Daily I struggle to make sense of my sexuality in light of Christian faith. Concomitantly, I struggle with my beliefs not only about the blessing of same-sex relationships in the Church but also to find a community of Christians who welcome folks like me to wrestle theologically and follow Jesus Christ together as members of Christ’s body. Unfortunately, very few Christian churches offer spaces for theological and moral discernment regarding complex life matters. More pointedly, conservative churches, at least in my experience, have a zero-to-low tolerance for ambiguity. Of course, many conservative and evangelical Protestant churches would welcome a person with same-sex orientation to come and fellowship with them. However, with their belief in the biblical prohibition against same-sex relationships, they would most likely admonish me to “mortify the works of the flesh,” read my Bible, pray, and submit to “sound biblical teaching” from a pastor. The problem with this is that I don’t merely struggle to maintain a chaste lifestyle (which is a matter of choice), but rather I struggle to theologically understand my sexuality (which is not a matter of choice but part of my psycho-sexual, relational, social, and spiritual development). In more forceful way, it’s not about what I do (or not) with my body with whom but it’s about fundamentally about who I am as a human being.
As an Afro-Baptist, I lament the fact that many black Baptist churches do not offer spaces for theological and moral discussion and debate regarding human sexuality and gender. Never in my experience of being a black Baptist have I heard any substantive discussion on human sexuality (besides homophobic remarks within sermons and Bible studies!) initiated or facilitated by a pastor. Given the many resources on human sexuality development offered by psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and others, many black Baptist ministers simply will not speak on the subject beyond what might be uttered from pulpits. Many black Baptist (male) pastors wield theologically authoritarian power over their congregations. Many seem to deny that sexual orientation of any sort is not ‘chosen’ but a complex psycho-sexual development manifested across a human being’s lifespan. This theologically raises questions regarding the relationship between Creation and Sin: “Are sexual orientations (lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, asexual) simply a part of our makeup as human beings created in the image of God or is there one sexual orientation viz., heterosexuality is God-ordained and all others sinful aberrations?” Obviously, many conservative Christians would choose the latter while many LGBT Christians and their straight “allies” affirm the former. Yet these are not questions regularly debated in many African-American churches. For “Bible-believing” black Christians, all homosexual acts (whatever they may be) are sinful in the eyes of God. Therefore, it’s not up for thoughtful and painful discussion and/or debate. Dissenting voices and others are simply silenced. There’s a deep disconnect between what is theologically and ethically assumed as right belief and what is actually the lived experiences of the faithful. One need not be reminded of the fact that most straight folks within the black churches are having sex even when the many of them are not married.
This continual failure of the Afro-Baptist churches, and the Black Church in general, to call for theological, ethical, and pastoral transformation on behalf of not only LGBTQ people, but all the people of God makes me question their collective standing as a moral authority. More questions develop as I have engaged contemporary theologies of liberation such as black, womanist, and queer theologies. These theologies expose how racism, sexism, heterosexism, and homophobia (in addition, biphobia and transphobia) factor in the interpretations of biblical texts used to dehumanize black women and black LGBT/same-gender-loving people. They also counter the longstanding hegemony of the Euro-Protestant principle of sola scriptura which views the Bible as the final authority of faith and practice. Admittedly, it’s a principle to which I continue to dearly hold as a Christian. Sadly, although we have many preachers within our pulpits, but few leaders and pastor-theologians who can rightly and wisely discern the complexity of human experience. Where are the pastors who will develop the courage to be honest with themselves and their congregations? Where are the leaders who are willing to embrace tension, ambiguity, and rely on God’s amazing grace and openly admit their ignorance before God’s people? Where are the church mothers who will take a stand with God’s children who are wounded by the preaching, teaching, and moralizing of pulpiteers? Where are the straight men who will rebuke their brothers for using homophobic slurs and gestures against their gay brothers and sisters? Where are the African-American churches who will engage in deep theological conservation and listen to the testimonies of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning siblings regardless of their theological positions?
As we continue to move forward in the second decade of the 21st century, I’m persuaded that we need to cultivate courageous and grace-filled theological communities of faith. I’m not particularly arguing for black churches to adopt academically-driven liberationist stances uncritically, but I’m longing for black churches who will accept the partiality and contextual nature of theological knowledge. I’m longing for truly Spirit-filled and Christ-centered churches who will minister to the entirety of human persons and confront the injustices done not only to LGBTQ people but also to all people struggling to follow Christ and understand their sexuality. Theology is a human construction; it is not a final word on any subject but a longstanding conservation which the church must have in light of the Gospel. Reading the Scriptures theologically is a communal practice that requires all voices to be heard. What we proclaim and what do “unto the least of these” reflects ultimately our vision of who God is. Who is the God that we serve if we as a community continue to disregard weightier matters that directly affect the lives of God’s children? Wrestling together is difficult work to do, but it’s necessary work. The Gospel demands it. Lives depend on it. To borrow womanist ethicist Emilie M. Townes’ simple yet stunning invitation: “will you join me?”