The book of Proverbs tells us that “Pride goeth before a fall.” In the case of Black Gay Pride celebrations, Pride will go on before the fall and throughout the fall, from July through October, as thousands of African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people come together in cities across the country to celebrate their lives. The celebrations will allow black people to pull together the strands of their identities, to sew the patches of race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexuality into one beautiful quilt.
But there must be another piece for this glorious Quilt of Blackness to be complete. Throughout history, black people have found tremendous strength in communities of faith. And yet those communities of faith have sometimes been the first to reject their LGBT children.
And so, in addition to celebrating Black Gay Pride, we must also learn to celebrate Black Gay and Spiritual Pride. In order for the Quilt of Blackness to truly cover the feet of our community, it must be sewn together with the Quilt of Faith.
I went to a conference in Chicago from June 23-25 called Soul’s Afire 2: Re-Imagining Black Religious Identity that gave me a foretaste of the kingdom (or kin-dom) to come, where the different strands of my identity as a black same-gender-loving man of faith could be brought together. It represented the “already but not yet” of the coming time of justice and equality for my LGBT brothers and sisters. Each attendee at Souls Afire luxuriated in the richness of their religious and sexual experience, contributing texture, color, brilliance and the woven complexity of living authentic black gay and religious lives.
Pastors, elders, bishops, theologians, academics, musicologists and social activists all participated, shared and enriched the experience. This was in no way a reflection of stereotypes about queer communities as anathema to faith. This was not a group of “godless gays.” This was out and proud LGBT people of color fully engaged and embracing faith as foundational to their lives. This was liberation theology, womanist theology, social gospel, social justice, civil rights and inclusivity: “God is Still Speaking” in the flesh.
We were reminded of the equivocal nature of religion to bind, constrain, restrict or to set free. The opening speaker, the Rev. Dr. Lynice Pinkard of First Congregational UCC in Oakland, told us that “liberation is dissent.” In every movement for freedom, the status quo has had to be broken in order for a new, liberative expression of life to emerge. She encouraged us to be willing to break through these hard places, to leave behind binding standards of normative behavior in order that others who come after us will have a path to follow.
Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder and pastor of City of Refuge UCC in Oakland, exhorted us to embrace that “we have been called out of eternity into this time to do a specific work and to celebrate the prophetic call upon our lives.” She told us that an amazing opportunity is being realized in our presence. The great social movements of previous centuries changed society in amazing and unforeseen ways, and we are now involved in such a social movement for positive change. The benefits of this push toward greater justice are not always evident to us while we struggle, but there will be benefits. Among these potential benefits for the LGBT community, and the black community as a whole, are stronger family structures, a healthier population, increasing economic equality, more children in loving homes, and people realizing their full creative potential without fear of rejection because of who they love.
Maurice Charles, an Episcopal priest and doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, advised us to “Live to resist.” Resist every force that seeks to dissuade us from voicing our desires and dissatisfactions. Resist the urge to be silent. Resist the safety of living quietly in alcoves of apathy and complacency. Resist the labels foisted upon us by those opposing progress. Resist and re-imagine. Ours is a mandate to grow. While we are fully aware of the rich soil we grow out of, we must push our shoots out of the soil toward warm sunlight of this new day.
Liberation is dissent. Celebrate the prophetic call. Live to resist. These were among the messages worked into the quilt of Black Gay and Spiritual Pride during Souls Afire. But there are more pieces to be sewn in. The beauty of a quilt is not to be found in monochromatic color, nor in homogeneity of material, but rather in the artful piecing together of various bits of cloth, each with its distinction and color. So it is with the Quilt of Blackness and the Quilt of Faith; distinctions abound, yet the skillful sewing of these two aspects will reveal our beauty in all of its fullness. Now is the time to pick up your needle and thread and begin the work.
The Rev. Cedric Harmon, a member of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, is ordained in the National Missionary Baptist Church and is director of religious outreach for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He lives in Washington, D.C.