Black and gay in the church: ‘We need to open our hearts up’

From Indianapolis Recorder by Tyler Fenwick

Caleb Reid is gay and wants to leave his church. He’s tired of the pastor preaching against who he is. He’s tired of not being able to find a church where he feels like he’s accepted.

Reid is 20 years old and has to leave part of himself in the parking lot of his African American church. He told the Recorder in an interview at Indy Pride Festival on June 8 what church he goes to, but the church’s pastor didn’t respond to requests for comment, so the name was omitted.

“They get on the mic and say gay people are monsters,” Reid said of the church he’s been going to every Sunday. “They say they animals. They say they demons. I still go because I still want that emotional support, but I’m not happy there.”

The last time Pew Research Center conducted its broad Religious Landscape Study in 2014, 51% of historically Black Protestant churchgoers said homosexuality should be accepted, and 40% said it should be discouraged. But this doesn’t necessarily dictate what the pastor says on Sunday, and many churches choose to ignore the issue altogether because it’s seen as taboo.

Rufus Wickliffe, a 45-year-old gay man, prefers to call himself “spiritual” rather than religious. He said he’s lucky to now be at LifeJourney Church, which is nondenominational, where he feels accepted. This hasn’t always been the case, though. Wickliffe said he grew up in an African American church in Indianapolis where he heard he would go to hell for being gay.

“I knew the love my family gave me, that wasn’t the love [the pastor] was preaching to me,” Wickliffe said as he sat outside the Starbucks on Massachusetts Avenue to watch the Indy Pride Parade. “I had to wrestle with that. I knew I wasn’t going to hell. I know I’m not going to hell. … How can you tell a child, a young adult, a young person that they’re going to hell? That’s not right.”

Wickliffe declined to say which African American church he went to.

Wickliffe said he thinks African American churches and people need to be more open to young people in the LGBT community because the church is supposed to be a foundation for African Americans.

“We all grew up and started out in the church,” he said. “We need to open our hearts up to our young people and accept them for who they are, plain and simple.”

That’s what LGBT people — and their allies — want, but it is not a reality. For many who feel that homosexuality and other things such as transgenderism should be discouraged, their conviction comes from the Bible. English translations of a book written in Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament) seem to make it clear why: Leviticus says “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman,” 1 Corinthians says “men who practice homosexuality” won’t “inherit the kingdom of God” and so on.

But as Keith McQueen, an openly gay pastor at Powerhouse Church of Deliverance, pointed out, the word homosexual didn’t become part of the English language until the late 1800s and didn’t appear in English translations of the Bible until 1946. There is no biblical Hebrew or Greek word for homosexuality. As with many other words that don’t appear in the original language, including “virgin,” Bible and language scholars continue to debate the meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words that have been translated to “homosexual.”

McQueen said pastors are misinterpreting the Bible — or worse, they’re interpreting the Bible to say what they want it to. He compared using the Bible to condemn homosexuality to slaveowners using the book to justify enslaving Africans.

“Hitler blamed the Jews, Trump blames the immigrants, and the Black church blames the gays,” he said.

McQueen, 30, came out when he was 19 and said he was shunned by a church in Atlanta where he worked as a youth pastor. He even went through conversion therapy — “it’s horrible” — when he was 15. McQueen moved to Indianapolis in 2012 and has been married for four years.

His advice to LGBT people who feel neglected or attacked in their churches is to reexamine their perception of God and not fall in the trap of believing sitting through hurtful church services is some kind of repentance for sin.

“Don’t fight for LGBT rights Monday through Saturday and then go to church on Sunday and ‘amen’ the pastor who’s calling you a sissy or a dyke,” he said.

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