The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Letting It Shine: Anti-Gay Bigotry & Black Churches

I’ve posted many times about the particular brand of homophobia found in some black churches. So much, in fact, that probably some readers here have grown weary of hearing about it, and at least one has told me that my anger regarding the subject is a sign of “self-hatred.” I’d probably say that my anger stems from my own experience of the phenomenon.

I’ve written about black ministers like Willie Wilson, Alfred Owens, and Eddie Long spewing anti-gay hatred from the pulpit, black ministers in Indiana praying for more discrimination against gay people, another black minister who announced he’d ride with the Klan as long as they opposed marriage equality, and about how another black minister turned his back when Dwan Prince’s mother asked for help in the wake of a gay bashing that left her son in a coma and in a wheelchair afterwards. And I’ve written about how all of the above effect the HIV/AIDS epidemic in black communities.

So, yes, I’ve beaten that drum a lot. Maybe too much, but as a black gay man it’s something affects me — even as a non-christian — and thus it’s something I can’t not talk about. But maybe it’s to much coming from me, as I admit my own pain and anger related to the subject are still rather raw. So I was interested to see Andrew Sullivan take up the subject with a post to Billy Porter’s column about his own experience with the black church as a gay man.

So here I stand. Speaking up, speaking out, and letting my glorious light shine like it should. I recently sat in the New York City hospital room of my dear friend Kevin Aviance after he was savagely beaten on an East Village street for being gay, and I thought to myself, Where are our leaders? Where are the people with influence who will stand up for me and my gay brethren? I am disappointed with our government. I am disappointed with our nation. But I am the most disappointed with my African-American ‘Christian’ brothers and sisters who stand proudly on their pulpits and use the Bible to regurgitate the very same hate rhetoric that was inflicted on the black community not so long ago.

I never considered myself an activist in the past. I respect that title too much to take it lightly. But with the recent increase in hate-bias attacks directed toward our community, and the struggle for us to gain the simplest of civil rights, I am filled with a raging sense of activism. Our bodies, our health, and our basic civil liberties are at stake. It is time to let the world know: We will not let you take our God away. We will not be ignored! We will not be denied! And if God is going to send us to a burning hell for being the people that He created us to be—we’ll see each and every one of you there.

“Shine! Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!”

Porter, a Broadway performer, wrote his remarks before performing at a Soulforce protest at James Dobson’s Focus on the Family headquarters. I admire Porter’s stand, though different from my own choices — for he remained within the faith he was raised in, and has apparently chosen to stay and fight, whereas my own choice was to leave it behind. I also join Porter in his questions.

Where are our leaders? Where are the people with influence who will stand up for me and my gay brethren? In terms of high profile leaders within black churches, I can only think of a few. Jesse Jackson, Michael Eric Dyson, Al Sharpton come to mind, and other ministers who attended the black church summit in Atlanta earlier this year. But not many more than that, though there are probably countless others working anonymously against homophobia in their own churches.

The irony is that many black ministers are joining a movement that has it’s roots in decades-old battles against desegregation, without knowing or caring. I’ve just finished Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and I’m two-thirds through The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us, and both books detail how African-Americans who normally lean Democratic on policy issues have joined a movement that Michelle Goldberg calls Christian nationalism in her book and that James Rubin calls Christocratic in his, because it appeals to their religiously-based conservatism on social issues. Both books also go into detail about how this movement rose in part from opposition to the advances of the civil rights movement. (All of which leads to the irony of a black minister declaring he’ll “ride with the Klan” so long as they hate gay people as much as he does.)

After quoting Porter, Sullivan sums up merely saying “The battle has only just started.” I fear he’s right, and I think Porter and others like him are the people best equipped to fight it; to become the leaders whose absence he writes about. In her Advocate column about “Taking Back the Black Gay Movement” Jasmyne Cannick wrote about the need for black gays to start speaking up in our own communities. She’s exactly right.

But in assessing Porter’s and Cannick’s statements, I’m left wondering where exactly I could begin to enter the picture in the work that needs to be done in that arena. As I’ve written before, much like the person Cannick mentions in her column, I no longer have any real connection to any black community beyond the other black gays & lesbians I keep in touch with online. As a non-christian who isn’t likely to ever return to the faith, it looks like a good part of the battle is going to take place in a territory where I no longer speak the language, know the landscape or share belief.

Maybe the best I can do, following Porter’s example, is to let “this little light of mine” shine where I am for now. Maybe if some of us are shedding light on the inside while others of are shining our lights on the outside, the darkness in between will be illuminated; maybe even eliminated.


  1. Hey, liked a lot of what you had to say on this issue. I read it at the Daily Kos. Andrew Sullivan is a little bit of a problem for me. No matter how cogent his point may be, I just don’t want to hear it from Andrew Sullivan. I think he’s an arrogant and sometimes cruel guy.
    In reading the comments @Daily Kos,white commenters said they do not see how Black folks could not understand the second class citizen status of gays and not be outraged. True, its is incongruous but I have always had issues with my white gay activist friends who believe the civil rights struggles and the gay rights struggles are exactly the same …THEY ARE NOT.
    The comment about the faith-based payola was right on the money. Black clergy and especially those at the megachurches(frequent benefactors of this largesse) should really be ‘shame’ because the payola is just like the “walking around money” of yesteryear. A little change put out by pols at election time, to buy positive persausion from “negro” leaders; the megachurches pastors should not be behaving like “negro” leaders during segration …they have the financial wherewthal NOT to. Besides the payola is chump change; they are selling out our people for crumbs. Powerful Black men(mostly)letting themselves be bought off reflects a slave mentality and that is very hard to take in the 21st century.
    As Black people we have to look at the sum total game. If the policies of a party or candiate or institute are not good for us and you only agree with anti-abortion and banning same sex marriage,I have to PASS on being involved with that entity. Continued success, Terrance

  2. I had to let go of my faith because of similar issues as to why you left the church. I left Jesus but I still connect with progessive people of faith. I just had to share this:
    Open Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Dear Colleagues:

    Please read the following open letter to Dr. Martin Luther King signed by progressive clergy who are working for equal justice for all people.I believe that if our collective work reflects the spirit and advanced consciousness of Dr. Martin LutherKing, Jr., we will be successful in our efforts to secure fundamental human rights across a wide spectrum of social justice concerns in America. We applaud the signers of this open letter and support them.
    = = =
    Sylvia Rhue
    Director, Equal Partners in Faith

    An Open Letter To MLK Jr.

    By: See Signers Below, paid announcement
    January 20, 2005

    Dear Martin,
    Every third Monday in January history compels us to remember and reactivate your legacy. How shall we honor you? And how shall we honor our deepest and truest selves? Nearly four decades have passed since you left your legacy to us, and what a momentous legacy it was. Yours was the vision of a transformed nation, a society that dared to practice the very brotherhood – and sisterhood – that it preached. In a time of tremendous social upheaval you joined the freedom-loving and justice-seeking tradition of your people, black people, and you did so at great personal cost. Using nonviolent direct action, you challenged the existing status quo. In the presence of your enemies – citizen’s councils, police dogs, fire hoses, bigoted mobs, half-hearted allies, Christian racists, the FBI – you practiced an insurgent religious faith. You modeled for others the commitment to racial justice and reconciling peace. With your very body and life you led us into the magnificent, multi-colored and multi-ethnic quest of justice, peace and human community. Sore distressed, we the people, have yet to catch up to your radically inclusive vision.

    For African Americans, the cumulative effect of the last forty years has been as disturbing as it is dramatic. In the new millennium, our elusive and torturous quest for freedom and equality continues. The full repercussions of radical democracy in the United States are not yet known. The vast majority of whites see themselves as non-racist and live comfortably with little or no real contact with other racial-ethnic people. Oblivious to the obvious (and sometimes the not so obvious), the connection between white privilege and black rage is discounted, resisted, denied. In our houses of worship, in the ivory tower, in the corporate boardroom, in the halls of government, in popular culture and mass media, in states red, purple and blue, in old and new formations, racism lives on. In the U.S., racial exclusion is still second nature. Racism is who we are. It is our way of life.

    Sadly, many black people now have difficulty seeing their connections to other black people. We have embraced societal distinctions that separate us by age, education, gender, sexuality and class. We have forgotten the example set by so many courageous souls a generation ago. Mose Wright, Daisy Bates, Jo Ann Robinson, E.D. Dixon, Ella Baker, Bob Moses, Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Clark, John Lewis and Bayard Rustin were part of that magnificent movement of blackness that emerged, broke beyond itself, widened the circle of humanity, and called forth women, children and men of all colors and conditions.

    The painful truth is that we now often violate and oppress our own in the name of religion. Always, at the center of the heart of the historic black-led struggle for freedom was the black religious experience. Black self-love was upheld as a divine imperative. Local black churches became ecumenical networks of nurture and resistance. At those beleaguered places of our most urgent human need common ground often could be sought and found in the church. But not always. Movement women like Ella Baker, organizer of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, found themselves at odds with the sexism and sexual misconduct of male ministers. An out gay man like Bayard Rustin, architect of the 1963 March on Washington, was feared as a potential threat to the advancement of the race. Today, in the imperfectly desegregated post-civil rights era, religiously inspired leadership continues to perpetuate a cruel sexual ethic, and in stark violation of their own best sacred inheritance. That black women continue to be relegated to secondary status and lesbians and gays are made to feel unwelcome, unworthy, and uncomfortable in what should be the most caring, compassionate and empowering of communions is a searing indictment against all the black faithful.

    Martin, like you, we are sometimes uncertain in our leadership. The dominant views on sex, sexuality and gender in the Black Church are undermining community, diminishing the faith and leading many to abandon churches out of sheer moral frustration and exhaustion. Our churches have been slow to embrace gender equality. They have largely spoken only opposition and condemnation to same gender loving people and have been unable to proclaim a sexually liberating and redemptive word. Some black churches have concluded it is in their best institutional interest to participate in “special rights” polemics against this so-called “immoral humanity.” As black clergy we offer here a more hope-filled perspective.

    In the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we the undersigned clergy extend the divine invitation of human wholeness, healing and affirmation to “whosoever” (John 3:16). In the best of the Black Church tradition we say, “Whosoever will, let her or him come.” Who is included in this “whosoever?” The “whosoever” of today are the diseased and the dis-eased, the discomforted and the distressed, those who live on the margins of the marginalized, who are the oppressed of the oppressed, the sexually battered and the abused, the homeless and the bereft, the HIV/AIDS infected, who are the young and old, female and male, lesbian and bisexual, transgender and straight. These are they, the children of God. They are our sisters and brothers and partners and friends. They belong to all of us. And they are very much we ourselves.

    As Black Christian religious leaders what more shall we do? We must help to forge a progressive agenda for the black community in which race, gender, class, age and sexuality are kept in active dialogue with one another. We must engage one another, prophetically demand more of one another, and prepare to suffer, cry, and toil with each other when it comes to matters of racial and sexual justice, economic and political empowerment, to waging peace. We must be courageous in confronting the social conditions that divide; elitism, poverty, militarism and more await our deepest response. We must continue to look to the ancestors and to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith.” We must dedicate ourselves to a world where borders can be crossed and a new consensus can be found, where we call our own community beloved and celebrate black people, one unique person at a time. Martin, on your day we vow to take a stand to love all black people. We vow to accept and to honor all regardless of their gender, class, age, or sexuality for we all are the children of God. The power is in our hands. This is where we must go from here.


    “An Open Letter to Martin”Signers
    (organizations for identification purposes only)

    Rev. Ayanna Abi-Kyles
    Program of Black Church Studies,
    Candler School of Theology,
    Emory University
    Shrine of the Black Madonna, Atlanta, GA

    Rev. Margaret Aymer, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of New Testament
    The Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, GA

    Randall C. Bailey
    Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Hebrew BibleInterdenominational Theological Center

    Daniel Black (Omotosho Jojomani), Ph.D.
    Professor of English/African American Studies
    Clark Atlanta University

    Rev. Edward B. Branch, D.Min
    Catholic Chaplain
    Atlanta University Center

    Rev. Michael Joseph Brown, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins
    Emory University

    Dr. Lawrence Edward Carter, Sr.
    Dean of the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel
    Morehouse College

    The Reverend Da Vita Carter McCallister,
    Staff Associate,
    First Congregational Church UCC

    Rev. Michelle Holmes Chaney
    Program Coordinator
    Interfaith Health Program
    Emory University

    William T Chaney Jr.
    Senior Partner
    Chaney and Associates, LLC

    Rev. Jawanza (Eric) Clark
    Pan African Orthodox Christian Church-
    Shrines of the Black Madonna

    Pastor Will Coleman, Ph.D.
    Theologian and Kabbalist
    Co-director, Black Kabbalah Institute

    Sybil Corbin, M.Div.

    Rev. T. Renee Crutcher
    Spiritual and Creative Director
    Sankofa Ministries & Tellin’ Our Story Publishing, Inc.

    Rev. McClain Dyson
    New Bethel A.M.E. Church
    Lithonia, GA

    Dr. Teresa Fry Brown
    Associate Professor of Homiletics
    Candler School of Theology, Emory University

    Minister Ronald W Galvin, Jr.
    Community Organizer
    Atlanta, Georgia

    Rev. Willie F. Goodman, Jr., Th.D.
    Black Pastoral Theologian

    Reverend Vivian Green

    Rev. Dr. Maisha I. Handy
    Assistant Professor of Christian Education Interdenominational Theological Center
    First Iconium Baptist Church

    Rev. Renee K. Harrison
    Emory University, Ph.D. candidate
    Department of Religion

    Rev. Wallace S. Hartsfield, II, Pastor
    First Mount Pleasant Baptist Church

    Dorinda Henry, MTS

    David Anderson Hooker

    Min. BaSean Jackson (ssc)
    Ph.D Student at Emory University

    Rev. Shonda R. Jones
    Clergy, United Methodist Church
    Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
    Candler School of TheologyEmory University

    Emmanuel Y. Lartey, Ph.D.
    Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counseling
    Candler School of Theology,Emory University.

    Pastor, Ghana
    Interdenominational Church, Atlanta.

    Rev. Portia Wills Lee
    Trinity African Baptist Church
    592 Veterans Memorial Highway
    Mableton, GA. 30126

    Stephen LewisProgram Coordinator,
    Pastoral Leadership Search Effort (PLSE)
    The Fund for Theological Education

    Reverend Dr. Mark A. Lomax, Pastor
    First African Presbyterian Church
    Assistant Professor of Homiletics Interdenominational Theological Center

    Herbert R. Marbury,
    University Chaplain
    Assistant Professor of Religion
    Clark Atlanta University

    Rev. Timothy McDonald, III
    Pastor, First Iconium Baptist Church

    Rev. Veronice Miles
    Minister of Christian Education, Greater Bethany Baptist Church
    Graduate Student, Emory University
    Graduate Division of Religion

    Reverend Susan C. Mitchell
    Co-Pastor Sankofa United Church of Christ

    Rev. Deborah F. Mullen, Ph.D.

    Reverend A. Nevell Owens

    Rev. Chauncey R. Newsome
    Assistant Pastor
    First Iconium Baptist Church

    Rev. Jeanette Pinkston
    Associate Pastor
    Saint Philip AME Church, Atlanta, GA

    Alton B. Pollard, III, Ph.D.
    Director, Program of Black Church Studies and
    Associate Professor of Religion and Culture
    Candler School of Theology
    Emory University

    Reverend Derrick L. Rice
    Co-Pastor Sankofa United Church of Christ

    Rev. Fert Richardson
    Suwanee Parish United Methodist Church

    Rev. Marcia Y. Riggs, Ph.D.

    J. Erskine Love
    Professor of Christian Ethics
    Columbia Theological Seminary

    Rev. Aaron Naeem Robinson

    Rosetta E. Ross,
    Chair Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Spelman College.

    Rev. Melva L. Sampson
    Project ManagerSisters Chapel WISDOM Center
    Spelman College

    Rev. Roslyn M. Satchel, Esq.
    Executive Director
    National Center for Human Rights Education

    Rev. Dr. Teresa E. Snorton
    CME Minister
    Co-Chair, First African Community Development Corporation

    Dr. Dianne Stewart,
    Departments of Religion and African American Studies
    Emory University

    Dr. Lewis T. Tait, Jr.,Senior
    Pastor, Imani Christian Center

    The Rev. Dr. Eugene Turner
    Retired Presbyterian Church USA Minister
    President of the Board of Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary,Atlanta, GA

    Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells
    Senior Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Atonement
    President, Southeastern Synod Black Pastors Conference

    Min. Michael J. Wright

    Gayraud S. Wilmore
    Emeritus Prof. African American Church History
    Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta

    Reverend Bridgette D. Young
    Associate Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life
    Emory University

    EQUAL PARTNERS in FAITH is a multi-racial national network of religious leaders and people of faith committed to equality and diversity. Our diverse faith traditions and shared religious values lead us to affirm and defend the equality of all people, regardless of religion, race, ability, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity. As people of faith, we actively oppose the manipulation of religion to promote inequality and exclusion.

    Join us and help us promote a more inclusive vision of religion and society.

    Equal Partners in Faith
    1040 Harbor Drive
    Annapolis, MD 21403

    Phone: 877-501-4194
    Fax: 1-443-782-0273

  3. Pingback: The Hindsight Factor

  4. I am reluctant to even comment after the eloquent posts preceding mine however I would just like to ask a question that has been asked time and time again in hopes that one day someone will have an answer.

    To the African-American church leaders in denial–
    How is it that we (glbt) can play for your services, direct your choirs, take up your offerings, lead the fundraisers,teach Sunday School. and even preach in your pulpits if you feel that we are such an “abomination”? (especially, when some of us are very obvious) Isn’t that called denial or is it called compromising your beliefs when it benefits you?

    So , let me get this straight, it’s ok for you to profit from our talents, skills, abilities, annointings, and yes even our funds but still denounce us on Sunday mornings?

    Hmmm,just something for you good heterosexual church-going folk to think about next time you are having a hallelujah good time in service with your glbt brothers and sisters on the instruments, behind the mike and in front of the choir!!

    From your church musician

  5. In a day and time where reality is rare- God’s Word is a freh breeze of TRUTH. If we call ourselves Men and Women of God “Preachers, Ministers,Prophets, Pastors and Teacher. We must adhere and teach His Word. I ask you what does God say about homosexuality?