"I will be leaving the choir at the top of the year because 80 percent of the tenors are homosexuals and act more like a female in choir rehearsal than I do." -- female choir member of the DC-based Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in an e-mail to Bishop Alfred Owens Jr. She then proceeded to out more than 100 church members by sending the names to a Yahoo church group.
If you need any further evidence of the pathology of homophobia in the black church, here is something that will make your blood boil.
Already fearful of losing connections, friendship and emotional shelter provided by their faith community if they come out, black gays and lesbians in the church now know that the homophobes in the pews and choirs, along with the bigoted pastors spewing hate from the pulpit, feel empowered to destroy those ties because of their own fear and ignorance. It makes you want to weep. It. Must. Stop. (Lou Chibbaro @ the Washington Blade):
One of Washington's largest black Baptist churches was rocked by a female member of its choir who sent separate e-mail messages to the pastor in December and January outing more than 100 church members as gay, mostly male choir members.
...The e-mail, sent in December, identifies about 45 fellow church members as gay. She sent a second e-mail to Owens on Jan. 2 identifying another 62 church members as gay.
"The following people I am asking you to monitor very closely and my prayer is that you will sit them down from their ministries," she told Owens in the December e-mail. "Because they are ushering in the presence of sin, lies, a spirit of homosexuality and sexual spirits."
She sent a copy of her e-mails to a Yahoo list group that goes to more than 300 church members, the gay former church member said.
"It takes real men to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior," Owens said in the sermon, which was recorded by the church. "I'm not talking about no faggot or no sissy...Wait a minute! Let all the real men come on down here and take a bow. All the real men-I'm talking about the straight men," he preached. "You ain't funny and you ain't cranky, but you're straight. Come on down here and walk around and praise God that you are straight. Thank him that you're straight. All the straight men that's proud to be a Christian, that's proud to be a man of God."
So, what do you think Owens did as a result of that email? He called the various choirs of the 7,000-member church together and offered to help those outed by showing them how they could pray-away the gay, since the Calvary's web site has twice monthly outreach sessions listed called "Breaking the Chains of Homosexuality," led by Minister Dennis Sawyers.
One of the publications put out by the NBJC is a "Guide To Welcoming Congregations in the African-American Tradition," which helps traditional black churches navigate the process of supporting its gay and lesbian parishioners.
Sylvia Rhue, director of the National Black Justice Coalition's religious affairs program and a licensed clinical therapist with a doctorate in human sexuality, said she was troubled but not surprised to hear that a large number of gays continue to join and worship at a church like Greater Mount Calvary.
"We know that many of the gays that go there like the traditional setting of a church like that," she said. "It tears at your soul. It has the potential of causing depression, drug use and other harmful effects."
The obvious question is why, if there are gay-affirming churches out there, do closeted black gays and lesbians remain in homophobic churches. I've heard from several who have written me to say that it's not that simple -- the church is the cultural home -- these are their friends, relatives, and neighbors in church. To leave it and seek out the LGBT community oftentimes means severing all ties to their previous connections because of rejection and what they face may be trading one level of social oppression for another.
It's hard enough to be gay, but to be black and gay in the predominantly white out gay community is often difficult in its own way, culturally and spiritually. Feeling marginalized, largely without ready institutional support, is what makes the process of coming out a gamble many black gay men and lesbians of faith aren't ready to take.
On April 24-26, the National Black Justice Coalition will provide an antidote to the hateful events above at its annual gathering, The Power of Us National Convention. It will highlight black LGBT couples, families, high profile activists, religious and spiritual leaders, organizers, artists, and designers. The conference brochure is here.
The aim is to break down walls of homophobia and racism by educating the public of the vibrant, affirming and supportive lives of black LGBT activists. These men, women and youth are committed to developing and honing their skills, celebrating socioeconomic/political victories, building communities, and being inspired by preeminent visionaries of the progressive movement towards social justice and equality.
NBJC is expecting between 500-1000 people to attend the conference from all over the United States and other countries. Attendees represent all sectors and demographic groups in our movement, including young and senior activists, organizers and activists of color, staff members at LGBT political and/or community organizations, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex advocates and straight allies, and leaders of campus communities.
Barack Obama has earned both praise and scorn for trying to navigate this religious and LGBT rights minefield, most recently earning praise for his speech to a predominantly black crown at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.
UPDATE: Darian of Living Out Loud, who received copies of the original emails sent to Owens, puts into perspective why this hate the pastor foments from his pulpit must cease, and how the subject of homophobia must continue to be addressed -- out in the open -- to support change:
How dare he discredit the spiritual relationship between God and gay and lesbian believers! The don't ask don't tell policy and the hypocrisy in the black church is getting old really fast.
What is this man's fascination with homosexuality? Google his name and almost every entry is linked to a homophobic statement or sermon he's made over the years. But yet gays and lesbians still flock to his church. If this e-mail and Bishop's actions aren't enough for them to either speak up or leave then I don't know what it will take.
I'm sure this post will find it's way back to Greater Mount Calvary and possibly Bishop's desk and I want you (Bishop Owens) and your congregation to know that it's a new day. For every gay and lesbian person who willingly shows up for your abuse and suffers in silence, there are those like myself who are not afraid to speak up and claim their inheritance in Christ.
The church has historically been a refuge for all black people not just heterosexual blacks. You have turned Greater Mount Calvary into a hotbed of oppression for your gay and lesbian members and you should be ashamed! No one deserves to be singled-out and mistreated like you've done to your gay members. You may never be able to fully comprehend the damage you've done to people who lifted you up only to be torn down in return.