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)
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    May 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  10. pastorjimc1

    I am a Pastor of the one of the largest Pentecostal Denomination in the world today, the Church of God In Christ, the denomination Bishop Pearson came out of. This church has embraced the Bishop and have not shown nothing but love to him. WE have throughout the COGIC, many gays and we have only loved them and tried to lead them to the knowledge of the truth. The Bible is right and somebody is wrong. (Bishop Carlton Pearson) We just do not believe that by living this lifestyle you will see Jesus, the Bible makes that very plain. Gays are welcomed in our churches and we love them dearly, just like loves them, but we do not love the sin nature of their lifestyle, and neither does God.

    May 10, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  11. Undumnnoimi

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    April 5, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  12. Rick

    Hilltop's comments have proven that he only cares about his own discrimination, he cares nothing about anyone elses's discrimintation.

    October 2, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  13. Rev. Philip

    As an ordained, gay minister leading a small but growing church in Floriida, I am saddened and disheartened by the lack of love and acceptance frequently demonstrated in the African American community. Although I am white, it is my hope that one day I can settle down with an African American prince and continue to spread the message of love to and through him as well as through my ministry. Jesus taught love, let's live that lesson.

    August 10, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  14. Adam

    Ummm, so where in this conversation are you dealing with the fact that by being Christian you necessarily accept the authenticity and authority of the Bible, and that within this tome (Leviticus), spoken by the Creator of the Universe himself, is the injunction to destroy men who lay with men because "their lives are forfeit?"

    You want to believe that the Bible is the revealed work of God... and you want to respect the dignity of all men?

    My answer is unambiguous: YOU CANNOT. There is only one right answer, and that answer precludes the other. Respecting the dignity of all men is RIGHT. Believing that the Bible is the best book we have to guide us morally and spiritually is WRONG.

    June 20, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • simon

      The bible may or may not say that champ. But where you aware it is the edited version of tome written by greedy men competing for the coffers of the disillusioned poor they were fooling. If gods words were ever written down, they are not in the tome you claim to follow – that my friends i merely the writing of individuals smarter than yourself.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • CSPW

      Are you also aware that during those times Jews were the minority and you could not afford to use your seed on the backs of men because you had to spread the word AND the people?

      February 2, 2012 at 3:20 am |
  15. JohnQuest

    hilltop, I am pretty certain of my facts (and so is the rest of the country, except maybe you) what do you think this fight is for? According to you everybody in the country is treated the same. I thought I mentioned that things were changing. Consider the following: not until Loving v. Virginia was interracial marriage legal in the USA (although it was legal in some states). Property rights go further then just buying something together, my house is in my name only, if I died my wife gets it (I don't even need a will). Even if we were not married, just living together for 5 or more years (check state law for time frame) she would still get it, not so for same se-x relationships. If I am on my death bed and only family can see me, most states will not recognize a same se-x partner as family but they would recognize an unmarried opposite se-x partner.

    I notice you did not mention anything about marrying whomever you want or adoption, they shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else?

    June 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  16. JohnQuest

    I think you might be confusing wants and rights, did brothers and sister want to marry whomever they choose or did they have a right to marry whomever they choose? Are serving in the military, adopting, caring for a loved one just wants or are they the right of every free citizen?

    June 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Sorry this was meant for hilltop

      June 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  17. JohnQuest

    hilltop, no one is comparing anything to slavery, I do however see a direct comparison to the Jim Crow era. If you don't, please tell me how they are different? I have already listed several ways they are the same.

    June 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  18. absurdist

    Oh, hilltop.
    So, by your logic, we should simply reinstate Jim Crow laws and give African-Americans more money, right? Enforce those anti-miscegenation laws, keep black people from being allowed to marry whomever they choose (ahem) as long as we keep college admissions rates up and the average black income above 50k. Right? Because what's giving up a giant chunk of basic rights and freedoms if you make a comfortable income? Money and humanity are totally interchangeable, right? No? Ohhh, no, that's not what you meant at all, you were just trying to use flawed logic to justify your prejudices against a particular group of people. Do us all a favor; Google "logical fallacies," particularly "red herring" and "non sequitur."

    June 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      absurdist, how unfair of you, without logical fallacies they would have to admit how ridiculous their argument truly is.

      June 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • hilltop

      Absurdist, you missed the point. Comparing the wants of the lgbt community to the suffering of the african american story wreaks of arrogance. I am not dismissing the challenges that accompany every minority group, but I definately am challenging the notion that this "struggle" is anywhere equal to the plight of slaves. There is no legitimate comparison whatsoever!

      June 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  19. James Black


    June 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  20. hilltop

    This article is nonsensical. The attempt to synthesize the horrors of slavery with the lgbt experience is insulting to say the least. Statistics reveal that the average gay person in USA makes 50+ thousand dollars annually, the average person in USA makes 25+ thousand dollars annually. Lgbt's also, on the average are better educated and have a greater percentage of homeowners. To imply that this community oppressed and downtrodden is tantamount to stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

    June 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Hilltop,what has that to do with being denied the rights that other citizens have? Unless you think that their possessions should somehow make up for being discriminated against?

      June 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • hilltop

      JohnQ, This community has far more than the average citizen. How are they being discriminated against if they enjoy and have access to more opportunities then most people only dream about?

      June 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      "How are they being discriminated"
      1. unable to marry
      2. unable to adopt
      3. unable to serve in the military (until recently, but that is changing)
      4. Legal ownership of joint property
      5. unable to provide for loved ones in times of illness (even if they have been together for 75 years)
      6 hate crimes against gays
      7 medical benefits (until recently, but that is changing faster than anything else
      8. limited choices to exercise wills and estates
      9 just as importantly the right to be treated and respected like every other tax paying "God Fearing" American.

      I trust you would agree with this list?

      June 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • hilltop

      JohnQ, You need to recheck your facts. Gay marriage is happening, Gay adoption is also verifiable, military service is legal, any persons can purchase property together, providing for loved ones is happening constantly, crimes against anyone is wrong, companies are accomodating various living arrangments, etc...

      If this is what you consider discrimination, then we live on different sides of the world. Blacks, women, ethnic minorities, may disagree with your definition.

      June 17, 2011 at 3:56 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.