My Take: Overcoming the black church’s tradition of homophobia
June 15th, 2011
05:02 PM ET

My Take: Overcoming the black church’s tradition of homophobia

Editor's Note: Carlton Pearson is spiritual leader and author of the The Gospel of inclusion.

By Bishop Carlton Pearson, Special to CNN

Homophobia is hardly unique to the African-American community. It’s a social malady that's due largely to the influence of fear based-theologies, particularly fundamentalist Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all of which grow out of the Abrahamic tradition.

When something or someone is perceived as being despised by someone’s God, the worshippers of that God tend to despise and hate that person or thing as well. When given the opportunity, adherents act out against them with the same violence they presume God would use. That can happen through literal violence or in other ways - including the use of comedy.

I'm referring to Tracy Morgan’s reported an anti-gay rant at a recent show, during which he said“he'd stab his son to death if he said he was gay." Morgan has apologized for the rant and this week phoned a major gay rights group, vowing to return to Tennessee to apologize to those who heard it.

Preachers, too, often issue vicious denunciations of homosexuality.

African-Americans have always viewed male homosexuality as more of a sign of weakness than evil. This stems back to slave times, when male and female slaves were randomly abused sexually, usually by men.

I heard statements from my grandfather as far back as I could remember that homosexual practices were something the "white man" taught us and that it was a sign of weakness and weirdness in their culture. He spoke of how the white man sought to humiliate strong black slaves through sexual submission and subversion. It was the white man’s perverted way of exerting power over us, my grandfather said.

The same slave owners evangelized the slaves into Christian moral codes and dogmas that insisted slaves renounce their native spiritual traditions.

In some West African traditions, particularly in the Dagara tribes of Burkina Faso, certain Shamanistic spiritual leaders - sometimes called witch doctors by Westerners - were known to be of homosexual or bisexual orientation.

They were considered to have a higher vibrational level that enabled them to be guardians of the gateways to the spirit world. They were marginalized but not demonized. Similar traditions are known to other faith traditions, even if they’re not widely discussed.

African-Americans in particular should be sensitive to the violent injustices humans can perpetrate on other humans because of fear, ignorance and hatred. The African-American church has traditionally used a kind of "don't ask don't tell" approach toward homosexuality. But once someone’s homosexuality becomes public, the denunciations begin.

Such denunciations, exemplified in Morgan's comments, can send young people into depression and even drive them to suicide.

In more than 30 years of pastoring and dealing with pastors, I have observed that often when a public figure, secular or religious, shouts out in anger about or against a particular subject, it’s usually a sign of the inner turmoil of the person crying out around that very issue. I’ve discovered that many who angrily denounce homosexuality have latent homosexual tendencies or fantasies themselves and fear them - or are actually quite conflicted about the issue.

The most troubling aspect of Tracy Morgan's remarks is the bodily harm he said he’d inflict on his own child if he were to be seen acting in an effeminate manner.

Acts of violence against perceived unacceptable behavior, particularly if the behavior isn't harmful to self and others, is a sign of the deterioration of conscience.

What we fear, including homosexuality, we tend to amplify and exaggerate. There was a time when the "white man" feared black people and were threatened by our presence. We suffered horribly because of it. How quickly we forget. What we make the issue we make the idol.

Homosexuals and homosexuality are not going away. The sooner we recognize and accept that, the sooner the society will move forward.  I encourage the African-American community and church to reconsider ways to address the presence of gay people.

We don't have to go along to get along. We can mind many of the same things without necessarily having the same mind about everything.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bishop Carlton Pearson.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Homosexuality • Opinion

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.