The title of this post is borrowed from a fraternity brother of mine, now deceased, who was often heard to utter that phrase to someone who was — figuratively speaking — charging headlong down a dead-end road. Alex would roll his eyes, purse his lips and say “We all have choices, Miss Thang.”
Alex’s words came to mind Sunday when I came across an article about another of D.C. holy homo-haters using his pulpit as a bully pulpit to bash gays in the name of his “god.” (You can listen to the audio, including the congregation’s applause and “amens,” here.)
Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr.—pastor of the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, one of the city’s largest congregations—had a clever theme for his April 9 service. His sermon was titled “Fan or Follower!” Owens, who is an honorary member of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ Interfaith Council, delivered a message urging congregants to be move beyond being fans of the church to becoming followers of the righteous path.
He also made clear that one segment of his congregation is not welcome on that path: gay men.
During a dramatic presentation on how strong men follow the teachings of the church, he pointed out that “real men” for the Lord are straight. “It takes a real man to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. I’m not talking about no faggot or no sissy,” said Owens on a church tape recording. “Wait a minute! Let all the real men come on down here and take a bow,” he said, inviting them to the front of the church. “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.”
A black minister’s bible-based bigotry thundered from the pulpit (yeah, yeah, tell me about that “christian love” thing again) wasn’t what surprised me. I’ve heard it all before. It was the response of some of the gay men in the congregation that surprised me and brought Alex’s words to mind. brought Alex’s words to mind.
One attendee of the service, who describes himself as a gay, says the house was packed for the Palm Sunday service. He and “about 20” other closeted gay men in the crowd, he says, felt they had no choice but to join Owens’ spontaneous celebration of straightness.
“No choice”? I don’t get it. Were the aisle not clear? Were the exits blocked? Because if you ask me the at least one way a black gay man who’s also a “real man” might respond is to stand up and walk purposefully towards the nearest exit, preferably down the center aisle. (I did that once myself, more than a decade ago, when someone’s “preaching”morphed into hate speech.) The only other option I can think of would be to start “talking back” on the spot. But these guys felt they had “no choice” but to make their way down the aisle?
As Alex would say, “We all have choices, Miss Thang.” Keith quotes Pat Parker’s poem “Where Will You Be When They Come?” (which I posted last year during National Poetry Month, and which I should read more often myself), and puts it another way.
Pat Parker was right. We have a duty to defend ourselves, and if we do not do so then we are perverse. We are not real men. We are the faggots and sissies that we try so desperately not to be.
There’s only one reason I can think of for believing one has “no choice” but to take part in one’s own degradation, and that’s fear. Fear of losing the support of one’s family, or the community in which one grew up. Fear of losing one’s spiritual home. But how can a family or community that really doesn’t know you at all — and doesn’t want to know you because their acceptance is conditional upon your willingness to lie about who you are — support you? How can you nourish your spirit in a place where it is also under attack?
Keith also relates a story I know all too well, that of a black male friend who dated men for years, never showing an interest in women, but married a woman years later. I can also think of another black man, whom I don’t know personally but who is an acquaintance of someone close to me who’s married to a woman — and who doesn’t understand how I can be an out as a black gay man, when it causes friction between me and my family and the black community I was raised in — who continues to have liaison’s with men “on the down low,” whenever he can. It’s likely that those closeted men who were in the congregation for this sermon would have had to answer to their wives had they failed to answer the minister’s call. Again, fear is the key.
But I’m beginning to understand that fear is a choice. It might be frightening to stand up to the authorities of one’s church, family, or community, but you can still make that choice at any moment. It might be scary to walk away from a faith or a community you’ve known all your life, but where your spirit is under attack, your character maligned, and your humanity denied — but it’s still possible to make that choice, even if it’s harder than staying put and taking the abuse. Ask anyone who’s ever left an abusive spouse after years of enduring their abuse.
A frightening choice is still a choice. A difficult choice is still a choice. A painful choice is still a choice. And on the other side of each choice, there is a life without the abuse and degradation of the past.
I don’t believe these guys chose to be gay any more than I believe they can choose to change. Religion and heterosexual marriage, the perpetually promoted cure-alls, don’t seem to have done the job. But they have the same choice we all have in that situation, to change our communities by either standing up for ourselves, or finding a place where we can live our lives and nourish our spirits without enduring abuse.
I’d recommend the men at this particular church check out Unity Fellowship or Faith Fellowship, both in DC, but they would first have to overcome their fear of coming out and dealing with the aftermath. That’s unlikely to happen. But if the closeted gay men in Owen’s congregation can’t or won’t speak up, then someone else has to. So I’m joining Keith and Jasmyn in posting the church’s contact information on my blog.
It’s time we stop being silent, because we know what the closeted men in Owen’s congregation haven’t figured out. It’s what Pat Parker says; our silence will not protect us.
& it won’t matter
homosexual, not a faggot
lesbian, not a dyke
gay, not queer
It won’t matter
own your business
have a good job
or are on S.S.I.
It won’t matter
It won’t matter
if you’re from
or Los Angeles
or Sioux Falls
It won’t matter
Butch, or Fem
Not into roles
It won’t matter
They will come
They will come
to the cities
and to the land
to your front rooms
and in your closets.
We all have choices. Choosing not to choose is also a choice, but one that may result in any future choices being taken away.
Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church
Bishop Alfred A. Owens, Jr., D.Min., Pastor
Evangelist Susie C. Owens, Co-Pastor
Associate Pastor, T. Cedric Brown
610 Rhode Island Avenue, North East
Washington, District of Columbia 20002-1292
Alfred T. Owens, Office Assistant
Alma Belcher , Counselor
Anthony Minor, Teacher
Beatrice Dawson, Bookstore Manager
Bernard Perry, Principal of Calvary Christian Academy
Betty Robinson, Lead Facilities Maintenance Staff
Beverly Lucas, Director of The Family Life Center
Bobby Daniels, Administrative Asst. to the Sr. Pastor
Bryan Smith, Duplication Technician
Calvin Sykes, Non-Teaching Assistant