Georgia pastor E. Dewey Smith’s sermon about the Black Church and homosexuality has gone viral. In the sermon, Smith deems it hypocritical for Christians to condemn homosexuality based on verses in Leviticus without also adhering to the other Levitical injunctions against eating shellfish and wearing blended fabrics. He also speaks to the large gay presence in the black church, particularly in the “music ministry”, which I wrote about a few years back here, and how it is also a manifestation of hypocrisy to use the talents of queer people while condemning them.
The pastor’s words have been lauded by many for their frankness and for the call for greater compassion when dealing with gays in the black church. I’ve even seen it declared a great stand for “gay rights.”
For me it doesn’t go that far. There’s a difference between calling out the black church for hypocrisy, and affirming that there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about same-sex attraction and same sex relationships. This “that sin is no greater than anyone else’s sin” accommodation is neither revolutionary nor novel; I’ve seen and heard it offered for years as a rationalization by black gay Christians and others who still love them in spite of their “sin”. Personally it has allowed for me to, at my choice, maintain relationships with loved ones, despite the degree to which it requires the acceptance of what one commentator has recently dubbed “mild homophobia“. And against the backdrop of the conservative stance of the Black Church on issues of sexuality, it certainly seems progressive by comparison, though less so than the stance of other Christian churches and denominations that are known as “reconciled ministries” which fully accept the whole experience of gay Christians.
I don’t know very much about Pastor Smith. I don’t know what his thoughts are on homosexuality beyond the hypocrisy analysis. From what I have read about him briefly, he seems highly intelligent, and devoted to a more compassionate manifestation of religious faith; when a fellow pastor committed suicide, Pastor Smith condemned assertions that the deceased pastor earned eternal damnation through that sad act. And to the extent that his exhortations call for and lead to less dehumanization of gays in the black church, his words deserve the credit they are receiving. But they should be kept in context, and consideration must be given to how a particular religious experience or viewpoint either does or does not affirm the entirety of a gay Christian.
This year, Black Skeptics Los Angeles is proud to award eight youth First in the Family Humanist scholarships. In August, four students from L.A. high schools will receive $1000 apiece through our original fund for homeless, undocumented, foster care, LGBTQ and system-involved youth. These students are going to some of the most competitive colleges in the country in a prison pipelining climate that has become increasingly difficult for low-income youth of color.
Earlier this year, through the advocacy of secular activist and Freedom From Religion Foundation president Annie Laurie Gaylor, we also received a generous award from the FFRF to fund four more students of color–this award was designated the Catherine Fahringer Memorial scholarship–who identify as secular, atheist, agnostic or humanist, at $2500 apiece. In addition to these other criteria, students were chosen for their leadership, involvement in their school-communities and insights into the relationship between humanism and social justice.
Mariana Cervantes, Cal State University Northridge (FIF LAUSD): “As an individual, I will break the barriers against Latinas in the science field but will also give back to my community by teaching children the art of foklorico with a focus on education and humanistic qualities of equality for all.”
Mercedes Hawkins, UC Merced (CF): “Too many religious people insist upon waiting for ‘God’ to make a change. They fail to realize that the change is in them and it is their duty to cultivate it outwardly. Once more people embrace humanism, we will freely celebrate our differences in beliefs and promote acceptance.”
Victor Marroquin, UC Riverside (FIF LAUSD): “I am a Mexican-Guatemalan American, the first in my mixed status family to be born in the U.S. and a bisexual immigrant rights activist. I have been a victim of hatred for my identity. I live in between Koreatown and East Hollywood, communities of Los Angeles that face the most immigrant status challenges as a result of the current broken immigration system. The LGBTQ representation is very weak in both communities. It seems so odd that these communities fall behind in embracing the LGBTQ movement because undocumented immigrants and LGBTQ people share the same obstacles. These social movements should be more strongly intertwined.”
Zera Montemayor, University of North Texas (CF): “Religion is not the source for social change in the world. It is time the human race understood that words like atheist, agnostic, and humanist are not truly as negative as the connotation they carry. We are not hateful, sinners, harlots, or devil worshipers. We simply believe that each and every human is equal. Not one person deserves to be oppressed simply because they are from different walks of life. There are so many things I would love to see before my life is over. I would love to see to gay people get married and the public not make a big commotion about it. I would love to see transgender people not be harassed or called “she-man”. I would love to see women wear whatever they please and not be marked by words like “slut” or “whore”. I would love seeing men taking ballet or a cooking class and not be marked with the misnomer “gay”. Finally, I want to be able to tell people I am an atheist without it ruining friendships. I believe humanism is the answer.”
Nyallah Noah, University of Southern California (LAUSD FIF): It wasn’t until this past year that I realized how important feminism, civil rights and LGBT rights were to me. Born and raised in Los Angeles, being a seventeen year-old African American lesbian has been tough to be quite honest…I do not understand why in 2015 we are still fighting for civil rights for different minority groups, I do not understand why it has taken years for same sex marriage to be a legal act; nor do I understand why every day there are black men, women and children who are being killed because apparently the color of their skin is just as deadly as a weapon.”
Adrienne Parkes, University of Pittsburgh (CF): “One of the things that caused me to shy away from religion was the lack of acceptance of those who are different. Growing up, I felt like an oddball, one of the few biracial kids in a very white neighborhood. I had dabbled in church as a child…but I kept waiting to hear God answer me and it never happened. This made no sense to me, so I left and never looked back. In the years following I would learn that most churches weren’t accepting of gays and lesbians, which only affirmed my decision. Many people are using their religion to hurt the LGBTQ community. We see it in people like the Duggars, who are campaigning to stop trans individuals from using gender appropriate bathrooms. Or in the recent cases of businesses using “religious freedom” to justify not serving gay patrons. I believe that being a humanist, and being passionate about equal rights and fostering a positive community will create a much needed social change.”
Bryan Sierra, UCLA (LAUSD FIF): “During my Sophomore year of high school, I found out that I was undocumented, but didn’t know what that meant. I wanted to enroll in college classes offered at my school for free, but I needed a social security number. I confronted my parents several times about the situation; however, I was unsuccessful in getting the nine-digit number. I continued nagging, until one day my parents sat me down and explained to me that I was not from America and that this country is not a part of who I am. I was confused because the United States is all I had known since I was six.”
Therrin Wilson, University of Tennessee (CF): “I will be the first male in my entire family to receive a college education and I am also the first to disclaim Christianity. I do not condemn religion because it has influenced people to attribute a positive impact on society hence the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. On the other hand, I admire humanism more because humanist act upon a worthy heart when doing positive things for the community.”
On July 25th Foundation Beyond Belief will host the Humanism at Work conference. Thee vent will be centered around the theme #blacklivesmatter: listen, learn, think, discuss, act. Sikivu Hutchinson will deliver the keynote speech: “Colorblind Lies & Meritocracy Myths: Moving Secular Social Justice”. 50% of the proceeds from this event will go to Community Change, Inc., a charity working directly on anti-racism education and advocacy.