I posted this blog piece about a year and a half ago (in October 2010), but in light of President Obama’s historic decision to declare his support of Marriage Equality for American LGBT citizens, I thought this was a good time to rerun this post.
Blessing the Slave Ships: The Black Remix
…..by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
A while back, I was at a White girlfriend’s dinner party with some academic friends, and there were two White men there who were gay and who were life partners. During the appetizers, the two men started talked badly about Christianity and Christians, calling them stupid and close-minded and homophobic. I raised my hand and defended myself as a “progressive, pro-gay, feminist Christian.”
They sort of smirked at each other and it made me mad, but I was at a good friend’s home and there was food on the table. I was raised that you don’t break fool where you don’t pay the rent and you don’t break bread in anger, either. So I let it go.
But a few weeks later, I was spending time with the girlfriend who had thrown the dinner party and I brought up the men’s comments. I told her that when Black folks came over here on slave ships, they had been taken from everything they knew, and they had to lie in their own physical mess—their feces, urine, and vomit. (I used a harsher word than “feces.” Full disclosure.) This must have been horrible for them.
And so, for many African Americans who had been converted to Christianity, that faith became a gift and a soft place to rest. I knew the practice of that faith had some problems, I said, but as a Christian it hurt me for her to allow people talk nasty about my faith because it took away part of my heritage.
Finally, I shared with my friend that I was a child molestation survivor and a rape survivor, too, and I had been through some real heavy stuff emotionally. (Again, I used another word other than “stuff.”). And for me, faith in God was the only thing between me and leaving the world before my time. I loved the Lord and I loved His Son, and I wasn’t ashamed to testify about that and the importance my faith had in my life.
Then I changed the subject because I didn’t want to shame her or hurt her feelings or make her think I was looking down on her because she was an atheist; I just wanted to tell her what was on my mind, as a friend and someone who loved her.
Because she was White, I didn’t bring up the strange relationship Black folks have had with Christian theology, either, not the actual tenets of the faith, but what some White men and women have burdened with faith with. It’s how White Europeans justified their meanness—the slave trade and its accompanying displacement, rape/molestation, and murder of Black women, children, and men—based upon their interpretation of the Bible.
Well before the slave trade started, racist theologians believed that Black people were cursed. They pointed to the story of Ham in the Bible; Ham’s the son of Noah, and he laughed at his father one night when Noah had gotten drunk and lay asleep in his tent, butt-naked. As a result of that laughter, Noah cursed his son. Throughout the ages, racist theologians have said that the “curse” Noah laid on Ham was blackness and his station as “servant of servants.” (This story occurs in Genesis 9: 20-27 if you want to read it).
And so, for several centuries, Noah’s cursing his son was used to justify slavery.
But read that passage. You don’t see the word “black” anywhere in that Noah-Ham chapter in the Bible. You don’t even see “dark.” But that doesn’t matter, because anytime some racist White “Christians” want to explain why Black folks are less than other (White) people, they point to the story of Noah and Ham.
And in the same way, homophobic “Christians” point to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or Paul’s letters to lowrate and persecute homosexual people and explain why God doesn’t like LGBT people.
Bishop Eddie Long has done this theological remix in the name of his homophobia, but he is not alone. T.D. Jakes has preached of the sins of homophobia, even as he is celebrated on the pages of Black publications such as Essence Magazine, smiling and flashing his seemingly kind, gap-toothed smile.
On a personal note, I have broken off friendships with Black Christian friends because of their homophobia. I’ve stopped coming to my family reunions, too, because of this religious hatred. I’ve had people tell me, “Family is family.” But tell me, would you pay hundreds of dollars to show up to a reunion where your White relatives used the “N-word” or your male relatives called women “b—-es” and “h–s”?
You know, I just don’t need good barbecue that bad to suffer through somebody praying about “the evils of men wearing dresses.”
Over the past few days since the Bishop Eddie Long scandal has broken, I’ve been reading many articles about homophobia and the Black church, but what I’ve found so curious and tragic is the twisting of theology. My guest blogger L. Lamar Wilson put his finger right on it, how theology is altered for the purposes of the one who’s really doing the wrong.
Ever since the Eddie Long scandal broke, I’ve been thinking about the notion of slavery, and what I told my friend about those young folks kidnapped and place on slave ships. When we had our talk I didn’t mention that in the past, White folks picked on African Americans because of a biblical interpretation, and now, given the chance Black folks will pick on our own because of biblical interpretations. I was too embarrassed and thought that maybe it would undercut my whole “testimony.”
We Black folks always go back to slavery and talk about how we’ve been “’buked and scorned” over the centuries; we bring up those slave ships that our ancestors rode in, laying in their filth and carrying their heart-hurt. Yet we are now guilty of the spiritual abominations of slave catchers and masters when we nurture homophobia in our community and our churches and say nothing. A few of us blogging and a few more of us reading and quietly saying, “Amen” in front of our computer screens is not going to lift our sins, either.
White slave ship captains would get preachers to cloak those slave ships in the word of God. They used theology to justify murder and rape and child molestation because Africans needed to be brought to Jesus–and now Black Christian homophobia does exactly the same thing and blesses a new kind of slave ship. They use the Bible to tell LGBT black folks–their kin– that they are headed to hell and that Jesus hates them because of the way they were born to love.
If we Black folks are going to talk about the moral responsibility that America owes our Black community, we should think about the type of community we need to be to deserve that ongoing help, because it doesn’t come for free. And a community that justifies hatred or looks away when they see it is not a community deserving of help in the name of morality and in the name of past–or even present– sins committed against us.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I was raised that being African American in this country was supposed to mean something great and worthy, something that we could be proud of.
I was taught by my mother, who is a godly progressive Christian woman, that when we Black folks stand on that testimony rock to talk about the pain of four hundred years, we are lifted up by something greater than ourselves: The struggles of our ancestors. The merciful God of our weary years. The blood of our mighty good Jesus.
Call me self-righteous, but call me a true Christian, too. And to that charge, I hope and pray I am able to answer, “Guilty.”