Black churches in New Jersey might never be the vanguard on marriage rights, but the institution is starting to be more accepting of gays and lesbians in the pews.
The Star Ledger interviewed a number of black church leaders in the Newark area. The ministers know there are gays and lesbians in the choir and running Sunday school programs. The Rev. Ronald Slaughter of St. James AME offered that 60 to 70 percent of churches have gay congregants.
"They (the congregations) may not know it, but they can’t be judge or jury at the door,” he said.
In a Pew Research poll from last year, only 30 percent of blacks nationwide favor same sex marriage; 59 are opposed. This stands in stark contrast to whites, who are roughly divided.
The numbers also indicate a generational divide, with younger citizens supporting gay marriage more than their elders. Thirty seven percent of blacks, aged between 18 to 40, support marriage for gays. Only 20 percent of blacks aged 50 and older feel the same.
The ministers interviewed made a distinction between ministering to the gay community and advocating for same-sex matrimony.
“My ministry is not defined by advocacy of gay people.” said the Rev. M. William Howard of Bethany Baptist.
He added two important points: his sermons address bigotry against gays and lesbians. No church is prepared to adequately deal with gay marriage because no church is ready to deal with sexuality.
“Church — not just the black church — is still wrestling with how it addresses sexuality.”