Black Church History Comes Out The Closet  
  by Herndon L. Davis  

We attend church and become more active and visible than most. We tithe, pray, praise, and worship God in spirit and truth, but still we are separated, told we don't matter, and not given as much say in church matters that count the most because of who we are, Gay/Lesbian men and women. Roll the clock back over 200 years, and you have the exact same thoughts, sentiments, and emotions of Black church congregants, who attended church, tithed, prayed, worshipped God in spirit and truth. But were still separated, told they didn't matter and were not given a say in church matters that counted the most because of who they were, Black men and women. In each situation both groups attempted to fit in, to go along with the status quo, but both eventually got tired of being sick and tired and splintered off into separate denominations and churches that catered specifically to their spiritual needs as reflected by their life-experiences and culture.

As a result, we have churches that are inclusive of gays/lesbians that specifically minister to their needs, experiences and culture along side churches that specifically minister to the needs, culture, and experiences of the Black community at large. In short, we have Gay/Lesbian churches and we have Black churches, both splintered movements of a resistant mainstream. Both groups were oppressed, both groups were frustrated, both groups worshiped and praised God, and both groups were separated and treated with indignity.

In the case of the Black Church, the genesis of the first splintered movement began in 1786 at St. George's Episcopal Methodist Church in Philadelphia. When Absalom Jones and Richard Allen kneeled down to pray to a God they knew not to be a "respecter of persons," they were rudely interrupted and told they had to go up into the balcony, separated from their white congregants. The event spurred Jones to eventually leave in 1793 to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) denomination. Similar incidents of isolation and discontent caused James Varick, Peter Williams and Charles Rush to charter the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AME Zion) in 1796 in New York. The South was no different. The then Colored Methodist Episcopalians, now known as the Christian Methodist Episcopalians (CME) was formed as a result of a schism over the theology slavery between northern and southern states. Black congregants formed their own denomination in order to minister to their needs, culture and experiences.

In the 1800's 150 Black Baptist pastors met in Montgomery, Alabama to form the Baptist Mission Convention. By 1895 it had merged with two other conventions to form the National Baptist Convention of the United States of America. Up until then, previous attempts to form all Black Baptist church associations and conventions were not allowed.

Now, let's fast forward to today from a Black Gay/Lesbian perspective. Identical splinter spiritual movements have also occurred breaking away from the mainstream established Black Church. In 1985, Archbishop Carl Bean founded Unity Fellow Church in California. Today this spiritual movement has grown and now includes 15 congregations in cities across America, ministering directly to the needs, life-experiences, and culture of the Black Gay/Lesbian community. In addition, another movement, Fellowship 2000, which was founded five years ago by Bishop Yvette Flunder, and is taking a slightly different but still powerful approach to ministering to our needs. The movement is actually a multi-denominational fellowship of mostly African American churches ranging from ultra conservative to liberal with the goal to embrace and implement "radical inclusivity" within their congregations.

Ironically, both of these Black Spiritual movements occurred outside of the realm of the mostly white MCC Gay/Lesbian church movement. This highlights the fact that there is obviously a need if not a demand for a "just like me" understanding and tolerance which must exist before spiritual growth can occur in the lives of many of us. Both UFC and Fellowship 2000 were formed, nurtured, and now are flourishing and vibrant organisms that meet this demand and fill this void in the lives of Black Gay/Lesbians across the country.

Again, identical to our ancestors, we got tired of being sick and tired and being meted out the same harsh segregation, intense resistance, and blatant disregard to our emotions, life-experiences, and culture. Ironically, the mainstream Black Church of today became the oppressors in our lives. The roles were reversed. Our Black pastors/bishops became our captors and we are as Gays/Lesbians for many years were their willing and helpless victims. Too many of us took the abuse and shrugged it off when the gay bashing sermons came our way. We quietly thought to ourselves, "I deserve it" and then moved on. Sadly, many of us still have that particular slave mentality. Although we may not take physical abuse, but the emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse we do take is far worse, more painful, and significantly more devastating as it drives and eventually destroys our lives. As a result, many Black gay men marry women because their pastor/bishop told them to. Many Black Lesbian women marry men because pastor/bishop said they would go to hell if they didn't. Many marriages have been based upon lies, STD's have crept into bedrooms, and innocent children have been caught in the middle, all because pastor/bishop threatened, screamed, challenged, and abused his/her spiritual authority over their flock.

Unless we stand up and speak out to the Black Church and demand a re-look, reconsideration, and a refreshed analysis of Scripture, Spirituality and our lives as Godly men and women who also happen to be Gay/Lesbian, we will forever be doomed to the abusive and bloodied hands of condemnation of the Black Church.

However, there is a bright and glowing rainbow (no pun intended) on the flip side of the entire situation. Our independent spiritual movements (UFC and Fellowship 2000) will continue to flourish as we continue to seek God in spirit and in truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to move within our beings to display the love, compassion, and tolerance that Jesus Christ displayed when he walked on earth. Hence, the old saying is true, "if you don't know your past, you're doomed to repeat it."

  Herndon L. Davis is the author of "Black Gay and Christian: An Inspirational Guidebook to Daily Living"  



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