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Consider: how have religious or secular communities you’re in perpetuated, resisted, or benefited from anti-Blackness and queerphobia? How can faith mean different things to oppressed communities and those benefiting from oppression?
I am a son of the Black Church. As a child, I blissfully served in nearly every church role imaginable—choir member, janitor, sound man, and preacher. And I loved every minute of it. Church was not just part of my life. Church was my sanctuary… until I embraced my identity as a queer son of the Black Church.
In the twinkling of an eye, the church that raised me nearly turned its back on me. Sermons laced with homophobic slurs and transphobic insults became more pronounced. Casual references to queer sexualities and identities as deficiencies were daggers to my heart.
For years, I blamed the Black Church for fomenting a culture of queerphobia within and outside of the sanctuary. Some days, I still do. But now, as a public theologian and queer minister, I know something that I did not know then: the Black Church did not create homophobia and transphobia. Colonization did.
Let me rush to say that I am not letting the Black Church off the hook. I vehemently reject queerphobic theologies in Black congregations across the country. No pulpit spewing such rhetoric is safe from my critique. That’s why I created a nonprofit organization – Pride in the Pews – dedicated to making Black churches more inclusive.
As Executive Director of Pride in the Pews, I am lauded by white progressives bemoaning homophobia in the Black Church. At first, I welcomed the encouragement. I mean, can you blame me? Fighting back against decades of homophobia is hard. But, over time, I got the sense that white progressives viewed the Black Church as uniquely responsible for faith-based homophobia. Some cheer me on only from the belief that the venerable institution that raised me is uniquely irredeemable.
That notion is simply ahistorical: it obscures the brutal reality of colonization.
Prior to the arrival of white Protestants, Indigenous African religious traditions largely accepted diverse gender identities and sexualities (The Guardian, Stonewall). In some related religious traditions, those who identified as queer or trans were highly sought after as mediums for the divine (Religion Dispatches). However, the imperial expansion of white fundamentalist Christianity normalized heteronormative theologies. The sacrilegious ritual of weaponizing scripture was common practice among white European missionaries. Missionaries advanced homophobic and transphobic theologies to preach a corrupted Gospel predicated on the degradation of African culture.
The horrific institution of chattel slavery in the US was solidified by a fundamentalist Christianity that saw queer folks as unworthy of God’s love. But the Christianity practiced by enslaved Africans served as the basis for slave revolts and resistance, too. The Black Church continued to be a refuge from a white world intent on spilling Black blood. It offered seed capital to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). It was home to Black liberation movements like the 1963 Birmingham Campaign and the historic 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom on the National Mall (King Institute). It produced ministers turned politicians like Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (YouTube), and current Georgia U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (CNN): all of whose legacies still contribute to a more just world.
Frankly, America cannot afford to lose its proven moral compass: the Black Church. For all its failures, the Black Church has prodded the consciousness of America, demanding the dismantling of anti-Blackness in all its forms. It is no secret that anti-Blackness continues to course through this country’s veins. The Black Church remains a formidable ally against its various manifestations, though it also remains plagued by the legacy of colonialism.
The Black Church, like many faith traditions, is in part homophobic and transphobic. It stems from the same anti-Black, colonial legacy that also creates the racial wealth gap (Federal Reserve), gentrification (Teen Vogue), and racialized health disparities (CDC). The Black Church is a vehicle for the struggle against the same anti-Blackness and colonialism at the same time.
Pride in the Pews is pushing back by uplifting the voices of queer members of the Black Church (Pride in the Pews). We should not have to fight alone. As such, I invite our allies to donate to our work, recognizing that they, too, have a role to play in this fight. No longer can those who benefit from systems that routinely exploit Black queer and trans people stand silently as our lives hang in the balance. No longer can cis straight allies pass the buck of responsibility while sitting comfortably in their privilege. Allyship demands concrete action and accountability. Beneficiaries of white supremacy and heteronormativity are called to help fund our work and amplify our message as we dismantle the legacy of colonization within and outside the Black Church. An opportunity to prove your commitment to our cause is before you. I pray that you do not take this opportunity for granted.
Like many religious traditions, the Black Church has homophobic and transphobic elements.
This queerphobia is a product of anti-Blackness and colonization, which the Black Church has also fought against.
Those who benefit from anti-Blackness and queerphobia has a particular responsibility to uplift the stories of queer members of the Black Church.