On Wednesday, July 7, the delegates to the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church unanimously voted to forbid the blessing and performances of gay marriage ceremonies in the church. The decision of the mostly African American 2.5 million member denomination follows similar votes in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church last month, and echoes the voices of the hundreds of prominent African American pastors who rallied against the legalization of gay marriages in the States.
The vote came without any debate, said the Rev. Joe Darby, pastor of, who attended the conference. He said it went smoothly because members consider other issues, such as civil rights, education and the presidential election, more urgent.
The Rev. J.P. Neal, pastor of White Oak Baptist Church in Ridgeway, said that while his congregation does not have to argue on the matter, he understands why churches must address the issue.
I think churches are being forced to take a stand on this issue because its become a pressing political issue and its being addressed in the larger culture, Neal said.
Within the culture of individual black churches, youll find more tolerance for individual difference, but churches as a larger body are having to address this, and most are coming down on the side of traditional teachings, said Neal.
Currently, all evangelical denominations, including the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Convention, prohibit such blessings ceremonies. Most of the mainline protestant groups also prohibit such blessings, but have recently undergone tense battles during the assemblies to maintain the standard.
Liberal groups, such as the Episcopal Church USA, have not only sanctioned gay Marriage or union blessings, they have ordained open and active gay individuals to lead the church. The ECUSA last year voted to ordain an active gay as one of the denominations bishops, sparking immediate criticism from the churchs counterparts around the world.
The AMEs vote stands in stark contrast to the ECUSAs sanction of gay marriages and homosexuality in general. Nevertheless, several ministers within the AME said they will continue to stand on the side of homosexuals in their ministry.
Ten years ago, the AME church wouldnt even have had this vote. At least now theyre bringing it to a vote, said Andy Sidden, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Columbia, which ministers largely to gays and lesbians, and performs same-sex marriage ceremonies. Maybe 10 years from now theyll decide differently, but African-American couples that need recognition of their love cant wait 10 years. Theyll just come to churches like ours which offer that recognition.
Like most other denominations, the AME has not yet set a default standard of discipline for those ministers who defy church laws.