Recently I was asked to preach at a family member’s church for a special occasion. Indeed, I was delighted to accept the invitation. I’m humbled, in awe, and joyous when asked to preach God’s Word. As someone who has embraced my vocation as a minister of the Gospel, I look forward to completing the assignments that God tasks to my hands. Yet as a gay man, I experience a sense of dread as ministry opportunities open up for me within black church contexts. I guess I experience this dread especially being back home in Philadelphia after I withdrew from culinary school (story to follow in a later post). I come from a family of highly-regarded Baptist ministers. Over the years, I’ve encountered prominent local pastors who knew my maternal grandfather and his father (both pastored churches in Philadelphia) very well. Recently, I’ve participated in my uncle’s pastoral installation. The church was packed with local clergy. I sat in the pulpit of the church where my grandfather once regularly preached. I shook the hands of seasoned men who were catechized by my great-grandfather. I anticipate establishing professional connections with these men and women in the near future, and despite where my theological continues to lie, I cannot shake the feeling, “Oh my God, this shit just got too real!!” off my back.
Contrary to what readers may think, I don’t go around everywhere disclosing my sexual identity to everyone. Of course, I would be completely naive to think that folks cannot find out more about me; they can just read this blog or my Facebook page. Nevertheless, I still negotiate where, when, to whom, and why I share this information, especially within black church circles. As of right now, I feel the need to negotiate my life from an open closet. It’s an open closet because I, while I acknowledge my sexual identity to some, I don’t bring it up as a talking point to others. Positively, this make sense. I don’t want anyone prying into my personal life (do I have a personal life?!!). I do what I’m required to do–preach the good news of Christ. However, negatively, playing the politics game within Afro-Baptist churches who continue to refuse, regardless of their reasons, to engage in healthy theological and practical conversation on (homo)sexuality continues to be a necessary evil, at least for my predicament. I am licensed to preach, but not ordained. Indeed, I hope to make it my life’s work to create safe, theological rigorous, and loving spaces for conversation within black churches to understand sexuality through my writing, lecturing, and teaching. For right now, I don’t have the ordination papers or the Ph. D. degree. I’m learning to pick my battles.
If certain Baptist clergy learned of my sexuality, they would probably refuse to ordain me. Honestly, I cannot imagine how I would feel if this actually happens. I have to live in the present moment and trust that God will give me the strength and the direction to handle this disappointment and rejection, God forbid, if or when it comes. In the meantime, “a charge to keep, I have, and a God to glorify, a never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky.” I will keep my appointments to preach when I’m invited. With God’s help, I will continue to live honestly as much as I can, and use wisdom in any given situation. Besides, God called me to preach. I pray for the day when I no longer feel the need to preach from within a tense space like the open closet.