DETROIT- Dr. Michael C. R. Nabors has come out. The highly respected African American pastor and scholar was so appalled by a group of black pastors’ recent demonstration against same-sex marriage in Detroit that he could not stay silent any more.
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“I am coming out of the closet as a heterosexual, male pastor, with all the privileges this has afforded me in more than 30 years of ministry, to say that I do believe in gay rights. I also believe that if gays love each other in the way I love my wife, in the way that any man-husband loves his woman-wife, it is perfectly fine for them to be married,” Nabors wrote in an open letter Mar. 4. (see Dr. Nabor’s complete letter on www.pridesource.com).
On Mar. 28, Nabors met with Rev. Darlene Franklin, former pastor of Full Truth Fellowship Church in Detroit, and Rev. Roland Stringfellow, the newly-appointed senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church in Ferndale, to discuss the theology and politics behind his decision to come out as an ally to the LGBT community.
“It was seeing about 50 African American preachers in Detroit that got national attention for stating that they were unalterably opposed to same-sex marriage,” said Nabors, referring to a Feb. 24 press conference at the First Baptist World Changers Church in Detroit. “It was the aftermath. It garnered tremendous local press, and then I’m seeing it on television and reading about it in USA Today, The New York Times, and I said, ‘Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I’m a pastor in Detroit and I don’t feel that way about it.’ And that compelled me to sit down and try to write something.”
Nabors, 54, who has been at New Calvary for 16 years, said he submitted his letter to The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, but had not heard if either paper intends to print it. He reached out to Franklin, his former seminary student, to explore what he could do to get his message out. Franklin had been out as a lesbian throughout her studies at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary. “I am so honored to bring you two together,” said Franklin to the two pastors. “I am interested in being that person to help bridge the (black and the gay) communities of faith together.”
Dr. Nabors is senior pastor at New Calvary Baptist Church in Detroit, a 64-year-old, large black church with hundreds of members. He is also an assistant professor, director of graduate programs and director of student life at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary on Woodward Ave. in Detroit. Born in Kalamazoo to a large family – he is the youngest of nine children – and raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church, Nabors said his world view expanded while in college at Western Michigan University and later at Princeton’s Theological Seminary where he earned a masters degree in theology and Christian ethics.
“I went to Princeton – it was a big leap. A sort of new world opened up for me. As a Princeton seminary student you could take as many classes as you wanted at the university. After I got all my requirements out of the way I was doing everything I could under Cornell West and (civil war) historian James McPherson,” said Nabors.
Nabors said he was angry, offended and embarrassed that the anti-marriage demonstrators claimed to represent all of Detroit’s faith community. He also accused some pastors of being influenced by right-wing donors.
“You know, you don’t have to follow the words that are being spoken or the places where they are being spoken. You have to follow the money trail,” said Nabors. “Find out about that church, find out about the organizations that are supporting them, and more often than not it will be a very conservative, very evangelical, very fundamental organizations – church related – that are throwing money out, saying, ‘we need you to be a part of our cause.’ Now I’m not saying that every single African American minister has been bought off and that’s why they are speaking out on this issue. But I am saying when you get that kind of publicly and that kind of focus, it’s not just by accident. Someone absolutely knows what they are doing.”
Nabors, who served as the director of the civil rights commission in Trenton, NJ, said the issue of homosexuality is divisive for the Black Church.
“I have been in ministry for over 30 years, and I have not been in any institutional organization that is more homophobic than the Black Church,” said Nabors. “I absolutely believe that with all of my heart. It exists on two levels. Preachers have been using the pulpit to preach ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ And then there’s that underlying, sneering, negative sense – pointing to ‘those people.’ Every time that happens in my presence, whether it is my congregation or somewhere else, I say, ‘Oh my God – you sound just like someone from the Ku Klux Klan.'”
“I didn’t know I could be both gay and a minister – who ever heard of such a thing,” said Stringfellow, who grew up and became a minister in a small conservative community in Indiana. After he came out as gay, Stringfellow moved to California to attend the progressive Pacific School of Religion in Berkley, CA in 2003. “But the Black Church is not a monolith. There are welcoming congregations. The one who yells the loudest from the pulpit does not represent us all. It’s good to show the diversity of thought.”
Nabors, a member of the Black Baptist Council, is aware his open support of the LGBT community and marriage equality could cost him support among his peers.
“I know the difficulty. I know that pretty much I am accepted in all groups of clergy in Detroit,” said Nabors. “When something like this comes out and your name is attached to it, your invitations will be limited and your presence will not be nearly as welcome. I understand that, especially in the Black Church – no doubt about it.”
But Nabors feels he has to follow his conscience and his faith. He is also relying on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The problem is not so much the evil people who are killing and destroying this world, it’s the appalling silence of the good people.”
“The basis of my faith and our religion is that God so loved the work that he gave his only begotten son,” said Nabors. “And there is no quantifying indicators on what that world is. It’s the whole world. It’s everybody that is in it; red, white, black, yellow, brown, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Christian, gay, straight, man, woman – every single part of this world God loves. I believe that is the basis that runs from the beginning to the end of the sacred word.”