Black Church Leaders Ask for Forgiveness From the LGBT Community

In an unusual meeting, several ministers apologize to gays about how they have been treated.

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Although the image of a preacher declaring eternal damnation resonates with many members of the LBGT community, not all churches have taken this position. A recent New York Times article cited U.S. Census Bureau data indicating that child rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other part of the country, and found eight churches in Jacksonville, Fla., that openly welcome gay worshippers. It remains to be seen, however, to what extent the recent forum and the demographic trends in historically conservative regions foreshadow a broader shift in black churches' attitudes toward gays and lesbians.

The benefits of such a dialogue are not confined to Christians or members of the LGBT community. For years, the black church has been criticized for its lack of action in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS in the African-American community. This was undoubtedly in part because of doctrinal dissonance between messages about safe sex and HIV prevention, and biblical positions on the prohibition of sexual intimacy outside of a marital context. Regardless of the reasons, the outcome has been a deafening silence from one of the black community's most effective institutions for social change. 

Washington, D.C., has the nation's highest rate of HIV and AIDS, and men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by the disease. The black church cannot continue to be silent on such a critical health issue. Thankfully, other institutions have stepped in to fill the void. In 2009 the D.C. Department of Health provided on-the-spot STD testing during the orientation for the city's nationally recognized summer youth-employment program. In addition, many nonprofit organizations are dedicated to providing health education and services to residents of the District and surrounding jurisdictions. Even with the valiant efforts of these organizations, our communities would be even better off if the power of all institutions in civil society were harnessed for collective good.

Faith leaders should not shy away from confronting issues that affect both the spiritual and material condition of their communities. The church should be a place where all people, especially those who are hurting and vulnerable, can come to experience God's love and grace. This should be true regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, political affiliation or sexual orientation. In the same sense, critics must understand that pastors have an obligation to maintain fidelity to both the letter and spirit of the Scriptures, even in the face of changing social mores and religious pluralism. 

The tension between black churches' theological stances on homosexuality and their central principle of "whosoever will, let him come" is something that churches must address honestly and lovingly in moving forward. 

Delano Squires is a contributor to Black and Married With Kids and a graduate student in social policy at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter.

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