Homosexuality is a taboo subject in almost all black churches. The subject is not only avoided by the preachers, but the congregation and the black community at large abhors the very thought of homosexual people in their midst. To the black community, homosexuality is a sin, an abomination, unnatural, a white thing and detrimental to the black families. This paper looks at how homosexuality and homophobia is handled in the black church and the discrimination that homosexuals face in the black church especially because the church no compassion towards gay and lesbians people.
Heterosexism is defined as the belief that one pattern of loving is superior to others thus giving dominance. Heterosexism stems from homophobia, which is aptly described as the fear of unknown. In the black community, this is seen from two perspectives; the black community does not talk much about their sexuality because of fear of exposing the preference of gay, lesbian or the transgender people among them. They are also afraid of accepting the inevitable fact that homosexuality is a wide spread thing in the black church. Secondly, most blacks suffer from the slavery mentality that labeled the black body as undesirable. From this mentality, the black community has over the years accepted self denial as part of their lifestyle. Many deny what their bodies feels and instead embrace what the white slave driver socialized them to believe was right.
The black church has over the time championed the cause of the congregation living within the acceptable ideals set by the white Americans. This is despite the latter moving on and making their different sexual orientations known to all. It is a strongly held belief among the black gay and lesbian community that the blacks are still held within the ideals and values of slavery.
Homophobia is the irrational hatred, fear and disapproval of homosexuals (gay and lesbians) or their culture. According to Lorde and Clarke, homophobia is characterized by the fear, which one gets when he or she realizes that they might have feelings towards members of the same sex. These fears eventually lead to hatred towards people who may show similar feelings. If one was to judge the attitude of the black church towards homosexuality and heterosexuality based on this statement, one would conclusively state that the state of denial of sexuality issues in the black church is the main cause of the current condition.
The Influence of the Church
Black Churches in the United States are diverse in not only the theological tradition, but also in their styles of worship, socio-economic status and rural-urban locations. Among the black community, the church is recognized as the single most influential entity. As such, the church does not only play a central role in the black community, but also influences the lifestyle that the community adopts. In regard to homophobia, the black church has been accused of directly and indirectly fostering contempt for homosexual behavior thus reinforcing the same in the community. According to Dyson, theological related homophobia has played a key role in not only creating a nationalist ideology among the black community, but also propagating a masculinity ideals, which when combined with the homophobia, shapes how the society views black sexuality. Since these ideals places a heavy social toll on people’s lives and their psychic the black heterosexual are exulted while the homosexual or bisexual population is branded as anti-socials.
The black church gets its critical role in the community from the cultural and organizational matrix that formed the basis of many social institutions and forms of expression in the black community ever since the slavery eras. More critically however, the church symbolizes the spirituality of the black community. Over the 250 years since the emancipation of the black people in the United States, the church has served to empower the black people not only socially, but also physically and psychologically. This explains why majority of the black population claims to belong to a religious group.
It is undeniable the kind of influence that the black church has on the community. Directly, the church has potent influence on the church goers, but indirectly, it also affects the non-church goers. This is especially so because majority of the black Americans were raised in religious homes. Even though some of them drop out religion in adulthood, it is undeniable that the ideologies and imagery that they gained in church continue influencing their practices and beliefs.
The Black Church throughout history has depicted itself as the bearer of emancipatory messages and values. As such, the church has been in the forefront advocating for homophobia since it believes that homosexuality is against the tenets of the bible. In the course, the church has succeeded in de-valuing homosexuality. Yet, the church does not offer wholesome solutions to the homosexual people among its congregation. Instead, it feigns ignorance to the overall sexuality of the black community. According to Patrick Johnson, the author of “Appropriating Blackness”, the church has adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance. The writer attributes this attitude to the fact that the church knows that sexual orientation in the black community is beyond their control. Their attitude therefore suggests that the congregation can actively participate in homosexuality as long as they are silent about their sexual orientations. This silence according to Johnson maintains a false dichotomy that links the flesh and the spirit and perpetuates tyrannical values of fundamentalist Christians. By doing this, the church embraces the sinner but the sin. But isn’t this applying double standard by validating people’s spirituality, yet holding their sexuality in contempt?
The Black church is also guilty of stereotypes that suggest the black man should be different than those from other races. While in reality, race is in no way suggestive of how masculine or feminine a person is. In the same way, the black people should not be tied down by their race to conform to either heterosexuality or homosexuality.
The White Thing
The Branding of homosexuality as a ‘white thing’ stems from the fact that the black community in the past considered the white culture a vile and immoral. The sexual exploitation of the black people by the whites also played a role in the attitude adopted by the black people towards sexuality. The white culture further made matters worse by radicalizing sex. As such, they equated the black race with sexual deviance. Homophobia in the black community is therefore partly a resultant of the quest of to sever the association of blackness and sexual exploitation by the whites.
The black society considers homosexuality abnormal or worse still a pervasion. Because of this, communities have over the time found ways of denouncing any person whose sexual orientation borders homosexuality. One of the most common phrase used to justify the non-adoption of homosexuality by afro-centrists is that homosexuality is a white thing. The argument is that any black male or woman who has homosexual feelings has allowed him or herself to fall prey to the western decadence.
So convinced is a majority of the black community that homosexuality is a white things that some like the popular Molefi k. Asante counsels black homosexuals not to let European decadence control them if they plan to redeem their manhood. He appeals to the ‘homosexual brothers’ to commit themselves to a collective will in the black community that seeks to rid the black community of homosexuality claiming that in Africa had no homosexuality prior to the invasion of the white man.
A Threat to the Family Unit
Another argument that the black church uses to prove its case against homosexuality is the suggestion that homosexuality erodes the family unit. Since the black church believes that homosexuality threatens masculinity in the community, the church is of the idea that this threatens the black family, which was under white culture manipulation ever since the slavery era. In addition to this, the black church argues that homosexual unions are devalued since their unions cannot produce offspring of and by themselves . Some black communities have even branded the homosexual unions as genocide of the black community, a thought that is dismissed by Audre Lorde, who says that such thought reflect the faulty reasoning and acute fright adopted by church and community leaders among the black community. “By endorsing lesbianism, it does not mean that all women will become lesbians. It also does not mean that all of the lesbian women will not have children”
However, black homosexuals have been accused of betraying the healthy families as normalized and regulated by the black community. Among the black family models is a nuclear family headed by a male. The female-headed units, lesbian families and the extended families are thus devalued. Beyond the ability of the devalued families to give offspring’s or even stably raise children, it is a common though among the black community that homosexuality does nothing to promote the stability of the family unit. For this, the black church feels the need to promote what it holds as positive sexual ethics among the black community by educating people about the importance of marriage and family.
The need for children to grow in male-headed house holds is also emphasized in the black community. Although this is not prevalent in the church, the community has the perception that children who grow up in female-headed households are more likely to take on homosexuality tendencies. This is especially emphasized for male children and often times; strong mothers have been accused of creating gay sons.
Queers in the community
“I’m afraid of gay people. Petrified. I have nightmares about gay people”. This is statement by Eddie Murphy is a true statement of what most black men have been socialized towards. To them, the black man is only authentic if his sexuality is linked to the patriarchal masculinity epitomized by heterosexism. Homophobia is therefore a common thing among most black men and women.
Beyond the church, the role of the heterosexual men in spreading homophobia is enormous. Since a great percentage of them have embraced black masculinity and hence heterosexual ideals, they abhor anyone who professes being gay. Because of these stereotypes, the black homosexuals have taken to disguising themselves as heterosexuals in order to gain acceptance in their communities. To cover their homosexuality tendencies, some of the black homosexuals engage in heterosexual affairs, while retaining their gay partners. This has been cited as one of the main case that is fanning the spread of HIV/ Aids among the black community. The lessons behind this precedent is that beyond the non-liberating nature of the homophobic tendencies that the black church has helped entrench in the black community, the double standards applied the church are also hurting the health well being of the black community. Unlike the white gay community which relies on family, community and even the political class for support, the black homosexuals usually seek guidance and support from the church. Considering the church’s position regarding the same, it is hard to imagine that the black homosexuals would find any solace here. Instead, they would be advised to take choices that either burdens them physically, spiritually or socially.
According to Keith Harris, an Associate professor in the University of California, the black homosexual has to contend with being branded a ‘faggot’ and being treated with disdain should their sexual orientation be known by other community members. However, the author also agrees that being labeled a faggot is not the worst that can happen to the black homosexual man. They suffer disavowal and negation of their freedom of choice. Worse still, their sexuality is at risk because of the how the society relates to them.
According to Don Browning, the terms ‘homosexual’, ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are used by people who think that the homosexual behavior is a manifestation of either biological and psychological characteristics. They also believe that only a minority group in the community has such characteristics. He however concurs that homosexuality hold different meaning to different communities. No where is this evident than the different approaches adopted by the American society. While the black society is still reserved and ignorant about the presence of homosexuals and therefore denying them the right to belong, the white society is more embracing and hence gives the homosexuals the freedom to relate with the larger society.
Lesbians in the black community are even less acceptable. Besides having to put up with male ridicule, lesbians re-define the modern woman. In part, they are seen to challenge the black man’s manhood since they cannot be manipulated or seduce by the men. In the black church, gender privileges are given to the male, who is allowed leadership position in the church as well as a dominating position in the family set-up. When the lesbians threaten this position, then they not only face enmity from the black male, but from the black community as a whole. Just like the black men who fear exposing their sexual orientation for fear of being labeled ‘faggots’, the black women do the same for fear of being labeled ‘lesbians’. According to Elijah Ward, silence on the part of the lesbian is the only way she can be sure that her relationship with the bigger society will be normal. “The fear of being ostracized in the black church is real among lesbians and gay men in the Black church”
Gay theologian believe that being heterosexual, homosexual or a bisexual is neither right nor wrong. According to them, one’s sexual orientation does not depend on his or her sinful nature. Instead, sexuality is a gift from God. As such, they are convinced that God accepts homosexuals as unique just as He accepts people from all races. Unlike them, theologians in the black church are yet to recognize that homosexuality is a normal variant in sexuality. Because of this, the church continues to abdicate its religious duty of offering guidance, solace and acceptance to the spiritual needs of the homosexual populace, instead choosing to be perpetrators of homophobia. Despite the difference between the black and the homosexual community, one needs to understand that the church is not an enemy to them, nor are the homosexual’s enemies of the church.
Although the existence of homosexuality is an open secret in the black church, the common approach adopted by many leaders is that homosexuality cannot be accepted or condoned since many still hold on to the believe that homosexuality is not beneficial to the developmental needs of the black community. This is especially the case with black men, who are expected not only to be physically strong, but to be dominant and independent in the family setting. Homosexuality contravenes this.
Whether the black church and the homosexual population attending church summon will strike a middle ground is a question only time will answer. However, if the prevailing conditions whereby the black church chooses to keep quiet regarding homosexuality, or preaches against the same when provoked, is to persist, then it is clear that the black homosexual and the black church will have to split. This is especially because the black church insists that the bible has never been accommodative to homosexuality tendencies.
Browning, Don. “Rethinking Homosexuality” The Christian Century 11(October 1989):916
Douglass, Kelly. Sexuality and the Black Church: A woman’s Perspective (New York: Orbis Books, 1999
Edwards, Heidi. 2007. “Homosexuality in the Black Church.” http://www.nbgsa.org/journal/pdf/v1i1/0102.pdf 2007/09/07 (Accessed 16 April 2009)
Guinn, David. Handbook of bioethics and religion. New York: Oxford University press US, 2006
Harris, Keith. “In the Life on the Down Low: where’s A Black Gay Man to go?” Beyond Masculinity 28(April 2006):143
Johnson, Patrick. Appropriating Blackness: performance and the politics of authenticity. Manchester: Duke University press, 2003
Lorde, Audre & Cheryl, Clarke. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom: Crossing Press, 1996
Rich, Wilbur & Charles, Hamilton. African American Perspectives on Political Science. New York: Temple University, 2007
Ward, Elijah. “Homophobia, Hyper masculinity and the Black Church” Culture, health and Sexuality 7(October 2005)493-504
West, cornel & Eddie, Glaude. African American Religious Thought: An Anthology. Westminster: John Fox Press, 2003
 Kelly, Douglass, Kelly Sexuality and the Black Church: A woman’s Perspective (New York: Orbis Books, 1999), 87
 Lorde and Clarke, Sister Outsider, (Freedom: Crossing Press, 1996), 45
 Ibid., Lorde and Clarke, Sister Outsider, 8
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 Ibid., Lorde and Clarke, Sister Outsider, 45
 Elijah, Ward, “Hyper masculinity and the US Black Church”, Culture, Health & Sexuality, September–October 2005; 7(5): 493–504
 Ibid., Elijah Ward, Hyper Masculinity & The US Black Church, 2
 Rich and Hamilton, African American Perspective on Political Science, (***)424
 Patrick, Johnson, Appropriating Blackness, (Manchester: Duke University Press, 2003) 38
 Ibid., Patrick, Johnson, Appropriating Blackness 40
 Ibid., Elijah Ward, Homophobia, Hyper- Masculinity and the US black Church, 9
 Edwards, Heidi. 2007. “Homosexuality in the Black Church.” http://www.nbgsa.org/journal/pdf/v1i1/0102.pdf 2007/09/07 (Accessed 16 April 2009)
 Ibid., Elijah Ward, Homophobia, Hyper masculinity and the US Black Church,98
 West and Glaude, African American religious Thought. (***). 1009
 Ibid., West and Glaude, African American religious Thought. 1009
 Ibid., Elijah, Ward, Homophobia, Hyper Masculinity and the US Black Church. 11
 Ibid., Elijah, Ward, Homophobia, Hyper Masculinity and the US Black Church. 12
 Eddie Murphy, Cited by Patrick Johnson, Appropriating Blackness, 48
 David, Guinn, Handbook of Bioethics and Religion, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 375
 Ibid., Edwards, Heidi. 2007. “Homosexuality in the Black Church.” http://www.nbgsa.org/journal/pdf/v1i1/0102.pdf 2007/09/07 (Accessed 16 April 2009)
 Keith, Harris, “In The Life on the Low Down: Where’s a Black Gay Man to go?”2005
 Don, Browning, “Rethinking Homosexuality” The Christian century (1989), 911
 Ibid., Elijah, Ward, Homophobia, Hyper Masculinity and the US Black Church. 104
 Ibid., Elijah, Ward, Homophobia, Hyper Masculinity and the US Black Church. 105
 Edwards, Heidi. 2007. “Homosexuality in the Black Church.” http://www.nbgsa.org/journal/pdf/v1i1/0102.pdf 2007/09/07 (Accessed 16 April 2009)