And the question is…?

Atlanta – A woman who says she is an openly homosexual member of Bishop Eddie Long’s Newbirth Baptist Missionary Church accuses the bishop and others of turning their backs on Atlanta’s black gay community. Sean Waites, also a 2001 Atlanta City Council candidate, told the Southern Voice (SOVO) that as a lesbian it was “hurtful” that New Birth would not return her calls –even though she is a member. Friends asked her how she could attend a church known to be “anti-gay” she was quoted as saying in the article “All God’s Children?” The print edition of the Sovo carried a full front page picture of Waites and gay activist Jimmie Scott who are angry that New Birth along with 11 other prominent African American churches who refused to participate in the upcoming singing concert dubbed “Gospel and Soul”. The concert —a trojan horse event– is backed by the Washington DC based gay organization Human Rights Campaign who hoped that the medium of gospel music would draw black churches into partnerships with homosexual groups, particularly in the black community. That strategy was met with icy silence and confusing responses.

The black religious community has traditionally shunned all contact with openly homosexual activists and events allegedly due to Biblical beliefs. Additionally, the refusal —according to some who commented– highlights a steadily growing rift between powerful all white gay organizations and resentful black gays of whom almost 50% believed racism among white gays is a serious problem. Some believe the event was just another attempt of white gays to take advantage of a black tradition to further their agenda in the black community. When it comes to homosexuality, rifts, intensive debates and divisiveness seem to be the rule of thumb on every side.

The accusations and stories of skirmishes come at a time when open homosexuality in the church has officially become the simmering flashpoint of Biblical moral injunctions. The new civil war of sexuality. A war that has torn asunder families, churches and governments everywhere. While major white Protestant denominations such as the Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists and others are locked in violent, public struggles over homosexuality, many black churches have adopted a sleepy-eyed approach to the issue.

This may explain why nine of the churches asked to participate in the concert flatly refused to respond. The three who did —World Changers International (WCCI), Wings of Faith and Big Miller Grove Church— responded with bewildering remarks. All three said that though they had no problems with Gospel and Soul being a gay event, they could not participate for various reasons. Most of the reasons were contradictory. And all left open the critical question of a church’s association with gay sponsored events. World Changers spokesman Vic Bolton reportedly said, “The Bible says [homosexuality] is not the way God would have things. The Word also speaks to the fact that we should love the person and not necessarily their choices” Sovo stated that Bolton “did not know exactly why the church, the second largest in Atlanta with 25,000 members, would have declined to participate.”

Of the 12 churches, World Changers is perhaps the only one with an established ministry to homosexual strugglers —something Bolton did not mention specifically. On its website WCCI says this ministry is a “Support group for those who desire to overcome the bondage of homosexuality and walk in victory with Christ.” Bishop Miles Fowler , pastor of Big Miller Grove Baptist Church said that they declined to participate because the church “couldn’t fit it into our schedule.” , but insisted that it had nothing to do with gay issues. Although he objected to homosexuality as a desirable lifestyle, Pastor Dreyfus Smith said he was sure refusing to participate in the event had nothing to do with any problem with the event. Bolton, Fowler and Smith may have fared better to offer silence than the conflicting excuses they gave. Which left the lingering questions – is it the homosexuality of the event organizers that the churches objected to or homosexuality in general or both? Or was it that they would have come and participated but just couldn’t find the time? Does this infer that if another gay event came up, the possibility exists that they would participate? Would they support ministries that offer hope of healing and discipleship to homosexuals? Gays and exgays alike are hoping for honest answers to these and other questions. But some aren’t holding their breath.

New Birth Baptist Church seemed to be the focus of the most criticism due in part to Waites’ candid admission of membership. Sovo stated that it was told Bishop Long wasn’t available because meeting schedules. Could this have been true? Or was New Birth simply holding to the sleepy-eyed practice of evasive neutrality? On October 2001, Bishop Long released a television sermon entitled Passion for Life. In it, he made an appeal to former homosexuals to reveal themselves and refute the “born gay” myth.

“Why are we so locked up? Won’t no one tell the truth. Not enough homosexuals getting up and saying I have been converted. Now, God has touched me. Somebody needs to hear and see that and dispel the myth, that I was born that way. Get born again, I need a witness! I need an ex-lesbian to stand up. I need an ex something. I need to see an ex that is successful. Show me something!”, he said.

In response to that appeal, former homosexuals from Atlanta and across the country began sending Long letters detailing their deliverance and asking him to openly support transformation ministry to church members who struggle to overcome homosexuality. All asked for a response to their letters — which has never come. Linda Carter who initiated the letter writing campaign after seeing Bishop Long’s show on Christian television in Mobile, AL says she personally called the church several times. Carter , a single mom and exlesbian said, “I received favorable responses from the secretary. She told me that Bishop Long was receiving the letters. Another time I called, one of his adjutants told me that Bishop reads every letter that comes across his desk.” But Carter, nor any of the others who wrote letters or sent emails received the response they requested. Other Atlanta area churches asked to be involved included Hopewell Missionary Baptist, Victory Baptist, Tabernacle Baptist, New Beginning Full Gospel, Providence Missionary Baptist Church, Big Bethel AME, Antioch Baptist North, and Ebenezer Baptist.

An agenda by any other name

Part of the problem with the whole concept of the “Gospel and Soul” Concert is that its main purpose is not to bring glory to Christ, to affirm God’s word in song nor to serve to draw people to a risen Savior. In other words it had nothing to do with the gospel and everything to do with furthering the gay agenda. Its purpose according to its bankrollers in Washington was to “bridge the divide between black gay Atlantans and mainstream African-American churches.” “We’re trying to bring the whole community together. To bring the African-American gay and straight community together, and to bring those open to GLBT (Gay, lesbian,bisexual and transgender) rights together with those who are GLBT, said one HRC official. What black gay Atlantans and their white moneylenders in the nation’s capitol may not understand is that the way to bridge the divide is through the simple act of repentance, not subversive agendas. Dr. Kathi Martin, a former AME minister, claimed she was forced out of the AME church because of her open lesbianism and because she married homosexual couples under the AME banner. She told the paper, “”I see myself as a person in exile from the African-American church experience, And like all exiles, I hope to return home someday.” While she is waiting for the church to embrace her in an unrepentant state, Martin started a “ministry” called God ,Self and Neighbors which has formed a small gospel choir. The GSN choir is at the nucleus of the concert performance. She has, since being expelled from the church, performed 16 homosexual weddings in defiance of church and Bible teachings.

The Big picture

The need for black churches to develop programs of healing for the sexually broken is greater than ever before. There are those who will soon tire of the silence and the confusing answers and launch an all out war in the black church, much like the ones in other mainstream protestant churches. With the church at war, how will the hope of deliverance prevail? Will a change come anytime soon? The question, and the answer, remains to be seen.

Article originally published 04.09.02