Viewpoint: Faith in action

My paternal grandfather was one of sixteen. All but four of his siblings were preachers, teachers or both. My dad grew up in a home atmosphere strongly laced with a good dose of hellfire and brimstone as well as constant, very animated, often angry debates of the correct interpretation of scripture.
I got a taste of his theological nightmare one year at a family reunion where the "dueling Reverend Browns" stretched a one hour service to three excruciating hours of one-upmanship – each trying to prove that they walked a little closer to God than their sibling.
So it's no wonder that when my father had a family of his own he chose to raise his family in the less contentious doctrines and rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Other than funerals we rarely entered a black church. Witnessing displays of high emotion, speaking of tongues, and shouting were bewildering and often frightening to our young eyes. There were no loud exclamations of praise at Sunday mass. The service was predictable and timely – barely over an hour allowing plenty of time for my dad to hit the golf course, catch the early football game or have a peaceful Sunday afternoon outing with us.
But as we grew older, I begin to feel a sense of disconnect from the rest of our family and our black community. And I begin to question why we had to be different.
At my grandmother's house, where everyone was welcome, I heard stories of strong black women, of struggles against injustice and poverty and of faith that gave you strength in troubled times. And on the rare occasions I was allowed to spend the night and attend church with her, I saw this faith in action.
They would sing "Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn." The weary, the tired, the down trodden coming together as a community full of love, full of hope. Young, old, straight and even gay, we were stronger because of the adversities. We were home in the church – together, a community.
Over the years I became a spiritual nomad. There was a smorgasbord of religions and I was determined to try them all – Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Unitarian, Zen Buddhism and a stint with the society of Krishna Consciousness. I continued as a religious vagabond getting my fix of spirituality wherever my god-self led me finding solace in the quiet of Old St. Mary's, being moved by a gospel choir or finding enlightenment in the teachings of Buddha. Still it was the Black Church where I felt most at home, where I felt a part of something bigger than myself and where I first met others who were gay like me.
They weren't trying to hide it. They were there singing in the choir, holding hands in praise. And when the church sang "take my hand Precious Lord, lead me home" nobody turned and said, "But not them."
In 2003 when homophobia came to the public forefront, championed by the President of the United States and attempts to write discrimination into the constitution, I was shocked to find Black ministers rattling their sabers and spewing hatred right up there with the rest of the bigots. This was part of my community and the affect was devastating. Inevitably after one of the Black ministers issued an especially heinous statement, someone white would say "What are you going to do about your Black church and those Black ministers." Never mind that there were as many if not more, white members of the religious right than Black, it was the Black ministers who seemed to speak the loudest. I was shocked, hurt and yes, ashamed, that it was leaders of my Black family, who knew intimately the evils of discrimination, now leading the attack against my other family, the Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Queer community.
But I was also angry – angry that the folks who knew we were in the congregation, held our hand in praise and lifted their voices with us in song were silent. It wasn't that they didn't care, but like the rest of us they were trying to organize against a well-oiled hate machine. Those on the faith-based initiative dole and willing to lie down with dogs for their ten minutes of fame and mega-churches, were part of a machine better organized and well funded than those who spoke the truth. Our religious warriors need our help and support and you don't have to be "Born again" to give it.
The LGBT community is forming its own faith based initiatives to reframe the discussion and reclaim the moral high ground. Since the April 17, 2007 "Clergy Call for Justice and Equality," religious leaders and people of faith have been working with HRC's Religion and Faith Program to pass key legislation for the LGBT community – the Mathew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Act and the Employment Non Discrimination Act.
In July 2007, the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering the African American LGBTQ community, came to Detroit to be a part of the NAACP's 98th Annual Convention. And when a coalition of anti-gay African American ministers calling themselves the "High Impact Leadership Coalition" took out full page advertisements in "Roll Call" (a newspaper that covers Congress) and USA Today opposing the passage of the Mathew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, NBJC in coalition with the Human Rights Campaign and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights pushed back with a full-page ad in USA Today setting the record straight.
I'm still a spiritual gypsy but now I am also a warrior fighting back for equality. So when someone asks me what am I going to do about those Black ministers, I say I am part of a movement to silence, educate and win over these misguided souls to the gospel of equality. And like I tell people about politics, we each have to do our part if only by supporting the efforts of NBJC, HRC, NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
And when a self righteous church-goer calls me an abomination and tries to scare me with threats of eternal damnation, I'm going to think back to those days sitting beside my grandmother listening to the choir and smile back at them unafraid "for if his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he/she is watching over me."

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