The Rev. Dr. Horace Griffin, my friend and GTS colleague, summarizes the argument of his important new book, Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches. It is courageous and timely.
Even with the presence of gay Christians in their families and churches and the strong and faithful witness of revered black gay Christians like George Washington Carver, James Cleveland and Barbara Jordan, African Americans continue to resist viewing homosexuality as anything but sin, a negative "lifestyle" and a white aberration. Although there is opportunistic tolerance of gays in black churches, black gays -- like other gays -- often are dismissed as irrelevant to moral black people.
As a gay African-American pastoral theologian in the liberation tradition, I find this black church practice to be an ironic tragedy, antithetical to a black liberation theology and gospel of Jesus that offers justice for all people. Historically, black church leaders opposed oppressive actions against humans and played an active role to end slavery, mobilize African Americans in the political process, organize educational institutions and provide places of worship, recreation and training for black people. Many black church leaders protested social and religious injustice toward African Americans. As a result of the African-American experience, black church leaders and members developed a theological perspective of justice and liberation taken from the Exodus story and the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Despite this historical perspective, most black ministers have failed in their application of this theology toward women and gay-identified men. Black heterosexual Christian men's objection to racial hierarchical practice, by and large, had to do with their resistance to being dominated by white men. In general, they did not object to, but rather supported, the domination of women and later gay men. Their use of Scripture to support this domination is similar to that of conservative white Christians who converted, enslaved and dominated black men.