Gays & God
In this Special Edition we are making a suicide run
into the issue of homosexuality and the Black church. This is
one of those issues that incites disgust, anger, fear and
loathing, a topic no one wants to deal with and yet everyone
flocks to virtually any reasonable dialogue on it. Why? because,
whether we admit it or not, we're looking for answers. Many of
us, within the Christian church if not specifically the Black
Church, want peace. We want a truce. We want to find a way to
come together as a family without the hiding, the whispering,
the suspicion, the expulsion from our group of same-gender
loving persons. Publicly, we get our back up. The simple fact I
am not writing in all caps, sending gays to hell, makes me a
marked man. My many pastor-friends start scurrying for the exits
when we use anything short of a judgmental tone towards these
persons. Call it what you like, but this behavior is fear.
Pastors are terrified of the subject because, for most of us,
keeping our job is our highest ministerial priority. As pastors,
God's truth should be our highest ministerial priority, but it's
not. Most pastors will throw LGBT persons under the wheels
of the bus at the slightest provocation because they know, if they
do not, their pastoral days are numbered. Many pastors, white
and black, pander to the ignorance of their congregations instead of educating and leading. Most of our
churches operate under rules of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, wherein
persons we know, for a fact, are gay are accepted just so long
as they never actually publicly admit it. We just go on
pretending to see what we want to see while encouraging these
persons to live a lie. The minute our suspicions are confirmed,
we feel compelled by our biblical ignorance to turn on them, to
shun them and show them hate. A black pastor, presented with
evidence of a ministry leader's homosexuality, must take
immediate steps to discipline and rebuke that leader. Many of
our pastors secretly arrange for sexual reorientation therapy to
try and rehabilitate gay leaders.
This is our fog of war, our stumbling around blindly in ignorance and fear rather than prayerfully studying and engaging. In this non-discussion, pastors simply cannot risk seeming reasonable. They've got to be harsh judges in order to maintain their credibility. Even arranging a fair and balanced forum to exchange views and pray together, would seem by their uneducated and ignorant congregants as a capitulation to sin. And rather than challenge that mindset, many if not most pastors simply perpetuate it. Homosexuality is, to many black Church Folk, the greatest sin, worse even than murder. Most Church Folk I've ever known have no sense of the fact that their pettiness, gossip and failure to love are every bit the sin that homosexuality is. Pastors who fail to educate, who fail to lead, deserve the crippled, ignorant, half-baked ministries they create.
I presume this to be a mystery, falling short of a paradox,
that God condemns homosexuality while, at the same time, creating
homosexuals. To suggest someone can be born into an inescapable sin is to
deny the power of the cross. To suggest that a person must war
against their own nature and embrace shame and scorn just to
make it into heaven and be embraced by a loving God is
paralyzingly stupid. In that context, making criminals of
homosexuals seems wrongheaded.
Enforcing Christian values upon social justice and moral standards seems right but it really isn't. Morality and spirituality are not one and the same. Morality (the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct) has no external or infallible truth to it. Theology (rational inquiry into religious questions), ideally, should be based on eternal truths, which have nothing to do with morality per se, other than that our adherence to these eternal truths forms opinions we express as guidelines governing our moral conduct. Theology and morality are hardly one and the same. A decent and moral idea, rule, or concept can still, in all its purity, transgress the holiness of a divine God. As such, our sense of morality is of not much use to God (Isa 64:6). Churches relying on their sensibilities of what is good, right, and moral to dictate their interpretation of scripture is, in and of itself, faulty exegesis. The Church should not be in the business of dictating morality, but should be proclaiming truths both eternal and infallible. We, as individuals, having been presented with these truths, are a people at liberty to embrace or reject those truths, and our sense of morality is the expression of that decision.
This is an issue the black church, that all churches, are gong to have to come to grips with. The church really isn’t especially tolerant of anybody, LGBT persons perhaps least of all. It is not the church who’s shown tolerance to persons in conflict with Levitical law, but Jesus Christ, Who healed lepers and traveled through Samaria and sat with known prostitutes, tax collectors and other lowlifes. These persons, dismissed and ostracized by the religious institutions of the day, were drawn to Jesus, while they are routinely despised and rejected by us, His followers.
I believe much of our corporate (collective) condemnation of gays stems less from conviction than from fear. Many of our pastors are either moderates or liberals but they are intimidated by and fear the response from their congregants should they show tolerance to even one gay person. According to the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, the Daviess-McLean Baptist Association in Western Kentucky will meet next month to vote on whether to remove Journey Fellowship from their association for allowing a support group for parents gays and lesbians to meet in its building. Here in Ourtown, churches affirming of gays are typically branded as “Gay Churches,” as if the institution itself could be gay or as if no straight persons worshipped there. This is the level of childish homophobia at work. It can destroy congregations and ruin ministerial careers. As a result, most of our churches are neither open nor affirming of LGBT persons, and such practice is rarely a result of enlightened engagement and rigorous analysis, but a capitulation to tribal ignorance so deeply engrained in our cultural DNA. There is no biblical model for Jesus Christ excluding anyone, anyone at all. Whose sin was greater than that of Judas Iscariot, and yet Jesus welcomed and embraced him. The biblical model is Jesus meeting people where they were, regardless of their situation or lifestyle. Jesus preached a transformative Gospel, while most of us preach legalism and doctrine.
Most pastors, here, would never admit it but they really
do not have a practical or even reasonable response to the LGBT
community. Just bluster and condemnation, and even that is
disjointed and poorly organized because they give it no thought
whatsoever. These people are a write-off to them, and they do
not invest in study to learn more about the community or
individuals because there's no upside to it. Pastors who receive
gays are routinely run out of town, and thus the pastors are
intimidated by the ignorance of their own congregations. I know
of no black pastors who sponsor or attend any support groups for
gay families, where much of what we will examine in these essays
I can't imagine why gays come to church at all, here. I mean it. But they do. They come, they sit in the back (like we used to back in the plantation days). They aren't asked and they don't tell, but we know who they are. Or we think we do (our gaydar is usually way off). I've told gay friends that I consider them exceptionally brave to, every week, go to a place where they can't be who they are. But they want to be near to God, and they want the African American black church cultural experience. It has value to them—this thing many of us take for granted because we can go wherever we please. But these are people who live at least part of their lives in shadow, and for whom coming to church on Sunday involves risk. The very least we, any of us, could do is be kind to them, and not let our own ignorance consume us.
There does exist, however, within the diversity of the LGBT community, an agenda to strip the church of its moral authority, purpose and effectiveness. The net result of our intolerance, bigotry and hatred is that many in the gay community hear only hate from us. If you’d grown up hearing only hate from the church, you would, inevitably, develop a resentment of if not a hatred for the church. There is, indeed, an agenda within the gay community that is virulently anti-Christian and anti-church. While this movement is at least partially a consequence of our own ignorance, it is, nonetheless, something the church indeed has a responsibility to address.
Telling Your Own Story
In addition to our pastors' career hurdles and personal hang-ups, attempts at dialogue between gay and straight Christians are often hampered by the public face of the LGBT community. When most people hear "gay" they immediately think of the sex act itself. No other dimension of these persons is considered or valued. The LGBT community could learn a thing or two from the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which invests millions annually on public relations and public information campaigns to combat their own deeply-ingrained prejudice: that LDS is a secretive cult hostile to blacks. We will for the moment, not run off on the railroad spur of what LDS is or is not, but the investment they make in their own message is important to note. If you're not telling your own story, someone else is. The LGBT community relying on the mainstream media to tell their story is a terrible idea.
Events like PrideFest celebrate sexuality in a variety of expressions, but often these events come across through the media as Mardi Gras-style fleshfests. Rather than celebrate the diversity of human existence, there is an overwhelming sense of inappropriate public sexual behavior, a kind of drunken Roman orgy of semi-nudity and groping. This is what ends up on the news: women kissing (always a crowd pleaser) and drunken young men in G-strings feeling each other up. This behavior offends the Holy Spirit in me, and feeds the temptation to paint the entire community as lacking self-control or even good judgment concerning public morals. If this were a “straight” pride parade, and these were hetero couples practically nude and groping, I would be just as offended.
In the struggle to overcome the church’s traditional revul-
shown toward LGBT persons, these kinds of displays undermine
the community’s efforts to be welcomed and/or engaged by the
church. This is simply not behavior the church, on any level, is
going to endorse. Clergy sympathetic and unafraid to engage the
LGBT community would run for cover, would not and could not
stand with the community during events in which public displays
of childish and gross behavior are welcomed and accepted as such
behavior completely undermines any efforts at dialogue.
It would be easier to make a case for inclusiveness if I could find an LGBT website that does not require me to cover my eyes while surfing it. Most every LGBT site I’ve ever seen contains copious displays of sexual behavior, as if the sex act itself were all the community were about. I’ve had gay friends tell me, “I’m more than just ‘gay.’ I don’t want to be known only as ‘gay.’ I’m a person.” And, they're right. But most any blog or information site I go to is wallpapered with images of bare-chested men rubbing each other. I don’t want to see that. I can’t defend that. And I can’t see past “just gay” when the sex act itself is shoved at me in a megalomaniacal way. This works against most reasonable dialogue because it’s a lot like trying to shake my hand while giving me the finger at the same time
While I am told there are a diversity of events, including family and religious activities, at Pride, I don’t go to Pride because of the behavior mentioned above. I also don’t go to Mardi Gras. At both events, it is not the family, cultural and spiritual events that make it onto the news. It is the drunkenness, the semi-nudity, the debauchery. Now, how would the LGBT community police that behavior? Is it their collective responsibility? These are complex questions. But discussions should and hopefully are occurring concerning the news media’s bias. I don’t think it is universally an anti-gay bias (though, for sure, some of it is), but the media is inclined to put pictures on-air that will get them the highest ratings. An LGBT family spending play time in a bounce castle is not going to make it onto the 6 O’clock news. Cops breaking up a drunken brawl between young gay men wearing only codpieces will be repeated over and over, ending up all over the planet on viral video. And that, not the bounce castle, becomes the face of PrideFest if not the LGBT community. This is certainly unfair, as this exact same behavior (including, on occasion, the codpieces) occurs during St. Patrick’s Day parades—allegedly religious celebrations which are all but universally drunken leprechaun fests—but that’s every community’s burden: overcoming its stereotype.
It is my prayer that the views expressed in the following essays (click the little covers at page bottom to go to the next page) will, at the very least, get the discussion going in a prayerful and reasonable way. There is no gay-bashing included here but there is also no gay-excusing going on, either. We are affirming God and His Son Jesus Christ and attempting to build on a common ground of faith.