Before diving in, I need to establish a few things.
I understand that some disagree with identifying churches as black, white or any race. I agree. A church should have no color. However, based on what we know, most churches do. The color of a church is often defined by the racial majority of its congregation, which also tends to color or strongly influence its theology, preaching style, worship practices, and programming. According to Sociologist, Michael Emerson, churches tend to be 10 times more segregated than nearby neighborhoods and 20 times more segregated than nearby public schools1. Sadly, one study, Emerson cites also notes that all Christian traditions tend to be “hypersegregated”2.
At times, in this series, it may seem that I am on the attack. This is not my intention. I’ve done my best to express MY views in a balanced way. I have no issue with the black church; I understand its importance, particularly to the black community. I also know there are exceptions to what I will say. I don’t want this series to leave anyone with a grossly negative impression of the black church. The work of the strong, black churches is historically and currently invaluable.
I’ve watched the video snippet from Pastor Kim Burrell’s sermon, that went viral at the end of 2016, far too many times. I’ve also watched the two subsequent apology/explanation videos at least a dozen times. If you attend a black church, you’ve likely heard similar messages or inferences about gay people from the pulpit or the pews. I’m focusing this series on what was said NOT the individual who was caught saying it this time.
Why call being gay the spirit of homosexuality?
The idea that homosexuality is caused by a spirit seems to serve two primary purposes. First, this supports the position that people are NOT born gay but instead choose to be so under the influence of said spirit. Secondly, it places blame on the individual as being solely responsible for their state of being. Either they are doing or have done something that has caused this spirit to come upon them and skew what should be their natural preference for the opposite sex. Therefore, if the person sincerely repents or “begs” God to forgive them, they can be freed of this spirit and live out the heterosexual existence they were intended to by God. If not, they will die and spend eternity in hell.
While scientific evidence for a genetic or biological explanation of homosexuality remains inconclusive, I find it impossible to believe that anyone chooses to be gay or that anything such as a spirit of homosexuality exists. Gay men, I am close to, have all shared in some way or another, that in the early stages of understanding their sexual orientation, they did not want to be gay. Some have even willingly submitted themselves to conversion/reparative therapy, a now banned practice, which involved the use of religious practices such as exorcism or therapies such as electroshock and exposure (to heterosexual pornography) to change orientation or gender identity. Studies prove that such treatments are ineffective and dangerous, often leading to high rates of suicide, depression, use of illegal drugs and contraction of STDs3.
In today’s growing culture of acceptance, being openly gay in the black church remains uncommon. The policy of the black church is predominantly, “don’t ask, don’t tell,” unless the person is telling of miraculous deliverance. However, it is not uncommon for black pastors, leaders and church members to feel comfortable openly taking the inventory of gay people often using provocative language, which can be described as nothing short of hate speech. There are numerous articles and books defending both sides of this argument. Even within the Gay Christian Network, Side A believes God blesses same-sex marriages while Side B believes God calls gay Christians to lifelong celibacy.
Even if there was undebatable, scientific evidence proving that sexuality is an inborn characteristic, it’s unlikely that the black church would change it’s stance. Most often Christian organizations, like the black church, base their opposition on the following scriptures: Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, and Romans 1:26-28 and of course Genesis 19 where we see the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are others, but these are most weighty, because at first glance, they seem to speak directly about homosexuality. While some Christians stand firmly on these scriptures as proof that homosexuality is sinful, others, including myself, question their context and historical reference. I know this will set some down the path of arguing or debating scripture because they think questioning the Bible is heresy or indicative that a person is uncommitted. At times, I’ve thought this too, but I’m learning that sometimes life can bring you to a place of questioning–a place of struggle. I’ve also learned that the one “person” who can handle my questioning and struggle is God.
Now I also hear the arguments claiming that the LGBT community and their supporters don’t want anyone to preach what God says or Bible clearly explains regarding homosexuality. ‘They’re trying to force the black church and Christian organizations, who oppose homosexuality, to change their position,’ they say. I think this is a misunderstanding of what’s being requested. Many black blacks gays fully know the position of the church yet still continue attending regularly. NPR did a story titled Blacks, Gays And The Church: A Complex Relationship, which discusses the presence and participation of black gays in black churches.
Whether science proves or scripture allows homosexuality, gay folks have been active, contributing members in black and other churches for a long time. The black church has greatly benefited and continues to benefit from their gifts. To continue dismissing, demonizing, and denigrating them is flat out wrong.While clichés such as, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” or “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” roll off the tongue coolly and garner hearty Amens, they brutalize people who have already endured a great deal just to make it into the sanctuary. Studies show that black gays have much higher instances of mental illness and suicide than their white counterparts4. Most gay people tend to have varying degrees of struggle with their feelings. For black gays, this is compounded by the fact that their families, community and churches openly, willingly and sometimes it seems enjoyably, brutalize them relentlessly. I think what’s being requested is that the brutalization from the pulpit and the pews stop. A church is the last place anyone should be beaten up. Not for a moment am I saying change the fervent style of preaching, common in black churches, but I am saying that this fervor should never become feverish, irresponsible ranting and raving.
But what if it’s a prophetic Word from God?
Pastors are revered by the congregation as a conduit through which God directly speaks to them. However, prophetic messages seeded with statements such as “God said,” “God showed,” or “God told,” are considered highly sacred. If your pastor proclaims God said, told or showed her/him something, you should never openly doubt or question this even if your concerns are qualifiable. If you do, you’re likely to be found in violation of following proper spiritual order, which can lead to trouble. I believe God speaks through pastors, but I also know that some pastors misuse their authority claiming they have heard from God when they are only seeking to inhibit opposition or to validate their own frustrations, thoughts and opinions. This is difficult to write, but it’s true. We see an example of this misuse of authority in the video snippet when it is stated that God told the person speaking that anyone operating with “that spirit” in the church in 2017 would die from it. I don’t believe God said this at all. It may seem brazen or rebellious to disagree, but I do. Threatening gay people with death by God is an ultimate attempt to control and oppress them with fear.
There’s no debating the fact that collectively the black church (leaders and members) and community have made major missteps in dealing with and addressing homosexuality. I believe much of this is caused by the fact the black church has chosen to ignore and remain ignorant about homosexuality. When I was a kid, I recall a gay man who lived in our community and occasionally attended our church. We were taught to fear him because he was gay. We were warned that he might “do something” to us if we let him get too close so we would run away whenever we saw him approaching. It makes me physically sick to now understand that the way we acted towards him surely caused him a great deal of pain, but he never showed it. As we played outside on hot, summer days, he would leave freeze pops and water on his porch for us and remain inside his home so we would feel safe partaking of his kindness.
The lenses, through which the black church and the black community, view gay people, are tinted with misunderstanding and misinformation. I’d say much of this is influenced by the inaccurate, yet dramatic portrayals of gay people on television and in movies. It’s time for the black church to remove these lenses. It’s time for the black church to see that gay people are not perverts or pedophiles. It’s time for the black church to see that the majority of gay women do not act like or want to be men. It’s time for the black church to see that the majority of gay men do not act like or want to be women. It’s time for the black church to SEE that there are gay people who know and want to know God too.
So what should the black church do?
Some might expect me to say the black church should change it’s stance on homosexuality. I want to say this, but I can’t. The black church believes its position is right according to their interpretation of scripture. I understand this interpretation seems outdated and unfair, and it is absolutely true that Christians target certain things they consider “sins” while minimizing or completely ignoring others. I don’t know exactly what to say about this, but I will say that I think many times, we Christians, wear our beliefs as accessories instead of true commitments. We casually put on and take off our beliefs based on what is convenient or comfortable. This is definitely something we need to work on.
Okay, back to what I think the black church should do. I think the first thing the black church should do is to apologize for the mistreatment and abusive way they have expressed their disapproval of homosexuality. The proper way to disapprove doesn’t lead to the type of ranting we see in the video that sparked this posts. You can’t say you love someone then speak that way to or about them. At times, among Christians, it seems that the word love has lost its impact. Love has become something we say instead of something we do. While love is a noun, in its best expression, it is a verb. Love is always doing something to bring people together. Dr. Phil, often says that once you’ve spoken something harmful to someone, it takes a thousand attaboys to undo the damage. This means the person we hurt needs to see true repentance before they can ever be expected to believe we regret the pain we inflicted upon them.
I’m aware that some may liken apologizing to becoming gay affirming. Affirming that one’s behavior or response is wrong does not necessarily require changing your viewpoint. Some may say it does but that wouldn’t be fair. We are each entitled to our beliefs as long as the way we express those beliefs is with deep respect and consideration for each other’s well-being.
The second thing I think the black church should do is listen. Scripture teaches us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. If you’ve never had an in-depth conversation with a gay person, a conversation in which you listened without trying to change or condemn, how in the world can you have so much to say? You cannot just beat the Bible at people without even making any effort to listen or understand their life experience. Your viewpoint may not change but no one’s gonna believe you care about them if you don’t care to listen.
For Christians, who believe God is going to judge gay people and send them all to hell, it is important to remember that God is also going to judge us for the way you treat each other. We’ve got no business pissing on people because we disagree with them or think their lifestyle is wrong. No matter how hard you try, you can’t cover the scent of piss with false flowers of love. If the you’ve mistreated gay people in your words, your actions, your thoughts or your attitudes, aren’t you doomed to hell too?
Dear God, help the black church and Christians everywhere, to stop mistreating gay people. I believe it hurts Your heart that Your children are hurting Your children.
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