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In an article titled “Gays in the Village”, Journalist Keith Boykin stated that “Many of our Black churches would stop running if the gay, lesbian and bisexual members dropped out.” I, for one, am inclined to believe him.
Growing up, I don’t think I attended a single Black church with a heterosexual choir director. I never personally saw an issue with the arrangement but the discontent on the part of other parishioners was somewhat palpable. As a child, I watched our choir director bring my mother and countless other churchgoers to tears Sunday after Sunday. Oddly enough, all that “anointing” couldn’t save his soul or his ears from hearing comments like “He might as well praise God on his way to hell.” Still, our choir director remained steadfast. Showing up weekend after weekend, using beautiful music to mask the ugly sound of bigotry. Sitting behind a preacher who couldn’t fathom the idea of a gay man entering the kingdom of heaven, despite having a less than holy reputation of his own. As I came of age, bearing witness to this dynamic, hearing liars and thieves and adulterers act like sanctified security at the gates of heaven, I couldn’t help but question why homosexuality was the Black church’s favorite sin.
Granted, these churches don’t exist in a bubble. While there’s an expectation for the church to be set apart from the world, we find that the Black church is a mere reflection of the community within which it exists. This should surprise no one, given the rampant homophobia Black gays endure on a daily basis. From music to politics to pop culture, anti-LGBTQ sentiments are not only commonplace but arguably accepted. And while the church doesn’t offer much of a mental refuge, it offers a slightly more crucial kind, a physical one. The Black LGBTQ community has long struggled with establishing safe and supportive spaces, often settling for pockets of tolerance where acceptance seems impossible. And by establishing itself as a safe space in the midst of persecution, the church has been able to take advantage of the fact that they offer something this community desperately needs, sanctuary. One popular example of this unhealthy game of tug of war is Civil rights activist, writer, and pacifist, Bayard Rustin, a man who literally devoted his life to fighting for a community that was more concerned with his sexuality than his dedication to service. Oddly enough, no one noted the hypocrisy of a community fighting discrimination while actively discriminating against its own. And despite being rejected and discarded at church leaderships’ whim, Rustin would return to duty time and time again, knowingly subjecting himself to other people’s misplaced shame while he fought for their right to be proud.
The same way Rustin quietly carved out a niche for himself in a movement that refused to separate his preferred method of pleasure from his purpose, Black gays have carved out a space for solidarity and self-expression much in the same fashion. It’s no secret that the modern gospel sound has been shaped by the voices of men and women in the gay community, dominating both the church stage and the main stage. Despite these notable accomplishments, LGBTQ churchgoers still find themselves unable to outwardly embrace their identity. Stellar Award Winning, Grammy Nominated gospel singer B Slade, formerly known as Tonex, spoke out against the Black church after finding himself on the outs after coming out. Grammy award winning gospel singer Donnie McClurkin has had his “ex-gay” lifestyle held over his head his entire career, proving forgiveness in the Christian faith only extends to certain transgressions. Gospel singer James Hall attempted to dodge damaging allegations of a relationship with Bishop Jeffrey Thomas, only to have his $15 million lawsuit thrown out as a result of overwhelming evidence of the homosexual affair. Gays in the church have almost become accustomed to living a double life in exchange for a safe space to fellowship. They are expected to conform to heteronormative guidelines established for the sake of validating antiquated ideologies dictating what constitutes sexual normalcy. With as much energy as the Black church devotes to homosexuality and the pursuit and exposure of individuals with same sex attractions, you would think the church didn’t have a host of other issues. Issues like divorce, infidelity, domestic violence, molestation, fraud, fornication, materialism, and the list goes on.
Despite a biblical call to be apart from the world, we find divorce rates among Christians are on par with divorce rates across the spectrum. We find infidelity to be one of the main reported causes of marital issues among Christian couples, and have watched gospel elites duck walk before a judge to answer for charges of intimate partner violence on many occasions. The sexual assault of young boys and girls has been an ongoing area of concern in the Black church, as well as predatory preachers in the pulpit who guilt impoverished parishioners into covering the cost of their jet fuel. In every other area of sin, Christians are on par with their Gentile peers. So why is it that sexuality is approached with an iron heart?
When do cheating reverends and gossiping first ladies and thieving board members and predatory youth pastors meet the same eternal damnation as the gay choir directors? Or is this simply what happens when sinners deem themselves the moral authority on righteousness? Is it easier to condemn a person for how they were born than it is to condemn a person for the decisions they make in their adulthood? After all, the latter can be blamed on the big bad devil, while the former implies that God made a mistake somewhere… and we all know God don’t make no mistakes. Truth be told, I’m an outsider to both communities, both the Black gay community and the Black Christian community. But even those of us on the outskirts can see the dynamic at play. For every one gay-affirming church to pop up around the country, there are dozens of churches like Power House International Ministries in Chicago, IL. A church where Pastor Antonio Rocquemore openly rebuked and shamed a transgender parishioner to the tune of applause and affirmation from the congregation. Until the church rebukes itself for its convenient application of the gospel, it will continue to confuse hate with tough love. And if the church, a place where lost souls are supposed to find their way, can’t help those of us we deem most in need of “saving”, then what exactly is it good for?