In Videographies Posted

LGBT FLoAD Members – Stepping Out on Faith

 

LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent is an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and same gender loving people of African Descent and their allies formed to serve as ambassadors and educators to oppose discrimination, exclusion or intimidation of LGBT persons in our society and particularly in our church communities.

We are a group composed of clergy, divinity students, and faith leaders who represent diverse interdenominational religious institutions.  As people of faith, we believe in the spiritual values of love, inclusiveness, and respect for all people.

These videos grew out of our desire to see our faces, faces of color, on the many websites where same gender loving people are telling their stories.  We wanted to offer balance and reality for all who seek assistance, guidance and hope as they struggle with being a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning individual.

The video interviews were shot at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church located at 85 South Oxford Avenue in Fort Greene Historic District. The Church is a part of the Presbyterian Church USA within the worldwide Christian Church.  The Church’s interior is notable for its mahogany paneling and 13 stained –glass windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Lafayette Presbyterian Church was founded in 1857.The Church was known from the outset as a “temple of abolition.”  The early leadership and congregation, although mostly white staked out a position squarely on the side of racial progress.  They sometimes provided a meeting space for outspoken abolitionists including Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.  Escaped slaves were provided shelter in the tunnels deep below the building.  Today the multi-racial church serves a thriving community, and was named as one of the 300 outstanding Protestant churches in the US by the Lily Endowment.The current pastor is Rev. Carmen Mason-Browne.

The Church describes its mission thus, “We are called to create a space where people of any faith or none can question and discover the sacred in life through openness, honesty, laughter and prayer.  We are called by the Gospel to welcome and celebrate human diversity- including spiritually, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.  LAPC is also an Environmental Justice Covenant Congregation, whose members have made a commitment to environmental ministries through all aspects of congregational life.

The information (verbatim) regarding Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church was taken from the face book page of Lafayette Ave Presbyterian Church and the New York City Charter of the American Guild of Organists (www.nycago.org) The Church’s site is http:/www.lapcbrooklyn.org.

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In Videographies Posted

LGBT Youth: Telling OUR Stories

Our youth bio-video project was a part of our visibility, education and change objectives. Primarily, we want and will continue to, add faces and stories of people of color to fill the void. Our young people were self-referred or referred by a local school. They went through a very intensive training on how to tell and write their stories and how to use the camera to create a live image. Robert Penn of Robert Penn Productions was the master film maker for the project. Carmen Neely was the administrator and manager of the educational process.We did not coach any of the young people except to assist them (as they assisted each other) in telling their story with an authentic voice and a clear message. The young people understood that they were helping others who were struggling with their sexual identity. I believe that they came away from the project feeling more confident and capable of affirming themselves and being “pioneers” for other young people who live in fear, shame or secrecy. Enjoy.

 

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In Reverend Cynthia M. Diao Posted

When the Healer is not Healed

by Revernd Cynthia M. Diao
This is the season of rejoicing. It is a time for being with family and friends  to enjoy the season of miracles. But I do ask, how does one rejoice when grief is walking with you in this season? Where is the miracle if your heart is breakng?

My Son died by suicide in February and it has caused a rollercoaster of feelings. It is the Christmas holiday now and I ask, how do I rejoice for the birth of Jesus when my baby boy is gone?

I have even questioned God: “How do I
get through this pain?”

As a minister I pray for people. I visit the sick and encourage them and speak words of wisdom to those in need. I listen to others detail their holiday plans when all along my heart is breaking.

The first months after Raymond death, I could not understand why God did not let me know my son was in spiritual danger. I often feel and know when others need intersession prayer. I often feel and know when close friends are
sick, and I direct them to the doctor. “But God, why I didn’t know about my son?” I ask.

 

It’s now the season of my savior birth, a time of rejoicing and giving thanks. It’s time for trees and lights, giving gifts, and going to gatherings with family and friends. I dress myself up and put a smile on my face, however, in order  to move through this flow of questions and pain.

As I write this, I am reminded of the Christmas story and how Joseph and Mary pressed on in the face of their obstacle. Joseph pulled the donkey as Mary sat still trusting God. Jesus’ birth was a miracle. And now, my hope rests on that miracle.

A few days after my son’s death I was sitting in the dark in my room, just sitting. God touched my heart and showed me a vision. It was my miracle. I could see, as my son jumped from a bridge, Jesus caught him. Jesus held Raymond in his arms, taking him to the Gates of Heaven where my Mother and our ancestors were waiting for him. Jesus passed my son to my mother and she cleaned him up and took him in the Gates of Heaven – this was my miracle. I found comfort in the vision. I found comfort in seeing my son in Heaven with my mother

 

Jesus lives so Cynthia can face today. My dark nights are shining a little brighter because of Jesus’ birth. I now understand that joy does come in the morning. I can face my hurts and disappointment because Jesus lives and he
does give miracles. Let the Christmas music play. Put on the Christmas tree lights and gather with family and friends because our miracles live.

 

Grief-LGBT

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In Rev. Dr. Karyn Carlo Posted

Releasing Idols : Discovering God’s Future in Multicultural Ministry

by Rev. Dr. Karyn Carlo
Whatever God’s future may be, it must surely be multicultural. For us, as American Baptists, that is very good news. As one of the most diverse denominations in the United States, deeply committed to global mission, we already have considerable experience crossing cultural borders for Christ. This experience places us in a very good position to begin to grasp the radically diverse and inclusive nature of God’s future. Nonetheless, multicultural ministry is still deeply challenging for us.  Doing it well means moving beyond changes in music, food, and worship style – all of which may be challenging enough – toward a deep fellowship with one another that can only happen if we are willing to uncover, confront, and release our own cultural idols.

Cultural idols are partial and particular aspects of our own experience of God to which we ascribe a false universalism. God meets us where we are, in the context of our own cultural experiences. This is not a bad thing. All human experience, including the experience of God, is contextual. That is, it has a container. To put it in the language of biblical parable, whether it is “new wine” or “old wine” it is in some kind of wineskin. Otherwise it just spills on the ground! (Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37)

The problem comes when the wineskin is mistaken for the wine itself. When that happens, the cultural context in which we encounter the divine becomes more important than the content of that experience. This habit of treating the partial as if it was the whole is a form of idolatry. Like all idolatry, it stands in the way of a right relationship with God and one another, particularly when it comes to fellowship between people of different cultures.  One of the biggest challenges of multicultural ministry, therefore, is learning to overcome this particular form of idolatry so that we all might be more united in Christ.

As Christians, we affirm that, through Christ, God is reconciling the world to God’s self. We also recognize that, through Christ, God is working to break down the “dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) that stands between people who are separated from one another due to cultural differences, prejudice, and social oppression. Identifying and releasing cultural idols is, I believe, an integral part of this process.

 Convicted of cultural idolatry

As a Euro-American pastor-theologian whose ministerial experience so far includes service to an African-American church followed by service to a predominantly Latino church, I have personally been convicted of cultural idolatry many times. If I continue in multicultural ministry, as I believe I am called to do, I expect I will be convicted of cultural idolatry many more times. As a multicultural minister, over and over again, I have had to find ways of affirming my own cultural particularity within which I first encountered God while, at the same time, releasing my attachment to cultural idols that separate me from other Christians.

I would like to share two examples of idols I have had to recognize and confront as I try to live more fully into God’s future.  While my experiences, no doubt, just scratch the surface of all that is needed to fully engage in God’s reconciling work through multicultural ministry, I hope that, by sharing them, I will help others to identify and overcome some of their own cultural idols and open up a wider conversation.

The first idol I discovered had to do with the way I saw the cross. In the white liberal churches I grew up in, the cross was mostly bloodless, gold, and gleaming, a symbol for the way Jesus overcame the power of death. The fact that the cross was bloodless was, for us, a sign of hope.  Unlike the fundamentalists, with whom we were in constant and ongoing controversy and against whom we often defined ourselves, we embraced an Abelardian vision of Jesus as a great moral example, not an instrument of vicarious, blood atonement.  No one sang words like “power in the blood” or “saved by the blood” or “nothing but the blood” in these churches. Our cross was bloodless, a symbol of victory, not suffering. Our Good Friday led very quickly to Easter morning. In this message of life over death, I did encounter God.  It is still part of who I am. But I now realize, it was only a partial vision.

Blood Songs

As a seminarian, I had the privilege of serving an African-American church.  Although their theology was not fundamentalist, they sang lots of “blood songs.” One day, after I had worshipped with them for about a year, we were singing “Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord to the cross where thou hast died. Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord to thy precious bleeding side.” I was overcome with emotion and began to weep.

I asked my brother minister why he thought that song affected me so. He replied, as if it was a weird question to ask, saying “because it’s the cross! Why, what did the cross mean to you in the churches you grew up in?” When I described that experience, he was horrified. He said “You can’t have a bloodless cross. If you have a bloodless cross you are saying our blood, the blood of black people, poured out on the streets in our struggle to be free doesn’t matter to you. Now that you have worshipped with us as part of this community, you don’t have that right anymore.”

That experience led me to completely re-evaluate my theology of the cross and, in fact, provided the basis for my doctoral dissertation. More importantly, I was led to a better and deeper understanding of the saving power of the gospel.  I am still working on the many dimensions of what the cross can mean as it connects with different communities.

This project of a lifetime began with this one experience of being confronted with a cultural idol and choosing to release it in order to see a wider view of God’s future. But that is not the only time multicultural ministry has forced me to recognize and confront my own cultural idols.

After graduating from seminary, I was called to serve as Interim Pastor to a formerly Euro-American church that is now made up primarily of immigrants from Central America. Just as service to an African American church led me to recognize the idol of the bloodless cross, service to this particular Latino community has led me to confront the idol of independence.

The Idol of Independence

The culture I grew up in places a very high value on independence. Children growing up and moving away from the parental home is seen as a good thing, a sign of maturity and growth. This “leaving of the nest” is something we celebrate in our homes and in our churches as a necessary rite of passage into adulthood. In this context, God-in-family is one who fosters and encourages self reliance. So, when my son came home from his first mission trip, I was thrilled to find that his experiences of serving others, far away from his home, had made him more independent.

Therefore, when I began, for the first time, to set up a similar mission trip in my new church, I tried to encourage the families to support it by saying “It will be so great. You’ll see. Your kids will come back so independent.” I couldn’t believe it when I got a really negative reaction to this. It was only after some very difficult conversations that I began to understand that I was being confronted with another cultural idol.  While independence may be a prime value in some cultures, loyalty to the family is more important for others. For me having a kid come back “so independent” sounded good. For them, it sounded more like “this trip will take your kids away from you.”  No wonder we were not connecting!

While God, for some, may mean one who helps us have the strength to leave the family nest and establish a new one, for others God is the one who holds the family together and protects the nest from harm. I have since learned to minister in this context by preaching about the family of God, and the way being part of that family helps us to love and help others. I have also re-evaluated my own ideas about what family can mean and the ways God helps us to have healthy families. Independence has its place. I still value it. But I now believe that inter- dependence and loyalty also matters. Both are important aspects, not only of earthly family life, but, I believe, of the larger family of God that the future is shaping.

These are only two experiences I have had of confronting and releasing cultural idols. I am sure that, as I continue on my own journey in multicultural ministry I will encounter many more, as will anyone who engages in this work. Although the way we experience God in each of our cultures is good, it is not everything. Sometimes we need to let go of our old wineskins in order to experience something new.

Counter-cultural Christians

To be clear, however, I am not saying that everything about everyone’s culture is good. Saying “it’s cultural” is not the same thing as saying it is good. There are aspects of all of our cultures that directly conflict with the gospel. When that is the case, Christians are called to be counter-cultural as we resist the evils that are found in all of our communities. There are non-negotiable fundamentals of the faith about which we cannot compromise, regardless of context.

So, where must we stand fast and where can, and must, we bend? These are not easy questions. They need to be prayerfully answered along the way, with a deep sense of humility. There will be times when we need to say no to certain aspects of certain cultures, beginning with our own. But there will be many more times when we will be called to release our cultural idols in order to be part of a larger fellowship with God and one another. The challenge of multicultural ministry is finding new ways to affirm all that is good about the cultures we come from, so that we can be different together in a way that does not require anyone to sacrifice her or his particularity while, at the same time, not making idols out of these cultures in a way that prevents us from real fellowship with one another.

I am reminded of the story of Jacob’s ladder found in Genesis 28. While in a strange new place somewhere in Haran, Jacob has a vision that leads him to declare “Surely the LORD is in this place– and I did not know it!” (Gen 28:16 NRS) I can’t help but wonder, what other places there are, what other peoples, what other cultural contexts about which we too might one day declare “surely the LORD is in this place and we did not know it.”

The places we first meet God are sacred spaces, but they are not the only spaces. There are other places where God might be found.  This is God’s future and, being that this future really does come from God, and not just our limited imaginations, it just might be a little bigger than we think.

(Reposted with permission from: http://karyncarlo.net/)

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In Dr. Lisa Robinson Posted

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and the Devaluation of Colored Skin

By, Rev. Dr. Lisa Robinson

Amadou Diallo was murdered for carrying a wallet

Trayvon Martin was murdered for carrying a bag of skittles and ice tea…

How many more of our black men must die at the hands of trigger happy police officers and/or a neighborhood watch person? When will the day come when black life will be valued?

I pray for mothers all over the world that have a black son, a Caribbean son, a Hispanic son, because history has shown us that their life doesn’t matter and no value is placed on it.

It grieves my spirit (once again) that this mother and father must lay their head down from this night forward knowing that the man who murdered their son, is free! I’m so grateful that God is a Just God and the bible says vengeance is mine … I will repay!

My heart is heavy because this young man was minding his business and he was harassed by someone who was told to leave him alone. George Zimmerman chose not to listen to the order from the police and he murdered an innocent child. George Zimmerman may be free from serving time in jail but he will ALWAYS be in bondage because he knows within his heart that Trayvon didn’t deserve to die. George Zimmerman’s conscience will haunt and torment him until the day he dies.

Someone said, be careful of a baby with “power.”
Rest In Peace, Trayvon…We will NEVER forget!

Oh, God, I pray that as Trayvon’s parents lay their heads down, nightly that you remind them that YOU are God. God wrap your loving arms around them and let them know that even in the midst of the “not guilty verdict” there is a community of people praying for their strength.

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In Darnell Moore Posted

A Letter to Queer Christians

by Darnell Moore

I was moved to rage during a particular worship moment several years ago. I sat on the pew in disbelief while the rest of my sisters and brothers in the congregation were ecstatically offering praise to God. It happened when a well-known evangelist proudly declared from the pulpit that she would rather her son be addicted to drugs than to be a “sissy.” Shame on her, I thought, for subjecting the congregation to her cockeyed logic and for preaching a hateful homophobic message in the name of Christ. Shame on the gullible congregants, I also considered, for affirming her rash crudeness by elatedly jumping up out of their seats, lifting up their hands, and screaming conformist “amens” at the conclusion of her vicious statement.  In that moment of violation, I considered:  What becomes of the scorned believer? How should those who are maligned by their own worshipping communities respond? And is there an appropriate manner in which queer Christians ought to express our righteous indignation in response to the spiritual maltreatment committed by our Christian brothers and sisters?  I respond by suggesting that we, queer women and men, have every reason to be angry.  I contend that our righteous rage–a justifiable rage that takes as its subject vilifying acts of injustice, a ferocity that refuses to be settled until redress is actualized–should thusly form the foundation of our resistance.

Circular arguments

The present discourse on the acceptance of and ordination of queer men and women within the Church is a debate pivoting on the meager polarities of right/wrong, sinfulness/righteousness, victim/victimizer, and saint/sinner.  These discussions are often framed as cerebral deliberations by a heterosexist majority so as to highlight the need for “rational” and “intellectual” debate rather than dialogue fueled by queer folks’ emotions and contexts. Individuals have turned to scientific studies in search of the plausible biological underpinnings of sexual identity, theological resources in search of the existential answer to the hyper-imagined “institutions” of marriage and the traditional family, and psycho-social-cultural investigations in search of the common idealized norms that, supposedly, govern our universal moral codes. One notices, however, that the search for and appeal to imagined universal, objective truths have resulted in the denial of the most inestimable of truths, namely, the “truth” / the reality / the subjectivities / the authenticity of the named experience of beinga nd existence by the queer subject her/himself. As circular arguments continue to center on the perceived “homosexual problem,” the very voices of queer people are ignored, our life-stories denied, our sense of self disregarded, our agency stifled, and our very ontological speculations rendered mute.

The ignoring of our voices and the alienation to which we are subjected within the Christian community are, indeed, violent occurrences that mutilate our endowed freedom to exist as equals in our less than equitable world.  The experience of alienation and self-disintegration are, indeed, lamentable acts, but if we, queer Christians, only cry as victims in response, then surely, we shall be heard as victims and not as the falsely accused and vindicated oppressed who vehemently seek to resist and uproot the trifling heteronormative, hegemonic ideals and moves of those who attempt to demoralize us.

Righteous rage

I propose, then, a turn from a lament and a turn to rage to enervate the oppressive structures that seek to kill our senses of being-in-the-world.  I contend that our theologizing should be foregrounded in scriptural texts that give voice to the expression of righteous rage, especially, rage pointed at injustices committed, not by invisible social structures, but by the community of believers–our own sisters and brothers–that we call the body of Christ.

M. Shawn Copeland defines theology as the system/process through which one “interprets scripture and tradition in particular historical, social (i.e. political, economic, technological), and cultural situations for particular faith communities.  Theology takes its language, questions, and concerns from particular communities in particular situations; the answers it can provide are tentative, partial, provisional.”[1] It is the latter end of the definition, a delineation of the process through which theological reflection is shared and the mode through which inquiries should be disseminated, which is most relevant to the discussion at hand. First, theologies can be characterized as hostile and destructive when the produced speech, inquiries, and concerns are conceived as resolutely universal and objective despite the particularities that gesture toward the varied subjectivities and life experiences that characterize the diversity of God’s created beings. Second, dangerous theologies mimic definitive as opposed to tentative speculation, absolute rather than partial truth, and undeviating as opposed to provisional reflection.  This type of theologizing often takes the form of imperialized God-talk which reinforces the leveraged power of those dominating the conversation within the theological circle while exploiting those on the other side.

Violent theology?

Violent theology is nothing less than a move towards the refusal of the humanity of the other.  Thus, when one’s sense of “who she is in the world” is produced and reproduced by the Other and when theological constructions collapse the varied narratives fashioned in the global and local spaces of shared community into a coagulated, univocal, and hegemonic rendering of truth, then, it becomes violent. It is a type of violence that demands the silencing of queer voices and a denial of our freedom to name our selves. In response, we have a right to lift up our voices and to do so loudly. We are responsible for setting right our wrongs. We must not acquiesce to the ill treatment of our intimates, but should allow our voices to ring aloud until radical change (e.g. the ordination of queer women and men in our denominations; the full acceptance and space to participate within Christian worship communities; etc.) is actualized.


[1] See M. Shawn Copeland in Letty M. Russell’s and Jeanette Shannon’s (eds.) Clarkson Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, (Knoxville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 83.

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In Darnell Moore Posted

A Prayer

Dear God,

Please fix me. You, who are all-powerful and all-knowing, can see what others cannot. You, loving and merciful God, know the deepest desires of my heart even those that bring you shame. I do not want to love men, but I do. And I desire to be with you in heaven and seek never to meet the devil in hell. Fix me so that I might live a life pleasing to you even if that means I am meant to live a life where I am left unpleased.

If ever there was a prayer that I hoped would save me from the person that I was born to become (a sissy faggot sinner as named by some of your children), I am certain that I have already offered it up enough times to saturate heaven with my cries of desperation. My tears almost daily lined the threshing floor.

But there was no response from you, god. There was no magic, no salvation, no change, no luck to be gained from you. There was no death of lust and lost of love for men. There was no de-sissifying that awaited me on the other side of the many twists and leaps and tears and spit and tongues spoken at the altar. There was silence from you because dead gods don’t speak.

You did not answer me because it wasn’t You that I was speaking too. A collection of others’ fears made to resemble a deity is not alive. Shadows of human self-degradation do not transform. Tyrannical gods made to sustain order do not speak the language of love. You were made into the likeness of the powerful masses. They attempt to turn Spirit into white flesh.They attempt to fashion the transcendent into a restrictive idea. They attempt to name you Father as a means of furthering the patriarchy. Fathers wield power by their property and prowess, money and sex organs. They imagine you as possessing all four. But you are beyond and always resisting human ordering. It is you who models what it might mean to be truly trans and queer, but they refuse your revelation.

I had to kill their god to see and embrace Spirit, otherwise, I would still be seeking the end of my life while longing to begin a new life in your presence, in heaven. None of that was holy. Hell, as fiction, works to set afire our imagination. I was scared straight. Literally. But I decided that if hell would be my lot, for loving myself enough to lean into my desires and practice integrity, than I would enter with my head held high. I refused to lie in order to make it to heaven.

I now know that you have always been speaking. I am your expression. I am who I am, a black gay man a life brought forth by your love. And I am pleasing in your sight.

Thank you for loving me enough to refuse my prayers of self-denial and hatred. I am thankful for the silence that only dead gods can offer and for supplications unanswered. I am thankful to have found Spirit that cannot be contained in 66 books or within 4 walls. There is life in Spirit and too often death in churches. I am alive because you found me.

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In Darnell Moore Posted

Contested Alliances: The Black Church, The Right, and Queer Failure

by Darnell Moore
..there is something powerful in being wrong, in losing, in failing, and that all failures combined might just be enough, if we practice them well, to bring down the winner. Let’s leave success and its achievements to the Republicans, to the corporate managers of the world, to the winners of reality TV shows, to married couples, to SUV drivers. –Judith (Jack) Halberstam, from The Queer Art of Failure.

 

I do realize that failure and the politics of failure may seem to be an unusual beginning for an essay on religion and politics in the US especially when such talk tends to pivot on the politics of pragmatism and success. But, maybe not; failure just might be the revolutionary political intervention of our times necessary to unbind the seeming contested alliances between the Black Church and the Conservative Right—two bodies whose theological and ideological frameworks often cohere in this historical moment to form a heteronormative agenda that is used to police certain forms of sexual expressions and familial formations. I rely on the remarkably brilliant work of Judith/Jack Halberstam, author of The Queer Art of Failure, in what follows. I briefly offer some insights, hopefully useful, on queer failure as a political and theoretical intervention for our time—an intervention that might allow for a rethinking of the theologies and ideologies maintained by some within the Black Church and the Right.

On the Black Church

Over the past few decades, an emergent level of interest has been ignited within the Black church regarding advocacy and public policy aimed at revitalizing what some, like journalist Kim Lawton writing in 2004 in Religion and Ethics Newsweek, have described as “troubled African-American families.” In 2005, William Raspberry, writing in The Washington Post, suggested that “what is happening to the black family in America is the sociological equivalent of global warming: easier to document than to reverse, inconsistent in its near-term effect – and disastrous in the long run.”

Because of this urgency, organizations like the Detroit-based Institute for Black Family Development, which was created in 1987, had been developed to “equip pastors, youth workers, and churches to meet the spiritual needs of African-American families.” In addition, church leaders and public servants have met to discuss public policy issues and their impact, or lack thereof, on the African-American family like the briefing on the Restoration of the Black Family held in 1991, which included nearly 150 African-American pastors as well as the then President Bush, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, and members of Congress. However, emphasis has also been placed on the church’s responsibility to serve as the teacher of “dignity and value of human life, marriage, family, and community” and as a “strong witness” on behalf of “God’s design for marriage, family, and community.” Those words, by Anthony Bradley, appeared in an article on the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Society’s website in 2003 under a piece titled, “Devaluing the Black Family.”

Moreover, African-American churches have seemingly connected the problem of, what some deem to be, the disintegration of the African-American family to the gnawing statistics that points to the increasing number of single-parent led households, minimal percentage of married households within the African-American community, and the social issues which plaque African-American males. The US Census (2000), which set the alarm for those Black religious advocates doing this work in the early 2000s, reported that 41.6 percent of Black or African-American men reported that they never married, similarly, 39.7 Black or African-American women reported that they never married. In contrast to their counterparts, both Black and African-American men and women maintained the highest percentage of those who reported to have never married. In addition to the dwindling popularity of marriage, many list the number one priority, as it relates to the plight of the African-American family, to be the reclamation of the African-American male.1 For many within the African-American religious community, and without, the threat of the extinction of the African-American male seems to pose serious anxiety, so much so that articles with daring titles like “African-American Males: Soon Gone” have surfaced in publications like the Journal of African American Men. Thus, many see same-sex partnerships, especially that of male partnerships, as a direct threat to the sustainability of the Black family.

On the Conservative Right

Ronald Reagan once said, “The family has always been the cornerstone of American society. Our families nurture, preserve, and pass on to each succeeding generation the values we share and cherish, values that are the foundation of our freedoms.” Government is deemphasized, or muted altogether, in Reagan’s pronouncement underlying the importance of non-government intervention and individual responsibility as markers of freedom. While some Black Church leaders may deviate from the conservative push for smaller government and, therefore, limited government intervention in the social and economic life of the citizenry, some conceptualized the family (that is, a man and woman, husband/patriarch and wife who procreates) as the cure for communal and societal uplift. Marriage, then, becomes a central feature of the project of familial formation, community-building, of nation-building. The centralizing figure within this formulaic motif of normalcy (whether framed within the Black Church and/or the Conservative political matrix) is the patriarch, the father, the husband, the head, God. Thus, those who advocate on behalf of “traditional family” (read, heteropatriarchy) and heterogeneous marriage, connect social problems like the legalization of same-sex marriage and single-parent (non-fathered) households to the decline of values, the marring of our nation’s moral character, the fracturing of our economic stability, and the diminution of our freedom. Interestingly, the conservative republican Newt Gingrich suffered opposition from pro-family groups and ministers after having “come out” about his own marital infidelity and other moral failures. That’s good failure, if I may say so myself.

On Queer Failure

So what are those of us who exist outside of the domain of normalcy: the non-heterosexual, the non-married heterosexual and homosexual, the persons who do not parent or have been parented in two parent-home spaces, those who refuse the mother-father dyad, the non-procreative (who might also be differently abled), the transgender, the single mother, the adopted youth who is a ward of the state and living in transitional housing…those folk who exist outside of the realm of so-called morality, tradition, natural arrangement, boxes…those folk who I name here as queer not because of sexual identity, but whose beings, senses of self, social locations, and choices consign us to stricture because we obviate structure…those of us who have perfected queer failure by obstructing the rules of heterormativity and heteropatriarchy as manufactured by the Church or the State, Black Church or Conservative Right…what are we to do in this moment? How might we assess these times? How might we undo the grips of modernity and illuminate new ways of being in our now?

I answer: Our non-obeisance to the “rules” offered us, the radical act of loving and/or being sexually intimate with someone of the same sex, the refusal of a woman to marry the man who she may love because of the belief—as brilliantly articulated by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein in 1988—that the imagined “traditional family” has to be destroyed “in order to restructure society and abolish all gender roles”…the refusal to bear children even if you can…our ability to fail at that which has been deemed successful by the Church (Black, White, Brown, Catholic and Protestant) and/or the State (whether by way of regulations or legislations) is the radical act. I am arguing that some segments of the Black Church (and many other iterations of the Christian community) and the Conservative Right desire a certain type of legibility, a legibility of the subject. But failure, as iterated by Halberstam, refuses legibility and, therefore, frustrates an agenda tending towards the hetero-norm. We fail successfully.

Recommended Reading:

  • The Black Family, “Changing Church Confronts the Changing
    Black Family: Religious Leaders Call for New Spirit to Deal with New
    Problems and Opportunities of Parents and Children,” Interview, Ebony
    Magazine, August 1993.
  • Kimberly Jane Wilson, “Black Men and Families: What’s Going On?” New Visions Commentary (2001);
  • Herbert A. Sample,“For many blacks, gay fight isn’t theirs; Civil rights analogy is widely discounted,” Sacramento Bee, March 16, 2004.

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In Darnell Moore Posted

Lesbian Teenager in Newark Dies. The Black Church is Silent.

The Death of Sakia Gunn

Why were Black churches silent after the death of Sakia Gunn, a 15-year old lesbian who was stabbed to death on Newark’s busiest intersection in 2003? That question is one way to begin an interrogation of Black churches’ responses, or lack thereof, to the tragic murder of Sakia at the hands of a presumably straight adult male perpetrator, but it does not permit a nuanced answer that seeks to contextualize churches’ responsiveness or unresponsiveness to Sakia’s murder within the broader trajectory of Black church activism centered on anti-violence as it manifested, or not, in the city of Newark and elsewhere. But it seems some other questions have yet to be asked in relation to activism post-Sakia’s death on the part of those within the church and without. I wonder, for example, Why were White churches, within Newark and without, silent after the death of Sakia? Why were mainstream progressive White LGBTQ organizations and media outlets silent after Sakia’s death (though, there were some exceptions like Workers World and a Montclair-based LGBTQ community group)? Have White churches—within Newark and without—and mainstream progressive White organizations been active in the anti-violence, anti-racism, and anti-sexism work that had been underway before and after Sakia’s death?

I am in no way attempting to dismiss heterosexism as a possibility for churches’ silence. In fact, I know many virulently heterosexist believers in the city of Newark and elsewhere—I have been on the receiving end of some of their rebukes. But what I am attempting to do is complicate the easily-made argument that the silences of many Black church leaders around the death of Sakia were solely a result of homophobia. My concern has to do with the overly cited claim that Black churches, and by default Black people, tend to be more homophobic than some others. While I have interviewed LGBTQ-identified Newarkers who stated that they believe Black folk to be more homophobic than non-Black people, we have not gathered enough qualitative data to validate that claim. The questions posed are not meant to point or redistribute blame, but are meant to irradiate the messy interconnections of race, gender, sexuality, class, religiosity, and geography that ought to be examined in relation to the reactions of some and the silences of others. While this essay centers on a particular case in Newark, NJ, it may illuminate thoughts that could be applied to discussions on Black churches and homophobia across the USA.

Faheem Williams: A Newark Child Murdered

I now turn to another murder that occurred in Newark in 2003 as an additional site to read Black church silence, oppression, and/or activism. The tragic death of 7-year old Faheem Williams, who was killed by an older teenage cousin, received a lot of press attention including several articles that ran in the New York Times. The case became popular because of the disturbing specifics of the case (Faheem was found dead in a basement) and its subsequent impact on the state of New Jersey’s responses to child abuse claims.

Faheem’s case is quite different than Sakia’s. The assailant was similarly convicted of manslaughter, but the case was not tried as a hate crime. In addition, young Faheem was not murdered because of his sexual identity, but similar to Sakia, he was a black, economically challenged, young person who lacked certain protections in Newark. In response to his murder, Bishop James D. Churchwell Jr., pastor of the Emmanuel Church of Christ in Newark where Faheem’s funeral service was held, offered these words, ”our children are in a condition where they need a savior. They need salvation.”1

Bishop Churchwell acknowledges a “condition” that Gary Jardin, a long-time Newark based cultural worker and intellectual, noted as being present within Newark even during the time of the writing of his essay, “The Myth of the Renaissance City,” ten years before Sakia’s death in 1993. Jardin notes, “I think about…the kids trying to thrive in treacherous circumstances characterized by the phrases there are no children here and savage inequalities.”2 Jardin references the brutalizing language that had been used by journalists and some others when describing Newark youth and the conditions that they lived through. Thus, Churchwell, like Jardin, described the conditions that youth encountered in Newark in 2003 as unforgiving, as that which required mediation and even salvation. But, what type of “salvation” was Churchwell referencing? Was he referring to a type of existential salvation of the soul or the saving of Newark’s children from such tenuous material conditions by their adult caretakers?

If Churchwell meant that Newark’s children require existential salvation, that is, saving by and through the Christ, it makes sense why he—and some other church leaders who maintain similar theological understandings—might have also viewed the Bible and prayer as the requisite tools for change and advocacy as opposed to marches and political action. Such understanding produces a theological interpretation of the “weapons of warfare” as spiritual weapons and not carnal tools. To put it another way, in the case of Faheem, resistance ostensibly took the form of spiritual crusading as opposed to corporeal activism. I wonder, then, if this might have been a posture similarly taken up by some Black church leaders after the death of Sakia? Might it have been the case that some Black church leaders located no other tool, but spiritual tools, in their advocacy toolkits at the time? Or, were the silences around Sakia’s death a direct result of heterosexism, period?

Black Christian Leaders’ Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage

I think it is fair to argue that both were possibilities and remain plausible today. For example, The Star Ledger, the local newspaper covering Newark, recently ran a story titled, “N.J.’s black churches open doors to gay congregants, but not right to marry.”3 The article begins with these hopeful words, “A random sampling of black ministers in the Newark area found many are aware of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered men and women in their congregations, singing in the choir or working in a church office. And they are willing to welcome them with open arms.” The survey results offers a perspective of Black church leaders’ attitudes that counter the assumption that most leaders maintain heterosexist beliefs; though, the article doesn’t state if the survey gauged how their views have changed over time since Sakia’s death, assuming the Black church leaders and congregants are familiar with her case. Some aren’t.

The article continues by pointing out the extent to which their “welcome” is truly welcoming or not. For example, the reporter notes, “But support gay marriage from the pulpit? Don’t even think of it. Some pastors object on the basis of scripture, others just don’t see it as the church’s mission to take a political stand on gay rights of any kind.” Rev. William Howard, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, preaches against homophobia but was quoted as saying, “my ministry is not defined by advocacy of gay people.” The reporter goes on to note that he “doesn’t believe the church should be called upon to overtly endorse or criticize topics such as gay marriage.” The article also includes the perspective of The Rev. Jethro James, pastor of Paradise Baptist in Newark, president of the Newark North Jersey Committee of Black Churchmen and a well-known activist within the city. When speaking of the several gay and one transgendered person in his congregation, he stated, “They come to worship. And ask forgiveness. Sinners welcome. Come join us.” Thus, while it is quite clear that advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people is not the principle area of concern for the pastors interviewed and it is clear that some of the pastors maintain an interpretation of scripture that still upholds LGBTQ sexual identity and behavior as sinful, the assumed apathetic posture that Black church leaders are thought to take as it relates to the upholding of the humanity of queer persons seems to be complicated by some of the statements in the article. The problem of singularity (or, rather, the focus on singular issues as opposed to intersectional approaches), particularly as it relates to the types of issues prioritized by some church leaders like Rev. Howard, remains in some churches, however. Thus, an intersectional approach to advocacy in all Black churches is necessary.

It was a tragic irony that Sakia was stabbed at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets in Newark. Her blood was spilled at a literal crossing and a metaphorical juncture where various forms of oppression manifest, especially for black women. It may very well be the case that some Black churches were silent because of their desire to stay clear of the question of Sakia’s sexuality or because gay advocacy did not factor as a principle area of concern for them, like Rev. Howard intimates. It is right to critique those Black churches for failing to appeal to a Black political agenda that dismisses sexuality and queer subjectivities. Such dismissals are oppressive. On the other hand, what are we to think of those churches whose silence was not the result of a myopic political platform, but who honestly understood their activist role, like Bishop Churchwell in the case of Faheem’s murder, to be a “spiritual” one?

 

2 Jardin 67

3 Published: Sunday, December 11, 2011, 7:26 AM By Linda Ocasio/The Star-Ledger

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In Darnell Moore Posted

To Believe or Not to Believe? Is That the Right Question for LGBT people?

Authors: Darnell L. Moore and Derrick McMackie
Darnell: What motivated you to pursue an atheistic path?

Derrick: Like many Black Americans, I was indoctrinated into Christianity as a child. The child and grandchild of Black Christians, I had very little choice about my religious views. I was always an inquisitive child. I can remember being in Sunday school and asking questions that startled and confounded my teachers. I wondered why the ancient Egyptians would be punished on Judgment Day for not believing in a god that they had no knowledge of. I wondered why small children in China would be punished by a supposedly loving Christian god simply for having their own god(s). These kinds of questions about religion stuck with me throughout my life.

The death of my aunt from cancer in 2000 was an event that had a profound effect on me in terms of taking a critical look at the concept of god. I can remember asking why god would take my aunt away, why he would allow her to suffer and die? The religious justifications given did not satisfy me. I never looked at religion the same after that. I would remain in the church throughout my teens, mostly for its social and familial aspects. However, by the time I was leaving for college, I had pretty much given up on religion. When I arrived at college, I still believed in god, but I took a more spiritual approach rather than seeking out a particular religion. As a history major at an HBCU, I was confronted daily with records that exposed me to Traditional African Religions, the social and political developments that led to Christianity, and the myths and legends of many of the world’s cultures.

All of this coalesced in the winter of 2007, when I was discussing religion with two of my friends one night. We talked about the various concepts of Jesus and how wide the interpretations and beliefs about him were. I left that conversation knowing, without a doubt, that I didn’t believe in any religious myths or supernatural claims. On January of 2008, in a Public Speaking class, I announced that I was as an atheist.

Given the number of LGBT people who suffer under the tyranny of religion and god, what do you consider some of the benefits and/or consequences of members of the LGBT community rejecting religion and god?

Darnell: First, let me name what some might consider benefits of belief in God and/or gods. For many LGBT people and otherwise, faith and religious tradition is a vital aspect of personhood and community. Some Black LGBT folk consider religiosity an essential part of black cultural and social life. Similar to you, I grew up in the church. I too was inquisitive. And even after attending seminary in my late 20’s, a moment when my theological beliefs shifted drastically, I still maintained faith in God, even though I no longer believed in “hell.”

I read (when I do) Hebrew and New Testament scripture as texts composed by communities of faith—that is, by humans—and not as historical documents. I rarely attend church these days. And I believe in that which encompasses the human, the earth, the cosmos and moves through/connects all: the Spirit (notice that I didn’t reference a gendered god as “he”).

For me, there is something powerful about understanding oneself as connected to something larger. There is also something powerful about communal connection through religious experience. I loved church because of the music. I also loved the people, the sharing of our vulnerabilities in community; the communal worship; the routine and traditions. I loved feeling as if there was something bigger in this cosmos than me: that there was a community of sisters and brothers—a church.

I want to be careful, then, not to read other LGBT peoples’ religious experiences as monolithic moments of tyranny, even if I may have experienced heterosexist oppression at some churches I’ve attended. I understand why it is hard for some LGBT people, even those who experience heterosexism and transphobia in certain religious spaces, to leave places that they otherwise come to experience as “home,” as community. For many, disrupting belief in one’s god is akin to murdering parts of themselves. And leaving one’s church family can be an emotionally-charged experience.

But to your question: I am of the opinion that LGBT folk, and all folk, should be respected for making choices that work for them. There are moments when I have encouraged those whom I love to leave religious communities that seemed harmful (in my opinion). But I also remembered that they were not without agency and volition. Given that, I am not certain that I can make a general claim regarding perceived benefits and/or consequences of LGBT folk who leave churches or reject belief in god. Each person’s desires and decisions, surely, determine how their experiences will register.

How do you reconcile (or hold in tension) your respect for the contexts and traditions of others’ particularly theistic religious practices and your own desire to interrogate and even dismantle some practices that you find harmful?

Derrick: As someone raised in the Black Christian church, and someone with a deep respect and regard for Traditional African Religions, I struggle with being both critical and sympathetic with regards to my critiques of theism.

As a Black gay atheist, there are certainly aspects of Black religious traditions that I appreciate. I do not hide the fact that I love gospel music, the oratorical flare of Black pastors, the delicious food often eaten after religious services, the vibrancy of Candomble and Voodoo and the beauty of The Orishas, to name a few of  the things I treasure. However, I must be able to criticize those things that I love \ experience as harmful.

The fact of the matter is that religion, particularly Christianity, is and has been very damaging to the Black community. While I understand that some of my ancestors perhaps turned to Christianity to cope with and prevail against white supremacy, I can’t ignore its harmful effects. I feel that it is my duty as a Black gay intellectual and social justice advocate to draw attention to the destruction wrought by religion, particularly Christianity. Many Blacks are cut off from our history and traditions as well as each other because of our blind embrace of Christianity. We have allowed homophobia, sexism, and disregard for our African ancestors to roam free in the Black community because of our embrace of and devotion to the religion of our ancestors’ enslavers. These are the issues that I feel I must address as a Black gay atheist, and if that means that I will piss people off or be accused of disrespect that is a risk that I am willing to take.

Why do you think there is still so much hesitance when it comes to critically engaging the concept of “god”?

Darnell: While I may personally take a more critical position (and by “critical” here, I don’t mean to imply that any position outside of my own is any less thoughtful, nuanced, and deliberate) in terms of Christian thought and other theological systems, in general, I affirm those believers who think and feel and act differently than me. Indeed, when I critique someone for maintaining theist beliefs and commitments to certain religious practices–for thinking differently than me–I participate in a process of othering that essentially renders the believer as someone lacking rationality, analysis, and agency.

That, to me, is a posture that attempts to elevate rationality, the mind, over those affective, psychological, embodied, existential aspects of the human which escapes language and theory. That type of dualism is a function of Western philosophical thought that attempts to split the mind from the body. For those raced collectivities, for example, whose humanity was called into question because we were thought to be of the body and without the mind (i.e. beasts, sub-humans, et cetera) this type of thought should prove problematic.

But what is the job of the “critical thinker” or the “social justice worker” in this regard? Who determines which points of view to privilege? By using descriptors like “critical thinker” are we setting up false and harmful dichotomies, once again?

I think all of this betrays any project of community building because it replicates the oppressive postures that black folk, LGBT folk and otherwise, have had to war against. It betrays the very agency, critical intelligence, experiences of a people as if we cannot think for ourselves, as if we always accept the master’s “shit” and believe that it smells of roses, as if we have not created our own traditions or transformed those we were handed, and so on. While I agree that the history of Christianity, especially in the Americas, is wrought with problems and that the missionizing of black and brown peoples is central to the historical narrative of white supremacy, I refuse to suggest that black and brown people lack cognition and/or are without volition especially when many black and brown people have long held indigenous spiritual ideas and practices that some others named absurd. To act against the beliefs of a people is an attempt to colonize their beliefs.

Yet, I do believe that we should be addressing the problems that exist and might easily wreak havoc in the lives of people without fear of counterattack. Can you talk a bit about the backlash that you’ve experienced within your family, communities, et cetera for taking a public atheistic stance?

Derrick: In terms of my own atheism, I can’t say that I have received a lot of backlash from my family, community, or the public. Most of the people who I am close with understand that I am a very passionate and intelligent person. They know that most of my beliefs are the product of research and serious critical thinking. As a result of this, I think a lot of people respect me as an atheist because they know I didn’t come to my beliefs haphazardly.

I would say that my family is somewhere between indifferent and accepting of my atheism. While my mother is a Christian who attends church regularly, I’d probably describe my father as an agnostic. This usually means that I get a mixture of disappointment and acceptance from my parents. As an atheist student at Florida A&M University, my undergraduate institution, I always felt that my professors and peers respected me as an atheist. I can remember department heads coming to me after hearing or reading about my atheism and telling me that I was the first openly atheist person that they had heard of and that they thought it was cool or interesting. The student newspaper, The Famuan, allowed me to write freely as a Black atheist.

While my atheism hasn’t led to much backlash for me personally, I don’t want to portray atheism in the Black or gay community as being an easy ride. There is a lot of stigma, in both the Black and gay communities, towards those who identify as atheists. It could even be said that, to many people, being an atheist is worse than being gay, because at least the latter continues to believe in god. I know of peers who have lost family and friends because of their atheism. It isn’t unusual to hear of people in the media stereotyping atheist as immoral or corrupt. Celebrities like Steve Harvey and Pat Robertson are two examples of prominent people who fuel backlash against atheism. Though, on the whole, I think that the tide is in an atheist movement’s favor. National polls and surveys continue to reveal that America is becoming less religious.

What can the LGBT rights movement learn from the atheist movement, and vice versa?

Darnell: Before I address that question, I want to first respond to the claim you make above regarding the plight of atheists and gays. First, it assumes that there are atheists who are not LGBT and vice versa. You are evidence that such a claim is not true. Second, I am not sure that we can make an argument regarding whose oppression is more pronounced when in fact oppression looks and feels differently based on the multitude of identities that folk assume. I want to resist playing Oppression Olympics.

But the atheist movement reminds majorities that there are others who think differently and who deviate from the norms maintained by those majorities. It reminds us that we are not all the same and that our differences, therefore, should be acknowledged and respected.

LGBT people know a bit about resistance to difference and also the need for safe space for a range of people—who represent a range of expressions. I think the atheist movement could be reminded of the need for space, safe space, for all, even those theists who might hold different beliefs.

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