Friday, March 25, 2016

Rejecting the Theology of LGBTQ Oppression: A Message to the Black Church by Desmera Gatewood

I grew up in the ministry.  Whether it were a home church or one of the churches we visited, I can recall very little mention in support or opposition to the LGBTQ movement.  Yet, the lack of a conversation spoke volumes as well.   The first time I had openly heard black folks in my community talk about LGBTQ, was in reference to a scandal of a local prominent preacher who had been caught in an affair with a man.  

What I can recall that folks were most  appalled by were not his faith in contradiction to his dishonesty (we wouldn't have enough appall left in the world if we were appalled by that phenomenon), but his faith in contradiction to his sexuality.  What's fascinating is that the bible emphasizes truthfulness and love as much as anyone can claim it justifies any form of fear or hate towards anyone.  But, let's get back to the scandal, would folks have been appalled if he used church funds to buy a jet? Would Jesus have been?   Yes.  The only time Jesus throws a tantrum in the bible is when he goes to the church and sees the officials exchanging money: not when he encountered anyone with a what some would call a (but he didn't) a deviant lifestyle.  

The bible preaches against what would be known today as Capitalism, materialism, yet folks conveniently forget that when holding clergymen accountable.  Interestingly, even on the subject of what some would call "deviant" behavior, there isn't a broad application of accountability either.   The Catholic Church internationally has priests who are called out daily by victims of sexual abuse, degradation and torment.  Where's that public outrage?

Let's bring it back home though, to the black church.  The black church in many ways is marred and tainted by those white slave masters who sang Amazing Grace How Sweet The Sound from the pulpit while raping their slaves, auctioning off families, and getting rich off of chattel.  They told their very slaves, who they dismembered for learning to read, that a book they had no knowledge of, justified all of the oppression taking place on the plantation.   They took truths and created myths that the bible was the reason that it was ok to brutalize, degrade and take ownership of other people.  One must wonder how often they told the story of Moses.  The same Moses whose story began with him being born a slave and dying as the one who let his people go.  One must wonder how often they told the story of Jesus who said He has been sent to heal the broken heart and set at liberty them that are captive.  I imagine never.  Because had they, their slaves would have been privy to a phenomenon that would become a pattern in America and globally for centuries:  the Bible being used as a means and justification to hate and oppress and to hate THE oppressed.  

The slave masters however were only taking cues from religious predecessors and movements in the past like the Crusades, a genocide led by the church which slaughtered people for simply not believing in the Father, the Son and the blessed Holy Ghost.  They were setting the tone for the reinforcement of those hateful movements led in the name of Christianity, like The Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the Moral Majority.  Those slave masters were laying the foundation in the Americas for the church to be used as a tool to reinforce oppression instead of dismantling it.

So black people in America learned very quickly that there was a place, filled with the pandemonium of beautiful music and call and response , that could say one thing in the name of God and do something completely different in the name of God, without consequence.  Or, that there was a place that taught people to not rebel against their rulers, and to just pray their way to salvation.  Ironically,  the bible's hall of fame, from Jesus flipping tables in the Church, David sling shotting Goliath, Daniel being sentenced to the lion's den, Miriam leading Moses to mobilize the liberation of the slaves, Moses taking out a slave master and watching a sea of oppressors drown, Shadrack, Meshack and Abendigo taking a death sentence before they would bow before the king,  is stacked with stories of not just praying against but FIGHTING against oppression: by any means necessary.

Even currently, the stories of only certain religious leaders are heralded as examples of how one fights oppression.  The pacifists and the peaceful are deemed as the good Christian fighters, but the Rev. John Brown who led an uprising against slavery with an army armed with pikes, is rarely recognized as a model "Christian".   What that has created is a double whammy for some black folks and the oppressed religious classes: either you bow to your oppressor, or if he hits you, turn the other cheek and let him hit you again.  Not only does that model contradict "Christianity" and American Culture in general, but it contradicts natural human fight or flight response and every animal's instinct to defend and fight for its life.  Is a dog going to hell for attacking you if you take his meal?   (we all know All Dogs Go to Heaven [sorry I couldn't resist]) Is a bear going to hell for ripping you apart if you cross her cub? Is a bird going to hell for pecking your eyes if you dismantle their nest?  No.  And when we get out the I am superiority complex, we'll recognize humans have those same natural instincts as all animals do, to fight threats to their survival.

So what threats to survival do we see in the Black Church? I'm generally speaking, so excuse my political incorrectness while I paint this picture (if your church doesn't apply, congratulations, it doesn't apply). We see a replication of that Slave Master inspired behavior, of using a book and a theology to justify hate.  But the hate I'm talking about this time, isn't limited to white people hating black people, but black people hating black people.  Yeah I said it.  Black people using a book to hate their own people.  Which people am I referring to? Their own products of the black village, the black home, the black womb, the black family, the black community: black LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer folk).  

The bible was written during an era (depending on whether you believe King James or King "David" wrote which parts, but either era applies) that in no way could've understood the psychological and physiological nuances associated with gender and sexuality.  So even IF the bible can be interpreted as a text used to justify the oppression and exclusion of LGBTQ folk, what was that even remotely based on? Divine truth?  That's ignorant as hell.  

Let's step outside of the Bible for a second:  let's just go cerebral, under what logic model, for just basic preservation of humanity, does it make sense for you to ostracize your own child? Let's go back to the bible, Jesus said come as you are.  He didn't say leave differently.  He didn't specify how "who you are" had to be.   He didn't specify if you had to be born that way or if you had to choose who you were, just come as you are.  

So what happened where we left all of that behind and told black folk who were LGBTQ to not come as they were and to not even come at all?  What happened to lead us to  believe Jesus, who I believed behaved and in almost all ways (regardless of which racial depiction) looked to be gender androgynous and non-conformist, would sanction that?   That didn't come from anywhere but each individual's "choice" to be an oppressive bigot against their own people.

We are coming off of an era where black people espoused Black Power and entering one where black people are widely espousing that Black Lives Matter.  I believe in Black Power (and power to All People) and that Black Lives matter,  but what I know is that I can't believe in those concepts and leave my black LGBTQ people excluded in fighting for either of those causes.  

What God do you serve that doesn't believe all Black Lives Matter?  What Jesus do you follow who told you to beat the gay out of your child?  What theology do you ascribe to that told you a gay person can't come into or lead your institution?  What science were you taught that told you homosexuality was a disease?  What life did you live that led you to believing your identity was a choice?

I'm not saying you don't have justification based on any of those things to believe what you do, I'm saying IF you do, in order for all of us to be free even by the American hog-wash standards of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you have to make a choice to reject those teachings and gain new knowledge.  You know what else the bible you use to justify your hate tells us: My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge, because thou has rejected knowledge I will also reject thee. So your own ignorance is even inexcusable by your own theology.

But once you learn why you should love your LGBTQ kinfolk, even if you don't believe your identity aligns with their plight, if you must still look to the guidance of religious leaders to make decisions on how you as an individual fight back, make like John Brown and pick up your pike, and bring down those systems with the wrath of God behind you.

Why? Because this patriarchial, oppressive racist system is literally sanctioning the persecution of LGBTQ people.  The HB2 legislation passed in North Carolina legalizes the discrimination of people who we claim to love: black people.  Yes, those LGBTQ people who the NC General Assembly is ok'ing the dehumanization of are part of our black communities, black churches, HBCUs, and our black entertainment industry. Their stories are told through  our black present-day icons like Laverne Cox who uses her platform to advocate for black trans incarcerated women like CeCe McDonald,  or black elders like Bayard Rustin and Paulie Murray who had to conceal parts of their identity from their own people while they fought for their own people.  All of black LGBTQ folk deserve our attention, love, space time and our fight for justice for all people because when partriarchial, sexist, homophobic, classist, racist, transphobic systems are in motion, they're coming for us all.