The Black Church’s Conundrum: What Would Jesus Do?

President Obama’s recent announcement that he believes gay couples should have the right to marry has touched the hearts of millions of Americans, gay and straight. It’s likely we all have gay friends and family members who have suffered due to discrimination, exclusion, and shaming. Personally, I have seen tremendous hatred toward gay people in my family and in the churches I attended as a youth and young adult. 

Several years ago I was a volunteer going door-to-door in support of Proposition 8 in California. At the time I lived in and canvassed the Leimert Park/ Windsor Hills community. Both neighborhoods are heavily populated by African Americans. Moving from one home to the next for a few hours each Saturday afternoon, I discovered that most black people who are practicing Christians were not willing to support gay marriage. In my community my house was the only home with a yard sign in support of Proposition 8. There were even people who took it upon themselves to remove signs that I had placed in public areas supporting gay marriage. The irony of this story is that I once believed as most Christians who opposed Proposition 8 continue to believe. My very isolating experience supporting Proposition 8 brings me to profound curiosity regarding the November Presidential elections. 

As President Obama announced his support for gay marriage as a practicing Christian, he also shared his personal evolution within this issue. As I listened to the President, my eyes watered and my heart opened just a little more. I truly believe that when one moves forward, we all move forward. One person’s evolution is all of our evolution. 

Now eyes have turn to the black church to see how it responds. The world is watching to see how members of the community that has long held that homosexuality is an abomination against God’s will respond to Obama’s evolution. The possibilities are endless. 

Evolution happens, and I know because I experienced it personally. I was once a Christian who embraced the belief that gay people and their lifestyles were a sin against God. I was raised and taught to believe this in my grandfather’s church. I had friends and family members who shared my beliefs. However, it wasn’t until I started questioning my relationship with my gay uncle, whom I love deeply, that I saw that my beliefs were deep contradictions to my own heart. This was one of the reasons that I eventually left the faith of my childhood, so that I may love all people and races freely, regardless of sexual orientation and religious affiliation. I sincerely challenged myself to embrace the command of Christ to love God, your neighbor, yourself, and your enemies, with all your heart and soul. In my view, that excluded no one.  This is something I commit myself to daily, and it is often a struggle. I’d say loving myself has been the most difficult part of this command.

President Obama coming out in support of gay marriage proves that a huge shift is occurring in the hearts and minds of Americans. As I see it, President Obama is but an out picturing of where our culture is heading, Obama is following our lead. I know several black Christians who have and are currently shifting their views on equal rights for gay Americans. Many whose faith calls them to love unconditionally and political identity leans toward equality for all. A difficult aspect of this evolution includes indentifying and empathizing with groups who are currently excluded from equal rights and protection under the constitution as evolution occurs. An aspect of my own evolution occurred simply because as an African America I couldn’t comprehend that my rights could hinge on the compassion or hatred of the majority white electorate. As I canvassed for Propostion 8, I considered what might have occurred if the freedom I held today would have been put to a “majority vote.” For me, it came to an issue of what is the most loving thing to do. As an African American who descended from slaves, I feel I’ve inherited the mantle of freedom. If I believe it is my birthright to have equal rights under the Constitution, then the same is true for all American citizens. As a citizen it is my responsibility to curtail the experience of suffering, if only by assuring I remove all hate and any desire to subjugate others from my being. 

The media and the world are watching to see how President Obama’s evolution impacts black Christians. It seems there’s an expectation of a great fall-out of sorts, and that is understandable as the black Church has been very outspoken against gay rights. And there are those of us who will continue to evolve toward a greater experience of inclusion, love, and freedom for all. 

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