A GoPride Interview

Jamie B. Frazier

Marriage messenger: Pastor Jamie B. Frazier on his public embrace of marriage equality

Thu. October 17, 2013  by Terrence Chappell

I think this notion that African-Americans don’t support marriage equality is just simply not true.
Jamie B. Frazier
Pastor Jamie B. Frazier of the Lighthouse Church of Chicago in the South Loop supports marriage equality, and he's not alone. On Oct. 22 during the March in Springfield, Pastor Frazier, affectionately known as Pastor J., will stand with members of his congregation, fellow activists and the LGBT community at large and share with the crowd not only his support and network, but will bring the notion of marriage equality full circle – one that is about love. While there are legal, taxes, economic, and other important benefits that come with marriage equality for same-sex couples, at its root, same-sex couples are fighting to get married because they love each other. Independent of the views of fellow African-American pastors, some who don't support marriage equality, Pastor Frazier respects the sacred covenant of marriage for all people.

Pastor Frazier shares with ChicagoPride.com his personal sentiment on marriage equality, how he sees the buzz around marriage equality as a springboard for future discussions and push around issues that specifically affect African-American LGBT people, and reveals that there are actually many more African-Americans than popular belief that support marriage equality.

TC: (Terrence Chappell) You've been invited to be a special guest speaker at the March in Springfield on Oct. 22. What does this invitation do for you and your church?

JF: (Pastor Jamie B. Frazier) Yes, and twenty of our congregation members will be attending to support. Marriage equality has offered us an opportunity to fulfill half of our church's vision, which is not only to be passionate about Jesus but also about justice. So, seeing us living out that calling over the past seven months has been very rewarding.

TC: What's been the sentiment among your congregation regarding marriage equality?

JF: It's been mixed. Everyone in the congregation supports it but folks in the congregation also recognize that this is not the top priority for black same-gender loving people. Folks of my congregation, and I as a pastor recognize that there are more meat and potato issues that more directly affect our community.

TC: What are some of those issues?

JF: The disproportionate high rates of HIV infections, homelessness, poverty, and violence that black same-gender loving folks face in the nation, in particular in the city of Chicago. So, we embrace this issue. But we embrace marriage equality to the extent that it gives us a platform and an opportunity to talk about the other direct issues that our people are facing.

TC: Where does marriage equality stand with you personally and then as a pastor?

JF: Personally, I do feel like I've been called to the covenant of marriage. As someone who desires that, I want the legal protection and rights that comes with marriage. So, on a personal level I do find it valuable and important. As a pastor of an African-American congregation, I recognize that my people are facing issues that are more of immediate concern. So, what I have preached or organized on behalf of marriage equality, I have also discussed the ways this issue is interrelated with other issues.

TC: How can the fight for marriage equality build bridges between LGBT people of color and their LGBT white counterparts?

JF: It is often an opportunity for the white gay establishment to come into the conversation with black folks and figure out ways we can work together as an intersection.

TC: As a gay black man, do you feel like you have to choose between your race and your sexuality?

JF: No, for me when I hear gay I think skinny white man with the rainbow flag. So, in terms of the way I discuss my own sexuality on a more personal level as well as a pastor, I refer to myself as same-gender loving.

TC: And what does that term, same-gender loving, mean to you?

JF: The fact that I refer to myself as same-gender loving speaks to my recognition that there is a particularity around the experience that black same-gender loving men have that is just fundamentally different from a white gay men's experience.

TC: Do you think it's true that most African-Americans don't support marriage equality?

JF: The polls that I've been seeing lately show that about 60% of African-Americans support marriage equality. So, I think this notion that African-Americans don't support marriage equality is just simply not true.

TC: What is your insight as to why the 40% don't support marriage equality?

JF: One of the main issues is angst and anxiety around black masculinity. There are a lot of black folks who feel that two men who are having sex with each other are being emasculated in that process. We have issues around masculinity. Any action or activity, which may further deplete the black man of his perceived power or authority, is viewed very negatively.

TC: Can that be fixed?

JF: I would say that the strength of black men and black women should not be based on our sexuality, our prowess, or the way that we dress. It should rather be based on our connection to our ancestors, the way that we strategically and economically invest in our community, the ways that we build religious faith communities for ourselves, the ways that we use our economic and political power to push forward the policies and the concerns that we are impacted by. To me that's what we should be basing our value on as black men and black women.

TC: In regards to the religious faith built communities, have you been in talks with fellow African American pastors about marriage equality?

JF: On Oct. 8, I met with about 40 African-American clergymen at Chicago Theological Seminary from 8:30 .m. to 11:00 a.m. It was organized by Benjamin Reynolds who's the Faith Director for Illinois United Marriage Equality and what that breakfast showed me is that there are quite a few African American pastors who support marriage equality. Now, I'm no fool. I do feel like the majority is against it, but I think back to what Delman Coates said. Coastes is the African-American pastor who really helped push marriage equality in Maryland. What Coates said at the breakfast is that sometimes black pastors can be like the stock market. They can be a lagging indicator of where people in the pews are.

TC: So, a pastor's views don't always reflect the views of his or her congregation?

JF: I agree with that. Sadly, black parishioners are actually ahead of black pastors in understanding the importance of equal protection of the law as well as the worth and value that all people have in the sight of God. So, I'm less concerned with what black pastors are saying and more concerned with what the people in the pews are saying.

TC: Has anyone from your congregation personally praised you for stepping up and supporting marriage equality?

JF: I think of the stories of the people in my congregation who have said things like for the first time I see myself in the Bible, for the first time I feel like I'm actually at home, for the first time I'm in a spiritual place where I can feel like I can bring my full and total self to the room, for the first time I feel like I'm actually loved by God.

TC: What does that do for you?

JF: Those statements of people who attend the Lighthouse give me the strength to take these public stances and also do the hard work of healing and restoring folks. I take that very seriously as a pastor.

TC: What are you looking forward to addressing in your speech in Springfield?

JF: I only have a few minutes, and what I want to concentrate in that speech is the meaning of a circle. So, when we wear this wedding band we are essentially wearing a circle on our finger. That circle means different things to different people. But from where I'm seated what that means is that I'm joining in a covenant with this person and just as the circle isn't broken, our love for one another shouldn't be broken.

TC: So, love?

JF: For same-gender loving and heterosexual couples the importance of that circle is real: that our love be long lasting, that it be committed, that is be monogamous, that it be never ending. That circle also for me has religious ramifications because it represents the circle of a covenant that exists between God and God's people. Finally, I think of the circle that has to exist among the various parties that have come together to support marriage equality: our Latino brothers and sisters, progressive white folks, and African Americans.

TC: Did you see yourself being a marriage equality activist?

JF: I saw a lack of African-American voices and faces addressing this and I wanted to step inside of that breach.

TC: Other than the obvious economic and legal benefits, what else do you think marriage equality will do for the LGBT community?

JF: I recognize that when marriage equality is a possibility for same-gender loving folks, it will architect a different way of understanding love, a different way of being together. This is a great opportunity to begin anew.

Equal marriage advocates have organized the "March on Springfield for Marriage Equality" for Tuesday, October 22, 2013, the scheduled first day of the fall veto session of the Illinois state legislature. There is no cost to attend the march and all members of the public are welcome. For more information, including a list of Springfield-bound busses with available seats, visit www.marchonspringfield.org.

Interviewed by Terrence Chappell