Prevailing wisdom has it that the Black church is overwhelmingly negative on issues of justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
My experience three years ago organizing 200 clergy in Washington, D.C. who supported marriage equality contradicts this “wisdom.”
I spoke with pastors who were accustomed to knowing what to say, who were comfortable speaking the truth of the Gospel, but who weren’t prepared to speak their support. Before they could sign in support, they needed to understand what the Bible does and doesn’t say or what a good follower of Jesus should say. Once their concerns and questions were addressed – with respect – they could join in support of marriage equality.
Today, I’m having conversations with Black pastors that were unpredictable even three years ago. Just the other day I spoke with a pastor of a megachurch in Prince George’s County who told me that he is “evolving” in his views about justice for LGBT people. He knows that civil and human rights are for all of us, and he wants to learn more. Another pastor is very clear in his love and support of gay and lesbian members of his church, but wonders how best to address the Genesis passages of scripture that refer to marriage between a man and a woman.
For these leaders and more like them, the negativity doesn’t fit with what is in their hearts, and it doesn’t match their experience with members of their congregations.
More and more pastors and others in the Black community need guidance as we journey toward understanding. Part of the guidance will come from LGBT people and their families sharing themselves with their pastors. The leaders I am describing want to know and need to know about the lives of these precious gay and lesbian people they love.
Not knowing – especially about difficult subjects – breeds silence and their reluctance to speak publicly. Just as statistics class can stymie students, the complexities of human sexuality, gender identity, and the Bible could be considered a perfect storm of tough subjects.
As our culture is shifting toward greater inclusion, addressing blockages in the conversations regarding sexual orientation, gender identity and theological understandings in Black churches is hugely important. People in congregations are talking, pastors are poised for engagement of the subject matter, and families (gay and straight) are intently listening to all of it. Some are longing for it.
Many Voices offers seminars to equip people to stand confidently in their support and to speak it publicly. Pastors and others are coming because they know they need to learn.
Finally, as a young pastor said to me, “We cannot avoid dealing with the difficult questions and we dare not risk being on the wrong side of history.” Creating safe spaces for asking the uncomfortable questions is an imperative, not simply a good idea.
A Washington, D.C.-based ordained pastor affiliated with the National Baptist and Missionary Baptist Churches, Cedric Harmon is co-director of Many Voices, a Black church movement for gay and transgender justice.