Dr. E. Dewey Smith, Jr. Speaks On The Supreme Court, Black Sexual Politics & The GMWA!
“The Supreme Court, Black Sexual Politics & the GMWA“
Several months ago, I learned through social media that a conference was convening at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, NY. This church is pastored by my Morehouse College classmate and friend, Pastor Michael Walrond. The conference was sponsored by Columbia University and had an intriguing theme: “Are the Gods afraid of Black Sexuality?: Religion and the Burdens of Black Sexual Politics.”
A member of the church who attended the conference posted some thought provoking quotes on social media. The posts covered a myriad of topics, a few of which were: 1) Same-gender loving people write a lot of the music that has historically and presently been ministered in churches. 2) There are a disproportionate number of same-gender loving people in churches who are the heads of music departments in conservative churches. 3) “Pastors ignore the gay elephant in the room.” 4) How do we engage conversations around race, religion, gender and sex with African-American ecclesial communities? 5) Many of our male gospel singers are involved in same-gender loving relationships.
The quotes posted from the two-day conference were extremely thoughtful and forced me to into reflection. After I re-posted some of the quotes, I was informed that some of the sessions were led by a gay, female Bishop. Although I was totally unfamiliar with this presenter, her thoughts were measured and comprehensive. I was later asked by someone, “why did you tweet the words of a gay Bishop?” My response was simple, “I was not at the conference, had never heard of the Bishop and had no idea about her sexuality!”
After answering that question, my thoughts went into overdrive. Why did the person think I was wrong for posting her words? Should I have determined her name and sexuality before posting her thoughts? Were her factual thoughts nullified by her sexuality? Can a gay person not give truth? Do we know the sexuality of every person that we tweet or retweet? Who qualifies to be retweeted? Can we retweet a liar, but not someone who is gay? Is it ok to sing church music that is produced by a gay person, but not retweet a factual comment by a gay person?
After the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2015, that same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 States, my mind went back to these questions that were posed in October 2014. How would this ruling affect ecclesial communities? Would pastors stand up in protest? Would Christian leaders vilify the Court and the President? Will the government try to force all churches to perform same-sex marriages? What should we do?
As Christianity is not monolithic, the responses were as I anticipated. Many Christian leaders voiced their disgust and disdain with “Sodom and Gomorrah” references while others, in support of same-sex marriages, declared “Love Wins.”. It was ironic and sadly humorous that we often expect the world to be on “one accord with Christians” when “Christianity” hasn’t been on “one accord” in over 2000 years. Honestly, since the 1st Century, there have been enumerable schisms and doctrinal differences.
After being prodded by several people to share my thoughts about the Supreme Court ruling, my staff and I posted some of my musings on social media. I posted thoughts pertaining to America not truly being established as a Christian Nation, on the differences between Personal Theology and Public Policy, on Evangelizing and Antagonizing and on To Speak or Not To Speak.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court Ruling and the October “Are the Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality” Conference made a loud collision for me. When will we speak or be silent? After talking to trusted and respected leaders from differing view points, I felt the need to not only address the Supreme Court ruling, but also to give comments regarding the deafening silence that still permeates many black churches regarding sexuality. Our silence on certain issues has led many in the millennial generation to leave the church. Leaders are often viewed as hypocritical because of our seeming inability to address all of the aforementioned questions.
Months ago I was asked to speak at the Gospel Music Workshop of America, an annual gathering of some of the best musical talent in the world. Founded by the legendary, Rev. James Cleveland, this organization has produced our world’s greatest gospel music and musicians for decades. As I have been involved in gospel music my entire life, I’m aware of the strengths, struggles and stereotypes associated with the genre. During the “Are The God’s Afraid of Black Sexuality”Conference, the GMWA was also referenced. There was conversation about the contributions and sexuality of some past and present attendees along with discussion on the significant contributions made from its members to local houses of worship.
As a proud heterosexual who was a musician, choir director and singer, stereotypes kept me away from certain musical organizations. Not wanting to be connected to or labeled limited my exposure to gifted people and musical opportunities. To this very day, there are some young musicians who still have these sentiments. How do we connect them to organizations to enhance their skills?
It’s interesting that some Christian leaders expect worldly leaders to properly address same-gender loving relationships when many churches have not. Some of the best musicians have died of AIDS while leading our music departments and we say nothing. Often “down low” males in music ministries marry unsuspecting women only to hide their sexuality and gain acceptance–not because they desire a woman. HIV/AIDS is a pandemic and is prevalent amongst clergy and music ministries, partly because of our silence. Often mean-spirited leaders use disparaging, demonizing and dehumanizing language, while in the pulpits, to degrade the same people who’re helping to build the local ministry. What is the the theology concerning these areas? Do we recognize the gifts of those from a certain persuasion and minimize their humanity? Do we accept the fact that some of our best are gay but tell them “don’t bring or show it around the church?”. How does the gay musician feel when they’re berated by a preacher with the same proclivities and they both know it? Are we saying POTUS is wrong for supporting gay marriage while knowing that some of our music leaders are in gay relationships–they just don’t have the license? Can the choir director be gay as long as he/she isn’t “practicing it“? Do we believe they should be getting counseling or seeking “deliverance ministry”? Have we merely adopted, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”? What if they say, “This is who I am, I don’t need deliverance“? Should we sing music penned by a gay person? Do you believe that singing a song produced by a gay person will bring “a gay spirit” into the church? The leadership of the Gospel Music Workshop of America is seeking to not only sharpen the musical skills of its attendees but also to grapple with some of the complex questions and issues raised in this writing.
Since yesterday there’s been a lot of debate and commentary regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 States. While we all have the right to express our opinions about the Supreme Court ruling and its implications, have we looked within to answer our own questions? We expect President Obama, a politician, to properly articulate and delineate nuances of same-gender loving relationships, when the truth is many pastors have not or, even more likely, cannot.