The Republic of T.

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

Their Own Receive Them Not

Add this to the list of things I wish I’d said.

Attempting to break “hundreds of years of silence,” a new, controversial book argues that pervasive homophobia in the historically black church has reached “crisis” proportion.

“The black church’s teaching that homosexuality is immoral has created a crisis for lesbian and gay Christians in black churches,” the Rev. Horace L. Griffin, an Episcopal priest, writes in the preface of his new book, “Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches.” (The Pilgrim Press, 2006)

“This black-church-sanctioned homophobia produces a lot of twisted black people,” he writes.

Griffin, who is black and gay, grew up in a Missionary Baptist church. Based on his life and church experience, he has witnessed how “black church leaders and congregants have been resistant and even closed in treating gay and heterosexual congregants equally or, in many cases, of simply offering compassion to gay people.”

Actually, maybe I have said it before, just not so succinctly as Horace Griffin does. It looks I’ll extend my recent spell of religiously-oriented reading further than I already have. (Yesterday I picked up Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation, which I wanted to read after having been so impressed with The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, and will probably read it alongside Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics.) Two different people emailed me yesterday about Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians And Gays in Black Churches. It’s been on my Amazon wish list for a while now, so I’d remember to buy it once it came out, because it sounds like one of those things that — given my background and my issues with religion — I just have to read.

Last month I posted about an Indianapolis Star article in which a minister illustrates about the best that many black churches are able to do when it comes to gays & lesbians.

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.

That’s “welcome”? I suppose it’s a shade or two better than D.C.’s own Willie Wilson or Alfred Owens, but only slightly.

Let me “make it plain” —as I recall hearing some folks shout during a sermon, as a way of encouraging the minister or a variation on “amen”. Basically, a same-sex couple in that church could abide by “God’s will” in every other way, if you mark it off by the “thou shalt nots”, and may be as earnest in their faith as a married heterosexual couple who does the same. But less than. You can obey all of the ten commandments, tithe regularly, serve earnestly and humbly, and believe with all of your heart, and still be found wanting; still be found not good enough.

Because of who you love.

I already laid out in the QKos round-up that, if you follow the logic of Jeffery Johnson, the options for a gay person are either celibacy or a marriage that will very likely turn out to be what I’m calling a “McGreevey marriage” for now.

Why the term “McGreevey marriage”? Well, precisely because of people like Kevin McCullough, who spends the better part of this WorldNetDaily column claiming “liberals” are “embracing” McGreevey’s adultery. There’s a similarity between Jeffrey Johnson and Kevin McCullough that bears pointing out, because it’s essentially what creates the bind that leaves gay people — whether they sit in a governor’s mansion or the pews of a black church — no good options.

I’m not excusing McGreevey’s infidelity or dismissing the pain his family experienced, but it’s possible to imagine a world in which gay men and lesbians don’t have to choose between either entering into marriages that by their nature require deception and/or self-destructive denial, or resigning themselves to the belief that being gay or lesbian means they must accept less and expect less from life. If your choices are either to lie to yourself and those around you or internalizing the idea that you deserve less from life than heterosexuals because you are less than heterosexuals, then you have no choices left.

And yet, according to some churches, these are the only options given you by a “loving” God. Call it what you will, but I call it abusive because it means that the only place you can go to nurture your spirit — if you accept the context of the above, which amounts to a unwritten “social contract” in some black communities and churches — is a place where you must also hear who you are regularly maligned and degraded.

It means that if you’re a lesbian and you’re sitting in Willie Wilson’s church, you’ll have to hear yourself blamed for the problems of other families, simply because of who you love. It means that if you’re sitting Alfred Owen’s church, you’ll have to hear yourself referred to as “faggot” or “sissy” in the course of a sermon, and you’ll have “no choice” but to participate when it culminates in an altar call for “All the straight men that’s proud to be a Christian.” That is, unless you want to break that social contract I mentioned earlier, and suffer the consequences.

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.

So, you can either learn to lie, learn to live with it, leave (as I chose to), or stay and fight even if few leaders are on your side because — as Griffin points out — they got offered the same bargain and have already made their choices.

Griffin says the black church often “rewards” its gay and lesbian ministers and members for staying in the closet.

“Everyone within black churches realizes that there is reward and acceptance for those presenting themselves as heterosexual, while [out] gays and lesbians encounter ridicule and condemnation,” Griffin writes. “Even in churches where it is ‘known’ that the pastor is gay, black church Christians are content to remain in the church if the pastor is willing to present himself as heterosexual with a wife and children.”

The publisher’s description of Griffin’s book includes this summary.

As a counterpoint to these negative teachings, Griffin, an openly gay African Amercan Christin pastoral theologian and seminary professor, offers new approaches to understanding scripture and homosexuality through pastoral theology and black liberation theology.

He provides a historical overview and critical analysis of the black church and its current engagement with lesbian and gay Christians, and shares ways in which black churches can learn to reach out and confront all types of oppression – not just race – in order to do the work of the black community.

I don’t expect it will lead me to re-engage with, let alone re-enter, the faith I was raised in. But I expect I’ll find it an interesting read. I might even see if I can get my hands on a review copy.

8 Comments

  1. Yeah, well, while I believe in something bigger than you and I.. me and the church, and indeed, religious community, remain unreconciled and will do so until the day I die. Furthermore, should I get a second opportunity at life, I wouldn’t want to be amongst this rabble, unless I can personally chain them and drag them to hell meself.

    Their constant scapegoating of Gays and Lesbians and long left a sour taste. It has long destroyed any vestige of respect for their beliefs, let alone their right to preactice beliefs and practice their faith [cough, cough…]

    I mean, if the only thing that can unite a Rabbi, a Priest and a Mufti/Imam in Jerusalem, is an anti-homosexuality crusade, why can I not just spit on the ground they walk? The whole world is falling apart, and all they can do is bemoan the homsexual?

    nod of head

  2. Well, I ‘ll get to check it out soon. I called the publisher, explained that I wantd to review it on my blog, and they were happy to send me a copy. It should be here soon, and when it arrives I’ll move i to the top of the “to read” pile.

  3. All else is common among non gays and gays, but the ONE thing that isn’t, (being gay) trumps all else of interest and merit a gay person may offer society.
    That makes no sense. And the outer straight majority then accusing gay people of obssessing about sex, makes even LESS sense.

    Obviously, straight people believe the only path to happiness is sleeping with them, being them, and marrying them.
    Which is less about God, but heterosexuality.
    And that, to me…is the weakest excuse of all for all the havoc heterosexuals are willing to wreak on gay folks.
    Leaving God, and God’s own judgement and participation out of the equation altogether.
    Other gifts given to the gay person are not accepted either.
    No matter how many postive and successful ways gay folks present themselves, I make this observation:
    straight folks keep throwing away gay folks like a spoiled child who doesn’t like a gift presented over and over, no matter how good it is, keeps demanding a better one.

  4. Lesbians and Gay men are blessed people connected to the Kingdom of Heaven. This fact is alluded to in the 19th chapter of Matthew. Jesus Christ teaches that men and women should marry and not divorce, but then says, “not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth . . . and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.” He’s not talking about castrated men here; that wasn’t the ancient understanding of the word eunuch. He’s talking about men who abstain from sex with women, and even in Biblical times, such men were known to have homosexual orientation (read the scholarship of Faris Malik at his Born Eunuchs website, http://www.well.com/user/aquarius/).

    You can find affirmation of eunuch status even in the Old Testament, the site of those infamous verses from Levitican Law about men laying with men. In the 56th chapter of Isaiah, it reads: “For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, who chose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give, in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than (fathering) sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” Again, the ancient understanding of the word “eunuch” should be kept in mind. In the Bible, which fundamentalist Christians worship like a God, Gay men are spoken of in a context that’s different from other men . . . and that’s just in the Bible!

    I can’t even begin to tell you how many passages from Gnostic scripture deal with Gay people. You’ve never heard that before? Well, I don’t doubt that you haven’t. Gnostic scholars are heterosexual for the most part, which means they’re afflicted by heterosexist bias. They can’t see what’s right in front of their faces! In books like the Gospel of Phillip, the Secret Book of John and the Egyptian Gospel, Lesbians and Gay men are called “the incorruptible generation”, “free men and virgins,” “attendants of the Holy Wedding Chamber”, “the priestly order” and other such names of honor. In the Gospel of Phillip, the process of how men and women become Gay in the womb is described in ONE PARAGRAPH . . . I kid you not. The entire Book of Thomas seems to be a sermon directed at Gay men.

    Yeah, I know what you’re thinking . . . “dude’s one brick short of a load!” God forbid that you take my word for it. Investigate these teachings for yourself, the Gnostic writings are widely available now. However, I feel sorry for anyone who has to consult scripture to find validation of their gender identity (and yes, homosexual is a distinct gender)! If you know within yourself that you were born Gay, and you know that being Gay involves more than just sexuality, you are all but acknowledging that God created you according to His Divine will. No preacher, no doctrine, no church is necessary. It’s just useful to know that so-called “Christians” who condemn you on a Biblical basis don’t really know the Bible that well. For an overview of the Book of Thomas, check out the post titled “Blessed Assurance” at my blog, Christ, The Gay Martyr:

    http://christthegaymartyr.blogspot.com/

  5. I have struggled with my own standing in the church I attend now (as well as those I attended in the past) because of the same issues raised by the columnist and some of the posts above. I don’t quite understand why the church as an institution has to be so bigoted and ignorant in its belief system. It’s not the church’s place to stand in judgment and certainly not to be so grossly hypocritical, yet it insists on being that way. My partner chooses to remain faithful to attending church regularly. I am far less enthused about it. What to do? Any suggestions?

  6. I’m probably not the right person to ask for advice. I ended up leaving the faith I was raised in, but what’s right for me may not be right for someone else. Depending on where you are, there may be gay-affirming churches in your area. Of course, what I’ve heard from other black lgbt people is that “it’s just not the same” in term of the style of worship or “spirit” they’re used to.

  7. Greetings, I am very confused, to say the least. I guess my confusion is based on what the written word of God says. If I have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior and I’m a new creature in Christ then I was taught that this new creature will take on the spirit and heart and life style of Christ. I was born into sin, that sin consists of fornicating, lying, killing stealing and perverstion etc. I guess what i’m asking and/or saying how is that when I was living a lifestyle of fornicating and I know I was in sin and I was delivered from that lifestyle because I wanted to please God not man. I made a conscious decision to be pleasing to God not myself and my own desires but what God would have for me. How is it that having a homosexual relationship is OK with God but fornicating is not? Basically, not to sound underminding, but my question is a retorical one. If I decide to go back and live that type of lifestyle that I was living prior to me accepting Christ into my life then that’s my own decision. God says He lays before us good and evil we are to choose. I also have battled with drug addiction. God has truly delivered me, why, because I no longer wanted to live that type of lifestyle based on getting a revelation of God’s word not man’s philosophy. Again, not to sound rude or disrespectful, but should I then thumb through the bible to find a way to fornicate and use drugs and say that is acceptable to God and then right a book about how hypocrites in the Church won’t accept me because I use drugs and fornicate to justify my loved willful sins? I know what sins I still battle with within my flesh and my heart, but I know that is is not of God. I am Christian enough and real and honest enough not to try to hide behind rejection of people to validate what I know to be unGodly. If i want to fornicate then i will, if I choose to go back and use drugs and live a destructive lifestyle then that’s what I will do, but I will not try to justify it, write a book and point the finger at the usual hypocrites in the Church to take the pressure off of my loved sins that I want to do anyway and don’t want anyone to tell me that i can’t. I am woman enough to say to myself, yeah I want to get high, yes I want to fornicate, but I know God is not pleased with me and take it for what its worth. I’m by no means a pastor, overseer or any great person, I’m just so confused about the body of Christ. Between the hypocrites in the Church and people who live unGodly lives based on God’s word not man and try to justify and say what they do is ok, i don’t know if I even desire to be apart of such craziness and foolishness. We need to be real. I’ve been put out of church auxilaries because of being pregnant and undwed. I’ve been ridiculed by church folk for my clothing. I feel sadened in my heart to read about hypocrites in the churhc whether black or white. If i was delivered and if Christ and the power of God’s word and spirit that lives within me can keep me from willfull sin that is so plain in God’s word, then why can’t a homosexual be delivered, set free and kept by the power of God’s word and the indwelling of God’s spirit? Doesn’t the word speak about God not being a respective of persons. Should I say look i’m a pastor and I accept fornicating and drug use in my ministry and here some scriptures i’ll manipulate and try to use to justify me fornicating and using drugs? The simplicity of a matter is what reaches people not the accolades of humanity. Even on my job they accept this lifestyle provide health insurance for this lifestyle, but if i wanted to get insurance for my male boyfriend then that is not available. Bottom line to all hypocrites, and people who don’t want to be delivered from their loved sins, truth is what it is. We can battle this same demon until Jesus returns and sin is sin.

    Much love to all who reads this, peace out, Kit~

  8. My partner and I would like to have an cermoney.celbrating all of who we are. both with our faith an our families. are familes are not rich people so we are asking for help from our communinty.

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