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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 27, 2006

'An inclusive gospel'

Summit seeks to include LGBT
people in the life of the black church

Atlanta--�The word is to be interpreted in light of the love ethic: love God, love each other,� Rev. Dr. Cecil L. �Chip� Murray, the senior minister of First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, says in the documentary All God�s Children.

That was the message of the National Black Justice Coalition�s Black Church Summit, held on January 20 and 21 at First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta.

The summit rose from the ashes of the 2004 election, in which the Bush administration�s campaign actively tried to sway traditionally black churches to support the president�s re-election.

Rev. Al Sharpton, a former Democratic presidential hopeful, was one of the keynoters of the summit, along with Bishop Yvette Flunder, senior pastor of City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco.

Sharpton said that the religious right�s concerns over same-sex marriage, evinced by the large number of constitutional amendments put on ballots that year, was a sham, and that the purpose behind them was to ensure a continuation of the Bush presidency.

�The con game of isolate, ostracize and marginalize was played upon the black community, and it would never have worked if we did not harbor homophobia,� he said. �The black community must not be a refuge for bias. We need an honest conversation, not condemnation.�

�We know who was scapegoated,� he continued. �The LGBT community was scapegoated. The voting in the black community, especially in Ohio, was based upon a homophobic response.�

�You can see that the Republican Party used this strategy, to take people who hadn�t had a conversation and move them to homophobia, because the party stopped talking about it after the election,� Sharpton noted. �But the megachurches didn�t get the memo.�

Many of the speakers and attendees at the summit spoke of �revolutionary inclusive gospel� or �radical inclusionary gospel,� interpreting the Bible in a way that includes LGBT people fully in the life of the church instead of perpetuating the �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy currently found in many black churches.

�The Bible doesn�t just answer our questions, it questions our answers,� said Rev. Ken Samuel of Victory for the World in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

In All God�s Children, which was screened at the summit, Murray noted that, according to the strict word of the Bible, women were not to participate in church, the �unsaved� were to be shunned, and �children had no voice.� However, Murray said, Jesus preached to the unsaved, had women with him and said to let children come to him to be heard.

It is in that spirit that the clergy from across the nation want to continue the exegesis, or critical interpretation, of Scripture.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, the pastor of Iconium, said that he was asked why he allowed his church to be the site of the summit, instead of holding it in a hotel.

�Folks have been talking about sex in hotels for a long time,� he replied. �It�s time we took it into the church.�

Many of the messages he received before the summit were negative, but he handled it in stride.

�This is a great learning experience for us all. I�ve gotten some inappropriate calls, and do I have some marks on my body because of it?� he asked. �Yes, but Jesus had some marks on him, too.�

While much of the talk during the weekend dealt with same-sex marriage, the wider struggle for LGBT rights was front and center.

�We have invited black clergy who have taken a position in opposition to marriage equality for gay families,� a question-and-answer release from NBJC states. �We believe that it is very important that we talk--even with those with whom we disagree. We invited individuals who we believe have a sincere interest in black people and the black community.�

�That is where we start,� it concludes.

Leslye Huff, an attorney from Cleveland listed in the NBJC�s Roll Call: Who�s Who in Black America, went to the conference and said, �I was on cloud nine.�

�I mean,� she said, �there were black ministers from just everywhere!�

Aside from feeling inspired, she also made a lot of contacts with like-minded people who can help her take the message of inclusion to churches in Cleveland and around the country.

�When black Southern Baptist ministers open their hearts and minds and spirits to the notion of radical inclusiveness, and they claim that as the just and responsible Christian ethic, I think that�s worth reporting,� she noted. �We�re talking about people who are still affiliated with and still preach in that fashion, the traditional African American preacher fashion.�

Huff believes that summits like this and, even more, the publicizing of successful events like it are important.

�The more we focus on and pound ourselves with the negatives, the less inclined those people on the edges are going to feel like they can do something. They are going to feel like it�s too big for them to handle,� she posited. �I suggest we focus on the successes, moving forward.�

She praised Flunder�s sermon at the summit, saying it was �the kind of thing that in the civil rights movement helped people keep on keeping on.�

Now that she�s back home, Huff�s plans are simple: �Organize, organize, organize.�

�We are interested in encouraging black LGBT folks to come out, because it�s when we come out that people can hear us and see us for who we are.�

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