Is Al Sharpton the new savior for Black gays? Not likely ...
With the 'No Hope Baptist Church of God and Christ' and the 'Apostolic Church of Hell' standing front and center in our Black communities, and with two decades of trauma and death—in part due to many churches' inattention to the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging our communities—should the Black Church continue to have such a central role in the life of Black communities in 2006?
As the progenies of the African Diaspora, many of us pause in the month of February to pay homage to our ancestors who survived the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. When it comes to the Black church, however, this is a present-day horror. Many of us lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children of the Diaspora would say our ancestors left us neither any teachings nor any road maps on how to survive the Black church, let alone be a part of its virulently homophobic climate.
For centuries, the paradigm of leadership in the African-American community has been the Black church, with its homophobic yet charismatic preacher.
So the question must be asked: Is the utility of the Black Church in its present-day accommodationist phase—that is, selling out its social gospel message of justice in order to whore itself for George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives—the locus of liberation of African-American LGBTQ people? Those attending the National Black Justice Coalition's ( NBJC ) Black Church Summit on Gay Rights over the weekend of Jan. 20-21 at the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta certainly thought so.
And more than 100 African-American LGBTQ clergy, religious activists and our allies came to hear sermons and speeches on how to develop specific strategies to challenge the systemic homophobia in Black churches, from its pulpits to its pews. Most notably, the Rev. Al Sharpton delivered the event's keynote address.
Sharpton's homily pointed out how the Black church fell prey to the divisive tactics of both the Christian Right and the Republican National Committee to garner votes by any means necessary.
'The Christian Right were not concerned about same-sex marriage; they
were concerned about the same president being elected. They use gays and lesbians as scapegoats. They knew they couldn't talk to the Black church about the war, health care, education... The Republican National Committee stopped being involved in the marriage issue after the election. It was hard for them to sell morality after [ Hurricane ] Katrina.'
Sharpton plans to take his message on the road. However, many African-
American LGBTQ people are asking why Sharpton is speaking up now when
we needed to hear his voice crying out for queer justice in the homophobic wilderness of Black ministers two decades ago.
For Sharpton, it is both personal and political.
Sharpton's sister is a lesbian. And at the summit, he made reference
to his sister: 'Black, gay, and female. Imagine the social schizophrenia.'
Sharpton says it's also in memory of working with Bayard Rustin, the chief architect of the 1963 March on Washington who was kept largely behind the scenes because he was gay. Rustin gave Sharpton the funds in the early 1970s to start the National Youth Movement.
However, with no church of his own, many African-American LGBTQ people are not buying Sharpton's rhetoric. Why? Because in a competitive homophobic pool of Black religious leaders vying constantly with each other for attention, Sharpton is repackaging himself. With airtime spent so much on Black ministers' homophobic vitriol of one-upmanship, a new voice is welcomed.
By employing a rhetoric of inclusion, Sharpton may be exploiting African-American LGBTQ people knocking at the door of the Black church while putting himself on a national stage as the new leader for all Black people.
Also, not all ministers are buying Sharpton's rhetoric.
Immediately following the ending of the summit, the Rev. Wayne Cooper of Atlanta sent the NBJC this message: 'I am literally sick and tired of the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson trying to force people to accept gay marriage! ... I am Black and I believe that marriage was ordained by Almighty God to be between one man and one woman ... . The rectum was/is not made for 'entry' but for 'exit' of toxic human waste. ... I'd love to publicly debate either man on this subject and I have no doubt that I will eat them alive!'
So I ask the question again: In constructing an inclusive paradigm of leadership, is the Black church paradigm—with its homophobic, charismatic preacher—the answer?
I am immediately reminded of my ancestors' use of the Bible as a central text of their teachings and I turn to Mark 2:22 to get my answer: 'No one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and then wine and skins are both lost. New wine goes into fresh skins.'
Rev. Monroe is an adjunct professor of religion and the director of Multicultural and Spiritual Programming at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. She writes a biweekly column, 'The Religion Thang,' for In Newsweekly, the largest LGBT newspaper in New England, and an online column, 'Queer Take,' for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal.