A group of influential black ministers – some of whom are connected with the fifth largest denomination in the U.S. – gathered Thursday in one of the nation's most famous civil rights cities to ask President Obama to reverse his stance on same-sex marriage.
More than a dozen pastors from the Coalition of African American Pastors joined in Memphis, Tenn., to speak out against Obama's support for gay marriage and to oppose the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community's "hijacking" of the civil rights movement.
"Same-sex marriage I think, it's an abomination before God. It's a sin before God," said the Rev. Robert Morris, acting minister of New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, according to Fox 13 News. "I don't see how anyone can compare that with civil rights."
Memphis is home to the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly black denomination, which has a long history of advocating for civil rights for minorities, especially the black citizens of the South who endured centuries of second-class treatment. It is also the city where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968.
"The group of black clergy and civil rights leaders say it is time to turn the tide against the 'hijacking' of the civil rights movement," said the Rev. Bill Owens, the coalition's elder statesman and organizer and a veteran of the civil rights movement who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. "A 50-year-old can only read about the struggles and protests of the civil rights era, but some of us who are older have the battle scars to prove it. And the rights we fought so hard to acquire did not include same-sex marriage."
The coalition argues that there is "no legitimate comparison between skin color and sexual behavior."
The black ministers who came together represent a wide spectrum of religious and political beliefs and many of the pastors have been ardent supporters of President Obama and Democratic causes. But same-sex marriage is where they draw the line.
Owens told The Christian Post that they are "very disappointed" in Obama's newly pronounced support for gay marriage.
"We ask President Obama to stand with the black church, on the Word of God and evolve again back to the common sense biblical view that marriage is the union of husband and wife," he said.
Nonetheless, Owens said the group's goal is to stay away from the issue of whether or not the president will win a second term. "We want to stay away from the political part and stay in the realm of our area which is ministry."
Not all black pastors disagree with President Obama's approval of same-sex marriage.
Dr. Brad Braxton is the founding pastor of The Open Church in Baltimore, Md., and feels homosexual unions are "an endorsement of God's eternal devotion to abundant life and holy love."
In an op-ed published in Wednesday's edition of The Washington Post, Braxton described his support of the president and the issue.
"The door leading to godly truth often swings on the hinges of social diversity," wrote Braxton. "Even the Bible was the result of complex debates spanning thousands of years and involving many languages, diverse cultures, and a host of political decisions about which books to admit and omit. The plurality of voices in scripture reveals a clear biblical message - sacred truth demands diverse perspectives."
The Coalition of African American Pastors has, meanwhile, launched a petition and is looking to collect more than 100,000 signatures in affirmation of traditional marriage. Signers of the petition affirm that marriage is an institution established by God and also "declare our opposition to any deviation from traditional marriages of male and female, notwithstanding the rulings of the court systems of the land or acts of legislative bodies in support of same-sex 'marriage' and/or civil unions. In support of this declaration we pledge our prayers, our passion, our resources and our votes."
Other notable leaders in the coalition include Dr. Dwight Montgomery, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of Democrats such as former Congressman Harold Ford, Sr. and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton – both of whom were strong leaders for the city's black residents; Superintendent Pastor Jerry Taylor, senior pastor of Holy City COGIC; Bishop Felton Smith, senior pastor of New Covenant Fellowship COGIC; and Bishop Robert Jefferson, senior pastor of Cullen Missionary Baptist Church, among others.