From Justice to “Just Us”

Give me strength. Black ministers are now praying for discrimination against others to remain legal, and invoking the civil rights movement while they do it.

Huddled in prayer on the first floor of the City-County Building, leaders of more than a dozen black churches expressed opposition Wednesday to legislation designed to protect gays from housing and job discrimination.

They also said they find it offensive to equate the plight of gays to the struggles faced by blacks.

You can read the rest. It gives me a headache, mainly because (1) at this point the only people I hear equating the gay rights movement with the civil rights movement is them and (2) I don’t know what to call this. I dare not call it hatred, because that would be disrespecting or denigrating their religious beliefs. Can’t call it bigotry either, for pretty much the same reason. Ignorance, maybe? Nope. Same reason. Nevermind that they’re praying for families like mine to be discriminated against.

We have now come full circle from the moment Rev. Gregory Daniels made the famous statement “If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them.” After all, the KKK has long invoked faith as the foundation of their own bigotry and advocacy of discrimination. In fact, they still do. One wonders if Rev. Daniels took the advantage of the recent opportunity to “ride with the KKK” in Texas.

All they have to do is invoke “God” and race, and the parameters of the discussion are already limited by propriety. We’ve come full circle because we can’t call thing what they are anymore. We can’t call bigotry, ignorance, or hatred by their names anymore without getting beat down with a bible and accused of denigrating faith or people of faith, and accused of lowering the level of discourse somehow. And as they’re wrapped in the mantle of “men of the cloth,” their sheilded from getting a taste of their own medicine, because those who try to serve it to them catch hell — as Keith Boykin and Jasmyn Cannick found out via their outing campaign directed at homophobic black ministers.

So, how else do we talk about this stuff.

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There is a way to talk about it that’s still somewhat socially acceptable, but even those who try it still find it a Sisyphean task.

Robert Ferguson, president of Indiana Black Pride, a local grassroots organization that supports gay causes, said he can’t think of a single leader from a black church who supports his group’s work.

“We are desperately searching for one,” he said.

Mostly, he said, he finds black church leaders who say gays are bound for hell.

“It would seem as black people, we would recognize discrimination and hate rhetoric. But we have somehow taken on some of the characteristics of our oppressor and started to oppress others,” he said.

Ferguson said that because of its success, the civil rights struggle is a good model for gay rights groups seeking to bring about change. He suspects there is broader support for the cause within the pews and black communities than there is among the black clergy.

But church leaders at Wednesday’s vigil said their views represent more than 95 percent of the people in their churches.

Honestly, the whole thing makes me tired and makes me look at black communities — inextricably bound with black churches — and ask “why bother?”, because the logical argument that Ferguson offers above seems to make no headway. It barely makes a dent. So, calling so-called religious leaders out on their hypocrisy gets you pilloried and the reasoned argument above gets you almost nowhere. As religious leaders they’re nearly unassailable on their bigotry or hypocrisy, and apparently immune to reason-based arguments; faith being, after all, belief without evidence.

Between Ferguson and the church leaders I don’t know who to believe about how much support there is in the pews. I suspect, however, that Ferguson may be somewhat optimistic. I remember when D.C.’s own Rev. Willie Wilson treated his congregation to a diatribe about lesbians and strap-ons he got far more vocal approval than disapproval. If a sizable portion of his congregation agreed with him, they stayed firmly planted in their pews and kept their mouths shut.

I’m also reminded Dwan Prince and his mother, and the response from her minister when she reached out for help in the aftermath of her son being gay-bashed.

She also points to indifference, from politicians and from her own religion. As a member of Mount Olive Baptist Church, Prinez was dismayed when her minister refused her cries for help. The reason: He found out her son is gay, and wanted nothing more to do with her.

Local politicians were helpful when the case was in the news, but once it faded, their calls ceased.

“The people don’t want to hear about it,” Prinez said.

Prince’s mother admits to being pushy and acerbic at times, but wonders what else can she do. Her son was left for dead for no reason and there is no one looking out for his interests. “Who is there to protect him?” she asks.

Prince’s story, and the lack of response from his mom’s minister illustrates a reality that I think probably helped keep quiet any congregants who objected to Wilson’s rantings — and remember, chances are some of those church members were gay or lesbian themselves. Some of us will listen to a homophobic rant like that, whatever the cost to us emotionally or spiritually, and still come back to church the next Sunday; and even pay our tithes, play the organ, and sing in the choir.

It’s not a huge secret that the black family — and by extension the black church — as long served as a kind of refuge from the racism present in society at large; for a long time, the only refuge. The power of the church — along with a deeply ingrained literalist approach to scripture, along the lines of “God said, I believe it, that settles it” — in both the community and the family creates circumstances under which individuals are required to toe the line of what is accepted moral behavior by the majority, or at least appear to do so, if they want to keep their place within that refuge. Step out of line and you may find yourself “cast out from among your people”; set outside the walls of the fortified city to take your chances without the protection available within.

Want to stay safely within the walls of the refuge? Then Dwan Prince is an example. Step out of line and you could end up like him, “left for dead” with no one looking out for your interests and no one to protect you. Maybe not even your own family, if it means they’ll have to join you outside the walls of that refuge, where who knows what might happen. So, maybe you bear what you have to bear, and hear what you have to hear, rather than risk facing the rest of the world without a community to turn to when there’s trouble.

Given that, standing up for justice — let alone demanding it — may be too much to ask.

So, what do we do?

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
This entry was posted in Civil Rights, Current Events, Gay Rights, Politics, Race, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

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