Black ministers discuss homophobia in black churches at Howard University School of Divinity forum
March 27, 2009
It was a lively discussion today at the Howard University School of Divinity in Northeast Washington,DC where a panel of fair-minded black ministers gathered to discuss the hot topic of homophobia in black churches. This was the first time the Howard University Divinity School Student Government Association has held a forum specifically focused on LGBT issues. The panel was hosted by People for the American Way (PFAW), the National Educational Association (NEA), and the African-American Ministers Leadership Council. After welcoming remarks by Howard University School of Divinity Student Government President Joi Orr, Dustin Baker, a first-year seminarian from New Jersey, opened the program by discussing his personal journey and the importance of becoming a visible, openly gay black minister sharing God's message of inclusion. Sharon Lettman, executive vice president of PFAW, thanked Dustin for his remarks and commended the audience for attending the first session of the two-day forum. Lettman says hosting important forums like this is a part of PFAW's long-term strategy as she introduces the panel moderator.
[caption id="attachment_4989" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="Howard University School of Divinity student Dustin Baker. "][/caption] [caption id="attachment_4990" align="alignleft" width="270" caption="Sharon Lettman, executive vice president of People For the American Way."][/caption] Rev. Tony Lee, pastor of Community of Hope AME church in Washington DC, served as moderator and, over the course of more than an hour, encouraged the panelists to analyze the complex ways religious homophobia alienates members of the black LGBT community and exacerbates health and spiritual struggles within the black community. His first question, addressed to Howard Divinity School Professor Rev. Dr. Ronald Hopson, was simply to ask, "What is it we're afraid of? How does homophobia manifest in the church?" Rev. Hopson said that a necessary part of the conversation is first addressing the irrationality of thinking that LGBT people in the church are a threat to "traditional marriage." Hopson says he considers homophobia in the church to be significantly dependent on "how people understand scripture and the place of scripture in understanding our ethical obligations to one another." [caption id="attachment_4985" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Rev. Tony Lee, moderator and senior pastor of Community of Hope AME in Temple Hills, MD."][/caption] Rev. Lee's next question on the "threat" of biblical liberalism in understanding the proper role of LGBT church members prompts Rev. Kenneth Samuel, pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, GA, to declare that certain biblical passages have become "toxic texts" that "need to be interpreted in light of the truth and light of lens of the all inclusive love of Jesus." "There has always been a strong need to interpret every biblical text that it promotes life and does not destroy life," he concludes. Rev. Lee turns to ask another great question: Should one be considered homophobic if they believe that homosexuality is sin? Rev. Byron Williams, a syndicated columnist and minister at Resurrection Church in Oakland, California, says that people who are members of a privileged class (heterosexuals) often have trouble affirming the humanity of people they deem different from them. Williams argues that all Christians should be striving to embrace the cross of Jesus, a symbol of the intersection between human imperfection and eternal hope. He finds dismissive condemnations of homosexuality as sin to be suspicious and thinks that many Christians opposed to opposition to homosexuality did not formulate their opinions after reading scriptures against homosexuality. Instead, he believes many religious homophobes first decide that they despise gays, and then find biblical passages to back up their prejudices. On the other hand, Prof. Hopson replies that he is less interested in broadly labeling people as homophobic. He contends that for many people, a history of abuse or sexual exploitation in their lives may be hindering their ability to maturely address the issue of homosexuality. He holds that he's more committed to understanding people's experiences that have shaped their perspectives than in dishing out labels.
May 17, 2013
Issues: Religion & Faith
May 2, 2013