A former advisor to President Obama and board member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) who moved to embrace same-sex marriage is headed to historically liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Pastor Derrick Harkins is joining the seminary as Senior Vice President for Innovations in Public Programming. Harkins served as director of Faith Outreach for the Democratic National Committee in the lead up to the 2012 Presidential election, where, according to his biography page, he “was responsible for all aspects of engaging the faith community.”
Union President Serene Jones announced Harkins’ new role at the seminary in a February 24 e-mail.
“This was made possible by a very generous gift to Union specifically in support of our public programming, given by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous,” Jones wrote. “Derrick, as many of you know, has a long history of working for social justice in both the church and in the public square, and we are so excited about the many talents and gifts he brings to Union.”
Harkins plan to depart after 17 years as Senior Pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. was made public in a February 19 article in the Washington Post. Nineteenth Street Baptist is one of Washington’s oldest historically African American churches.
Harkins is not new to Union, according to the Post he received a Masters of Divinity from the school in 1987.
While Harkins once served on the NAE board, he has gradually shifted away from traditional evangelical views and now supports redefining marriage for same sex couples, according to the Post. In 2011, Harkins was quoted in a Religion Dispatches interview as being opposed to same-sex marriage, a view that led to push back from social liberals in the Democratic Party upset about his hiring.
Asked if he supported same-sex marriage, Harkins replied, “No, no, no. But again, I’m not a bomb-thrower in terms of saying things that will get a rise out of a crowd because I just don’t think that’s, again, intellectually honest.”
Harkins’s position was soon called into question after a petition advocating same-sex marriage surfaced listing Harkins as one of many D.C. pastors supporting same-sex marriage in the District. Harkins claimed in an interview with Christianity Today that the petition was erroneous and that he did not sign it or any other statement supporting same-sex marriage and that his name was included without his knowledge or consent.
Harkins served as a member of the Board of Directors for the NAE’s humanitarian arm, World Relief, and the liberal Christian advocacy groups Faith in Public Life and Sojourners. Harkins also served on an advisory board for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
RCRC’s then-president, Carlton Veazey, told Christianity Today that Harkins was a supporter of RCRC’s National Black Church Initiative, which aims to provide “faith-based sexuality education” and reduced unintended pregnancies in the African American community.
“[Harkins] and I have different theological views on the moral appropriateness of abortion,” Veazey told CT.