Pastor Debates Moral Issues Of Gay Marriage

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., left, prays with Jonathan Paul Ganucheau and Denise Buckbinder Ganucheau before performing a religious wedding ceremony that was part of a protest against the District of Columbia city council's approval of legislation recognizing same sex marriages performed in other states, in Washington, on Tuesday, May 5, 2009. i i

hide captionBishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., left, prays with Jonathan Paul Ganucheau and Denise Buckbinder Ganucheau before performing a religious wedding ceremony that was part of a protest against the District of Columbia city council's approval of legislation recognizing same sex marriages performed in other states, in Washington, on Tuesday, May 5, 2009.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., left, prays with Jonathan Paul Ganucheau and Denise Buckbinder Ganucheau before performing a religious wedding ceremony that was part of a protest against the District of Columbia city council's approval of legislation recognizing same sex marriages performed in other states, in Washington, on Tuesday, May 5, 2009.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., left, prays with Jonathan Paul Ganucheau and Denise Buckbinder Ganucheau before performing a religious wedding ceremony that was part of a protest against the District of Columbia city council's approval of legislation recognizing same sex marriages performed in other states, in Washington, on Tuesday, May 5, 2009.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Gay rights activists in Md. announced this week they'd renew their campaign to have the state recognize same sex marriages. But many religious leaders are still vocalizing opposition to same sex marriage, and to learn where their efforts stand, host Michel Martin speaks with Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, you talk back to us. It's our Backtalk segment and it's in just a few minutes. A lot of people wanted to talk about our parenting segment from earlier this week. So please stick around for that.

But first, it's time for our Faith Matters conversation. That's where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. And is there an issue where faith and public policy are so entwined at the moment as in the question of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

The campaign for same-sex marriage and civil unions have already scored some significant legal victories recently. As we just heard a few minutes ago, Rhode Island just accepted a measure to allow civil unions for same-sex couples. Later this month, same-sex couples in New York will be legally allowed to marry.

And on another front, California's governor, Jerry Brown, just this week signed a measure requiring that LGBT history must be taught in the state schools, although the bill left it up to local school boards to decide just how. All this and public opinion surveys show that many more people are accepting of LGBT people and relationships, but certainly not all.

So we thought this was a good time to check in with a member of the loyal opposition, if you will, Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. He's a senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C. He's been a vocal part of anti-same sex marriage campaigns both in his home state and around the country. He's with us now in our Washington, D.C. studios once again. Bishop, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

Bishop HARRY JACKSON, JR.: Thank you, Michel, good to be with you.

MARTIN: Now, as we just mentioned, a lot of the political momentum at the moment seems to be in favor of same-sex marriage. But I'm really more interested in how you're addressing this spiritually and theologically. I mean, Maryland is one state that has not in the recent legislature, did not advance same-sex marriage rights. So that was a victory for you. But I want to ask how you're reacting spiritually and theologically to the advance of something that you have profound objection to.

JR.: Well, I still believe that spiritually we're dealing with whether we're going to inculcate a pro-gay lifestyle culture. Nobody wants anybody to be discriminated against or hurt, in terms of employment or any of those kinds of things. I think in many places, the legal issues are settled. The moral issues still remain.

Should we, in elementary school level, have Heather has two mommies being taught? Because once gay marriage is passed in a state, then you've got to say we put these two different kinds of marriages on an equilibrium kind of basis. And then children begin to be taught this way, that way.

And I believe for some it will begin to influence how children think, not in terms of discrimination, but in terms of maybe just the whole idea of maybe this is a valid path for them. And our scriptures tell us we should not really be moving in that way.

MARTIN: There are those who, again, ask, what does their marriage have to with yours? I mean, they argue, you know, once again that what does - so if Heather does have two mommies, what does that have to do with Bishop Jackson's marriage?

JR.: Well, it's a fundamental definition issue. Once you call water Coca-Cola, then we've got confusion. So if water by definition for thousands of years has been H2O and now you put H2O and caffeine and some other things in it, and then you want to call it water, you have essentially changed the Constitution. It's all right if you say we've got water and then we've got this water-like substance. And even though that may sound very semantic-oriented, I think that there is in fact a major change that it can have for people.

And then it also in the future can be that in years from now, folks will say, well, there was once a movement of all these bigoted people who decided that they didn't want to have same-sex marriage. And if that's still how you believe according to your scriptures, it really puts the faithful in a place where they are seen as being bigots, fascists, all those kinds of things. So, all of these things are on the table. And...

MARTIN: You're worried that you won't be allowed to live out your faith principles. Is that what you're saying? That your belief that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

JR.: Yes.

MARTIN: You are worried that that will no longer be considered socially valid.

JR.: Yes.

MARTIN: And what's your evidence of that?

JR.: Well, a few years ago, Ake Green in Sweden was arrested for preaching from the book of Leviticus. And in his preaching, he just mentioned, you know, homosexuality in passing. And that's not the only sexual ban. But he did 30 days in jail and was fined and had to have the whole case reversed in a higher court.

In Toronto not too long ago, there were fines given to people for their vocal advocacy of traditional marriage. So it's not as far-fetched as one would think.

MARTIN: But what about the fact that, for example, there's a situation now, there's another legal challenge over marriage rights that was in the news this week, the Browns, this polygamist family featured in the reality show, "Sister Wives," sued the state of Utah saying that Utah's anti-polygamy laws violate their constitutional rights to practice their religion in their own way.

JR.: Great (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Well, how do you respond to that? They say they're guided by religious principle, too. And what they're seeing is an expansion of the understanding of being guided by religious faith.

JR.: As always, you're very insightful. This line of demarcation is concerning because once we say same-sex marriage is OK, then why not polyamory? Why not polygamy? And I think we are going to see more and more groups. It's already happening in Canada, begin to, again, redefine what water looks like. And therefore it just leads us from a social perspective down a slippery slope.

When I do believe there is a problem of role definition within marriage itself. In my own community, you know, we serve predominantly blacks, although we're multiracial at our church, my own community, marriage is a life support. And the more we play with definition, with the roles, what does mommy, daddy do, who is husband, who is - all of those kinds of things are very fundamental. I'm finding we have to teach the next generation how to conduct themselves in this relationship called marriage.

MARTIN: And, finally, though, before we let you go and we only have a minute left for this very rich topic. I apologize for that.

JR.: Not a problem.

MARTIN: But what about those who say, why should your specific religious principles dictate public policy in this multi-religious country where people have many different religious principles and convictions that they are following?

JR.: That's a great question. I think only because of the sheer numbers in this democracy that we have. And I want to encourage those who are listening who believe like me, we need to be speaking out more. I believe the Supreme Court is going to decide it ultimately in a couple years. And what we all weigh in on and say will influence their decision.

MARTIN: Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. is senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C. area. He was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Bishop, we'll speak again, I'm sure. Thank you so much for joining us.

JR.: Thank you, Michel.

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