Thursday, May 24, 2012

NPR exposes the complex relationship between the Black Church and gays

Rev. Dennis Wiley
When it comes to gays and the black church, NPR just ripped opened the closet door and all of the bones fell out. An excellent piece which needs more exposure:

Fairly or not, African-Americans have become the public face of resistance to same-sex marriage, owing to their religious beliefs and the outspoken opposition of many black pastors.

Yet the presence of gays and lesbians in black churches is common. And the fact that they often hold leadership positions in their congregations is the worst kept secret in black America.

While many black pastors condemn gays and lesbians from the pulpit, the choir lofts behind them often are filled with gay singers and musicians. Some male pastors themselves have been entangled in scandals involving alleged affairs with men.

"Persons who are in the closet serve on the deacon boards, serve in the ministry, serve in every capacity in the church," the Rev. Dennis W. Wiley, pastor of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Maryland, says of black churches. Wiley is a prominent advocate of gay marriage. "I do believe a certain hypocrisy is there."

. . . Some say pastors' hostility cuts hard against the history of how countless black churches have flourished. The virtuosity of gay singers, musicians and composers has been the driving force in developing popular gospel choirs — even chart-topping, Grammy-winning acts — that make money for a church, help expand congregations and raise the profiles of pastors.

It all happens under an unspoken "don't ask, don't tell" custom that allows gay people to be active in the church, though closeted, and churches to reap the benefits of their membership.

Some say the arrangement is not only hypocritical, but exploitative.

"On the one hand, you're nurtured in the choir but you also have to sit through some of those fire and brimstone sermons about homosexuality being an abomination," says E. Patrick Johnson, an openly gay gospel singer and author of Sweet Tea: An Oral History of Black Gay Men of the South.

Read more of Blacks, Gays And The Church: A Complex Relationship

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Erica Cook said...

I'm sorry, but I don't understand why people would belong to places that hate them.

glendenb said...

There's a great quote in the article:

"Commentator Keith Boykin, who is African-American and gay, calls it a paradox: "The church might be the most homophobic and most homotolerant of any institution in the black community."

It reminds me of the dynamic many women face in conservative faith communities - denied leadership roles as pastors or heads of governing bodies, they nevertheless devote themselves to selfless service for decades. The church provides a social space in which they can give their gifts and in which the community can receive and celebrate those gifts - they can shine and the community can operate without them. Gay folk in churches are often in the same boat. They aren't accepted as gay men or women but their gifts are welcomed and celebrated.

I live in Utah and I see so many gay men who throw themselves into activity in the Mormon church in much the same way. They can't be accepted as gay men but the church gives them a role to play in the community which provides validation for who they are.