Friday, March 30, 2007

(re)considering queer communities in the black church

a recent NYT article testifies to the hardships currently being faced by black churches in atlanta, georgia that have become welcoming and affirming. the congregation of victory church in stone mountain, georgia has halved over the past four or five years; tabernacle baptist church has struggled financially due to the loss of three hundred tithing parishioners over the last three years. for blessing the commitment ceremonies of gay and lesbian couples and including trans people in their congregations, black pastors in the atlanta area have suffered grave threats to their ministry.

from the anti-lynching advocacy of Ida B. Wells and other early twentieth century African American women reformers, to the contributions of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, and the ongoing faith-based community organizing in urban centers such as East Brooklyn and New Haven, there is a great tradition of prophetic politics in the black church. these atlanta pastors have upheld this heritage and answered their call as christians to stand in full solidarity with "the least of these" (Matthew 25:45).

in accordance with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:11), christians believe in the resilience of oppressed peoples and that all of humanity is precious, belonging to and made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). we believe that in our diversity, we possess oneness as children of God (Colossians 3:8-11). we believe that the Lord loves righteousness and fills the earth with “unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5) and that as disciples of Christ, we too should seek justice and be, as the Lord is, a stronghold for the oppressed (Psalms 9:8-10). for those of us who are Red Letter Christians, we must be faithful to Christ’s words above any other nationalistic, cultural, or worldly ideology. to value mortal agendas of marginalization and hate above God’s command to love one another as He loves us (John 15:12), is to be guilty of idolatry.

it is biblical teachings such as these that call us to embrace queer brothers and sisters, defend their civil rights, and love them ceaselessly.

moreover, as black folk, we have been historically oppressed by the same power structure that persecutes queer communities. both communities of color and queer communities are engaged in a common struggle to destabilize a supremacy founded simultaneously upon whiteness, patriarchy, and heterosexism.

the homophobia of several black american churches not only silences and excludes queer christians but dangerously precludes the possibility of an adequate ecclesiastical response to the crisis of HIV/AIDS in black america. the perception of AIDS as a disease associated with homosexuality and sin has prevented many clergyfolk from openly and boldly addressing the threat it levies against our people. in March 2006, a CDC report stated that HIV was the second leading cause of death amongst black men ages 35-44, and the third leading cause of death amongst black women ages 25-44. according to a 2000 census, African Americans make up 13% of the US population but 49% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. 61% of people under age 25 diagnosed in 2001-2004 were African American. furthermore, there are 24.7 million adults & children living with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. in 2006, there were 2.1 million AIDS deaths of adults and children.

the church movement to combat poverty, promote economic development locally and globally, provide care for families and orphans, and advocate for policy change, must continue to grow. HIV/AIDS ministry is necessary for the fortification, restoration, and salvation of our people, all people.

community institutions, spiritual and otherwise, must lead and call for change locally, federally, and globally. it is imperative that the church continue to work to de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS in our communities in order to provide education, reform, and support those who are suffering from this epidemic in our neighborhoods, nation, world, and Body.

the shame associated with homosexuality in the black church is connected more broadly to the problem of black sexuality that persists in our collective memory as a legacy of slavery. from enslavement to the present, black people have been systematically subjected to sexual violence, robbed of sexual autonomy and agency, indicted for allegedly deprave moral sensibilities, and accused of possessing salacious and brutal sexual tendencies that jeopardized both white virtue and social order. throughout history, black scholars, performers, artists, activists, and individuals have sought to challenge the objectification of the black body and the dehumanization of black desire.

several prophetic black voices have been central to this process of healing black consciousness, reclaiming black bodies, and reviving belief in the possibility of black love. an acknowledgement of our varied gender and sexual identities is an essential step toward beginning a centuries overdue honest and open dialogue about our intimacy and wellness.

knowing that as black people, our pleasure has always been political, we must not shrink from the opportunity to define our own sexual identities and take control of our sexual health. remembering, as Christians, that God died for all of us, we must unfailingly love each other. and so we stand in solidarity, our many distinct and overlapping communities (christian, black, and queer), resolved to confront the lingering consequences of the past and forge a better future on terms determined only by ourselves and God.


Anonymous said...

for real. Civil rights are the last thing that should be getting dealt the "I got mine, see you later" attitude.

Andrew said...

While I'm glad that articles like this, along with the work of West and others spark conversation on sexuality within the black community, I sometimes wonder if the amount of media attention given to homophobia in minority communities and racism in the queer community don't incite ill-feelings between the groups. While homophobia and racism are both huge issues in both community, they are in society in general, and, while the particular history of black sexuality in the US does deserve special consideration, these articles rarely concern themselves with the greater issues at play.

The Times article referenced I think did a pretty good job, but it would have been interesting if they had looked at churches in other communities that have taken similar steps in reaching out to the queer community.

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