04 November 2006

Satan In The Pulpit (Part One)

JOHN 1: 6-11
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. (He) came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. (This) was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world. (The Savior) was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not.

"I'd try out a new church and sit there and wait for the Gay-bashing to begin . . . in every other church I've been in, it starts out great. Then eventually, they get around to it. They start clapping and hollering and condemning my lifestyle. Sometimes it'd be like, 'We're going to pray it out of you!' I'd feel personally attacked, and then I'd leave."

A Lesbian Christian woman interviewed for "A House Divided," an April 14, 2005 article from The Denver Westword

"All of the historically Black denominations . . . promote a theological view that homosexuality is sinful and that the only legitimate sexual expression is toward the opposite sex in marriage . . . African Americans (have been) identified as the group least accepting (of) Gay marriage and homosexuality as a moral expression . . . African Americans, even those who may not be regular churchgoers, typically base their refusal to accept homosexuality in Biblical authority . . . for many African Americans, there is nothing worse than a homosexual, especially a homosexual man."

Professor Horace L. Griffin, speaking in passages taken from his book Their Own Receive Them Not, published by Pilgrim Press in October 2006

Did you ever have the experience of going to church and, halfway through the service, watching in horror as the minister transforms himself into a loathsome and foul dragon from Hell, cursing God's Creation and breathing fire from his nostrils? Believe it or not, Black Lesbians and Gay men see such shocking transformations occur on a regular basis when they attend churches in their communities. It's an appalling reality that dates all the way back to the days of slavery in the United States, and it has largely existed under the radar of the general public. That is, until now!

Professor Horace L. Griffin, an Episcopal seminarian and priest as well as an openly Gay Black man, yanks the covers off of this shameful state of affairs in a hard-hitting new book called Their Own Receive Them Not: African-American Lesbians and Gays (sic) in Black Churches. It was written for both theologians and lay people, and I must say, with prominent Black clergy currently joining forces with White evangelical bigots to oppose Gay Rights, its publication could not be more timely!

This book is nothing less than an indictment of the Black church! Professor Griffin takes no prisoners exposing its rank hypocrisy, its arrogant judgmentalism, and its utter failure to follow the loving example of Jesus Christ. He correctly characterizes the Black church as "oppressive and duplicitous" in its relationship to Gay Christians.

There's no doubt in my mind that the Professor will be excoriated in Black religious circles for speaking so bluntly about this issue. However, I agree with him 100% when he writes: "If African-Americans wish not to be challenged, reprimanded or opposed publicly, then they must refrain from participating in the mistreatment of African-American Gays (sic) and others." I hasten to add that if heterosexual Black Christians have no reason to be ashamed of what they're doing, then they shouldn't object to having the extent of their activities known! Unfortunately for them, Professor Griffin's book reveals just how much reason they do have to feel shame.

In his first chapter, "Religious and Cultural Reflections on Race and Homosexuality", the Professor lays out the main premise of his book: That there are striking similarities between the Bible-based bigotry historically aimed at Black people and that aimed at Gay people. He points out that “virtually every derisive comment and discrimination against Gays (sic) today was at one time experienced by all African Americans, Gay and heterosexual, because of their race.” He spends much of the book bolstering this claim, but he uses most of this chapter to present an overview of anti-Gay bigotry in society dating back to the early Christian church.

In his second chapter, "The Black Church, The Bible, and the Battle Over Homosexuality", he argues that the conservatism of Christian denominations principally responsible for converting African slaves to the faith explains Black people’s widespread acceptance of Fundamantalist interpretations of the Bible. At the same time, he astutely notes that Biblical support of slavery (arguably the main reason slave owners sought to convert slaves) was overwhelmingly rejected and/or ignored by Black Christian converts:

As Black Christians embraced Biblical stories of Jesus’s love and God’s liberating power, it became more and more difficult to reconcile a God who delivered Israelites from oppressive Pharaohs with a God who was apparently keeping them enslaved. In this approach to Scripture, Blacks, like other groups, demonstrate a practice of selectively choosing (Bible) scripture.

Most of the points the Professor makes on behalf of LesBiGay Christians pivot on this observation.

In his third chapter, "Natural Law, Choice, Procreation, and Other Black Church Arguments against Homosexuality", he examines (and debunks) both religious and secular arguments that Black Fundamentalists use to condemn homosexual practice. These arguments (and I stretch credibility to call them such) include the notion that homosexuality is a “choice” made by depraved heterosexual persons; the notion that homosexuality is contrary to nature; the notion that any form of sexuality which doesn’t lead to procreation is illegitimate; and the surprisingly widespread notion that homosexuality didn’t exist among indigenous Africans but was “imposed” by colonists, slave owners and other “liberal” White folk. (I particularly like the Professor’s response to this outrageous assertion. He demands to know: “Are Blacks [sic] granting that Whites even have power over their sexual desires?”)

In his fourth chapter, "Black, Gay and Christian in the Black Church", Professor Griffin articulates the unwritten rules by which Lesbians and Gay men are allowed to maintain membership in African-American church congregations. All of them involve living deceptive lives and being complicit in their own oppression! He uses individual case studies to illustrate how these rules are imposed, and in the process, he shines a spotlight on well-known Black historical figures whose homosexual status isn’t generally known. These figures include the late Reverend James Cleveland, the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, and the famous early 20th century botanist, Dr. George Washington Carver.

In his fifth chapter, "Passing, Silence, Denial and Gay Deceptions in Black Churches", the Professor likens the experience of being a Black Gay mainstream Christian to the phenomenon of “passing,” the now rare practice of masquerading as White if you are a Black person with light skin and European physical features. "Passing for White" was a means by which African-Americans tried to escape the humiliations of legal segregation, and is probably the closest parallel that exists between Black and Gay experience. This is a must-read chapter for anyone who wants to understand what pressures force Gay people in general to be closeted! It also makes clear why life in the closet is such an abnormal and demeaning way to exist.

Chapter Six, "The Black Church and AIDS", is by far Professor Griffin’s most damning indictment of Black Christian heterosexism! Here he exposes the shameful truth about how the vast majority of African-American preachers use the AIDS epidemic in conjunction with selected Bible passages to justify their pathological hatred of Gay people (Gay men in particular). This is not a chapter for the faint-hearted! Quotes from Black ministers that the Professor cites here reflect more unadulterated cruelty than most people will have ever encountered before. Here’s one of the worst:

At an AIDs conference, one of the panelists reported that at a funeral the pastor told the family: "Take a good look at your son, because you will not see him again . . . He is going to Hell, and you are going to Heaven.”

This disturbing chapter ends with the tragic tale of a doomed, closeted Gay man whose AIDS-related suffering was exacerbated by the Black church’s inhumane response to his all-too-human needs. Be forewarned: Some self-described Christians who read his story will have reason to feel both very ashamed and very fearful of Divine retribution!

Professor Griffin was wise to follow such a bleak narrative with an uplifting seventh chapter, "The Emergence of African-American Lesbian/Gay Christian Congregations in the United States". It focuses on the recent phenomenon of LesBiGay-affirming African-American churches. This handful of maverick congregations and inspired leaders symbolizes an oasis in the sea of ignorant doctrine spouted by such high-profile Black clergymen as Joseph Walker, Wellington Boone, Ken Hutcherson, Eddie Long and TD Jakes.

Many people know about Reverend Troy Perry, founder of the Gay-affirming (and overwhelmingly White) Metropolitan Community Church, but have you ever heard of Dr. James Tinney and Bishop Carl Bean, founders of the first Gay-affirming Black churches? You’ll read about them here, as well as Lesbian pastors Alma Crawford and Karen Hutt, founders of the dynamic inner-city Christian ministry known as the Church of The Open Door. The spirit and true message of Jesus Christ resonate strongly in their stories.

In his eighth and final chapter, "Toward a True Liberation Theology for Pastoral Caregivers", the Professor accuses heterosexual Black Christians of having become oppressors, of doing to Gay people the same thing White people did to them at the height of slavery and segregation. He admonishes them for their irrational anger at and fear of homosexuality, demands their repentance, and points them toward an inclusive use of Bible scripture that incorporates the liberation theology of Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King, Jr. He names a few heterosexual Black theologians who already embrace this approach, such as Professor Dwight Hopkins, Dr. Mozella Mitchell, Dr. Jeremiah Wright and Dr. Arnold Thomas.

It’s good to know these names, but there are far too few of them! Most Black churches today see nothing wrong with allowing Satan to speak his gospel of evil from the pulpit every Sunday morning, so long as his words consistently target and condemn God’s LGBT children. Professor Griffin has taken a small first step toward addressing this outrage, but from what I can see, hardly anybody is willing to join him on the narrow path to repentance. Many seem to find Satan’s four-lane highway to Hell more to their liking!

"Satan In The Pulpit" continues with Part Two.