Gays in the Village
By Keith Boykin
I've often said that homophobia would end in the black church if every black lesbian and gay person simply came out.
The first thing we would realize is that many of the people running the churches are themselves gay. And I'm not just talking about the choir members, the organists and the music directors. I'm talking about the ushers, the deacons and the pastors themselves.
Thus, it was noticeable last weekend when a prominent African American pastor in Colorado came out of the closet.
The Rev. Benjamin Reynolds preached his last sermon at Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday. Reynolds, the senior pastor of the Colorado church, stepped down after telling the congregation that he is gay. Although his decision to come out may have caught some off guard, his support for the gay and lesbian community is not new. He has been a longtime advocate for gay and lesbian rights.
But then he did the unthinkable. He revealed his sexual orientation.
The Rev Benjamin Reynolds
“The church and Pastor Reynolds have a different view as far as homosexuality goes,” one official of the 500-member congregation told the media.
That may be true, but it's got to be a significant loss for the community.
Reynolds, 45, grew up in Emmanuel Baptist Church and started preaching there when he was 14. He has been the senior pastor at the church for nearly 16 years, and he was also the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) until he stepped down last year.
“I think the black church has a long way to go in this area,” he told a reporter. “The oppressed, when they feel a place where they’re free, they’ll find others who they’ll oppress.”
Reynolds said he knows he’s “considered an outcast now,” but said that church members have been “as supportive as they can be.”
Still. He may be leaving Colorado Springs soon and moving on to pursue a doctorate in theology. “I’ve not lost sight of my faith,” he said.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the Church:
The black church is a paradox. On the one hand, it is the most homophobic institution in the black community. On the other hand, it is the most homo-tolerant institution in the black community.
The homophobia typically comes in the form of the pastor's "hell and damnation" sermon on homosexuality from time to time. The fire and brimstone are quickly amened from the pews.
But when you look past the pastor, the homo-tolerance is clear once you realize that gays and lesbians are everywhere in the church. Many of our black churches would stop running if the gay, lesbian and bisexual members dropped out.
That's why nobody ever asks them to leave. Instead they beat them down in the hopes that the gay members will not become strong enough to challenge their own oppression. Therein lies the paradox.
The black church has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about homosexuality. And quite frankly, the religious bigotry in the black church is killing us as a people.
It is killing the people who are dying of AIDS because the church won't talk to them candidly about sexuality. And it is killing the people who are dying in the streets because they feel morally authorized to regulate public expressions of homosexuality.
Keith Boykin is a writer, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at Keithboykin.com
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