On March 10, the National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC ) , a pro-Black same-gender-loving organization, will host the 2nd Annual Black Church Summit in Philadelphia. The event will feature everything from workshops with LGBT families to debates involving liberal gay and conservative straight ministers. ( It has also been confirmed that John Amaechi, the former NBA player who recently came out, will appear at a reception being held the night before the summit. )
Windy City Times talked with NBJC's Dr. Sylvia Rhue about the summit and the issues it will tackle.
Windy City Times: You're the organization's director of religious affairs and constituency development. That sounds like a lot.
Sylvia Rhue: [ Laughs ] It is a lot. They sometimes dovetail because when I do outreach to religious organizations, it helps with constituency development, also.
I'd spent at least 10 years working with Black churches with basic issues of human sexuality. Then this job came up and I moved to Washington, D.C.
One of the things we do is put on these annual Black church summits. In January 2006, we were in Atlanta with Rev. Al Sharpton and Bishop Yvette Flunder.
WCT: How did last year's summit go?
SR: It went really well. It was going to be more of a limited thing with 40 clergy. However, it was so popular that we had to shut down registration; 120 people had signed up.
This year is much broader. Everyone is welcome. I'm thinking that a minimum of 200 people will show up.
WCT: Could you talk about the agenda a little bit? There are some very intriguing workshops and debates scheduled.
SR: [ For one thing, ] we've been told that we're going to get a proclamation from the governor, by the way.
Rev. Deborah Johnson [ of Inner Light Ministries, located in Santa Cruz, Calif. ] is our first keynote speaker; the theme of the summit is 'Keeping Pace with God's Grace.' Last year's was 'Creating a More Beloved Community,' in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. I knew him personally; I was part of his welcoming committee to Los Angeles.
Rev. Johnson is a dynamic speaker. She is an author and an accomplished motivational speaker. Bishop Yvette Flunder will also be there.
WCT: You also have workshops for LGBT couples, which religious officials rarely discuss. And there's an HIV workshop, as well as a youth-oriented track.
SR: We want to have a major outreach to youth; a lot of us think that we can be mentors to youth. We want to help them grow up healthily, so that they can feel good about themselves.
WCT: I think it's also important because sometimes young people may think that summits are designed [ primarily ] for older individuals.
SR: Yes. And just think: They have the opportunity to have a dialogue with [ Chair of NBJC's Religious Advisory Committee ] Rev. Michael Dyson.
Going back to the debates, we have 'Homosexuality, the Church and Black Folk,' with Rev. Dyson and Bishop Harry Jackson. Bishop Jackson is actually the voice of the opposition; he's with the High Impact Leadership Coalition, and he's the major muckity-muck for anti-LGBT rights.
WCT: I was wondering about reaching out to the conservative demographic...
SR: Yes, and Rev. Eugene Rivers is also coming; he's also [ conservative ] .
WCT: Are you concerned that these conservative voices might affect attendees in a negative way?
SR: No, because they're having a dialogue. If you hear Bishop Jackson, Rev. Dyson and Bishop Flunder, you're going to be stronger.
For our first summit, we tried to reach out to [ conservative ] voices. We asked Bishop Eddie Long and Bernice King to come, but they did not. On the other hand, I've debated Bishop Jackson on the radio; he's a nice guy—but he's just on the other side.
WCT: Out of curiosity, how do you respond when people say 'God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve?'
SR: God made Steve, too. God made gay and lesbian people, because sexual orientation is a morally neutral state of being. Sexual orientation isn't chosen; it's a characteristic.
I've never won or lost a theological argument. You can't get out of something logically that you didn't go into logically.
We go for the moveable middle—those who have an open mind that we can help along. We're not out to convert everyone. For instance, Bishop Harry Jackson and Rev. Eugene Rivers will hear a lot and will have the opportunity to learn a lot, but they'll still go back to their jobs.
See www.nbjcoalition.org for more details.