The Revs. Dennis and Christine Wiley are the husband-wife team at Washington DC's historic Covenant Baptist Church, the black Ward 8 congregation that is one of the most LGBT-affirming in the District. It's also the "first and only traditional black church" in the District of Columbia to perform same-sex unions. Not everyone in the congregation initially welcomed the church's inclusive message, the Wileys write in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
On Tuesday, the D.C. Council voted to legalize same-sex marriage. This historic measure passed 11 to 2, with the two no votes cast by council members Yvette Alexander of Ward 7 and Marion Barry of Ward 8—the ward where our church sits. Both wards are east of the Anacostia River and have the highest percentages of black residents in the city. Both members said that the majority of their constituents, who live in the same communities where many of our parishioners live, do not support gay marriage.
We have seen the resistance that Alexander and Barry were talking about. We know it has deep cultural and historical roots. But we have also seen that this resistance is not stuck in concrete. After that first ceremony in our church, we were pleased and relieved; many members and guests told us how beautiful the service had been. But not everyone who attended shared this feeling. After most of the guests left, one longtime parishioner approached us, shaking. In a voice filled with rage, she asked how we could desecrate the sanctuary with such an ungodly act. She vowed to no longer be a member of our church. After leaving our congregation, she contacted denominational leaders and local newspapers, including The Washington Post, to complain about our "immoral" behavior. She also took us to court in an unsuccessful attempt to recoup two years of tithes because, in her opinion, we had misled her in presenting ourselves as a "real" Baptist church.
The Wileys add: "The conservative strand of black religion is evident in what Harvard professor Peter Gomes calls "bibliolatry"—the practice of worshiping the Bible rather than worshiping God. It is also found in a "literal" interpretation of the Bible that focuses more on the letter of the text than on its spirit, and concentrates on passages about domination, oppression, hierarchy, elitism and exclusion rather than on the major themes of love, justice, freedom, equality and inclusion that run throughout the Bible.
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