Thursday, 4:30 PM
In first, gay pride service moves to black church
By Michael Paulson, Globe staff
The annual gay pride interfaith prayer service on Saturday will for the first time take place in a predominantly black church, highlighting an intensive effort by advocates of same-sex marriage to demonstrate support from theologically conservative wings of the religious community.
The worship service, just five days before a Constitutional Convention at which the Legislature is scheduled to decide whether to put a repeal of same-sex marriage onto next year’s ballot, is taking place at a church whose pastor is a member of the board of the Black Ministerial Alliance, an organization that has been among the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.
‘‘This is a clarion statement that the black churches and black clergy are not monolithic in their opposition to gay identity and gay equality and marriage equality,’’ said the Rev. Anne C. Fowler, an Episcopal priest who is the president of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry.
The coalition, which lobbies in favor of same-sex marriage, will be given the entire offering from Saturday's worship service, which is taking place at 10 a.m. at Union United Methodist Church in Boston.
This is the second year in a row that the interfaith pride service has featured a religious leader who supports gay rights despite being affiliated with an organization opposed to same-sex marriage; last year, the main speaker at the service was a Catholic priest.
Union United Methodist is located in Boston’s South End, the geographic heart of the city’s gay community, and near the start of Saturday's gay pride parade, which has been rerouted because of construction projects in the Back Bay. The congregation declared itself a ‘‘reconciling congregation’’ in 2000, meaning it had decided to join a movement advocating for gays and lesbians within the United Methodist denomination. The congregation is also hosting a gospel brunch tomorrow for black gay and lesbians in town for the Pride weekend.
‘‘This is a wonderful time of celebrating something that has not happened before in our city,’’ the congregation’s pastor, the Rev. Martin D. McLee, said in an interview. ‘‘Gay folk have always been in the black church and the white church — that’s not new — but we don’t require folk to pretend that they’re not who they are.’’
Black churches, locally and nationally, are often conservative on issues of sexuality. In Boston, the Black Ministerial Alliance has repeatedly lent its name to efforts to overturn same-sex marriage, which has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004.
But there are a handful of Black Ministerial Alliance board members who have been more sympathetic to gay rights, among them McLee, who has allowed a ‘‘Happy Pride’’ sign to be posted in front of his church.
McLee said he was not trying to send a message to other black clergy by agreeing to host the service. ‘‘I don’t want this to be divisive, and I don’t choose to be a part of side-taking,’’ he said. ‘‘this is just one church living out its journey.’’
A spokesman for an organization pushing for the ballot measure that would outlaw same sex-marriage, VoteOnMarriage.org, said that ‘‘bringing diverse individuals and groups together to pray is always refreshing’’ but that Saturday’s service does not reflect the position of the black church generally.
‘‘Among black clergy nationally, including Jessie Jackson, there has been virtual unanimity against same sex marriage on two fronts,’’ the spokesman, Kris Mineau, Massachusetts Family Institute president, said by e-mail. ‘‘First, this community has been ravaged by the plight of fatherlessness, and they recognize the need for mothers and fathers in raising children. Second, many black leaders and clergy resent comparisons by same-sex-marriage advocates to the black civil rights struggle.’’
The top officials of the Black Ministerial Alliance, executive director Harold Sparrow and Bishop Gilbert A. Thompson, the president, did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Michael Paulson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.