At the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was gunned down by White terrorist Dylan Roof during a Bible study meeting, President Barack Obama gave a soul-stirring eulogy, reminding the country of the Black Church's long history of being a safe space for Black folk:
“The Church is and always has been the center of African-American life, a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships. Not just for Blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all. That's what the Church meant.”
To draw that conclusion, President Obama expunged from the record the fact that many Christian denominations, particularly the AME church, have specific written policies against Marriage Equality and ordaining gay clergy and have spent money and political capital fighting publicly against both. On the day his administration celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of Marriage Equality nationwide, President Obama stood in that pulpit and erased his own victory in order to provide a false comfort of the Church as sanctuary for all, and many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning/queer, intersex, asexual (LGBTQIA) community rightfully cried foul.
While there are many individual Bible-believing churches, non-denominational churches and the Episcopalian Church that do welcome and affirm all people, the overwhelming example of the Christian Church in the world is hateful towards, dismissive of, or entirely ignoring this community.
Even in the face of racist police policies, crumbling education systems, unconscionable poverty, and White supremacist terrorist attacks on Black churches—from Mother Emmanuel to the string of arsons across the South in the past week—the far-right-wing Coalition of African American Pastors has reserved all of its anger and avowed “civil disobedience” for protesting Marriage Equality.
How completely useless and embarrassing this heartlessness is when 1/3 of Black transgender people live in extreme poverty, 1/5 suffer with HIV and lack adequate health care and nearly half have reportedly attempted suicide due to the physical, verbal and/or sexual harassment they face just for being trans.
Where is the Micah 6:8 Church that acts justly and loves mercy? Where is the Acts 2:44-47 Church whose first priority is meeting people’s earthly needs while connecting them to a heavenly, loving God? Where is the Christ-conscious Church that wraps its loving arms around every person the world has rejected and tells them the truth about themselves: You are God’s own beloved child and you are completely loved and accepted?
The Church is better than this.
Black activist Bree Newsome proved as much on June 27 when she climbed up the pole where the confederate flag brazenly waved in the face of Black pain. With great courage, Newsome took that hateful, oppressive symbol down, “in the name of God.”
That was Psalm 27 she recited as she climbed down, flag in hand; Psalm 23 she uttered as she was being arrested. That’s the kind of civil disobedience Scripture ought to empower Christians to do, to walk valiantly in the world, stand against hate and act in ways that bring peace, comfort and love to those in need.
Irrespective of what many in the Church are teaching, love is not a sin; it is a Christian requirement. It is the one and only commandment from Christ: love God and love each other. Love is not distant, it is intimate. It requires deep relationship, and that’s exactly what the Church ought to have with the LGBTQIA community.
The Church ought to be investing in their lives, sharpening them like iron, supporting them and loving them into mighty vessels for God’s love in the world, helping those who desire it to have emotionally healthy God-centered marriages, assisting them as they raise emotionally healthy, God-loving children, fortifying them against the hate they face outside those sacred walls. The Church ought to be the first to stand beside and behind this community, fighting with them for fair housing and freedom from employment discrimination, harassment and marginalization.
It’s time for the Church to really be a safe space for all people. Make President Obama’s words true; let the Church be a place where LGBTQIA people “are loved and fed and kept out of harm's way, and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.”
Because all Black lives matter to Christ; they need to matter to the Church as well.