Editors Note: Today’s guest column is written by Seminarian Broderick Greer. Please be reflective of Christ-like love while engaging in the comments.
While it is tempting to some – and advantageous to others – to paint black Christians with monolithic strokes of homophobic ecclesiology and theology, it is unfair and lazy. Unfair, because such broad strokes do not acknowledge the wide variety of traditions, movements, historical circumstances, and doctrinal nuances that compose the masterpiece of black Christianity. Lazy, because the resources and relationships that would debunk such misinformation are rich and myriad. Just two years ago, in the midst of Maryland’s Question 6 debate, black pastors announced their support for and opposition to the right of same-sex couples to marry. While it would be easy to simply attribute either widespread homophobia or sexual minority affirmation to black Christians, one must dig beneath the surface of shared skin color to understand the root of the varying social and theological undercurrents of this significant segment (6.9% in 2007) of American Christianity.
Just last month, Andrew Caldwell, a 21 year old man, publicly confessed that God had “delivered” him from homosexuality at the 107th Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ. This confession came on the heels of a sermon in which the Rev. Earl Carter, a high-ranking minister in the denomination, expressed his desire that God would inflict gay men with rectal bleeding. Just days later, the Rev. Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of the denomination, apologized for Superintendent Carter’s inflammatory remarks. To have two visible clerics within the nation’s largest black denomination express differing approaches to tone in regards to questions around homosexuality is significant indeed. Even though media outlets had the opportunity to acknowledge the Church of God in Christ’s obvious inner struggle of how to address human sexuality, many overlooked it in favor of sensationalizing Caldwell’s “deliverance”.
A video that has yet to go viral is one featuring the Rev. Dr. Terence Leathers, pastor of Mt. Vernon Christian Church in Clayton, North Carolina. In it, Pastor Leathers embraces the tension of inheriting a Christian tradition of heterosexism while remaining open to hearing and affirming the unique lived experiences of sexual minorities. Recalling his father’s account of the attempted forced-castration of one his childhood friends, Pastor Leathers lays out in robust detail what it means to be a church that bestows upon people the dignity befitting all of God’s children. “Having the opportunity to get to know [gay and lesbian people] made a difference in my life.” And make a difference, it does. Siloing ourselves from the experiences, opinions, and glorious tapestry of diversity in our various communities hurts us all. We fail to participate in God’s complex creation. When we deny others the space to recite the narratives that have shaped them, we are stifling not only their humanity, but our own.
The most troubling aspect of wider – namely white – society’s refusal to admit the breadth of opinions within black churches is that it doesn’t end with religion. If you trust white popular culture for accurate, definitive descriptions of black people, you would surmise that black people worship watermelon, savor slavery, and have a unique monopoly on closeted men who have sex with men. And yet, black people know better, because we know ourselves. We know that we are not a monolithic community. We know that some of us cringe at the thought of two women holding hands while others of us proudly wave rainbow flags. We know that some of us are fighting for the full participation of women and sexual minorities in the life of of the church while others are committed to perpetuating male-only clubs in pulpits. We know that while others have no qualms saying that “every stereotype holds some truth”, we have no qualms telling the world that every individual is God’s unrepeatable masterpiece.
The time is overdue for our non-black brothers and sisters to admit that the Church as a whole needs to dismantle heterosexism and homophobia, not just black churches. It is time for an American Christianity that is consistent with the posture of Pastor Leathers: Gently leaning forward, listening to and internalizing the experiences of the ‘other’, scheming how we might – together – plot a wholesome compassion in a fragmented world.
Broderick Greer is a third year Master’s of Divinity student at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow his twitter @BroderickGreer
WATCH: Rev. Dr. Terence Leathers embraces the LGBT community