage has touched off a debate within the African-American community, with black churchgoers and pastors taking sides over an issue some call a question of civil rights, and others say is a matter of Biblical truth.
That debate spilled onto the airwaves and Twitter last Thursday, when Michael Eric Dyson, an MSNBC contributor and Georgetown University professor, called out what he called “sexual rednecks” in the black church, who oppose equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians — and he named names: Roland Martin of TV One, Baltimore pastor Rev. Jamal Bryant, who has said he felt “jilted” by the president’s support for gay marriage, and Sophia Nelson, an author and contributor to theGrio.
On Wednesday, Nelson got the opportunity to respond, when she and Dyson appeared together on the “Ed Schultz Show” on MSNBC. Dyson began by apologizing for calling out his friends by name.
WATCH PROF. DYSON AND NELSON DEBATE GAY MARRIAGE AND FAITH ON THE ED SHOW
“first of all I want to apologize to Sophia and Jamal and Roland,” Dyson said, “In a fit of passion, I called out my friends, in the spirit of love, to say that, hey, we can do better than this and I shouldn’t have called their names if they weren’t here to defend themselves.”
Dyson said he “conflated two issues: the marriage equality which is very serious and a significant issue on the one hand, and the lack homophobia as I perceived it within black communities. Homophobia is not something that’s endemic to black people, it’s across the globe, so to speak, but in this case, black homophobia fuels, I think, the beliefs about gay and lesbian people and whether or not they can get married.”
Nelson responded by calling Dyson her friend and “brother in Christ,” and “I forgive you, I thank you for that and we’re gonna learn, and show people how to act as Christians.”
She then addressed her remarks tsaber “fellow Americans who are gay, lesbian and transgender,” saying, “those of us who oppose same sex marriage do so as a matter of faith, those who oppose it on faith reasons, that is. It’s to because we think you’re different or less than, or you’re not right or you’re ‘other’ or something that’s insidious like that. I know that offends me personally, I think it offends people of conscience.”
Nelson said she was hurt by Dyson’s remarks, because she says her record reflects that she supports other aspects of gay rights.
“I support had crimes legislation for people that would abuse or hurt gays and lesbians, I support civil unions, I support adoption, I support the, being able to visit their loved one in the hospital, so there are people like me of faith who don’t agree with same sex marriage for the faith reason, the Biblical reason, the definition of a man and a woman being married, but I also support a lot about the agenda.”
Dyson countered that, as an ordained Baptist minister for more than 30 years, he too is a man of faith and he insisted the the literal interpretation of the Bible by some who oppose same sex marriage is the problem. He added that the literal interpretation of the book of Leviticus would also mean that gays and lesbians ought to be killed.
“I don’t think Sophoa Nelson is promoting the Biblical interpretation that gays and lesbians ought to be killed, and if she is, she hasn’t put that forth, and of she doesn’t, then she doesn’t take the Bible literally.”
The two then debated whether people of faith can disagree on the issue of gay marriage.
And Dyson said the terms “sexual rednecks” and “sexual bigots” that he used last week referred to a quote by Howard Thurman, who said “a bigot is a person who makes an idol of his commitment.”
“The reason you have a faith problem with gay and lesbian people,” Dyson said, “you’re throwing them a bone by saying, ‘look, I believe in civil unions’ and the like, but what you’re not addressing is the fact that our faith fuels the belief that to be gay is to be automatically a sinner. To be gay is to be outside the covenant of Gos, and I’m arguing that that automatically disqualifies gay and lesbian people to be your equals in the faith.”
“You cannot say that our faith is causing us to be homophobic,” Nelson responded, quoting several scriptures that she says ground her views on marriage. “Your issue is with God, not with me.”
This was the first joint appearance between the two since Dyson made his initial remarks while filling in as a host for Schultz. He said religion is being used to cloak bigotry and homophobia in the black community and the black church when it comes to gays and lesbians.
WATCH PROF. DYSON DISCUSS ‘SEXUAL REDNECKS’ ON THE ED SHOW
Not only was Professor Dyson wrong to call names, but he did so without offering any proof of such statements made by Ms. Nelson that would in anyway justify calling her a “bigot.” Ms. Nelson has been clear and unequivocal in her public statements, writings, and interviews that she supports her fellow Americans, who also happen to be Gay with regard to equal treatment under the law, fair pay, fair treatment in the workplace, health benefits and the right to visit their domestic partner in the hospital, share property rights, adopt children, etc. Ms. Nelson also supports Hate Crimes legislation, making it a crime to abuse, assault or bully Americans who are Gay, Lesbian, or Transgender.
Ms. Nelson has also been equally clear as a Baptized Believer of over 33 years, who was raised in a Christian family, whose younger brother is an Evangelist/Minister of the Gospel, and whose Grandfather (maternal) was a Minister of the Gospel, that she does NOT support Same Sex Marriage Rights as a matter of her religious faith. This is the same position that President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Biden, former President Bill Clinton and many public officials in the Democratic Party held for years, or in some instances still hold to this day.
Dyson, for his part, had this to say:
I think each of you believes that being gay is a “sin” — which in my mind is the first problem. Second you believe being gay is a “sin” on par with adultery and all the other sins in whose league its often mentioned. I think that’s problematic and antithetical to the ethic of love [of] Jesus’ teachings. Third, I think there is a blindness — an inevitable bigotry — in the belief that being [LGBT] by definition makes you a sinner. Since the Bible has been similarly used to condemn blacks and women, just substitute black for gay and think how unacceptable is the notion that black folk are by definition “sinners.”
TheGrio is a division of NBC News, which is part of NBCUniversal, the parent company of MSNBC.