I'd an interesting conversation with my mother a few years ago. On the television was some black minister preaching, and my mother turned to me and said that she was a little sad that my brother and I were not raised in the black church. I was a little surprised by this admission, because it came from out of the blue. I let her know that I was glad, actually, that she did not raise us in the black church, or any church.
The black church, as an institution, has been horrific with regard to the GLBT communities in its midst. While checking out Rod McCullom's blog, I saw this post about HIV/Aids in the black community as shown on the CNN special on Black America. Judge Penny Brown Reynolds makes excellent points about the way that the black church has beat down, with a stick of shame, its black gay parishioners. This, in my mind, most anti-Christian approach to HIV/Aids in the black gay male community, both early in the epidemic and currently, should be seen as one of the most shameful developments in the history of the black church, which for centuries was the one place to find succor in a world bent on denigrating black people.
In the 1980s, when one of the most vulnerable parts of the black community started suffering, most of the collective black church seemed either to sit in silence or pass judgment with impunity. Only when black women and children began to be afflicted with HIV/Aids did the black church seem to begin talking about the issue. See, these were the real "victims" of this disease; gay men cannot serve in that capacity within the black church.
Even in the clip I linked to, and as McCullom noted, Roland Martin discussed white gays, black women and black children in his question about the public policy debate surrounding the epidemic. Do you think black gay men crossed his brain? Or Ben Jealous' brain? It was Soledad O'Brien who re-inserted the issue of homosexuality into that discussion. This is all too typical a perspective for the black church (and the black community), and it is a tragedy. The responses to the Civil Rights Movement and the HIV/Aids crisis by the black church were like night and day (as Judge Reynolds suggested), and for those gays and lesbian within the black church right now, I wonder whether they truly feel the love that the church is supposed to provide. Stories like those about DC's own Pastor Rainey Cheeks reminds me that there are pockets within the black church that can indeed provide the support that the black church has been known for providing.
Overall, I am glad that I was not raised within an institution that people I know still have to make excuses for. I am glad that I was not raised within an institution that would have made my struggles with my sexual orientation even more painful than they were. In the end, I concluded that if one wants to have a sense of faith, then that should be something that is mostly private and individualized. Where some see the Bible as the inerrant word of God, I see a rich historical document that has been subjected to levels of reinterpretation that should make the head spin. For so many, organized religion has provided a wonderful sense of purpose. That is great, for them.
Meanwhile, I think my mother did just fine by me.