I have long thought that the homophobia in black churches fuels HIV and causes countless black men to be on the down low. In this area a large number of the black churches - some within a mile or so from my office, in fact - are the most vocal of any in denoucing gays and are routinely cynically manipulated to to do the bidding of the Virginia GOP and the white Christianists, most of whom are the descendants of those who supported segregation, opposed inter-racial marriage and still are racially bigoted. Why black pastors cannot figure this out is a bit baffling to me. In this area, HIV infection is the highest among blacks as a percentage of the population - in both men and women - yet all too often one hears nothing but hate filled language from pastors that guarantees that many gay blacks will be on the down low. Now, PageOne Q has an article (http://pageoneq.com/news/2008/bishopjohnselders.html) wherein a black Christian says what I have been thinking for a long time. Here are some highlights:
Even more than this vital educational work, however, now is the time for those of us in the Black church to also start having the difficult conversations about the inconsistencies we've witnessed in our churches. For more than two decades, I've found myself in the midst of a continual stream of conversations both private and public regarding sex, sexuality, sexual orientation and the Black church. What all the conversations have taught me (all the weeping with families who lost someone to the disease, all the counseling with those living with an HIV diagnosis) is that we must start preaching a different message. We have to start talking honestly about the gift of our love and our sexuality.
[I]n the multiple ways we perpetuate the "down low." We do this most obviously when we deny our attraction to people of the same sex. We also perpetuate the down low when we turn a blind and hostile eye to our friends, neighbors, family members and ministers who are looking for a place where they can be honest about who they are. We perpetuate the down low yet again when our pastors and church leaders start HIV/AIDS ministries as community outreach services in our churches while simultaneously abusing our same gender loving brothers and sisters in the pews.
The most prevalent way that HIV/AIDS spreads is through secrecy and shame. If all religious people in particular stopped being agents of the closet and started being agents of healing and honesty, we could stop the down low and could make a mighty dent in the spread of HIV/AIDS.