I’ve covered this ground before., but the subject crossed my mind again earlier this week when this article from the Indianapolis Star, about black gays and lesbians in anti-gay black churches, came up for discussion on an email listserve for LGBT people of color.
Like many black gays living in Indiana, Taylor, 25, finds herself in a Catch-22: She wants to keep ties with the spiritual heritage of her childhood, but that often means attending a church opposed to homosexuality.
Taylor is a board member of Indiana Black Pride, which wraps up its annual celebration today with a community worship service designed to merge an acceptance of gays with a traditional gospel service.
Eastern Star offers the energetic, passionate worship style that resonates with Taylor and many others — so its stance on homosexuality does not keep her out of the pews.
Jeffrey A. Johnson, senior pastor at Eastern Star, said the Bible “speaks against homosexuality, and we stand with the Bible.”
“I don’t know of anyone who is openly gay in my church,” Johnson said. “But if someone claims to be openly gay, then we’d pull them aside and . . . try to convince them to God’s way and will.”
“I want them to hear God’s word. But they cannot serve in leadership and ministry with that kind of mentality. It’s not just gays, but anyone who is outside of God’s will.”
Despite that, Johnson said all are welcome in his church.
It’s always been a paradox to me, and one I still don’t fully understand. How does one nourish one’s soul in a place where part of one’s soul is maligned and denigrated?
The most recent example I can remember is when D.C’s Alfred Owens went off on a homophobic rant from the pulpit culminating in an altar call for the straight men in the congregation, and included in that number were some closeted gay men in attendance who felt they had no choice but to participate in the shenanigans (as would any man who didn’t want appear to be gay under the circumstances). But chances are there were at least a few in the pews when WIllie Wilson launched into a similar rant during one of his sermons, with vocal approval from the congregation.
Listen to Owens, and then listen to Wilson, and then ask yourself how any self-respecting gay person could sit through that on a Sunday and then come back the next Sunday. Let alone sing in the choir and provide music for the services. I admit it’s something I still don’t understand, because I’ve heard stuff like that in church but instead of staying put I got up and walked out. So many others stay put, but so few stand up and speak out as Billy Porter has done.
For the longest time I didn’t understand why that was. But I got a glimpse of it when I read Douglas Cooper-Spencer’s This Place of Men, a novel about two black gay men; one returning home years after the church and their families broke up their relationship, and the other struggling to come to terms with an external life that met with the approval of his church and family but didn’t match up with and inner reality that never totally yielded to the external. I understood it a little better when I came across this post from a MySpace blogger questioning whether it’s more difficult to be black or gay. Sometimes people stay where they are at least in part because it’s the only life they’ve been prepared to live. Yet sometimes the live you’ve been prepared for isn’t the one that’s meant for you, or even the one you’ve been given.
And there may be a price to pay for stepping away from that life, as I’ve mentioned before.
It’s not a huge secret that the black family — and by extension the black church — as long served as a kind of refuge from the racism present in society at large; for a long time, the only refuge. The power of the church — along with a deeply ingrained literalist approach to scripture, along the lines of “God said, I believe it, that settles it” — in both the community and the family creates circumstances under which individuals are required to toe the line of what is accepted moral behavior by the majority, or at least appear to do so, if they want to keep their place within that refuge. Step out of line and you may find yourself “cast out from among your people”; set outside the walls of the fortified city to take your chances without the protection available within.
Want to stay safely within the walls of the refuge? Then Dwan Prince is an example. Step out of line and you could end up like him, “left for dead” with no one looking out for your interests and no one to protect you. Maybe not even your own family, if it means they’ll have to join you outside the walls of that refuge, where who knows what might happen. So, maybe you bear what you have to bear, and hear what you have to hear, rather than risk facing the rest of the world without a community to turn to when there’s trouble.
Given that, standing up for justice — let alone demanding it — may be too much to ask.
So, what do we do?
“Those who are familiar with life in the Black church know that we are raised in this paradox; the church is a place we have known since the womb and, so, it is our first cultural experience in the Black community. And it is so much a fundamental part of our lives that even though we are in a place that is often very inhospitable to those who are LGBT, we remain, finding ways to exist within it.”
… “I finally had to leave the Black church because I refused to be a part of my own oppression, but it’s not that easy for others,” Johnson said. “Other churches have begun to spring up, like the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church … . And while you do have MCC Churches, most Blacks I know say that they don’t do it for them—they are affirming but they don’t have the spirit that we need as part of the Black church experience.”
Sometimes, it seems we have to love it and leave it. Or stay and be silent.
Why are these the best options available?