By Allen White
The African American church in America is multiple in direction and the role it plays as community leader has, arguably, never been stronger. This past weekend, the strength, commitment and courage of Christians, as seen through ministries reflecting Black lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people was on display.
Saturday, for most of nine hours, the National Black Justice Coalition presented their 4th Annual Black Church Summit & Town Hall Meeting. They came from cities ranging from Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago and New York to San Francisco’s Glide Church. The level of discussion was serious and covered a myriad of topics. Through the day they examined a multitude of short comings. With the same passion they celebrated both their victories and those who advocate their issues.
In America, the church is the market place for Christianity. In the Black community, the church demonstrated this past weekend why it is, clearly, the most organized and visible vehicle for keeping alive the civil rights movement. The Black Church Summit & Town Hall included panels, speeches and music which reflected the unique contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rosa Parks; Medgar Evers; Emmitt Till; Judge Thurgood Marshal, Malcolm X and several others. The actions of each formed the texture of the civil rights movement.
For almost half a century, guidance for America to work through many civil rights issues came from San Francisco. 46 years ago, the Rev. Cecil Williams began taking bold and courageous stands as Senior Pastor of Glide Church.
The stamp of leadership has also come from the Rev. Amos Brown, for over 35 years, the Senior Pastor of Third Baptist Church. He has been a pioneer in leading the cause of civil rights as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a trustee of the San Francisco Community College District and currently he is the President of the San Francisco Chapter of the NAACP.
This coalition brought together speaker after speaker to provide challenges backed up with solid research and each made important contributions to those charged with giving spiritual leadership to the nation’s same gender loving community.
These past twelve months, life hasn’t been business as usual in the black church. First came the statements of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Pastor Emeritus of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton became the sole spokespersons on a wide spectrum of community issues.
America saw the election of the first African American President and the departure of a generation of white homophobic ministers and their supporters. Today, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Dr. James Kennedy, Rev. James Dobson, Rev. Fred Phelps, Rev. Pat Robertson and Senator Jesse Helms are, for the most part, in the past.
For those who opposed Measure 8, there was a price to pay. Rev. Amos Brown, local NAACP President, faced a person who literally attempted to take control of his pulpit at the Third Baptist Church.
The man failed because he underestimated Brown’s physical strength. “The young man failed to realize I’m from Mississippi,” Brown said.
Julian Bond, the national president of the NAACP, is facing a splinter group who want him ousted for opposing Measure 8. Governor David Paterson, New York’s first African American Governor is facing strong opposition in his election campaign. Last year, a fund raising dinner in San Francisco for Paterson was boycotted because of his opposition to the measure.
Rev. Byron Williams, an Oakland Pastor and columnist for the Oakland Tribune and Huffington Post, said many fundamentalist ministers use the bible like a drunk would use a street lamp. “They lean on it for support,” he said. “Yet, they never use it for illumination.”
“Too many,” Brown said, “are little league people trying to function in the big leagues.”
Dr. Kenneth Samuel, who in 1987 organized the Victory for the World Church, both an Independent Baptist Church and an active United Church of Christ congregation in Atlanta, spoke a recurring theme urging a commitment to honesty. “Ignorance is deadly,” Samuels said. To those who distort statements in the bible, he emphasized, “The Bible is a guide, it is not a God.”
The Rev. Frederick Haynes, Pastor of the Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, today, one of America’s most respected preachers, provided a multitude of direction to his theme, “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.”
His remarks focused on personal responsibility and acceptance of dignity as fundamental. He told of the young boy who in his dreams found himself trapped by a deadly grizzly bear. Haynes said the young boy asked of the grizzly bear if he would be killed.
Changing the perspective of King’s “Dream” speech, the Dallas Pastor said the grizzly bear responded, “I don’t know the answer. It’s your dream.”
Within the framework of his remarks, he noted a woman of the church, he described as “Ms. Grand.” Haynes said the woman prided herself on how she looked, how she acted and carried herself a grandness not found in most.
“Here, she was,” he said, riding on Southwest Airlines. With its one class commuter service, he figured the woman had compromised her self-styled image of grandeur.
Walking to the rear of the plane, “Ms. Grand,” walked right by Haynes. The baffled Dallas minister questioned how the woman could be walking past him to a seat in the rear of the plane. “On Southwest,” he said, “they don’t even have a first class section.”
Without skipping a beat, Haynes said this woman, “Ms. Grand,” turned and facing Haynes said, “Where ever I sit is First Class!”
It was this sense of personal empowerment and community respect which echoed through most of the day. One panel was a kind of “State of the State” forum. Another emphasized “Partnerships With Justice.” The afternoon concluded with a panel, moderated by comic Karen Williams on “Homophobia in the Black Community.”
Rev. Byron Williams defining conflicts within the church, noted a rising sense of responsibility for church leaders to take a stand and speak out. “Love is unconventional,” he said as he noted that living within the orthodoxy has now become a position of comfort.
Bishop Yvette Flunder, Senior Pastor of San Francisco’s City of Refuge Church, publicly mentioned the outing of a gay son of a nationally known minister. For many, the gay son had become topic #1 on the “let me tell you,” gossip circuit.
Flunder used the son to illustrate a sense of isolation which represents one of the worst characteristics of the Black church. Given the circumstances, Flunder asked, “Who does the son talk to?” This young man was kicked out of his church. He can’t talk to his father, the pastor of the church. He has been forced to leave his home, awkward understanding the man is 29 years old.
She said the young man has no safe place to turn. Home is important to everybody, she said. This is the place, where you come in, go to the refrigerator and take what you want and let the crumbs fall on the floor. This, she said, is home. Referencing the Motel 6 radio commercials, Flunder said, “We need to leave the light on!”
California State Senator Mark Leno welcomed those attending the convention. Rev. Deborah Johnson, Founder and Pastor, Inner Light Ministries in Santa Cruz received the National Black Justice Coalition’s, ”Pioneer In Faith Award.”
The National Black Justice Coalition is a civil rights organization which encourages and works for policy changes, which allow African American same gender loving people to live their lives openly and honestly in family, faith and community. Their next conference, the Bi-Annual National Conference is to be presented in Charlotte, North Carolina in the Spring of 2010.