Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflecting on a Dream...

This weekend across the United States - churches, civil organizations and non-profits will provide various opportunities to celebrate and honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Dr. King is a spiritual hero of mine, and having been inducted into the (MLK) Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in 2009 remains a humbling honor and thrilling highlight of my life.  
One of the ways I've traditionally celebrated MLK Day has been to attend the local MLK Celebration at one of the larger African American churches in town.  They hold an annual festival, traditionally broadcasted on local public radio.  It is an all day gospel extravaganza featuring amazing music, speeches and special presentations.  I truly enjoy it.  
However, I am not sure that I'll attend this year.  Due to a flurry of recent events I've begun to reflect even more deeply on Dr. King's Dream and how we celebrate it today.  I recently learned that the minister of the church that puts on this event has been reported to have included anti-gay messages in his sermons.  The news came on the heels of my heavy involvement in posting comments on a series of blogs about the role of the Black Church regarding fight for Equal Rights in the LGBTQ community.  
It all started when my friend Monique Ruffin posted an article on Huffington Post entitled "It's Official, Gay is the New Black."  Needless to say the article caused quite a stir.  I chose to become involved in several comment threads both on the blog site and on Facebook, and what became clear is that the black church community is divided on the issue of Gay Rights/Marriage Equality.  This was not news to me - but rather a topic of sincere curiosity.  
You see, I serve on the board for The Community of Welcoming Congregations and we have experienced a struggle to have any meaningful involvement or support from leaders in the black church community on this very important civil rights issue.  I struggle to understand why.
Now, let me say up front that the generalization of "the black church community" is a difficult one to make.  Across the nation I know African American clergy and church leaders who are on the side of LGBTQ Equality.  I am fortunate enough to call Bishops Carlton D. Pearson and Yvette Flunder among those friends and allies.  But by and large the majority of the "black church community” (by which, I mean traditionally evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal, Holiness, and Non-denominational African American congregations) do not take a favorable, and in some cases takes an actively adversarial, position on Gay Rights.  
Yet, the NAACP* and the late Coretta Scott King have taken a stand for LGBTQ Equality, deeming it the civil rights issue of our day.   So why then are so many black churches (not all) either silent or adversarial to the cause?
This seems to be the case for (at least) 2 reasons: 
1. Theology - "for the Bible tells me so"... many black churches, just like many white churches - believe that scripture is clear on the subject of homosexuality and that it is a sin.  
This issue is really a “red herring” - I'll address it in a post at the end of the month on Equality Sabbath, Jan. 29th.  For now, I'll refer you to the words of Bishop John S. Spong on this topic in one of my previous posts (Bishop Spong's Manifesto).

 The arguments used here are the same used in all-white churches - or any church that fights (actively or passively) against Marriage Equality.  Assuming we are able to agree to disagree on scriptural interpretation, the issue at hand is that of Civil Rights - not religious ones.
2. Cultural tradition "Don't usurp The Civil Rights Movement!" ... it seems that many are upset at the perceived effort by the gay community to usurp the original intent of the movement thereby diminishing the focus on equality issues that remain in the black community.  Certainly there are still issues of inequity and discrimination which affect the African American community as a whole.  But does the recognition of this fact warrant the apparent silence from the black church when it comes to the discrimination of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?  (Are they mutually exclusive issues?)  It was Dr. King that taught us that silence in the face of oppression and discrimination is just as much a sin as the behavior of the opressor.  
An argument could be made that "occasion and context informs intent."  Under this lens the Civil Rights movement rose from the extreme inequities and moral injustices facing African Americans and thus the intent of the movement was to right the wrongs of civil injustice.  But Dr. King and those around him did more than seek to right the wrongs of the current conditions.  Dr. King had a Dream.  A dream that we would as a nation “rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed, that all men are created equal.” He called us to the high American moral standards of Equality and Justice for ALL.   And while his message began with boycotts of buses and sit-ins at lunch counters (righting wrong conditions) - his intent clearly expanded over the years to include speaking out on issues of justice for immigrant farm workers, economic injustices and the moral efficacy of the vietnam war.  Yes, Dr. King understood that context gives rise to message - but he also powerfully understood that what emerges from this is Principle.  If a Principle is to have any validity at all - it must transcend the context from which it was uncovered, and be applicable in others.  
There are those who would say, and have done so on the blog threads,  that the plight of the LGBTQ community cannot come under the banner of the Civil Rights Movement because they do not have the history of 300 years of oppression, slavery and discrimination.  There are those who would say, "it is not the same" because black folks can't "blend-in" the way gay folks can.  
But how much discrimination must a people endure to qualify?  How much suffering does it take?  Must the discrimination be visible for all to see?  Isn't hidden racism and discrimination just as insidious as the visible kind?   
Dr. King called on us to transcend labels and understand that at our core we are all human beings, and for that fact alone are deserving of basic rights and equal treatment under the law.   The black church community has traditionally been the champion of both the Civil Rights Movement and the "Keepers of the Dream" of Dr. King.  Now, the LGBTQ community is calling the champions of equality and justice for all to come to their aide.  But rather than pick up the phone and answer the call, many leaders of back church community seem to let the call go straight to voicemail - with an outgoing message that says "we're sorry, we can't take your call right now, our theology won't let us."  
Dr. King taught us that the church, white or black, has a role in the social sector.  That role is to stand up for the oppressed and discriminated and to call on our political leaders to remember the inherent dignity of all human beings when shaping public policy.  
"The church should be the headlights rather than the tail lights on loving first, best and most, all people inclusively.”  - Bishop Carlton D. Pearson
Dr. King’s Dream of Equality has always been a call to action, to rise to the occasion of our most honorable intentions toward one another, whether or not we are in agreement and whether or not we even like one another.  The Dream of equal treatment under the law is not reserved for just one people.  
Dr. King’s Dream is for everyone. 



  1. David York6:10 AM

    Godspeed, Rev. D., for your wisdom, your courage, and your leadership. May you thrive.

    Inclusion - true inclusion - is a tall order, and I pray when my assumptions are tested - as I see happening within the African-American community regarding queers - that the tools and insights I obtain through your teaching will equip me with the humility, the trust, and indeed the curiosity to grow beyond my limited field of vision.

    Thank you for being a radiant example of the Principle of Inclusion.

  2. Dr. King evolved from Civil Rights to Human Rights...he was indeed beyond his generation in thought! His concern was with the whole of humanity not just Africian Americans and if he was still among us today, he would be an advocate for the LGBT community...

  3. Amen. The phenomenon of oppression sickness that Bishop Flunder identified in her book "Where the Edge Gathers" is indeed a problem among all communities that have experienced oppression. The truth is that such behaviors actually perpetuate oppression rather than move toward ending it, rather equivalent to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic that is our culture. I applaud your decision and the reasons behind it. Until we all are free, none of us are free; until all of us are fully included in all corners of society, we all are excluded. What's wrong is wrong, and it doesn't matter who the actors are.

  4. Rev D!!!! Outstanding piece, thoughtful and honest. If we are to live into the "New Thought" we articulate, then it will mean the kind of self evaluation and reflection you are doing and that this blog post names.

  5. Bravo and brave on, David.
    The world needs more voices of inclusion, like yours. Keep standing up for what you know is True. In doing so, you inspire others to step more fully into their own sense of courage for the unfolding of justice. May we one day live in a world where these conversations seem antiquated rather than cutting edge. In the meantime, keep on keeping on.
    In ONEness,

  6. Brilliant writing, as usual...

    I don't quite get why, after so many decades, people seem to be getting so prickly about race this past year or so. It's almost like the 60's never happened...

    As you know, the problem isn't "race", the problem is "difference". The game seems to be: "You must recognize my difference, but I'm not going to recognize yours..." Paul Watzlawick, author of “How Real is Real”, talks about people who attempt to derive their identities through their suffering. The end of suffering means the loss of identity… in the 21st Century, we must have identities that are LARGER than our suffering, identities that are formed from our blessings, not (just) our pains.

    The problem of difference is exacerbated by... religion. Not spirituality, but religion, and the baggage of centuries that each and every religious tradition has accumulated. I'm not sure there's a baby in that bathwater anymore...

  7. here is an excellent piece on the issue - Why LGBT equality is not a “white” issue

    Posted by Rev. Dr. Dennis W. Wiley on August 25, 2011

  8. This is a reminder of a group that wants smaller government except for differences they don't like....then they want the government to regulate those differences.

  9. @Wood-eye and Linda-lou : not sure I understand your comment..? I don't think the members / leaders within the black church community can be grouped with any one political persuasion - they are on both sides of the political isle.

  10. This is an amazing turn of events:

  11. Anonymous1:13 PM

    what I find disheartening.....when blacks were fighting for thier RIGHTS..they had thier Communitys and churches backing them.......LGBT people aren't a specific Group think, they come in all colors,economic backrounds,religions etc.......LGBT people don't have "Group think"..heck, there's LGBT people that Vote GOP????
    well we'll see wont we come thiese upcoming elections in May,and Nov.....from what I've read thus far..esp. in Md....Many a black church have Come out AGAINST LGBT equality under the guise of Religion, that was once USED against them...which is saddening and at the same time - makes me ill.



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