Wednesday, March 06, 2013

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the Black Church

Here in Virginia, among the most reliable water carriers for the anti-gay agenda of The Family Foundation are black pastors who are cynically manipulated to further the agenda of the white Christianist elements in the state.  Ironically, these same white elements are the ones fueling the Republican Party of Virginia's efforts to disenfranchise black and minority voters in the state.  And meanwhile HIV/AIDS is an epidemic in the local black community largely as a result of the black churches' animosity towards gays and continued social stigma even as blacks on the "down low" are disproportionately represented in gay hook up sites.  Sadly, many black pastors refuse to connect the dots and admit their own responsibility.  As a story in the New York Times reflects, the continued inability of black churches to let go of purportedly anti-gay Bible passages continues to do damage.  The irony is that they take these passages literally yet have no problem ignoring the passages in the Bible that support slavery and direct slaves to obey their masters.  It is time for the black church to throw aside its homophobia.  Here are story highlights:

As I sat across from him at the kitchen table, drinking mint tea, I turned on my recorder and took a breath. Has the Christian church adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy? I asked. 

“I would have to say yes,” he answered, shifting in his seat a little nervously, it seemed to me. He noted that many black churches like his own had made concessions to accommodate the growing acceptance of same-sex lifestyles. “There is a compromise because there is such a prevalent hard-core view on what’s considered right and wrong. People are feeling that in order to even retain a certain amount of membership, you can’t be very dogmatic about any of their sins.” 

Said another way: If a minister is too rigidly homophobic, it could scare away members, which would decrease contributions and might ultimately be the end of a family-owned church. 

I’d watched the minister try to balance the old and new in many ways big and small; he now permits young women to wear pants to services, not usually allowed in Pentecostal churches. 

He explained that for many years his policy was clear: The church was open to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, to come for fellowship and worship, no judgment passed. But if you were openly gay, you could not become an official member. “I would never turn anyone away,” he said. “But I do preach that homosexuality is a sin.” 

When a young member of the church came out two years ago, the pastor was forced to re-evaluate his policy. The man, in his 20s, had been baptized in the church and shared a father-son bond with the pastor. “Since he grew up in the church, you understand how you can love a person and still hold firm on your beliefs,” he told me. 

Growing up in the church, I’ve sat through many sermons on homosexuality, where pastors preached the words of the Apostle Paul.

The pastor told me he worries about how his sermons sound to the gay loved ones in his life. “My conflict comes in that I don’t want to treat persons as if they are not welcomed in the church, because then they may never come back or go to anybody’s church,” he said. “At the same time, I categorize homosexuality with everything else that is sinful.” 

I know that the black community is considered a more homophobic culture than most; how we resent the comparison between the gay rights and civil rights movements; how we are more likely than other groups to interpret the Bible — and its condemnation of homosexuality — in a literal fashion.  And then there’s fear of H.I.V. infection, which plagues black neighborhoods at a disproportionate rate.

Silence on the issue of HIV and a "don't ask, don't tell" policy are not solutions.   The only real solution is to throw the anti-gay passages of the Bible on the trash heap of history along with so much else in Leviticus that no one takes seriously nowadays.


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