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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Afropublicrats and a More Perfect Love (Or, Living Wrong and Voting Right)

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 John 4:17-19)

My young daughter and I went to church today. My husband, who usually accompanies us, was unavailable, so she and I braved the frigid weather and went to visit a nearby church that we have visited a few times. The theme of the sermon today was fear, which, I think , is a really good topic, in light of the mournful economic times in which we find ourselves. The minister started by offering a message to the children, gathering them together and asking about the things that they feared most. “Spiders,” said one child. “Bats,” said another. “Doctors,” offered a third child, to the amusement of the entire congregation. The sermon went on to discuss how each one of us, adult and child alike, fears something. The goal was to call upon faith to master our fears. I was in the midst of enjoying the sermon when I was blindsided by the minister’s lashing out at black ministers’ opposition to gay marriage and domestic partnership. The comments in summary were:

--Black ministers who preach against domestic partnership are fearful and ignorant
--Black ministers should tend to their own community's problems, such as the 70% of children born to single black mothers.

Indeed I'm sure that the minister did not intend it, but the tone during the delivery of this portion of the sermon was both scornful and arrogant. This impression wasn't helped when some parishioners in attendance laughed when the minister mentioned the rate of black out of wedlock births. The laughter was, I suppose, in response to the seeming irony of a community plagued by unpartnered women being opposed to domestic partnership. The comments and the laughter hit me like a bucket of cold water. A few nearby persons turned to look at my daughter and me (perhaps thinking that I was yet another of those oft-maligned black women with out of wedlock children.) The discomfort and embarrassment I felt were only exacerbated as I looked up at another black woman, a relatively young woman who sat in the balcony. The grim look on her face told me that she hadn't received the message any better. I'm a pretty cool customer usually, but I have to say that it took lots of restraint for me not to take my daughter's hand and walk out.

While I understand that many social progressives (and I count myself among them) feel deeply about the issue of opposition to domestic partnership and gay marriage, assailing the position that black ministers are taking from the pulpit of an overwhelmingly white, prosperous church does little, I think, to advance the dialogue on this matter. Since it is likely that the position of black ministers on this issue is fueled by their faith-based ideas on homosexuality, whether they are right or wrong in this matter, God only knows. Assuming (as I do ) that the ministers have it wrong, it would seem to me that the Christian approach to the issue would be to mention the opposition of the ministers and pray that they reach a better understanding and more perfect love of all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of their sexual orientation or family structure, and leave single black mothers out of it. This approach would also, I'm sure, have spared the feelings of the few black congregants, especially black women, who may have felt as I did.

How did black women get into the political cross-hairs on this issue? After the recent success of Proposition 8 in California which revoked the right of same-sex couples to wed, many pundits on both the political Right and Left have argued than blacks in general and black women in particular were largely responsible for this outcome. While this claim was inaccurate to some degree, polls suggest that large numbers of blacks, especially black women, supported the measure. These socially conservative blacks, termed “Afropublicrats” by New York Times columnist Charles Blow, have moral views that are virtually indistinguishable from those of Republicans, according to Gallup Poll surveys. So, I guess if we’re going to assail black opposition to domestic partnership or gay marriage, maybe it makes sense to throw brickbats at all those black single mothers who are living wrong and voting Right.

Not so fast, though. The tenor of this discussion threatens to further spread the myth of the black/gay divide. While much of the public assumes that blacks are more homophobic than their white counterparts (see e.g. homophobic rap music), this is not born out by most longitudinal research conducted on the issue. This research suggests that while religious blacks often see homosexuality as a sin, they have also been more likely than whites to vote in favor of matters that they perceive to be important civil rights issues for the gay community. At the end of the day, a lot rides on how a particular issue is framed. I think that when it comes to the issue of being gay, many blacks, both gay and straight, simply feel that one's sexuality ain't nobody's business, and it defies reason and common sense that anybody would feel the need to vote to undermine the way that adults want to live their lives. As comedian Wanda Sykes recently stated at a rally protesting Proposition 8: "You know, I don't really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn't feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life. Everybody that knows me personally they know I'm gay. But that's the way people should be able to live their lives."

Yeah, it ought to be that way. Oh, that we may reach a more perfect love.

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