Despite the best efforts of his political opponents to drive a wedge between President Barack Obama and his base over his support of same-sex marriage, the NAACP announced its support for marriage equality last weekend. We’re joined this week by civil rights legend and NAACP national board member the Rev. Dr. Amos Brown, who provides insights into this historic decision, the reasons he feels it was a necessary decision and his optimistic view for the future.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: AMOS BROWN[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: The Rev. Dr. Amos Brown is president of the San Francisco NAACP; he’s also senior pastor of San Francisco’s third Baptist church. I can tell you Amos Brown is a legend in the civil rights movement, and he’s one of the 64 members of the NAACP National Board that voted overwhelmingly to come out in support of marriage equality last week.
Amos, you’re no stranger to State of Belief Radio – welcome back![REV. DR. AMOS BROWN, GUEST]: Well thank you for another opportunity to share with your audience, Dr. Gaddy. [WG]: I want to be careful and respect the confidentiality involved with the board’s deliberative process, but at the end of the day, The New York Times has reported that there were only a couple of “no” votes on the 64-member board. That suggests to me that maybe this was not as contentious a decision as some people have expected. Is that a safe assumption? [AB]: I think it was not contentious because we approached it in a civil, respectful, objective and loving manner. And we came to this conclusion because the NAACP has stood for 103 years for the sole objective of fighting, advocating, for equal protection under the law for all marginalized citizens of this nation. And it would’ve been hypocritical for us in the face of these debates, and a lot of the brouhaha that’s been going on, to have, in the past, stood for the rights and equality of opportunity for blacks who were different than the majority culture who were our oppressors, and then to turn around and do to other people who are marginalized for whatever reason. And though they are citizens of this nation are not accorded equality of opportunity and equal protection under the law – and that is what the Fourteenth Amendment of this nation guarantees all bona fide citizens.
We made it also, secondly, very clear that we respected those who, for religious beliefs, do not affirm marriage equality – that’s what makes us America. We are a diverse nation, we are not monolithic, we are not a theocracy – we are a democracy; and in a democracy everyone is to be given opportunity to be respected, to be enfranchised – and the only instance is when someone is a felon and breaks the law or does violence, injury to other people or property, wrong unto others.[WG]: Amos, did you all feel some pressure because of President Obama’s announcement of his support for marriage equality, or was this coming anyway? [AB]: No, it was coming, and I was one of the persons who for years have pushed for us to face this matter. [WG]: Yeah. [AB]: And it was not because of the president – it was the right thing to do; and Dr. Martin Luther King, my mentor and friend and jail mate, always told us in evening class: “The time is always right to do right.” And this timing was propitious, in a sense, but I feel that the NAACP has to be a headlight – as it always has been – on issues of justice, and not the taillight of the social order. [WG]: Oh boy. How widespread do you think the influence of the board’s decision will be in the African-American community – and particularly in Black churches? [AB]: There are those in the Black community and in the churches who disagree with our position, but we cannot afford to be an organization that feels the pulse, tests the waters. We’ve got to do what is right. That’s why Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, Oliver Hill and Dr. Nabrit at Howard University all stood up and went against the tide. And argued so persuasively before the Supreme Court on the inherent inequalities and insult that was perpetrated against Black children because they were different and in segregating the schools. And they got that great decision, May 17, 1954, under that clause of our Constitution: “Equal Protection Under the Law” – so that there are those who differ with us – they just have to differ; and we will respect them. I believe that God will bring up for us friends and supporters to replace those who may, for whatever reason, will fall by the way because of this decision. [WG]: Amos, you know, as do I, that there are faith leaders today all across our country who try to drive a wedge between the civil rights movement and the push for LGBT equality today – and they lean on Scripture, they say that’s what makes the difference. Now, you and I both are old enough to know and remember how opponents of racial equality routinely referred to the Bible in defending racist policies. How do you talk about that? [AB]: Not only that, Dr. Gaddy. We must remember that people have historically used holy books, and used our Bible, to buttress and support their personal, narrow positions. For example, for the longest, people have kept women out of the pulpit – and still do today – by taking out of context the words of Paul’s: that a woman is not to speak, she’s not to teach and all that; but if we were to do that today – particularly in the African-American community – there wouldn’t by anybody in the church. 60 to 70% of the membership in many of these churches is women!
And then we know, also, that even in the Old Testament there are things that are said that we don’t take literally. It is said in the Book of Deuteronomy: if your child disobeys you – kill him or her. Very explicitly it’s stated there. Now, common sense will cause all of us to realize that you would not kill your child because the child did not take out the garbage, he did not take out the trash – so that we must be careful about how we use the Bible and take things out of context – as someone said, to make it a pretext for whatever our mess is – but we must, as Christians, particularly, interpret the Bible against the backdrop of a Christological theology, that is: Christ being the center, the example. And I think many people must realize that even though Jesus did, out of his faith tradition, say that the man, you know, should forsake his father and mother and cleave to his wife and all that – but the other thing that people need to look at in context that is interesting, should be interesting, to all of us: Jesus did not say anything about gays, did not say anything negative about people who had different social orientation; and if Jesus did not, I wonder why are we engaged in what I consider to be fear tactics to maintain control over people – and a lot of that is an effort to maintain control, to politicize this issue – and as you indicated earlier, this is used as a wedge issue because many politicians know that African-Americans are the most religious group in the world according to Gallup’s, Vote, the People’s Religion – and that religion was basically interpreted, defined and designed by slave masters. This should also be instructive for all of us: that if we were all that much of Bible-believers and following our tenets as a nation “with liberty and justice for all” – we would not have kept slavery going nearly 300 years. We would not have kept segregation going in schools for 96 years on that “separate but equal” clause. We would not be fighting now, today, to integrate urban schools. We are experiencing more segregation today than we were before the Supreme Court decision of 1954, according to a study that was released recently.[WG]: Amos, let me interrupt and just ask you because I agree how is it going to change? Where do you see peace and harmony in our nation coming from? [AB]: I think it comes from enlightenment; it comes from teaching people; it comes from exposing our people to individuals who are different. Someone said people tend to hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they do not know each other. And they do not know each other because of a lack of communication.
We must stop generalizing on people. We must stop saying that all people who are Muslims are terrorists. Well, even when we look at Christianity – we’ve had people who’ve done terrorist acts in the name of Christianity. Those four little girls bombed to death at 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama – and even the Ku Klux Clan use a Christian symbol, the cross, to burn crosses, to terrorize Black people! During that awful, painful past when we were lynched, tarred and feathered, even, to keep Blacks from registering to vote. And we have some of that terrorism going on today, with these suppression laws that have been enacted by states to keep Blacks and other minorities, particular Blacks and Latinos, from voting – and you can look at the history books and discover that there were all kinds of schemes utilized to disenfranchise African-Americans.
So that I feel that we must educate our people, lay the facts before them, and one piece of information we need to share with the world: that many evangelical fundamentalists have contended that they have got to defend marriage; and if Gays and Lesbians can get together and all of that – woe, this is going to be a terrible time, and civilization is going to cave in! They fail to realize that Gays were around since man has been man and woman has been woman on this planet Earth; and you can read documents going back into history during the 12th and 13th century in which there were same-sex unions, and there were unions of heterosexual people. We must stop romanticizing the past and romanticizing certain groups as having a monopoly on morality. A case and point I want to nail down here is that we claim, I repeat, to be defending marriage. But when we look at the real facts, the statistics – and all the members of your audience can go and Google it on the Internet – look at the US Census. The divorce rate in America is the highest not in California, not in New England – but the divorce rate is the highest in the Bible belt, where we preach the most, sing the most, shout the most, pray the most and go to church the most – and I always raise the relevant question: “How can you blame gays and lesbians who are being who they are for your own nuclear heterosexual families crumbling?”[WG]: The Rev. Dr. Amos Brown is not only a national board member of the NAACP, heading the organization’s San Francisco Chapter; not only is he senior pastor at San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Amos Brown is a man who has one of the best cases of religion I’ve ever seen or heard – and what makes that true is that your advocacy for love and reconciliation and justice doesn’t have any boundaries. What you want for one you want for all – and Amos, I have to tell you that it was worth getting up this morning, and it’s worth this whole show, to hear you remember the words of Martin Luther King which you’ve embodied in your own life: “The time is always right to do right.” Thank you for being with us again on State of Belief Radio. [AB]: Thank you for the opportunity.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
The host of State of Belief, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, leads the national nonpartisan grassroots and educational organizations, The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Welton is one of 20 international religious leaders on the Council of 100 Leaders, a group created by the World Economic Forum to improve dialogue and understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Welton emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is the immediate past President of the Alliance of Baptists and is a twenty-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Welton served in many leadership roles in the SBC including membership on the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-1984 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-1977.
Welton received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.