Howard University's School of Divinity welcomed some of the most progressive and inclusive black ministers across the country late last week to the first forum ever held on Howard's campus created specifically to address LGBT issues.
Rev. Tony Lee, Pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Washington DC, served as moderator and panelists included Howard Divinity School Professor Rev. Dr. Ronald Hopson,Rev. Kenneth Samuel, Pastor of Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, GA,Rev. Byron Williams, a syndicated columnist and minister at Resurrection Church in Oakland, California, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a fellow in residence at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, and HRC’s Associate Diversity Director Donna Payne.
Rev. Kenneth Samuel, who has extended an olive branch to the black LGBT community in Georgia transitioned his former conservative Baptist congregation to a more welcoming and LGBT affirming United Church of Christ. Rev. Samuel spoke on "certain biblical passages that have become ”toxic texts” in regards to how they've been used to condemn LGBT individuals.
Rev. Samuel is searing in his condemnation of the religious homophobia that helps fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS in the black community. He says the intensifying scourge of HIV/AIDS in the community can be “traced back to notions of sinful nature.” “Why would I be concerned about my - or your health - if I’m already condemned to hell?” he asks. ” Homophobia is a health risk - especially to black church.”
"Love the sinner but hate the sin". If I had a dime for every time I've heard this self-righteous condemnation being hurled at members of the gay community by those who were lucky to "carry the burden of another cross" I'd be a rich man.
Rev. Williams finds dismissive condemnations of homosexuality as sin to be suspicious and thinks that many Christians opposed to homosexuality did not formulate their opinions after reading scriptures against homosexuality. Instead, he believes many religious homophobes first decide that they despise gays, and then find biblical passages to back up their prejudices.
Let the church say Amen!
Rev. Samuel offers this advice to churches grappling with acknowledging the presence of LGBT individuals within the church, "Open, honest, candid dialogue is the first step to dismantling wrong assumptions and prejudice taught by tradition. Keep learning; keep listening."