For those of us who've been beaten, bruised and misused in the black church, Why The Black Church Should Support Gay Rights by Rev. Dennis W. Wiley, Ph.D, will come as a ramah word that we've been waiting to hear. Some of us will find hope in Wiley's words, while others will say "it will never happen in my lifetime." Maybe so, but there are small, noticeable, pockets of change on the horizon! Consider the progression in the black political arena; it is significant to me that black, heterosexual brothers like presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, New York Gov. David Patterson, Massachusettes Gov. Deval Patrick, and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty have all spoken out in support, and are positioned right in the forefront of the change.
Their message of inclusion may not be happening fast or loud enough in the black church, but at least there is a small rumble being made. Are we listening? Why are some of us turning a blind eye, or a deaf ear continuing to sit in the same places while people who say they love us openly hate and disrepect us? What role are we going to play in it while it's being played out?
Unfortunately, affirming churches like Wiley's, traditionally rooted in the black religious experience, are not found in many of the cities in which we live (which says nothing about our lack of support for the inclusive SGL black churches that sometimes can be found). Ultimately, it will have to be black gays & lesbians who must turn that whisper into a scream crying ENOUGH !
Why The Black Church
Should Support Gay Rights!
By Rev. Dennis W. Wiley
The Black Church has been so poisoned by homophobia and heterosexism that the idea of it actually supporting gay rights seems oxymoronic. But Black churches are not monolithic and, although the vast majority of them denounce homosexuality as a sin, there are a few that do not. Covenant Baptist Church, a traditional African American congregation in Washington, DC that my wife, the Rev. Dr. Christine Y. Wiley, and I co-pastor, is one of those few. We believe that whereas homosexuality, as a sexual orientation, is not a sin, hypocrisy is. That is why Jesus says nothing about the former, but speaks volumes about the latter.
There are numerous publications now available that help us to understand that the few once thought to express unequivocal condemnation of homosexuality have been grossly misinterpreted. In fact, the more accurate translations of the Bible do not even mention the word, "homosexuality," a relatively new term. And, while these passages condemn same-sex behavior that is violent, abusive, or believed at the time to result in ritual impurity, the scriptures do not explicitly address sexual intimacy between two loving individuals of the same gender.
The question, then, is why has the Black Church become so hostile toward non-heterosexual persons and so vitriolic in its approach to the issue of homosexuality. The reasons are varied and complex, and are associated with the historical intersection of racism and sexuality in America. Suffice it to say here, however, that it is not the Bible, but socially-conditioned and culturally-infused interpretations of the Bible that account for the pervasive anti-gay sentiment within the Black Church.
That said, it is my opinion that the Black Church should support gay rights because homosexuals are human beings who deserve the same rights as heterosexuals. These people did not choose their sexual orientation. They did not wake up one morning and say, "Oh, I think I'll be gay," any more than others of us woke up one morning and said, "Oh, I think I'll be straight." Despite what some may argue, their sexual orientation is an integral and immutable component of their identity. It is who they are and they could not change it even if they tried.
On a certain level, I believe that many if not most of us in the Black Church are aware of this, but it is too difficult and uncomfortable for us to go against the grain of what has been taught to and instilled in us all of our lives. It is much easier for the Black Church to bash or ignore gay people, while at the same time exploiting their tremendous gifts and talents, than it is to become a safe space in which they can realize their full, God-given potential without having to hide in the closet.
I support gay rights because the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of love, not hate; a gospel of justice, not injustice; a , not exclusion; and a gospel of authenticity, not hypocrisy. Remember, Jesus spent the bulk of his time associating with those whom society rejected--i.e., the poor and the sick, the downcast and the outcast, the last, the lost, and the "least." By the same token, those whom he most harshly challenged, criticized, and chastised included not only the rich and the elite, who disproportionately enjoyed the privileges of society, but also the religious hypocrites--i.e., people who pretended to be more holy, pious, and righteous than they actually were.
If, then, the Black Church is the True Church, why would it want to foster within its fellowship, as well as within the broader society, a culture of hypocrisy rather than a culture of authenticity and integrity? But is that not exactly what the Black Church is guilty of doing when it (1) pretends that homosexuals do not exist, and (2) encourages them to pretend to be something they are not--i.e., not merely to tell a lie, but to live and, indeed, be a lie?
While some resent the comparison of gay rights with civil rights, I agree with Julian Bond that "people of color ought to be flattered that our movement has provided so much inspiration for others . . ." In the spirit of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and even the Declaration of Independence, the Black Church should support gay rights if one believes that all of God's children "are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, [and] that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Because the Black Church is comprised of a race of people who themselves have been, and still are, the victims of oppression, it should be the last institution in the world to condone the oppression of anyone else. For as King once said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Rev. Dennis W. Wiley, Ph.D., is the pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, DC.