A pastor whose fiery sermon about homosexuality and the Bible went viral this week is speaking out to clarify his remarks, claiming that the media framing of his message lacked context and affirming that he personally embraces traditional marriage.
As TheBlaze previously reported, Pastor E. Dewey Smith of the House of Hope in Decatur, Georgia, was seen in the short video message that went viral this week, pushing back against how some Christians have applied biblical sentiment to the issue of homosexuality — a message that some outlets took to mean that Smith was endorsing same-sex relations.
In his clarifying remarks, though, the pastor set the record straight on a multitude of fronts.
"I have always believed and taught that marriage is between a man and a woman. Even as society changes and my theology evolves around ministering to and being intentional about loving all people, my personal theology is still based on male and female relationships only," Smith said in a written statement. "While this may disappoint many who have encouraged me over the past few days, please allow a mutuality of 'tolerance.'"
That said, Smith added that he believes that there is a difference between theology and public policy, and that the legalization of same-sex marriage falls under the latter category.
"The U.S. is not a theocracy and has been established to supposedly provide certain freedoms and rights to all of its citizens," he said. "Every American citizen is granted both the freedom of and freedom from religion."
See the viral clip that started the controversy below:
Smith said that in the wake of his sermon, some have wished death upon him.
The pastor also expressed surprise at how a four-minute clip of his sermon "became viral without context or [his] approval," though a Facebook page titled "The Official page of Pastor E. Dewey Smith, Jr." shared the video on July 24, as did a YouTube account with the username "The House of Hope."
TheBlaze was unable to confirm whether these are official platforms belonging to the pastor and his church.
Smith also said in his clarifying remarks that he believes an "ecumenical forum of Bible scholars" should come together to examine the Bible's take on homosexuality.
"Often our interpretations are skewed by our own biases and backgrounds. As the early church gathered at Nicea in 325 AD to discuss 'Arianism,' I sense that this shifting culture needs a similar gathering," Smith wrote. "'Pre-Understandings' of biblical texts should be "left at the front door" and the most critical and objective hermeneutical skills brought to the forefront."
He went on in his explanation to highlight that he was recently preparing a message when he felt called to explore the subject of evangelism, and that he decided to look at how Philip went to Samaria in Acts 6:1-7 — an act that he described as "significant" considering that the "Jews actually despised the Samaritans and avoided contact with them."
"This was quite significant because for 800 years, the Samaritans were a marginalized group of people. The Jews actually despised the Samaritans and avoided contact with them. The body of the message dealt with Philip's approach toward the Samaritan people," Smith wrote. "St. Luke explicitly recorded, 'Philip preached Christ unto them.' As Philip preached the Gospel, the Samaritans 'with one accord' listened to him, and inevitably persons who had been lame, sick and 'possessed' found healing, deliverance and breakthrough."
He continued, "Philip went to Samaria to 'evangelize and not antagonize' the people."
Smith said that he decided to apply this same sentiment to consider who the 21st century Samaritans might be, adding that he wondered whether the Supreme Court legislation was a moment for people to share Jesus with individuals who might be treated like the Samaritans.
Then, he further explained the context of his message:
"For decades within many African-American churches, homosexuality has been the 'big elephant in the room.' Homosexuality has long been a "taboo subject" in black congregations. Many churches have operated by a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. A host of bishops, pastors, evangelists, musicians and singers have lived homosexual lifestyles. The theology of traditional ministries forced a lot of people into marriages that were strictly for public purposes. A myriad of homosexual men married unsuspecting women, for the sake of the church, while still privately engaging in same-sex relationships. The theology of an overwhelming amount of people and fear of church scrutiny, led countless individuals to live pretentious lives for 'the sake of the Kingdom.' In my message, I highlighted the undeniable contributions that gay musicians, singers and directors have made to the African-American church. For decades, church members have seen effeminate men and women with masculine traits leading music departments. Enumerable churches have relied heavily on same-gender loving people to help build ministries. On Sunday mornings, excited parishioners anxiously gather in houses of worship to hear the choir 'blow the roof off of the building.' The majority of Pastors know, whether they would admit it or not, that good preaching and awesome music can help "put butts in the seats and bucks in the banks." To this very day, an awesome worship, arts and music department is highly valued and regarded within African-American churches. Music aside, some of the most faithful and supportive members of many black churches have been same-gender loving individuals."
Smith said that many churches have preached against homosexuality, but have had gays and lesbians on the payroll in an effort to foster the best music possible inside church choirs. He admitted his own past instances of preaching "unfavorably and critically of homosexuals," but as time went on, he said that he matured as a pastor and his perspectives began to shift.
Today, Smith said that he still has many questions about sexuality, "prenatal sex organ abnormalities" and a plethora of other related issues, noting that he believes that the way many churches and faith leaders have handled these issues has turned young people off to faith.
"The aforementioned questions and more are asked by many millennials. The inability of many church leaders to answer questions or allow room for questions has turned many people away from faith," he said. "Additionally, the hypocrisy that is so prevalent in some ecclesial settings is cause for much disdain amongst young people."
Smith said that many people get caught up in the laws that are in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, as believers struggle between delineating and parsing through moral, ceremonial and civil laws.
"On one hand some have heard, 'you are saved by Grace and not your works' and on the other they are told to 'learn all 600+ sins/abominations in Leviticus in order to stay saved,'" he said. "I facetiously referenced this point in the message last week. I did not expound on the categories of law in Leviticus, not because of ignorance but because it was not germane as a major point in the message. It was simply a comedic portion of the application of that point."
Smith said the following in the now-viral clip: "On one hand, you quote homosexuality as an abomination from Leviticus, but you say that right after you ate some shrimp, some catfish and some lobster ... We pick and choose the scriptures that we want to use to beat folk up with rather than look at our own lives."
He said that his point with this reference was to note that Christians sometimes pick and choose which sins they highlight, while ignoring other moral infractions, adding that his sermon was not intended to "'affirm the rights' of the LGBT community," claiming that, instead, he highlighted that many in the gay community have contributed to the black church.
In a separate statement issued to the Christian Post on Monday, Smith's executive assistant, Tigia Finn, also affirmed that the pastor does not support same-sex nuptials.
"By no means is Smith now, nor has he ever been a proponent of same-sex marriage. Smith has always believed and taught that marriage is only designed for a man and a woman," she said. "This reality was clearly stated during the sermon but not included for some reason by the person who posted the clip. Smith believes that same-sex marriage isn't the Will of God."