I just sat there. Sometimes silent. Other times laughing and encouraging the preacher to continue. Every time participating in the diminishing of humanity, my own included. Mostly the preacher’s comments about homosexuality were aimed squarely at Black men. They saw gay and queer Black men as the reason the Black family was in disarray. If brothers would just follow God’s natural order and take their rightful position, sisters would be covered and the family would be well. Young and single, this resonated with me. I and so many other sisters were doing the right things; it wasn’t our fault that we were still single. These dudes have allowed themselves to be tricked by the enemy and now so many of us will suffer because of it. They deserved the mean words, the shame, the vitriol that came from the pulpit. And I sat there and looked at them. I looked at their faces and their posture. The people I knew who were either living proudly or struggling in the shadows. I looked at them. I watched their embarrassment and their uncomfort. And a part of me took joy in it because I believed that who they were was somehow keeping me from being who I could be.
I didn’t have the language or information then to realize that another man’s sexuality had nothing to do with my singleness or the singleness of so many other sisters. But we bought it. We believed it because we needed to believe something. We needed to have yet another reason to understand why we weren’t wives yet. Sadly, it actually became a punchline for so many of us. We began to joke that we were going to have to look outside the church for husbands because too many men in it were gay. We reduced our brothers to nothing more than functional and when they served no purpose for us, they got what they deserved. What we did not realize was how the church refused to deal with our sexuality in its fullness and totality. Both groups, LGBTQI Christians and single heterosexual Black women, were victims of the violent ideologies that suggested our flesh was incapable of goodness. We were both being held hostage by doctrines that demanded our bodies bend and contort to become acceptable when all we wanted was love. Single sisters wanted to go home to someone who loved them and our LGBTQI brothers and sisters wanted to be able to express their love outside their homes. All we wanted was love.
It wasn’t until I was able to fully reconcile my whole self that I understood our struggles to be free were interconnected. The church has been and is wrong for how we have treated same gender loving and queer people because the church has been consistently wrong in its discussion of the relationship between God and sexuality. If you think about it, who (other than heterosexual male pastors) has the church been kind to when their sexuality has been put on display? Single mothers have long been dehumanized by church folk. Unmarried couples who are living together or engaging in premarital sex are often uncomfortable when they come to church because “holiness” is yet right. We have created a litmus test to conflate holiness with behaviors and not equate it with character. We have been incorrectly taught to believe that sexuality says something about who a person is at their core and that is simply untrue. We have been told that those unrepentant in sin will be judged harshly by God. We identify LGBTQI Christians as unrepentant sinners. But, according to this logic, I am an unrepentant sinner too. Anyone who rejects the church’s teachings regarding sexuality and unapologetically lives into another truth is unrepentant and subject to judgement. We have damned so many people to Hell- not because they have hurt us- but because they think and love differently. Where is God in that?
And this is precisely why the church’s hypocrisy rings so loudly in this moment. This is why it is hard to hear pastors call for us to show the love of Christ to the LGBTQI Community, in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, because that’s not actually what we are being encouraged to show. Because, if we are honest, the hard truth is that what happened in Orlando is what the church has been telling us would happen to those outside God’s will. We’ve heard so many sermons about how violently God will respond to those who disobey him that, if we actually believe the church, this feels like God’s judgment. Even I have had people I love tell me they are genuinely concerned for the state of my soul because I don’t apologize for being a sexual being. I have had people tell me that I am on a path to destruction because I dare to believe another report about who I am. When horrific things happen to people we already believe are sinful, it’s not too difficult to attach our limited constructions of God and make meaning where we should not. So this “love” feels hollow. It felt hollow before Sunday morning and it feels hollow now because it doesn’t even begin to recognize that we must teach and preach differently. This “love” stops short of radical inclusion and gay and queer Christians are not the only ones who receive this kind of love.
I am many things that are not in competition with each other: I am Christian. I am womanist. I am sex positive. I am a living, breathing reflection of God’s intentional creativity and design. We all are. I hate the years that I did not fully see that. But I see it now. I’m an ally to my LGBTQI loved ones because I know what it means to be marginalized by the church. I’m interconnected to their struggle because we all need to be free. I’m committed because for all the years I sat there in silence, I need to stand and be vocal.