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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

soundoff (609 Responses)
  1. Client09

    love you a black man had to write this story, or the gays would just say this story was racist

    June 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • ash

      that make absolutely no sense.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  2. stevie68a

    It is mind boggling that the black church as a group should understand less than a white church. Hate is hate, no matter what.
    But I would think that blacks, after all they've been through, should have at least some empathy for gay people. The far right
    would love blacks to get rid of gays, but of course once the deed is done, blacks will be next. Also, black people need to be
    aware that without the gay vote, there would be no President Obama. The black church had it's place in the fight for civil rights,
    but we live in a new age. Junk that white man's religion! Know who your allies really are. The christian church has been against blacks in the past, and will be again in the future.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  3. John Richardson

    Amazing that almost nobody had anything to say about the sectarian violence in Nigeria but the throngs are out in force here.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • atomD21

      Because this stupid quarrel is truly important, not innocent people being slaughtered for nothing.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  4. Steve Lyons

    Are people still claiming gayness is a gene thing? Please let's find a vaccine for that. But there has been no such medical finding.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • John Richardson

      A vaccine for a gene?????

      June 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  5. Catholic

    This article is nosense. The only true christian church is the Catholic Church, which should do more to straighten out the religions of the world. The priests, and others and the Vatican are the only true links to god. All other religions are false, period. May the almighty pope live forever!!!!!

    June 15, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Steve Lyons

      You sound like a Taliban.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • JohnJohn

      So you just happened to luck-out and be born into the one "true religion"? And the other 6 Billion people in the world are all wrong?? Get a clue.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • orl29

      The Only One True Apostolic Christian Church is the Greek Orthodox/Eastern Orthodox Church. From what I gather from my brother, who is an Orthodox Christian Monk who became a Monk on Mount Athos in Greece some 17 years ago and what I've read, The Orthodox Church is the Body of Christ and the creation of Christ and his Apostles! The Roman Catholic church split from the Orthodox Christian Church in part because of the belief in the supremacy of the Pope. To the Orthodox Christian there is only One Supreme and that is Christ

      June 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • atomD21

      @Catholic and orl29.... How can you people not see that it's views like those that are ripping this world apart. There is no such thing as the one true church. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentacostal, etc. are all different branches off the same tree. Stop this stupid bickering and join those of us working to try and fix our world!

      June 15, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • wmjohnson

      Actually all christian denominations are flawed, but the catholic religion has a lot of fantasy. They pray to Mary. Jesus is not God but the son of God. They are not equal. Declaring people saints and in heaven is fantasy etc etc etc

      June 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  6. Steve Lyons

    What you are asking for is respect for people that practice something that is considered a sin in many religions and that isn't tolerance, that is subversion of another persons faith. What needs to happen is the hetero phobic community needs to tolerate the fact that many people from many cultures do despise them for their lifestyles. Accept the fact that you choose to live outside of the mainstream accepted practices.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • jason

      it is sad that your religion requires you to despise someone. what an ugly faith.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Steve Lyons: That was sarcasm, right?

      June 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  7. Cyphonix

    Nice sentiment on the article. Sure is helpful to a certain degree. I think blaming religion and the bible is a cop-out. Weak people are afraid regardless of the subject. The reason Tracy Morgan went off is because if his son is gay, he will somehow consider himself a failure or something. The kid has nothing to do with his father's weaknesses. Unfortunately, stupid Morgan went as far as to say he would punish his son with violence. Can you see now how that works? I sense people's fears and ignorance a mile away, or on the first three words of a conversation. What you fear is what you are.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  8. Donald in CA

    I always had a problem with the way black churches have handled gay issues. Black folks should know better then anyone else what it is to be dicriminated against. Most black churches are stuck so far in the past that the preachers need to have some classes on whats going on in the modern world. To help the right wing win on proposition 8 was a disgrace. Black folks need more honest ministers such as Charlton Pearson who i respect very much.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  9. Lloyd

    It is sad to see a so called man of God try to justify something that God is against. If your thoughts are contrary to the words in the scriptures, you are a false prophet and you and all that follow you are doomed. My 'gaydar" has always gone off when I see Carlton.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • dalis

      Only gay people have gaydar, dear.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Lloyd My "dip$#!%dar" just went off while reading your post ...

      June 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
  10. Jennifer

    Most of the gay population is white, is race revenge...

    June 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • auguron

      So now the way people's brains are wired is some sort of strange race-revenge conspiracy? Does your hatred know no bounds?

      June 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Cyphonix

      I think is a race advantage sweetie.

      June 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  11. Mark9988

    How did the church decide that God was not holy or that we should re-write His word to fit our cultural preferences?

    June 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • dalis

      Who is doing that? Are you sure you know God's mind?

      June 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • auguron

      You've all done so many times before and you choose THIS instance to complain about it? Why?

      June 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I'm not in this, or any other, church, but I'm guessing that they did it by not being hidebound morons trying to force the world into the cultural preferences of a gang of ancient idiots who were in the habit of pinning their grand and petty hatreds on god.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  12. Rich in LA

    this is really great advice! now if we could only get the Vatican to follow suit..

    June 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • dalis

      Rev. Pearson looks at black history to explain what informs their cultural hom-oph-obia. So, you have to understand Church history to know why it's so difficult to broach the subject of hom-ose-xu-ality in Roman Catholicism. Did you know Michelangelo, Leonardo and Carava-ggio were all ga-y? And Gerard Manley Hopkins? Hom-ose-xual-ity used to be much more accepted in Catholicism than it is today. If you can figure out why so many priests are closet cases, you'll know at what point and why it became so demonized. I don't know the answer.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  13. amy

    Stop church.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  14. Bill the Cat

    As long as Blacks continue to segregate themselves as "the Black Church", racism will never die.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • MaryAnn in VA

      I am so sick of hearing that blacks are segregating themselves in church. Don't you realize there are still churches in smaller communities and some large ones that do not encourage intergration in Sunday services. "The most segregated hour is from 11a-12noon".

      June 15, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • auguron

      Proof that the church not only spreads, but perpetuates hate. Any church, not just black.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Grassho99erX

      Exactly !

      June 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Lance

      It's not usually "Blacks" that refer to church as the Black Church, it is usally someone white, or someone in the media.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • ADOC

      Couldn't have said it better Lance. I think that if 'Bill the Cat' knew better, he'd realize that white people are often very welcome in churches attended by by a majority black congregation.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  15. David, CA

    bob- your wife likes it. She says hi BTW.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  16. AT

    Self promotion

    June 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  17. Ronnie Harper

    Man, Carlton Pearson I don't know who you are and I can't stand religious people. Nevertheless, you are my new hero for the day. I write the Democratic Party, my legislators, and everyone else I can write practically every month asking them to tell minorities to vote in step with the our party or form their own. The Democratic Party doesn't welcome bigots, in any shape, size, or color.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      Sure they do. Anti-religious bigots infest the Democratic party.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      We have to root them out, write the Party and your legislators today!

      June 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Ronnie Harper

      Oh, I see what you did there. It's not bigoted to be a rational post-atheist.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • RaDe

      Why then do they accept you?

      June 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Nathan

      Post-atheist? Where does one go after atheism?

      June 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  18. Gil Maduro

    AMEN! Beautifully written and reasoned. Exquisite!

    June 15, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  19. James

    If you remove religion from the picture, an awful lot of hate and bigotry are removed as well. But that's what happens when you worship a god of hypocrisy, contradiction and arbitrariness – you get mixed messages and hate.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Rd

      OK, let's abolish all religion. I'm sure this will solve all of our problems. It worked so well in the USSR.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Uli

      What happened in the USSR was another position, with the same faith based following as traditional religion was established. Sure, Stalin was atheist, but in order to impose communism he needed to restrict any other ideology that could occupy the minds of the people which was as well un-rooted in reality as is religion.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Uli

      Once a person accepts a position that is not based in rationality and reality then, he or she will not replace that position with any basis in rationality nor reality.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • BetrayalofFreedom

      Stalin banned religious practices in public and private life.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • auguron

      @BetrayalofFreedom Hitler had the backing of the Catholic Church. In fact, he believed he was on a mission from your god. your point?

      June 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • you know

      Where did you get that 20 million slaves kiiled that was not religion 1.2 million children aborted per year that's not religionThe Soviet Union China and other communist countries are atheist and they have killed more people than all the so called religious wars combined throughout history religion does'nt kill people due or the lack there of all things are not acceptible in this life but because of my religious beliefs I love people as I do myself and leave persons actvities to GOD to judge otherwise you harm people for things out of their control

      June 15, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
    • Frogist

      @you know: Since communism is a fairly recent concept in human history, and religion has been around a much longer time, I have to question your statements. Could you back them up with any statistics to prove what you're saying?

      June 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  20. Corvus1

    Just one more reason to turn my back on organized religion.

    June 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • dalis

      I don't know about that, but it's a reason to approach organized religion with your eyes open.

      June 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • BetrayalofFreedom

      His mind is closed, btw

      June 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
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About this blog

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.