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Saturday, May 19, 2012


I think one reason that I have put off writing this chapter for so long is that there could definitely be some question, even on my part, as to whether or not I should even touch this subject.

In the introduction I referred to the standard (and I consider sage) advice given to all authors: WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW...and because I believe in that premise, I don't want to get down to the end of this writing and start delving into topics that are beyond my grasp, or my ability to understand or relate to with any kind of real empathy.

But, at the same time, I do want to say everything that I had originally intended to while I have this opportunity.

Specifically, I wanted to deal with the subject of race and homophobia before I send the manuscript off to be printed for public consumption.

Even more specifically, I wanted to deal with both the real and perceived homophobia of the African-American community, and the "Black Church" in particular.

I grew up in a very multicultural and racially diverse world, and am quite comfortable in that environment, so it's no surprise that the church I founded took on some of my personality, including my attitude toward diversity. Our congregation has been racially diverse from its inception in the spring of 1985, and at this point in our history, the demographic of the church body, at least at the original location in Conyers, is predominantly African-American.

One question that I have been asked quite frequently and consistently in the months following my coming out, especially from people of color that are in contact with me from literally all over the world, is this: "Did all the black people leave your church when you told them you were gay?"

Obviously (and thankfully) the answer to that question is "no, they did not."

Timing is Everything

It certainly will be interesting in future months and years to read this chapter in the light of the way that all of this will eventually play out, but at the time of this writing it is an election year, and President Barack Obama is running for his second term in office.

As I said, I had pretty much decided not to write this chapter and just go ahead and send this off to be published...mainly because I'm so behind schedule in getting it done...but just as I was about to put the finishing touches to the manuscript, the President made his public statement endorsing the rights of gay Americans to be married, which subsequently set off a firestorm in the Black Church.
I saw this as a confirmation that I should go ahead and talk about this, even though I have been told in no uncertain terms by some in the African-American community that, as a white man, I have no business and/or authority to discuss this at all.

But I disagree.

I am a minister. I am an American. I am gay. I am a voter. I am a tax-payer. I am pastor to a lot of black people. I honor and respect the Black Church and its important place in American life and unique role in the shaping of American history, particularly in the area of the Civil Rights movement. And I love and pray regularly for my President...even drove all the way to Washington D.C. just to stand out in the freezing cold to attend his inauguration.

Not only is it my right to talk about this, I believe it is my responsibility.

As I write this, as recently as yesterday the NAACP stepped up and officially made the same endorsement for the rights of gay people as did the President a few days earlier, which has brought about even more conflict within the Black Church.

Their explanation for their reason in doing so at this time was that their position was and is basically based on Dr. King's assertion that "a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to just everywhere"...that Civil Rights is really about human rights across the board...that to not make a statement in regards to gay rights, especially now that the President has taken an official stand on gay marriage, would essentially compromise their moral authority as a Civil Rights organization.

Coretta Scott King once said,

"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

On another occasion she said,

"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." 

But over the last few days, the news and YouTube has been filled with clips of sermons from black pastors, demonstrating the backlash (some call it "blacklash") to the President's comments. One prominent African-American pastor of a large and historic church stood in his pulpit last Sunday, officially denouncing Obama, whom he had previously supported, claiming that the President's support of equal rights for gay Americans was a destructive threat to America equivalent to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. (A white pastor of a large church also told his white congregation the same day that all the gays and lesbians should be quarantined and surrounded by an electric fence until they all died off, but this is about the Black Church, so I won't mentioned that guy...or the white pastor who, a few days earlier told his North Carolina congregation that they should vote against Obama, and if any of their sons were sissies that they should punch them out...but I digress).

Makes you wonder if anyone in the church still just simply preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

I've heard some leaders claim that for gay people to try to relate their struggle in any way to that of African-Americans in this country is not only a travesty...an insult to those who gave their lives for the Civil Rights movement...that it is also "pimping out" the movement, because sexual orientation is, in their view, a choice, and skin color is not.

Some years ago, Elder Bernice King, a minister and the daughter of Dr. King, spoke at an anti-gay rights rally sponsored by Bishop Eddie Long's ministry when she was still employed by his church. In her speech that day she said,

"I know in my sanctified soul that my daddy didn't take a bullet for same-sex marriage."

But her mother, who often spoke at Gay Pride events, was quoted as saying,

"My husband, Martin Luther King Jr., once said, "We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny… an inescapable network of mutuality,… I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be." Therefore, I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people. Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.”

It goes without saying that I have great respect and reverence for the iconic widow of Dr. King. Not only did she carry on his mission and live out the essence of his message more than anyone else has before or since, but as an Atlanta native and child of the 60's (and a gay man), I feel very connected to her legacy of courage. Much of the Black Church publicly turned on her when she stood up for gay rights, including many in her own family, but she never apologized for it, or backed down at all for her stance.

That's why I stood for four hours in the rain outside Ebenezer Baptist Church just to pass by her open casket when she died, and then was privileged to be able to attend (with my son, Judah) her historic, six-hour funeral at New Birth Missionary Baptist the next day.

She was an amazing woman, who deeply understood what her husband lived and preached.

Doing the right thing isn't easy, and it often comes with a great price. I vividly remember passing by the "Christian" protesters outside her funeral as we entered the church who held up banners and signs saying "No fags in Dr. King's dream!" and "She's in hell!"

What's Goin' On?

Much has been studied and written about why particular oppressed people groups often eventually oppress other people groups. It's a phenomenon that is difficult to understand. Sociologically and anthropologically, this often-repeated historic reality is closely related on a psychological level to the reason that sexually or physically abused children often grow up to be sexual and physical abusers, themselves.

It has never made sense to me.

I would think that if I had been abused in such a way as a child, that I would absolutely reject any impulse I might have to pass on the abuse to another generation. I certainly know that, in my own case, I disciplined my own children quite differently from the way that I was disciplined as a child (not that I was abused...just saying that I didn't do it at all the way my parents did), so it would stand to reason to me that victims of abuse would be anything but abusers!

But, clearly...and sadly...that's not the case.

Nearly every case of child abuse reveals a continuation of a trend in a dysfunctional family

In the same way, I would think that any group that had been oppressed would, if anything, be nothing at all but champions of ending oppression for other groups.

Thankfully, Dr. King understood that principle...and he certainly was not the only one in the African-American community who did...it's just unfortunate that so many leaders in the Black Church apparently have such limited vision in this area.

That's why it was so encouraging to me to see the NAACP take the stand that it did this week.

It's only right.

And when it comes to the Black Church and the stereotype of its gay intolerance, I can only marvel that some men and women who are supposed to be theologians don't realize that the same Bible they use to bash gay people was also used to promote and defend slavery in this country!

I won't go into a study of it here (I'll save it for my next book), but suffice it to say that even in the New Testament, slavery is strongly supported. It certainly was supported by Paul, who clearly believed that some people were born to nobility and some to servitude. Even with his  great revelation of the Christ, he was a product of his times and its ignorance and prejudices. 

As I've said before, it's why the Scriptures must be rightly divided.

Do a little study of the abolitionist movement in this country, and you'll see how much history is repeating itself with the spirit of the way people use the Bible to argue both sides of gay rights.

There was a time in this country that the Jewish community and African-American community were very emotionally connected and mutually supportive, and now they are not so much.

This is an extremely simplistic explanation of the present gulf between those two communities, but, as I understand and perceive it on a very basic level, it boils down to an impasse in the argument of who had it the worse as a people, historically, bringing up the much-debated and unanswerable question: Which is more horrible, the Holocaust or American Slavery?

I've been involved in those kinds of conversations, in which someone inevitably brings up the plight of the Native Americans and the Trail of Tears, and no one ever wins the argument because all of it is horrible.

Man's inhumanity to man never makes sense and can't be rationalized.

But let's say for argument's sake that people of color had it the worse, a premise with which I have no dispute...slavery...the Middle Passage...Jim Crow laws...lynching...modern forms of racism and injustice for minorities...all of it...

To the African-American community at large I say, if indeed your experience has been the worse...the most inhumane...the most unjust...shouldn't that make you even more compassionate and sensitive to the pain of all other disenfranchised and oppressed people?

Martin Luther King and his wife, Coretta, certainly believed that it did...listen again to his description of 'The Beloved Community' and tell me that everyone isn't included in that vision!

And to the Black Clergy, which has been very outspoken in a negative way about me, I say, please rightly divide the Scriptures, and use them only to share the GOOD NEWS...the GOOD NEWS of liberty and love and acceptance and understanding and empathy and being salt and light...be the liberators that you were called to be, and learn from your own experience that the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life!

Please...if Jesus didn't talk about it, then don't worry about it...in a word, just preach the GOOD NEWS...love God...love others!

Can't we all just get along?


  1. What a refreshing news article to read this morning that the NAACP is embracing same-sex marriage as a civil right for all. It makes me smile inside to see a group of people who really understand the nature of "less than" thinking rise up in support of another group of people (who they don't traditionally support).
    I also find it heart-warming that many black religious leaders are also not willing to throw out the baby with the bath water in supporting Obama after his support of equality in this area...
    The world as we have known it is rapidly changing...Be the change...Woohoo......

  2. The lesson I am learning currently in my earth school is...
    When I proclaim (through thoughts, actions or words) my own shortcomings to the ends of a boundless universe, I am seeing things in a way that are totally opposite of how Our God (Our Creator) sees me...
    By that same analogy, when I proclaim (through thoughts, actions or words(anyone or anything else as being "less than", I also limit them or it in a way that is totally opposite of how Our God (Our Creator) sees them or it...
    Instead, I choose from this day forward to see God in all things and believe that everyone and every circumstance I find myself a part of each moment as doing the best we can from where we are and that we are all evolving and progressing from that place just as we should...
    It is in the immense uniqueness, diversity and contrast of everything, everyone that we all find perfect balance...
    This has become a much more pleasant place for me as I think and live this...
    Be kind to yourself and all things line up around this...

  3. Wonderful! I've been waiting to hear from you since President Obama's interview and the NAACP's declaration in support of marriage equality. I am so happy to hear that you have included these historic events in your book, which I await to see in print. God bless you as you preach liberty to the captives!


  5. Wonderfully written, Jim!! Bravo!! These sentiments need to be read and become part of humble dialogue. Thanks!!