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Rev. Bill Owens, gay marriage, attacks on President Obama and the absence of rhetorical substance

Rev. Bill Owens

Rev. Bill Owens

By Dr. Bertram L. Marks, Esq.

As an African American attorney and seminary-trained theologian and pastor, I am embarrassed by the comments made by the Rev. Bill Owens, who is president and founder of the Coalition of African American Pastors.

This group has denounced the Obama Administration and Attorney General Eric Holder over their refusal to enforce same sex marriage bans, which the president, and at least one federal court judge have deemed unconstitutional.

Owens uses inflammatory and disrespectful language toward the nation’s first African American president. “In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a president as bad as this president,” Owens is quoted as making these remarks in an article written by Ruth Manuel-Logan and published by the Michigan Chronicle on Feb. 26, 2014.

Owens and his group also announced they have a petition drive to remove Attorney General Eric Holder from office for failing to enforce existing laws.

I am embarrassed, because, as one who claims to be a pastor, such dismissive, non-instructive rhetoric is precisely the type of policy-less nonsense consistently spewed by hatemongers and extremists who oppose this president merely because of his ethnicity.

The rhetoric also ignores the obligation of all citizens to object, challenge and defy any law, statute or rule which is unjust and unfair. According to the logic of Owens and the Coalition of African American Pastors, Homer Plessey is not deserving of our attention because he challenged separate but equal laws.

Mr. Plessey refused to abandon the rail car he was in simply because he was African American. Furthermore, apparently Owens would have preferred the leaders of the civil rights movement to simply accept “Jim Crow” laws as the law of the land.

One who pastors is also one who must speak with a prophetic voice for those who society seeks to marginalize. Is this not what Jesus Christ spent his ministry doing? Would Jesus Christ join a crusade to marginalize the poor, the sick, the weak, the different?

What is most appalling about the Owen remarks are not the content of his objection. Sure, it is baffling how one who should seek to include all people wants to exclude some of them. However, to object to the notion of same sex marriage on grounds of carefully articulated spiritual and biblical principles adds to the realm of idea exchange and progress.

A thoughtful and expressive objection is not what we have here from Owens and his cohorts. Instead, the remarks were made in Washington D.C., at the Washington Press Club. This was clear grandstanding and this location suggests the political rather than spiritual objection Owens is making.

No discussion of the spiritual implications of marriage have been discussed by Owens and his group. A few terse remarks about community and marriage were bantered, but nothing of substance followed.

Furthermore, no discussion of the important distinction between what is acceptable in the secular realm of constitutionality versus the spiritual realm of creation and directives that require us to be “fruitful and multiply” was tackled either.

Instead, Owens, like many of his counterparts locally and nationally, takes to the soapbox on this issue and uses it as a convenient excuse to denigrate the President of the United States by referring to him as a “dangerous ideologue.”

I wonder if Owens and all others who object to same sex marriage would go a step further and decline membership and the acceptance of any tithes and offerings from those who profess support for same sex marriage, engage in same sex marriage, or engage in same sex period.

I wonder if Owens is aware of members of his congregation who may be contemplating same sex marriage. I wonder how or if he would meet with them, talk with them and pastor them. These are questions to which we may never know the answer.

We do know Rev. Bill Owens has an agenda that appears to have more to it than abolishing laws relative to same sex marriage. His agenda seems aimed at the November midterm election results and yet another example of an unprecedented desire of some in the republic to see to it that their leader spectacularly and utterly fails.

 Dr. Marks is a practicing attorney and pastor of the First Community Baptist Church in Detroit.


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