Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An ironic tragedy

African-American rejection of gays and lesbians antithetical to black liberation theology
By Horace Griffin, June 19, 2007

[Episcopal Life] The 21st Century world currently struggles with what may be the moral issue of this time -- homosexuality and the effort to affirm lesbian and gay people and their love relationships.

There may be no group with deeper passions about this discussion than people in the United States. And, like moral issues of the past -- slavery, segregation and women's equality -- the moral compass on homosexuality is being designed in houses of worship.

Those in the Christian church do not speak with a united voice. Gay and heterosexual alike, they stand with the same Bible proclaiming different gospels on homosexuality. Some claim that lesbians and gays are made in God's image and favor all loving sexual relationships. Others view gay relationships as abhorrent. Generally, African-American heterosexual Christians fall within the latter group.

Even with the presence of gay Christians in their families and churches and the strong and faithful witness of revered black gay Christians like George Washington Carver, James Cleveland and Barbara Jordan, African Americans continue to resist viewing homosexuality as anything but sin, a negative "lifestyle" and a white aberration. Although there is opportunistic tolerance of gays in black churches, black gays -- like other gays -- often are dismissed as irrelevant to moral black people.

As a gay African-American pastoral theologian in the liberation tradition, I find this black church practice to be an ironic tragedy, antithetical to a black liberation theology and gospel of Jesus that offers justice for all people. Historically, black church leaders opposed oppressive actions against humans and played an active role to end slavery, mobilize African Americans in the political process, organize educational institutions and provide places of worship, recreation and training for black people. Many black church leaders protested social and religious injustice toward African Americans. As a result of the African-American experience, black church leaders and members developed a theological perspective of justice and liberation taken from the Exodus story and the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Despite this historical perspective, most black ministers have failed in their application of this theology toward women and gay-identified men. Black heterosexual Christian men's objection to racial hierarchical practice, by and large, had to do with their resistance to being dominated by white men. In general, they did not object to, but rather supported, the domination of women and later gay men. Their use of Scripture to support this domination is similar to that of conservative white Christians who converted, enslaved and dominated black men.

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