Reconciliation: A Black South End Church
Is Among The Few Starting to Welcome Gays and Lesbians Into
By Vanessa E. Jones, Globe Staff, 1/30/2002
This story ran on page F1 of the Boston Globe on 1/30/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
It happens every week. During his Sunday sermon at the Union
United Methodist Church, the Rev. Martin McLee invites casual
visitors to walk to the chancel if they would like to become
members of the church. On a recent Sunday, that exhortation was
met with an awkward lack of movement. Then Shamalie Graham
stirred and gently nudged her partner, Pamela Johnson, into the
For months, Johnson had occasionally visited the South End
church, which two years ago emerged as the first black church in
Boston to become what the denomination calls ''reconciling'' by
welcoming ''the full participation of all black lesbians and gay
men, and all other homosexual persons who confess Jesus Christ
as Lord and Saviour.'' Johnson had always hesitated about
becoming a tithe-paying member, aware that United Methodists
regard homosexual sex as a sin, forbid gay and lesbian marriage,
and don't ordain homosexuals.
On this snowy morning, Johnson overcame her trepidation.
Propelling her toward the chancel was grief over the news she'd
received by telephone earlier that morning: Her grandmother had
died. For the last hour she had basked in the warm words of
McLee, who spoke of Johnson's loss during the service and
encouraged the congregation to ''surround this wonderful sister
with your steadfast love.'' Johnson reached the front of the
church, turned her tear-stained face toward the crowd as Union's
newest church member, and proudly stated, ''I'm a lesbian, and I
love the Lord.''
An increasing number of black gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
transgendered people who previously sought spiritual refuge in
predominantly white denominations or alternative religions are
demanding to be more than silent presences in churches that
reflect their heritage. Those involved in the struggle call the
issue ''explosive'' and ''dangerous.'' After all, much of the
black church and some of its followers have branded
homosexuality an ''abomination'' and a threat to the black
family - often using the Bible to reinforce their positions.
Last year the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr., pastor of Metropolitan
Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., spoke out from the pulpit,
calling homosexuality sinful.
''This issue has caused as much of a firestorm as race and
women's ordination,'' says Kelly Brown Douglas, author of
''Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective'' and
religion professor at Goucher College in Baltimore. ''Once
again, we're being called to look into the real meaning of our
faith. We're being challenged, and all too often the church
fails the test.''
A small number of black pastors are now perusing their Bibles
and deciding that the Good Book doesn't prohibit the acceptance
of alternative lifestyles. In addition to Union, historically
black houses of worship such as Trinity United Church of Christ
in Chicago and National City Christian Church in Washington,
D.C., are now beckoning gays and lesbians into their pews.
Programs such as the annual National Black Religious Summit on
Sexuality in Washington educate pastors about homosexuality at a
grass-roots level. ''We recognize that there's a great
resistance in the church because of ignorance and what they've
been taught,'' says Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious
Coalition for Reproductive Choice, organizer of the Black
Religious Summit. ''But we see ministers, younger ones
especially, dealing with this issue in a very honest and
straightforward way. So I think that the perception of the black
church is changing as it relates to homosexuality.''
Of course, homophobia isn't unique to the black church. Many
white Baptist, Catholic, and fundamentalist Christian churches
scathingly condemn gays and lesbians. A recent Gallup Poll
revealed that 43 percent of Americans still think homosexuality
is not an acceptable lifestyle. In the black church, the subject
remains a dirty-laundry topic that people don't want aired. It's
so sensitive that those working for acceptance speak carefully,
reluctant to erase progress by joining what McLee calls the
''beat down the black church bandwagon.'' Many black pastors in
Boston didn't return calls about the subject.
The black church's disapproval of homosexuality is a vestige of
its discomfort with sexuality, Douglas writes in her book:
''Because white culture racialized sex and `sexuated' race by
equating blackness with sexual deviance, the black community has
been diligent in its efforts to sever the link between such
deviance and blackness.'' Silence, or a search Johnson grew up
in the Columbus Avenue AME Zion Church in the South End, where
she performed in plays as baby Jesus three times and was treated
with respect as the granddaughter of an elder church member.
When it came to her sexuality, however, she remembers ''an
overriding sense of needing to stay silent,'' she says. ''I've
never heard any active speaking out against homosexuality. It
was simply ignored, and it wasn't included in those unions
sanctified by God.''
Church is also in the blood of Douglas Brooks, who four months
ago invited Johnson to Union and stood by her side as she became
a member. His parents were leaders of the African Methodist
church he attended in Macon, Ga. Reflecting on the experience
now, Brooks says the church ''wounded'' him by forcing him to
keep silent about his sexual preferences.
''That's the source of pain,'' says Brooks, 39, a Jamaica Plain
resident who joined Union in 1998. ''The very place where one
should have been able to go to receive the solace and the
consolation from the worldly pains was not available. I couldn't
go to my pastor and say, `This is what people say about me,' for
fear he might say, `Well, they're right, and on top of that
you're going to hell.'''
That's what Darnell McCarter, 51, heard after she refused to
hide her sexuality from the pastor of her Methodist church in
New York City. She remembers being told, ''`You need to change
your sexuality. You're wrong. You're going to hell.' It was like
I was committing a Godly sin.''
The pressure to stay silent turns some black gays and lesbians
into spiritual wanderers in search of a religion that accepts
their sexuality. Johnson meditated and joined a lesbian circle
honoring Shiva and Oshun. While living in Provincetown, Brooks
attended a Unitarian Universalist church where, he says, ''there
was some room for my Christianity, but not a lot. It just
wouldn't have been acceptable to have a sermon on Jesus more
than once every two to three months.''
The conundrum this group faces, says Johnson, is that ''you
sometimes have to choose to worship in community groups that
don't necessarily reflect you in order to feel good about coming
to worship on Sunday. You sometimes need to make a choice
between your racial identity and your sexual identity.''
That becomes tiring, says McLee. ''The whole notion of making up
your own faith is kind of wearing away because that doesn't have
any lasting strength. Folks want to have a connection with God
in a communal way that has some tradition, and what better way
to do that than in a denominational church setting?''
Union began offering that environment two years ago, when the
congregation unanimously voted to become reconciling. The move
had been spearheaded by one of the church's oldest members,
Hilda Evans, 76, who had watched as the South End welcomed a
growing number of gay residents. Her question - ''What is the
church's stance on homosexuality?'' – spawned a committee whose
members for two years perused the Bible and read reports to
educate themselves on the subject.
Another question on Evans's mind was ''What would Christ say
about this if he were in church today? Would Christ turn them
Since the committee answered the latter inquiry with a
resounding ''No,'' other local black pastors have approached
McLee about the issue ''off the record in a very clandestine
way,'' he says, chuckling. ''Our Baptist brothers, they're not
trying to have that dialogue. It's too hot an issue for a lot of
pastors to deal with openly, but there are several pastors who
feel a compassion for folk who can't find life in the church.''
A church in transition
Union doesn't keep records of members' sexual orientation, but
based on anecdotal evidence, McLee says ''there's been a huge,
marked increase'' in gay and lesbian membership since the church
became reconciling. New members are not only black. Michael
Hight, 37, of Somerville, took the membership walk along with
Johnson just a few weeks after his partner, David Rudewick,
became a member. Says a beaming Rudewick of the congregation,
''They don't see me as sex. They see me as a beautiful person.''
Since joining the church, gay and lesbian Union members aren't
sitting around singing ''Kumbaya.'' There's still work to be
done, they say, concerning the denomination's stance on
homosexual sex, unions, and ordination. Bill Bows, who joined
Union in July specifically because it is reconciling, says of
the United Methodist position, ''It makes me feel sad, but then
I just focus on my spirituality and I try to keep in mind how I
could possibly be hurting anyone by my feelings.''
However, McLee, who was thoughtful enough to purchase a book of
short stories by lesbian writers for Johnson days after she
became a member, defends the denomination's stance.
''There are people who would love to make us an example of what
a church should be: marrying gay folk, having gay clergy,'' he
says. ''That's the Church of Christ. That's the Unitarian
church. That's not who we are.''
Union United Methodist Church website:
Strong Women In The Church – No Silence
Belynda Dunn (Deceased):
Seele (Balm in Gilead):
Gay and Lesbian
Catholicism -- Reconciliation Movement
Lesbian Arabic Society (GLAS), an international
organization established in 1988 in the USA with worldwide
chapters. We serve as a networking organization for Gays and
Lesbians of Arab descent or those living in Arab countries. We
aim to promote positive images of Gays and Lesbians in Arab
communities worldwide, in addition to combating negative
portrayals of Arabs within the Gay and Lesbian community.
Bond, the worldwide support network for gay, lesbian,
bisexual and transgendered individuals who are active, inactive,
disassociated, and disfellowshipped Jehovah's Witnesses. The San
Francisco group, established in March 1994 is the first of many
chapters around the world. Because the Witnesses teach that
homosexuality is "detestable", "an abomination", "abhorrent",
and "wicked" members of this religion live a life of deeply
closeted guilt, and fear of destruction by God. Jehovah's
Witnesses are taught to equate homosexuality with pedophilia,
bestiality, and demon possession.
As a community of the people of God, we are
called to minister to all people in our world, knowing that the
world is often an unloving place. Our world is a place of
alienation and brokenness. Christ calls us to reconciliation and
wholeness. We are challenged by the Gospel to be agents of
healing within our society.
We affirm with the apostle Paul that in Christ "there is neither
Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither
male nor female" (Galatians 3:38). Christ has made us one. We
acknowledge this reconciliation extends to all people regardless
of age, race, gender or national origin, including those whose
affectional orientation is toward a person of the same gender.
is the largest and most progressive national lay movement of
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) Catholics, our
families, and our friends.
Integrity is a nonprofit organization of lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and trangender [GLBT] Episcopalians and our straight
friends. Since our founding by Dr. Louie Crew in rural Georgia
in 1974, Integrity has been the leading grassroots voice for the
full inclusion of GLBT persons in the Episcopal Church and our
equal access to its rites. However, advocacy is only one facet
of our ministry.
Welcoming & Affirming Baptists
We envision that the day may
speedily come within American Baptist Churches USA when no one
shall feel excluded from God's love in Jesus Christ because of
their sexual orientation.
View a list of Welcoming & Affirming Churches
These two topics have recently seemed to be
mutually-exclusive. Members of the religious right say that one
cannot be a good Christian and be homosexual while some members
of the gay community say one cannot be an honest homosexual and
Christian. Both of these statements are false and show a good
deal of ignorance and fear on both sides of the issue, please