Mayor Anthony A. Williams threatened yesterday to remove a prominent minister from his interfaith council if the minister does not issue a public apology for derogatory remarks he made about gay men during a Palm Sunday sermon last month.
Williams (D), who made his position known at his weekly news briefing, said he had been unsuccessful in trying to contact Bishop Alfred A. Owens Jr., pastor of Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church.
… The mayor said yesterday: “If you can be shocked, saddened and disappointed all at once, I really am, because I really have to condemn remarks made like that whenever they’re made against any group on the basis of sexual orientation, race, class, ethnicity or anything else.”
Williams said he expected public contrition from Owens. “Otherwise, we would have to discontinue that relationship, and I would really regret that because he really has been a great leader in our city.”
The “minister,” true to form has issued a pseudo-apology in the form of a letter to the editor in the Washington Post.
During my Palm Sunday sermon, I used words that the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Men and Women has denounced as offensive [“Gays, God and Bishop Owens,” op-ed, May 13]. It was not my purpose to wound anyone or discriminate against any group, and I apologize for any offense.
Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church was in the forefront of delivering help through counseling, education and prevention to the gay community when HIV-AIDS hit hard in the 1980s. For that I was harshly criticized, and the church was stigmatized. Nevertheless, I increased our financial aid and instituted a support group for those who wanted help in pursuing a heterosexual orientation. I will continue the fight to alleviate the suffering of all people.
However, I will not submit my sermons through political filters for fear of recrimination by political or social groups.
On any given Sunday, I preach about love, faith and holiness, and, yes, about hell and sin. For that, I offer no apology.
BISHOP ALFRED A. OWENS JR.
Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church
Owens has, in a fashion I’ve come to expect from lot of black folks just like him, missed the point and not even tried to get it. If a white minister had stood up in his pulpit and called his congregation to come to the altar and express their pride in being white, and to thank “god” that they’re “not a nigger,” one wonders if Owens would be among those demanding an apology from that minister. Because such a minister could give that same sermon and base it entirely on his interpretation of the bible, lest we forget that its text has been used to justify slavery and discrimination against African Americans.
To borrow a phrase from that same book, Owens cannot see the beam in his own eye because he’s so busy decrying the splinter in someone else’s. And he has no excuse. The problem is that too many in his church (like the closeted gay men who felt they had “no choice” but to participate in Owens’ holy homo-hate rally) and in the community let him off the hook.
So, I tend to agree with Keith. An apology is not enough, and the silence of those in the church and the community is no longer acceptable. Indeed, it never was.
Nor is this problem just about one minister. Instead, this is a problem about the larger culture of homophobia in the church. It’s a problem about black leaders who are all too willing to cozy up to influential black pastors but often afraid to challenge those ministers on their beliefs. And it’s a problem of black gays and lesbians finding the strength and the courage to stand up for themselves.
Earl Fowlkes, head of the International Federation of Black Prides, told the Post that “the mayor cannot allow someone who is on the council to be a bigot.” He’s exactly right. We need more black gays and lesbians like Fowlkes to stand up and hold our leaders accountable. And we need more straight black allies to stand up not only to express their support but to challenge the homophobes in our midst.
The biggest problem is that too many of us in the black community are pussyfooting our way around this issue instead of speaking up and fighting against the homophobia. There will always be people like Alfred Owens. They will never go away. But that doesn’t mean we have to kowtow to them or elevate them to positions of authority. Once we start seeing the issue as a macro problem throughout the community instead of a micro problem of episodic incidents, then we will we be able to set a new standard in the black community that homophobia will not be tolerated.
Keith is right. I have a theory about this, but it’s based on not much more than personal experience and observation. I think that when it comes to African American LGBT folks it’s difficult for us to “talk back” in church and in other settings in our families and communities.
Some of us who were brought up “old school” also grew up in an environment where church and family had a huge amount of influence. And the authority figures in those settings were not to be questioned or critisized any more than your parents were, if absolute and unquestioning obedience to authority was the rule in the home and the community.
Even if authority figures (parents, teachers, etc.) were wrong and unjust, they were to be obeyed without protest. And they wrere to be respected even if they didn’t respect you. Anything different would probably bring harsh & swift punishment. If you’ve spent your life in that environment, and built your life around it, maybe you aren’t likely to “talk back” even when those
in authority are unjust and insulting to you.
Even if you’ve long since stopped the practice of absolute and unquestioning acceptance of authority and its edicts, I think when we find ourselves back in a place where the echoes of our childhood are still pretty loud — like being back in church or the smothering bossom of one’s family — it’s easy to fall back into the old practices from a time when “acting up in church” would have been ill advised. Even though today it might be completely appropriate.
It’s just a theory, but I think there’s some truth in it, and I think we need to get over it. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame for men like Owens continuing to wield influence and power, which they use to demean members of our communities.