There is a popular perception that the Black church is a hotbed of homophobia, a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) folk are at best tolerated (if they are closeted perhaps) and otherwise unwelcome. While there is no doubt that the Church has not always been the most hospitable place for queer Black folk, the rising acceptance of LGBT people in society at large is slowly reverberating around the halls of the church.
Many Voices is an example of just that sort of sea change. Many Voices is a nonprofit organization for gay and transgender justice in the Black Church. Many Voices offers training, resources, and collaborative opportunities for church leaders and Black LGBT people.
On October 7, Many Voices launched a video campaign to support LGBT people of faith and to challenge the stereotypes and realities of homophobia in the Black church. The video series is part of a larger, ongoing campaign that Many Voices launched in 2013 and features several LGBT-affirming African American ministers, including Rev. Dr. Rodney Sadler, Associate Professor of Bible, Union Presbyterian Seminary at Charlotte; Rev. Reggie Longcrier, Executive Director of prison ministry Exodus Missionary Outreach Church; and Rev. Dr. Terence Leathers, Pastor, Mount Vernon Christian Church.
The Many Voices campaign asserts that dismissing or ignoring LGBT parishioners is not only a mistake, but also a violation of the actual mission of the church. Preaching a message of respect, love, and inclusivity, they assert that, “Together, we can achieve the justice and liberation that we so long for, affirm the lives of our gay and transgender brothers and sisters, and call the Black church into the full expression of God’s unconditional love.”
Each video in the campaign profiles allies of faith that challenge the stereotype that African American clergy members are all antagonistic to LGBT issues. The videos highlight the ways in which Blacks can be both religious and supportive of LGBT people. Indeed, the Many Voices video campaign argues that supporting LGBT issues and people is fundamentally Christian. For example, in his video message, Rev. Sadler, who identifies as straight, invites viewers to reassess what the Bible says about sexuality, noting, “Our fear of sexuality is not consistent with the text. Our job is not to keep people away…our job is to be open in our welcome.” Rev. Sadler’s comment asks for dialogue and understanding, rather than disapproval or judgment, illuminating a pathway for LGBT folk and other marginalized community back into the church.
All interviewees in the Many Voices video campaign are LGBT allies based in the South—North Carolina, to be exact. North Carolina is an increasingly purple state whose electoral politics are becoming more progressive by the day. One need only look at the powerful and popular Moral Mondays Movement that has taken hold there. North Carolina also has both a substantial Black LGBT presence and strong ties to the Black church. For example, over 40 percent of Black Protestants support marriage equality in North Carolina. Thus, the work that Many Voices does reflects the shifting tide towards LGBT issues in that state and across the country.