If You Ask The Black Church, Some Black Lives Matter and Others Are Disposable
My message to the Black Church is simple: choose a side. Liberate or oppress. Victimize or humanize. Dismantle systems of oppression or maintain systems of domination. Our community — your community — is in crisis. And your house is divided. Now is the time to get your house in order; this cannot wait.
While I am heartened by your recent calls for justice in the wake of state-sanctioned violence against Black people, you must recognize that your credibility has eroded to an almost irredeemable degree. At the heart of your stained reputation is an inability to grapple with intersectionality and the complexity of Black embodiment. I say this as a Black minister who has served the church, and as a Black queer man who has been persecuted by it. The fundamental flaw in your activism lies in the nagging question that haunts me — what would it take to make Black queer lives indispensible?
At the heart of your stained reputation is an inability to grapple with intersectionality and the complexity of Black embodiment.
It is no secret that the Black Church has a long, condemnable history of vilifying the Black LGBTQ community. Words laced with homophobia and scriptural interpretations doused with transphobia are commonplace in too many of our churches. Toxic theologies that routinely dehumanize and antagonize queer folks are normalized in sacred spaces, in Sunday school classes and clergy offices. These insidious indignities greet queer folks at the door, usher us into the sanctuary, and berate us in the pews. In churches where freedom and love supposedly abound, we are told to wrap ourselves in shame and live our lives in silence, as if it is the price of our admission.
In churches where freedom and love supposedly abound, we are told to wrap ourselves in shame and live our lives in silence, as if it is the price of our admission.
Sunday after Sunday, our spiritual homes render us invisible — until it is time for us to pray, preach, sing, or give. For all intents and purposes, our divinity is casually extracted and our humanity is perpetually ignored.
The tragic truth and godforsaken consequence of this reality is unambiguous: the Black Church continually abandons the Black LGBTQ community and tacitly endorses our suffering. You do not have to dig too deep into the archives of Black Church history to discover the veracity of my claim. Nearly every major predominantly Black religious organization — the Church of God in Christ, the National Baptist Convention, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church — has greeted LGBTQ suffering with contempt or ambivalence. In fact, many of them still see our sexual expression and gender identities as sinful and abominable in the eyes of God. To date, there has been no organized effort or mass mobilization to confront the astronomical rate at which Black trans women are dying, often at the hands of Black men. Neither has there been a national campaign, sponsored by prominent Black clergy persons, to address the startling rate at which Black LGBTQ youth are committing suicide.
Our blood is being spilled in the streets; it is crying out from the ground and our churches still refuse to bear witness to our painful plight. Thus, the economic, political, and social marginalization experienced by the Black LGBTQ community goes wholly unnoticed.
Our blood is being spilled in the streets; it is crying out from the ground and our churches still refuse to bear witness to our painful plight.
The nullification of our humanity, at the hands of the Black Church, simply exacerbates the continued erasure of our pain and our deaths. Case in point. Black congregants and clergy took to the streets to say the names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd; the latest victims of modern day lynchings in the United States. But, one name was conspicuously missing from the chants and sermons coming from the Black Church — Tony McDade. Killed by a police officer in Tallahassee, Florida, two days after George Floyd, McDade’s name fell through the proverbial cracks of clergy concern. More recently, two Black trans women — Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells in Pennsylvania — were killed within a 24 hours period. And again, I have yet to see prominent Black pastors clamoring to demand justice and accountability for their attackers; their silence is deafening. These are only the latest examples of Black churches being derelict in their spiritual duty to be a refuge for the vulnerable and an advocate for the oppressed. At this point, it has become routine.
But it is not too late for the Black Church to be an ally to the Black LGBTQ community. Redemption is possible and it can only come through true repentance and concrete action. The Black Church and its leaders must repent for their role in weaponizing the pulpit to promulgate oppressive ideologies. It must reckon with the shame it has fomented, the trauma it has caused, and the families it has destroyed using harmful theologies. And, for those who have stood on the sidelines and remained silent as we suffered, you must own your complicity and do better. Until then, the Black Church’s call for justice will ring hollow for many, especially for those of us in the Black LGBTQ community.
With that said, there are religious luminaries — Rev. Dr. Delman Coates, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, and Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, to name a few — who are staunch advocates and allies. These leaders, along with so many others, are modeling new ways to meet the needs of those whom the Black Church has long ignored. But, they cannot do it alone. We cannot do it alone. Now is the time for other Black congregants and congregations to step up. If your calls for justice are wholehearted and full-throated, show up for us! If you are committed to ensuring that Black lives matter, ALL Black lives matter, speak up for us! Use your platform and your privilege to advocate fiercely and unapologetically. I beseech you to choose a side. Choose to liberate. Choose to humanize. Choose to love unconditionally.
Either way, history will judge you, God will watch you, and we will remember what you do.