TENNESSEE: Priest: Black churches ignore gay issues
His book likens homophobic views to racism
By ANITA WADHWANI Staff Writer
In publishing a book comparing the condemnation of homosexuality in some African-American churches to the racism directed at blacks during slavery and segregation, the Rev. Horace Griffin expected criticism.
The book, titled Their Own Receive Them Not, is "slime," one gospel radio show call-in listener told Griffin, who is gay, African-American and an Episcopal priest. Another caller compared homosexuals to dogs.
Griffin - a former Vanderbilt religion Ph.D. student who drew on his experiences in Nashville black churches for the book - said he hopes the newly released book leads to conversation about a subject that is not often openly discussed in African-American churches.
"Black churches haven't even gotten to the level of serious dialogue about lesbian and gay issues," said Griffin, who was raised in Baptist churches before joining the Episcopal Church.
He is now a professor at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York.
"There's a sense that it's not an African-American problem," he said, pointing out that while many mainline Protestant denominations, including his own, have wrestled with positions on homosexuality, the nation's biggest African-American denominations have not formally addressed the issue.
For pastors like the Rev. Henry Smith in Nashville, the issue is clear-cut.
The Bible already has the final word on homosexuality, said Smith, pastor of the predominantly African-American First Baptist Church of South Inglewood.
"To me, (homosexuality) is a sin like any other vice any human may have," Smith said. "I don't deal in depth with it. But I would have to say I stand with biblical principles."
Griffin says that African-Americans should be cautious of interpreting biblical passages as condemnations of homosexuality.
Some pro-slavery Christians looked to biblical passages to defend slavery, passages such as the "Curse of Ham," in the book of Genesis, in which Noah condemned one of his son's children, and all their descendants, to be the slaves of his other son's descendants as a justification for the enslavement of African-Americans, Griffin wrote.
"Considering this use of Scripture to support what the church and culture now understand as immoral, African-American Christians ought to be suspicious of the anti-homosexual use of Scripture that defines all gays as immoral and calls for their oppression," he wrote.
Those condemnations of homosexuality in black churches have led to "pain and alienation" from black churches by gays and lesbians, said the Rev. Chris Davis, an openly gay newly ordained minister at the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church.
Pastor: Gays not judged
Davis says that he leads an HIV prevention and substance abuse support workshop for gay and lesbians - many whom, he said, developed addictions as a "direct result of the homophobic messages they got in their churches."
But, he said, "I don't really think the black church is any more homophobic than any other. I think they are more likely to be less vocal. They may not treat people well. They may say things that make you feel bad. But I don't know too many churches that stand up and say, 'I'm going to put you out of here,' and then do it. We're not going to separate our denomination because of this issue."
And Smith, the Nashville pastor, said no one in his church is judged because of their sins, whether it's homosexuality or any other vice.
"I don't condemn people," he said. "I uphold the Bible."
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