This commentary is by Dr. James H. Evans, Jr., Robert K. Davies Professor of Systematic Theology at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
President Barack Obama’s recent announcement of his support of same sex marriage has been the topic of much discussion and debate in our community. Students and faculty alike have asked how are we as an academic community of theological inquiry to help our students and those who will be served by them as pastors understand and respond to this issue. As a systematic theologian whose specialty is African American Christianity, I am especially interested in helping African American Christians to understand what is at stake here. It is not my task to tell others what to think or to what positions to take. My task is to help frame the issue so that it might be better understood. I believe that what is at issue here is what we call the doctrine of humanity. That is, who do we count as human and what does it mean to be human in the sight of God? As I read the history of people of African descent in the United States I am reminded that barely a century ago it was the official policy of the United States that black people were less human than whites, even when those black people were Christian. This view was supported by many white Christians through their reading of the Bible. Black people did not have the same rights as others because of the color of their skin. Even though some people still feel this way about black people, fortunately, racism is no longer the official policy of the United States. I am also reminded that less than a century ago, it was the official policy of the United States that black people and white people could not marry. Many white Christians cited the Bible to support this policy. While these laws are still on the books in some states, it is no longer the official policy of the United States. The fact is that there are Christians and non-Christians who oppose same sex marriage. Sometimes the Bible is cited and sometimes it is not. There are Christians and non-Christians who support same sex marriage. Again, sometimes the Bible is cited and sometimes it is not. This complexity suggests that the issue is not centered in what faith we claim, but in whether we are able to grant full humanity to someone who is not like us in some way. I believe that the answer to this question lies deep in the individual heart.