by Hazel Trice Edney
(TriceEdneyWire.com) — The newly selected NAACP president, the Rev. Cornell William Brooks, indicates he will walk a thin line in order to defend the NAACP’s stance on same-sex marriage and keep his ordination as a minister in the African American Episcopal Church (AMEC).
Brooks, who is also CEO, has taken this stance because while the NAACP’s 64-member board, two years ago, voted to support “marriage equality” —marriage between people of the same gender — the AME church’s Board of Bishops has voted emphatically against it.
Brooks, a fourth-generation ordained minister who is an associate minister at the Turner Memorial AME Church in Hyattsville, Md., says he sees no conflict between the opposing views and that he will be prepared to address fully his position during the NAACP annual convention in Las Vegas July 19-23.
“This role is one of civil rights leadership; not necessarily one of a theological authority,” Brooks said in an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire. “I want to be clear that people of faith are still citizens of this Republic and it is not inconsistent to recognize the rights of gays and lesbians under the Constitution that protects African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and everyone else.”
He concluded, saying, “I don’t find any irreconcilable differences between me honoring my faith tradition, which prohibits me from marrying –– not only people of the same gender –– but people who are in fact divorced.” He pointed out that the AMEC discipline is also against remarriage of divorced people. But divorce and remarriage is not an issue before the NAACP.
The same-sex marriage issue has been a stickler in the black community; especially in the black church, particularly since President Obama announced his support for marriage equality in the spring of 2012. When the NAACP followed by officially announcing its position May 19, 2012, at least one NAACP president, an ordained minister, resigned because of it.
The Rev. Keith Ratliff, then president of the NAACP Iowa-Nebraska conference and pastor of Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, resigned from the organization “due to the NAACP’s position and support of same-sex marriage,” quotes Charisma News in June 2012.
NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock, responded then in a statement issued to Charisma: “The NAACP strongly affirms his personal convictions as we do the religious conscience of all people as protected under the First Amendment…The constitution of the NAACP states that our mission is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of all people.
“Our resolution to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the constitutional rights of LGBT citizens remains within the scope of this mission.
“We do did not issue our support of marriage equality from any personal, moral or religious perspective,” she continued in the statement, published in Charisma News. “However, we affirm that civil marriage is a civil right, and our support of marriage equality is consistent with equal protection under the law provided by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We understand that there will sometimes be differences of opinion in our ongoing struggle to eliminate discrimination in this country, and we will always welcome diverse voices at our table.”
The AME Church Discipline states as follows: “The AMEC believes that unions of any kind between persons of the same sex or gender are contrary to the will of God. Therefore, the AMEC strictly prohibits and forbids any AMEC clergy person, licensed and/or ordained from performing or participating in or giving any blessing to any ceremony designed to result in any pairing between persons of the same sex gender, including, but not limited to, marriage or civil unions.”
In an interview days after his appointment, Brooks who is currently president and CEO at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice based in Newark, ticked off a list of civil rights, educational, economic and criminal justice issues that are high on the NAACP agenda, he indicated that he looks forward to further discussion on the issue of marriage equality:
“I just don’t see a conflict and it’s my inclination — my style, if you will — to listen to people. And there are going to be brothers and sisters who don’t support marriage equality as a matter of civil rights or as a matter of theology. But, does that mean I shouldn’t be listening, to be engaging? If we are willing to talk to conservatives who disagree with some of the NAACP’s positions or liberals who disagree with some of the NAACP’s positions, why can’t we be in conversation and in dialogue with people who disagree with our position on marriage equality even as we defend it?”
Brooks says he is open to discuss the issue in the appropriate setting. “So there will be plenty of occasions and opportunities to address the issue at length.”