Let The Church Say Amen

President Obama ruffled some predictable feathers this past month when he took to the airwaves to announce his support for same-sex marriage. Liberals – like yours truly – cheered the idea, conservatives booed and made really inappropriate unfunny joke. But lost among the reactions of the go-to constituents and talking heads was the response of arguably his strongest base. Not Occupy Wall Street; not the legions of the unemployed, underemployed or those forced into government indentured servitude by student loan debt, not even George Clooney. But regular, run-of-the-mill black people.

Now, there is an idea that in the minds of certain folks out there – mostly right wingers and if they’re honest with themselves, also a lot of middle class white people – that Obama can do no wrong in the eyes of Black folks. For the most part they’re right, if we (and I’m using the Royal/Universal Black WE) bother to vote, it’s definitely going to be for him. The reasons range from honestly feeling he is the perfect candidate for the job with our best interests at heart to – and, let’s be truthful now – our skin tones match and here’s a chance to stick it to whitey for another four years. Yeah, the ugly secret is out:  Some of us did actually only vote for him because he was black. When you look at us as a monolithic group we’re kind of predictable that way. But this whole gay thing threw some of us for a loop.

Because here’s another secret, Black people are social conservatives.  No, I’m serious.  Your average Black person is like Rick Santorum cranked up to 11. But no one knows it unless you pay attention. 87% of African Americans identify themselves as belonging to a religion, the predominant one being some form of evangelical Christianity.  55% of them believe the Bible is the literal word of God compared with 33% for the rest of the general population.  53% say abortion should be illegal and 63% say homosexuality should be discouraged. While these figures don’t exactly toe the party line, 76% identify as Democrats.

So if they’re voting for the correct side, what’s the problem?  The problem is, these views still matter.  Even if they’re not voting them into action.

#NoHomo Culture is alive and well in the pews on Sunday morning. No Homo is the ugly phrase echoed by the petrified and the ignorant.  It is tacked onto the back of sentences so that the speaker can quickly disavow any gay tendencies or implications.  It is a slur, neither unique nor new and it is based in the twin conservative principles of fear and anger.  We can trace it back, at least partially, to the minstrel show that is hip hop “artist” Lil’ Wayne but he doesn’t bear the full responsibility. He is, like so many Blacks, a product of the culture that created him and for Black people, the church is a mammoth cultural authority.

Most of your Black friends, or if not them, their parents, will tell you the Black church brought us through slavery.  It gave us a place to congregate, to reconnect with each other as well as the divine, it gave us the promise of a future beyond slavery, beyond Jim Crow, beyond the Civil Rights turbulence. They will tell you church isn’t just intrinsic to our culture but to our existence as a people. What they won’t tell you is how the Black church has held us back; limited our choices; kept us bound by rigid structure; left us isolated, ignorant, self-obsessed and content to focus on the rewards of the afterlife rather than striving for them here. To be fair, that’s my problem with nearly all organized religion.  But I think it’s especially damaging in the black church.

In the black church the gay person, mostly the gay man is a spectre of fear. No one exactly admits to knowing one because to know is to associate and to associate is to congregate and to congregate is to be implicated and to be implicated means that you are a secret dyke or fag. It could be anybody. It could be everybody. Because so many men are diverted into the down low lifestyle or ostracized if they do come out its difficult to get accurate numbers. They can direct your choir, they can color your hair. they can be your co-worker, your neighbor, your doctor and your mechanic but they had better repent come Sunday.

Donnie McClurkin (who campaigned for Obama in 2008) the pastor and gospel singer considers himself to be an ex-gay who was liberated from the “curse of homosexuality” A vocal idiot he has in the past compared being gay to having diabetes, “I’m a diabetic now and I don’t eat sugar, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want sugar. The more I don’t eat the sugar, the more I lose the taste for sugar and the more my diet starts to change permanently – I can’t stand a regular soda now because it’s too much sugar. So, the more I don’t intake the sugar, the more it leaves out of my desire.”

McClurkin is an active opponent to the gay rights movement. He’s never shyed away from linking the sexual molestation he experienced as a child to the “perversion” of homosexuality. He’s a proponent of the popular ex-gay or reorientation movement which is about as scientifically sound as alchemy or phrenology. As always with closet cases and bigots the hatred extends far beyond the self. When once fellow now ex-gospel singer Tonex came out of the closet McClurkin called him a “perversion”. This can of course be added to the countless other slurs the homosexual-in-denial-McClurkin has said in regards to the gay community. Some of the more popular gems include, vampires and evil. Tonex incidentally left gospel music, rebranded himself as B. Slade is rocking a glam rock image and seems to be doing quite well for himself.

Then there’s the curious case of Atlanta Bishop Eddie Long. Senior pastor at the New Birth Ministry Baptist mega-church which boast a membership of upwards of 25,000. Like McClurkin Long was/is also a believer in the so-called reorientation programs meant to turn out legions of ex-gays all cured up and ready to marry.  The Southern Poverty Law Council dubbed Long “one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.” With statements like “Homosexuality and lesbianism are spiritual abortions,” and (regarding women in the military) “The woman gets perverted to turn towards woman … and everybody knows it’s dangerous to enter an exit! You deserve death!” it’s not difficult to see why.

So, surprise, surprise when in 2010 at least five young men came forward claiming to have had a relationship with Long. The men stated that Long had purchased them gifts and cars among other things and one even claimed that they were essentially united in a “covenant ceremony”. As icing on the cake one of the accusers even provided cell phone pictures sent from Long to him that show the good Bishop posing proudly in his best salmon colored muscle tee. The lawsuits were all eventually settled out of court to the tune of 24 million dollars and despite a leave of absence Long continues to minister at New Birth and is still according to the church’s website “driven by a strong call to minister to young boys”.

One of Long’s longtime parishioners was Bernice King, daughter of the late Martin Luther King, and both a minister and homophobe in her own right. In 2004 she lead an anti-gay march called “Stop The Silence” that ended at her father’s gravesite. Adamant about her support for and the need for the black church to support a constitutional marriage amendment she is well known in the LGBT community for her anti-gay views.

Which leads to King’s adversarial role in the struggle for gay rights. While this is an article on hypocrisy it’s not meant to focus just on the ex-gay movement or the down low preacher.  It runs much deeper than that, all the way back to the civil rights movement.  If you want to really piss off any black conservative just begin by likening the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement.  King has been quoted as saying, “I know in my sanctified soul that he did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage.”

Of course, the problem is Bernice King was 5 years old when her father was assassinated and she conveniently ignored her mother Coretta Scott King who arguably was much closer to knowing the intent of her husband’s dedication to civil rights.

“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice.  But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”  — Reuters (31 March 1998)

This logical, moral and truly Christian opinion is maligned by your average bible-believing, church-going black person.

A recent article on Black Enterprise website stated the old line that “to equate gay rights with Civil Rights should be an insult not only to the Black community; but also to all who sacrificed for Blacks to gain the Civil Rights that Blacks were already due.”

With all due respect that such a statement deserves…it’s just plain idiocy and indicative of the sad truth that too many Black people feel they have an exclusive claim to the term “civil rights”.  I’ve seen earnest statements by people who truly feel any attempt by other groups to use said term is “stealing”.  But then again people will go to any lengths to support their own bias and maintain their exclusivity.  On top of that, it plays into something at which black folks excel: what writer Pam Spaulding terms the “Oppression Olympics”.  Unlike the Olympic Olympics the Oppression Olympics do not come around just every four years.  In fact, they’re constant.  And we always win. We’ll play them against anybody and everybody (except of course the Jews) because your average White person – when faced with natural hair and neck swerving and shouts of “this country was built off the backs of my people!” -  tends to back down.  In other words, when stripped of their bible-backed discrimination, the argument ultimately boils down to one preposterous idea:  I’ve suffered more, lost more and been through more.  Ergo, I win.

But some of us are actively boycotting the Oppression Olympics and calling to the woodshed those who would stand up for such gross monopolization of an inclusive philosophy.  We are, on one hand, as kindly as possible suggesting they educate themselves on the true definition of social justice, and on the other hand suggesting that, in the meantime, they move the hell out of the way.

If people don’t see the correlations between respecting and championing the rights of gays (or any other segment of society for that matter) to marry, to live freely, to educate their children, to worship, to congregate, to celebrate without fear of repercussions or retribution, with the black civil rights movement, then its really because they don’t want to see it.  If you willingly remain deaf, blind and dumb to this issue you bring shame on what the US Civil Rights movements and all similar movements in the past have striven to accomplish.

This isn’t about saving the Black vote.  That’s in the bag, no matter what suddenly disenfranchized pastors like Reverend Dr. Emmet Burns and others may say. If he and others wish to tell his people to stay home from the polls; if he wants to be the worst of the one issue voters; if he would sacrifice the good of his community and the country for an issue that he and his parishioners are ass-backwards on, then I wish him good day.  He and they will ultimately have to deal with the moral repercussions of their decisions. While most Black leaders won’t openly oppose him politically, they will still preach their hatred from the pulpit.  And therein lies the problem.

The stranglehold the church holds on the Black community is evident in the fact that a few hours after making his announcement, Obama phoned about eight black pastors to explain his decision.  (Conservatives were so terribly upset at the photo’s of Obama bowing Saudi king, China’s president  and the Japanese emperor while I’m personally much more concerned about this.)  He owes Black pastors no apology; he owes them no explanation.  We have to wrest control of Black minds and Black culture out of the hands of the Black church.  We must stop putting our stamp of approval on bigotry and oppression.  We must realize that, we too, need to get involved in the It Get’s Better movement.  We have to stop spreading religiously endorsed nonsense to our children.  And we must stop exporting it overseas like so many cheap cigarettes.

Every Time you buy “The Purpose Driven Life” you’re supporting someone who is linked to Martin Ssempa the “brains”  behind Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill.  Every time you say “no homo”, every time you say “pause”, every time you laugh at a joke about someone hypothetically stabbing their gay son to death, every time you sit in church on Sunday morning, listening to an ignorant preacher proselytize about the evils of homosexuality, you are actively participating in the destruction and degradation of a group whose civil rights have been diminished.  Often a member of that group is sitting in the next pew.  As Michael Eric Dyson writes, “”One of the most painful scenarios of black church life is repeated Sunday after Sunday with little notice or collective outrage. A black minister will preach a sermon railing against sexual ills, especially homosexuality. At the close of the sermon, a soloist, who everybody knows is gay, will rise to perform a moving number, as the preacher extends an invitation to visitors to join the church.”

If you witness this and don’t stand up, you are culpable.  If you don’t try and change it, you are guilty.  And if, upon failing to change it, you don’t leave…you are reprobate. That is why this isn’t about the vote count in November.  It is about real morality, true Christian love and it’s about saving souls. Because, make no mistake, what these ministers are advocating is putting your soul in jeopardy.

Fair warning though:  Taking a stand might not be so easy.  Bigots don’t like to be called out.  Roland Martin is a hateful, homophobic little troll,  Sophia Nelson is a hypocrite and Pastor Jamal Bryant has a wildly unchecked ego. So when Dyson, who admittedly is a pot stirrer with whom I don’t often agree, recently called those in the Black community who oppose equal rights for gays “sexual rednecks,” they took offense.

Dyson apologized.  But he didn’t back down from his stance.  Personally, I didn’t think an apology necessary.  I don’t care, I see no reason to tiptoe around the bigot, to apologize to the homophobic and coax him through his idiocy.  To them, I say:  Evolve or get out of the way.  If you use the bible as a tool of oppression, then your interpretation of God’s word is flawed.

With the aforementioned pastors and many others with similar campaigns against the gay community we must, as in all things, simply follow the money.  That money which came rolling in in the early 2000’s in part due to Former President Bush’s Faith based Initiative.  Courting pastors with millions of dollars, the Republicans played into the natural prejudices  of black religious leaders and even got a few switchover votes for their trouble.  But to imply this is strictly an opinion that has been bought and paid for, is I think a misstep.  These people believe what they’re saying, its just convenient that they’re now getting paid for it and all the more dangerous because 0f the bedfellows they’ve made.

The truth is the Black church needs to grow the fuck up.  If it refuses to change beliefs that are based on willful ignorance, phobias and childishness then it should be abandoned to be rebuilt anew.  Homophobia is immature; it is intellectually vacuous; it is spiritual bankruptcy and attempts to support homophobia with history or the bible are exercises in hate and ignorance.

What the President said about gay equality was a long time coming because the truth is he’s had some rather unsavory ties – Rick Warren and Mcclurkin to name a few -  not to mention his ambiguous hemming, hawing and dodging of the issue.  But, as usual, he’s come through and better late than never.  I for one don’t believe he’s “evolved” on the issue at all.  I think he’s smart enough to know that certain sections of the country needed time so they could warm to the issue.

He wasn’t catching up to us, he was waiting for some of us to catch up to him. 

But we cannot and should not wait for people forever. Just this morning, May 20th Black bigots found themselves on notice. The NAACP officially came out in support of gay rights as a civil right. On the heels of their opposition the the NC constitutional amendment they announced “Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.”

The question now:  Will the Black church admit culpability and change its tune?  Or is it willing to remain on the wrong side of history?

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