Bad Shepherd

Commentary: Center Field

by Richard J. Rosendall
Published on May 14, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

''Every single person who voted for this, they're gone,'' shouted Rev. Anthony Evans, associate pastor of D.C.'s Mount Zion Baptist Church, into a news camera. We were standing in the hallway after the D.C. Council voted 12-1 to give final approval to a measure recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. Evans and several other anti-gay ministers, led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Maryland, were outraged, and Evans vowed to defeat all 12 legislators who supported equality.

I asked, ''What track record do you have to back up your threats?'' He ignored me and talked of asking Congress to overturn the Council's action. He also referred to a bill pending in Congress that would give D.C. a full voting member in the House of Representatives, and promised to get an amendment that would force the District to choose between gay rights and voting rights.

Seeking congressional intervention when you lose in the D.C. Council is what D.C. Delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton calls ''getting a second bite at the apple.'' She rightly sees it as a betrayal of D.C. self-determination, and those who attempt it earn her wrath.

I have heard Rev. Evans' threats before. In 2003, he called me to accuse the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), on which I serve as political vice president, of blocking a federal abstinence-only HIV-education grant for D.C. that he wanted. GLAA was opposing the federal program because it treated abstinence as the only answer rather than part of comprehensive sex education that included information on using condoms and contraception to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

In that 2003 phone call, Rev. Evans said that he could not approve of homosexuality because he believed in the Bible, but that he considered me his brother in Christ. He suggested a breakfast meeting to work out a compromise. I said I would be happy to meet, but I didn't feel respected by someone who insisted that I abstain from sex until marriage yet opposed my right to marry.

I accused Rev. Evans of being selective in his use of biblical passages, and mentioned the pro-slavery references in Paul's Epistles. He acknowledged this but said that clergy are uniquely empowered by God with interpreting Scripture. (In fact, since Martin Luther translated the Bible into a common tongue, there is a strong Reform tradition that literate, reasoning folk are equally empowered as the clergy.) I said I did not need his permission to think for myself, and that he was free to preach as he liked but was not entitled to a subsidy from taxpayers. He threatened to set the gay movement back 10 years. On a more conciliatory note, he said that he didn't think gay people should be put to death. I said that was generous but inconsistent with his scriptural literalism.

Rev. Evans and his allies say they are defending the family. As it happens, on the Saturday after our legislative victory, I am going through a connect-the-dots book with 5-year-old Sam, the son of my friends Alan and Will. Papa Alan is in Fort Worth, Texas, and I offered to baby-sit for a couple of hours so Daddy Will, who has just finished nurturing Sam back to health from a fever and ear infection, could unwind at the gym. Sam opens a pop-up book and challenges me to find various sea creatures in it. He confesses that he studied it earlier so he could point them out faster.

The presence of a child changes a home. This child and these parents have enriched each other's lives beyond measure. Rev. Evans refuses to see the harm he does to children like Sam by denying their parents legal protections. But for the moment I am content as Sam pages through The New Yorker and asks me to read him the cartoon captions.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, ''If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.'' Real love requires understanding. But let the angry ministers make their noise. Others, including gay-affirming ministers, will make a better noise, and the next generation will benefit from their efforts.

The phone rings. I let Sam answer, and he hears a familiar voice. We pack up his things, and in the elevator he pushes L for lobby. Daddy is waiting.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum. He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.


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