The Hoteps are hilarious. We should all make fun of them. I still find it hard to believe that people actually cape for Umar Johnson. I’d never fall for it. I’m too educated to buy into that illogical nonsense. I pray to God that I would never be that stupid. The Bible says we need the spirit of discernment, so I’d never put my faith in a con man or give my hard-earned money to a cause that destroys our community.
Except I did.
You did it, too.
I spent the Christmas holidays with a woman I have known for more than 10 years. She is one of the most intelligent, strongest women I have ever met. I also know her mother very well, and it is easy to see how her daughter became such an incredible person. Her mother is a deeply religious woman with an aura as soft and illuminating as unfiltered sunshine, and the mutual adoration between this brilliant daughter and loving mother is so thick, you can eat it with a spoon. I would wager every dollar I have ever earned that the mother would rip her heart out of her chest for her daughter, and I wouldn’t even consider my bet a gamble.
But there is something ripping my friend’s heart out of her chest. She is gay. She is afraid to tell her mother. The only reason she is afraid to tell her mother is the homophobia weaved into the version of Christianity widely practiced by black people.
The black church did that.
When progressive black people speak of Umar Johnson and invoke the pejorative that defines the stereotype of the “black conscious movement,” they point to the toxic masculinity espoused by the practitioners of Hotepery. They single out the homophobic tendencies espoused by dashiki wearers who warn their adherents about the “gay agenda” and “feminization of the black male.” With educated self-righteousness, they reference the misogyny of telling women how to dress, act and govern their vaginas.
“I agree with a lot of what he says,” they will tell you. “But I can’t excuse the bullshit parts.” Then they gather their sanctimony, fold it into a perfect square, stuff it in their purses and head to church on Sundays to worship in the mirror image of the thing they despise.
We are all hypocrites, and ain’t no hypocrisy like the black church’s hypocrisy, because the black church hypocrisy don’t stop.
There is no difference between the people who espouse the half-baked ideas of menstruation being caused by cauliflower and those who believe that you can pray away “the gay.” What is the difference between Roy Moore and Eddie Long? The Frederick Douglass School for Black Boys might as well be the Greater New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ Worship Center’s building fund. How can we be mad at Umar’s GoFundMe siphoning money from the black community when we drive by countless churches in black neighborhoods that collect 10 percent from poor black people to pay for the pastor’s shiny new Benz?
I’m sure there are some who are shaking their heads at this and saying “not my pastor.” Preachers are just like parents and politicians: We know a lot of them are trash, but not ours. Yes. Your preacher is trash, too. And mine. Umar Johnson is Creflo Dollar is Daddy Grace is (insert your pastor’s name here).
And this is not to say that the black church as a whole has not done good things. The civil rights movement would not have been as strong without the black church. Many of the leaders of the movement were respected religious leaders. Many of them were trash, too. Both things can be true.
Ask Martin Luther King Jr., who espoused conservative values and Christian principles while his wife, Coretta, sat in the audience knowing that he was sleeping with other women. Ask Bayard Rustin, the architect of the March on Washington, how he was marginalized because he was gay. Ask The Root’s Danielle Young, who told the story of being harassed by Jesse Jackson, but still prefaced his name with “Reverend.”
None of these men’s accomplishments for black people can be erased by their actions, but their actions don’t erase their wrongdoings. But we still shower them with respect and admiration because ... Jesus. They are the originators of Hotepery. They are the precursors of the “black conscious movement.”
I remember when I left the black church. I was raised in an extremely religious home and always returned to my religious indoctrination. I eventually landed at a house of worship pastored by a man I had known all of my life. The church had a very young congregation of college students, and I had grown up with most of the deacons and church officials.
One day, in the middle of service, the pastor called one of the most faithful parishioners to the front and announced that she had something to tell the church. At the time, she was probably no more than 21, with a beautiful angelic face that was as innocent as it was chocolate. She announced that she would no longer sing in the choir or participate in most of the church activities because she was pregnant. She apologized for disgracing God and her church family by having a child out of wedlock. She cried. Hard.
I knew that the pastor’s wife had children out of wedlock. I knew that the head deacon’s oldest child was out of wedlock. I knew that the assistant deacon’s oldest child was out of wedlock. I still do not doubt the faith or sincerity of any of these men. I have no ill will toward them. I still love them, and I am sure they love God with all of their hearts and souls. They were doing what they felt was right. They were doing what had been passed down to them.
When the pastor said the benediction that day, I never returned.
But that young girl still attends that church to this very day. She reminds me of the people who are still willing to believe in Umar Johnson. She reminds me of the people who are educated enough to condemn the actions of Hoteps while excusing the homophobic, sexist institutions they fund with a 10th of their income. They remind me of myself. I am not immune. I have never lived in the closet, but I have also been imprisoned by the very institution that is supposed to give me freedom and joy.
We have all been held hostage.
We should all be free.