About that sermon on the Black Church’s hypocrisy

by D Frederick Sparks

Georgia pastor E. Dewey Smith’s sermon about the Black Church and homosexuality has gone viral.  In the sermon, Smith deems it hypocritical for Christians to condemn homosexuality based on verses in Leviticus without also adhering to the other Levitical injunctions against eating shellfish and wearing blended fabrics.  He also speaks to the large gay presence in the black church, particularly in the “music ministry”, which I wrote about a few years back here, and how it is also a manifestation of hypocrisy to use the talents of queer people while condemning them.

The pastor’s words have been lauded by many for their frankness and  for the call for greater compassion when dealing with gays in the black church. I’ve even seen it declared a great stand for “gay rights.”

For me it doesn’t go that far.  There’s a difference between calling out the black church for hypocrisy, and affirming that there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about same-sex attraction and same sex relationships.  This “that sin is no greater than anyone else’s sin” accommodation is neither revolutionary nor novel; I’ve seen and heard it offered for years as a rationalization by black gay Christians and others who still love them in spite of their “sin”.  Personally it has allowed for me to, at my choice, maintain relationships with loved ones, despite the degree to which it requires the acceptance of what one commentator has recently dubbed “mild homophobia“.  And against the backdrop of the conservative stance of the Black Church on issues of sexuality, it certainly seems progressive by comparison, though less so than the stance of other Christian churches and denominations that are known as “reconciled ministries” which fully accept the whole experience of gay Christians.

I don’t know very much about Pastor Smith. I don’t know what his thoughts are on homosexuality beyond the hypocrisy analysis.  From what I have read about him briefly, he seems highly intelligent, and devoted to a more compassionate manifestation of religious faith; when a fellow pastor committed suicide, Pastor Smith condemned assertions that the deceased pastor earned eternal damnation through that sad act.  And to the extent that his exhortations call for and lead to less dehumanization of gays in the black church, his words deserve the credit they are receiving.  But they should be kept in context, and consideration must be given to how a particular religious experience or viewpoint either does or does not affirm the entirety of a gay Christian.

2015 First in the Family Humanist Scholarship Winners

Flyer 2015

This year, Black Skeptics Los Angeles is proud to award eight youth First in the Family Humanist scholarships. In August, four students from L.A. high schools will receive $1000 apiece through our original fund for homeless, undocumented, foster care, LGBTQ and system-involved youth.  These students are going to some of the most competitive colleges in the country in a prison pipelining climate that has become increasingly difficult for low-income youth of color.

Earlier this year, through the advocacy of secular activist and Freedom From Religion Foundation president Annie Laurie Gaylor, we also received a generous award from the FFRF to fund four more students of color–this award was designated the Catherine Fahringer Memorial scholarship–who identify as secular, atheist, agnostic or humanist, at $2500 apiece.  In addition to these other criteria, students were chosen for their leadership, involvement in their school-communities and insights into the relationship between humanism and social justice.

Congratulations scholars!

Mariana Cervantes, King Drew Medical Magnet

Mariana Cervantes, King Drew Medical Magnet

Mariana Cervantes, Cal State University Northridge (FIF LAUSD): “As an individual, I will break the barriers against Latinas in the science field but will also give back to my community by teaching children the art of foklorico with a focus on education and humanistic qualities of equality for all.”

 

Mercedes Hawkins

Mercedes Hawkins

Mercedes Hawkins, UC Merced (CF): “Too many religious people insist upon waiting for ‘God’ to make a change. They fail to realize that the change is in them and it is their duty to cultivate it outwardly.  Once more people embrace humanism, we will freely celebrate our differences in beliefs and promote acceptance.”

 

Victor Marroquin, Fairfax HS

Victor Marroquin, Fairfax HS

Victor Marroquin, UC Riverside (FIF LAUSD): “I am a Mexican-Guatemalan American, the first in my mixed status family to be born in the U.S. and a bisexual immigrant rights activist.  I have been a victim of hatred for my identity.  I live in between Koreatown and East Hollywood, communities of Los Angeles that face the most immigrant status challenges as a result of the current broken immigration system.  The LGBTQ representation is very weak in both communities. It seems so odd that these communities fall behind in embracing the LGBTQ movement because undocumented immigrants and LGBTQ people share the same obstacles.  These social movements should be more strongly intertwined.”

Zera Montemayor

Zera Montemayor

Zera Montemayor, University of North Texas (CF): “Religion is not the source for social change in the world. It is time the human race understood that words like atheist, agnostic, and humanist are not truly as negative as the connotation they carry. We are not hateful, sinners, harlots, or devil worshipers. We simply believe that each and every human is equal. Not one person deserves to be oppressed simply because they are from different walks of life.  There are so many things I would love to see before my life is over. I would love to see to gay people get married and the public not make a big commotion about it. I would love to see transgender people not be harassed or called “she-man”. I would love to see women wear whatever they please and not be marked by words like “slut” or “whore”. I would love seeing men taking ballet or a cooking class and not be marked with the misnomer “gay”. Finally, I want to be able to tell people I am an atheist without it ruining friendships. I believe humanism is the answer.”

Ramon Cortines, HS

Nyallah Noah, Ramon Cortines, HS

Nyallah Noah, University of Southern California (LAUSD FIF): It wasn’t until this past year that I realized how important feminism, civil rights and LGBT rights were to me.  Born and raised in Los Angeles, being a seventeen year-old African American lesbian has been tough to be quite honest…I do not understand why in 2015 we are still fighting for civil rights for different minority groups, I do not understand why it has taken years for same sex marriage to be a legal act; nor do I understand why every day there are black men, women and children who are being killed because apparently the color of their skin is just as deadly as a weapon.”

 

Adrienne Parkes

Adrienne Parkes

Adrienne Parkes, University of Pittsburgh (CF): “One of the things that caused me to shy away from religion was the lack of acceptance of those who are different.  Growing up, I felt like an oddball, one of the few biracial kids in a very white neighborhood. I had dabbled in church as a child…but I kept waiting to hear God answer me and it never happened.  This made no sense to me, so I left and never looked back.  In the years following I would learn that most churches weren’t accepting of gays and lesbians, which only affirmed my decision.  Many people are using their religion to hurt the LGBTQ community.  We see it in people like the Duggars, who are campaigning to stop trans individuals from using gender appropriate bathrooms. Or in the recent cases of businesses using “religious freedom” to justify not serving gay patrons. I believe that being a humanist, and being passionate about equal rights and fostering a positive community will create a much needed social change.”

Bryan Sierra, Carson HS

Bryan Sierra, Carson HS

Bryan Sierra, UCLA (LAUSD FIF): “During my Sophomore year of high school, I found out that I was undocumented, but didn’t know what that meant. I wanted to enroll in college classes offered at my school for free, but I needed a social security number.  I confronted my parents several times about the situation; however, I was unsuccessful in getting the nine-digit number. I continued nagging, until one day my parents sat me down and explained to me that I was not from America and that this country is not a part of who I am.  I was confused because the United States is all I had known since I was six.”  

Therrin Wilson

Therrin Wilson

Therrin Wilson, University of Tennessee (CF): “I will be the first male in my entire family to receive a college education and I am also the first to disclaim Christianity. I do not condemn religion because it has influenced people to attribute a positive impact on society hence the Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc. On the other hand, I admire humanism more because humanist act upon a worthy heart when doing positive things for the community.”

Foundation Beyond Belief Humanism @ Work Conference #BlackLivesMatter

On July 25th Foundation Beyond Belief will host the Humanism at Work conference.  Thee vent will be centered around the theme #blacklivesmatter: listen, learn, think, discuss, act. Sikivu Hutchinson will deliver the keynote speech: “Colorblind Lies & Meritocracy Myths: Moving Secular Social Justice”. 50% of the proceeds from this event will go to Community Change, Inc., a charity working directly on anti-racism education and advocacy.

Black Atheists Condemn White Terrorist Massacre at Charleston Black Church

From Black Skeptics Los Angeles

Historically, black churches have provided refuge from white supremacist subjugation and violence, while also being premier targets for white terrorism.  Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal was a sterling example of this.  Founded in 1816 by black parishioners who broke from the racist leadership of the white Methodist Episcopal Church, Emanuel AME was a forerunner for radical activist leadership.  In July 1822 founder Denmark Vesey and five others were executed for organizing what would have been the largest slave insurrection in American history.  The church was subsequently burned down by white supremacists then rebuilt in 1834, providing a vehicle for cultural events, political solidarity and civil rights organizing.

The massacre of nine Emanuel leaders and members by a white terrorist is a brutal reminder of the towering role community churches play in the lives of African Americans who are still not considered human nearly two centuries after the foiled Vesey revolt.  It is also an indictment of the nation’s spineless leadership on gun control and the authoritarian sway of the NRA lobby.  In his chilling message to his victims, the 21 year-old gunman (yet another addition to the swollen ranks of young white male mass murderers) allegedly said, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country—and you have to go”, evoking the nativist Birth of a Nation and Tea Party rhetoric that has been used to justify the lynchings of black people from the early 20th century to the present.  While Charleston is a hotbed of white supremacist and KKK activity, most terrorist assaults on black lives are within the province of state sanctioned violence.   The loss of vibrant community members and activists (a librarian, state senator and coach among them) is a heartrending outrage and yet another example of the violent myth of “Millennial” post-racialism.

 

Police Criminals and the Brutalization of Black Girls

Eric_Casebolt_215

 

 

By Sikivu Hutchinson, from The Feminist Wire

In Alice Walker’s short story “The Flowers” a little girl happens upon the decomposing body of a lynching victim while she is out picking flowers.  Walker contrasts the light tranquility of the girl’s walk with the savagery of her discovery; suggesting that to be a black child is to never be shielded from the “adult” horrors of racist dehumanization. As the girl lays down her wreath of flowers Walker’s narrator declares that “the summer was over”.   Summer’s metaphoric end signifies the brutality of a segregated nation in which black children are already othered, racialized, and criminalized in the pools, parks and recreational spaces that define white childhood innocence.

The videotaped assault and sexual harassment of 14 year-old Dajerria Becton by a rampaging white police officer after a pool party in McKinney, Texas makes it clear that it continues to be open season on black women and girls.  In the video officer Eric Casebolt grabs, straddles and violently restrains the young woman while she is lying face down on the ground in a bikini.  Ignoring her cries of pain and anxiety, he sadistically sits on her back while handcuffing her.  Casebolt then pulls a gun on a few young people who attempt to intervene.  Some of the good white citizens of McKinney have reportedly praised Casebolt’s thuggery.

The assault of Becton is an enraging reminder of the particular brand of sexual terrorism black women routinely experienced in the Jim Crow South at the hands of white law enforcement and ordinary white citizens.  In her important book, At the Dark End of the Street, Danielle McGuire chronicles how institutionalized sexual violence informed black women’s civil and human rights resistance.  Even as they were eclipsed in the mainstream civil rights movement by charismatic black male leaders, black women activists like Ida B. Wells, Recy Taylor, Claudette Colvin and Endesha Mae Holland drew on their experiences with sexual terrorism to galvanize black women organizers around the nexus of gender, race and class apartheid.

The McKinney incident underscores how even within the context of “recreation”, “normative” gender boundaries that automatically “feminize” young white women do not exist for young black women.  Little black girls can never occupy the space of carefree, feminine innocence that little white girls expect as their birthright.  They can never rely on the damsel in distress image to “rescue” them from American-as-apple pie state violence.  [Read more…]

Toxic Political Spin: A 9th Grade Atheist Freethinker Speaks

Corvalis Cohen

Corvalis Cohen

By Corvalis Cohen

There are quite a few social and political issues I have seen that really bother me. I find these to be issues mainly because of their context. These issues are often used to spin “minorities” or any opposing political party in a negative light. They are also used subjectively to push personal agendas rather than facts and actual topics. They mostly tie into one another, which is why I believe they all need to be addressed. Here are a few of those issues:

My first issue is the repetition of biased or false information in some political stances.  I find that right wing and conservative speakers often repeat false or biased information. For example, some use surveys with small selective groups to provide a biased result in order to prove a point and possibly spread misinformation.  This strategy takes advantage of an average person who most likely does not have any background information on the topic. They will learn this information from what they believe to be a factual source, when it is actually heavily biased and selectively pulls information to help prove conservatives’ point instead of what the information was meant to reflect. This biased manipulation of information causes many misconceptions and misguided views among people today.

Another issue I have is religion’s placement in political and supposedly professional environments. I find that religion is often used as a weapon or is relied on too heavily for guidance in areas it should not be, such as politics.  I’ve seen many moments of this during [Read more…]

Thugs R’ Us

Baltimore

By Sikivu Hutchinson

“Thugs”—that was virtually the first word the world heard out of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s pedigreed mouth  during her press conference on the uprising against state violence and the death of 25 year-old Freddie Gray in police custody.  Facing intense backlash, Rawlings-Blake tempered her comments at a black church where, fittingly, disgraced and/or contrite members of the black political elite often go for redemption.   The epithet “Thugs”, as it’s been pointed out numerous times, is a word that has an egregiously racial/black association.  While there are corporate thugs, police thugs, suburban thugs, crown thug oligarchs and imperialist thugs (historian Michael Parenti aptly dubbed George W. Bush the “biggest thug to occupy the White House”) the term is mainly trotted out in the mainstream when black youth are involved; conjuring up titillating neo Birth of a Nation scenes of ghetto chaos, criminality and macho swagger.   “Thugs” was law enforcement’s slur du jour in the aftermath of the Los Angeles uprising following the Rodney King Beating verdict in 1992.  The Baltimore uprising coincided with the twenty third anniversary of civil unrest in L.A.  There has been little improvement in the socioeconomic climate of South Los Angeles where much of the rebellion was focused.  The current jobs’ climate in South L.A. is bleaker than in ‘92 when the region was reeling from the decline of the aerospace industry and the region leads in the number of incarcerated youth.  Similarly, the decline of the shipping and manufacturing industries in Baltimore has gutted black incomes.  Despite being in the majority, African Americans in Baltimore make nearly less than half the income of whites and the unemployment rates of black males are over three times that of white males. Poor black youth in the city have high rates of exposure to violence, homicide and sexual assault and suffer from all of the mental and emotional health traumas associated with those disparities.

But there was no reference to these institutional factors in the mayor’s comments.  There was no indictment of the thuggery inherent to the apparatus of state violence and racialized wealth inequality that Baltimore’s black political elite have cosigned.  While condemning her constituents lawlessness, there was no recognition of her complicity in or accountability for the abysmal state of socioeconomic and educational underdevelopment that’s festered on her watch.  As one Baltimore resident “sitting on the steps of a boarded-up brick row house” stated acidly, “We ain’t talking about color.” Masters of expediency, bourgie disconnected system-identified black liberals are always comfortable trafficking in the slurs and platitudes of up-by-your-bootstraps reactionaries.  Desperately grasping at the reins of power, Negro politicians have always been adept at regurgitating the ruling class’ language in order to deflect from their own record of neglect, disservice or outright dereliction.

The dire poverty and segregation of Baltimore may be in the national spotlight now but the real question is what will conditions in the city be like for disenfranchised black residents in a decade when the cameras have gone away, the furor has died down, Rawlings-Blake has moved up the political food chain and her “liberal” colleagues, Negro or otherwise, have become more savvy with their demonizing terms of choice.

Twitter @sikivuhutch

Marco Rubio’s Flat Earth Minstrelsy

climate change

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Ever since misbegotten Republican retread Alan Keyes burst onto the scene as the anti-Obama in 2008 it seems as if every presidential race demands at least one hyper-assimilationist alpha male of color who embraces the Christian fascist God, Guns n’ Gays shtick more zealously than his overseers. In a recent interview with CBS, newly announced GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio “judiciously” conceded that being gay is not a choice but drew the line at supporting legal and constitutional protection for gay couples, claiming that “supporting the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay; it is pro-traditional marriage.” In the same interview he reiterated his willful ignorance of the science behind climate change. Both viewpoints represent a repugnant backwards conservatism more in lockstep with the Party’s demographically challenged white fathers than the “fresh” “new” constituency Rubio says he’s trying to appeal to. Rubio’s nose-thumbing climate change denialism is especially dangerous for the younger generations that he claims to represent. Failed by segregated high stakes test-happy public schools, Millennials who already struggle to grasp basic science and math don’t need a Gen X flat earther who gets his discredited theories about climate change from the Bible. And while Rubio demonizes cap and trade policies as “dangerous” to the economy hedge fund billionaires, construction conglomerates and the Koch brothers are among his top ten donors.

Cynically looking to play the ethnicity card, Rubio and his handlers haven’t even bothered to do any market research on his supposedly built-in ethnic constituency. According to the National Resources Defense Council, nine in ten Latinos believe climate change is destructive and should be substantively addressed by the federal government (indeed, 92% of Latinas believe government intervention should be a priority). Climate change ranks second only to immigration reform as the most important political issue for Latino voters. According to the Latino Decisions group, “86 percent are convinced that we have a moral duty to give our children a clean planet and that our ancestors worked and cared for the Earth, so we must continue their heritage and legacy by fighting climate change and protecting the environment.”

Banking on his bright-eyed bushy tailed persona and Latino heritage, Rubio’s brownface antics are offensive to millions of undocumented, working class people of color who see nothing but nativist anti-immigrant hysteria and capitalist greed oozing from the GOP’s platform. They are offensive to the scores of queer and trans youth of color who are overrepresented among the incarcerated, homeless and foster care populations (unlike fellow candidate Rand Paul, Rubio has yet to say a peep about mass incarceration’s impact on Latinos. The private prison operator GEO Group is one of his top ten donors). Contrary to Eurocentric images of same-sex marriage, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be in same-sex families and partnerships than are whites. Same sex families of color are also more likely to live at or below the poverty line; a stat that underscores the perniciousness of Rubio’s opposition to same sex marriage, climate change, reproductive rights and the Affordable Care Act. While corporate Dem Hillary Clinton is hardly a panacea for communities of color, a GOP presidency in brownface would plunge gay, lesbian, trans and undocumented families of color even further into poverty.

By 2044 the U.S. will become a “majority minority” nation with whites declining to 45% of the population. This means that the long term health, ecological and social impact of climate change will wreak the most destruction on poor and working class communities of color—communities already overburdened by policies that allow mega-billionaire businesses like the Koch brothers’ to profiteer and pollute with impunity. Rubio’s fealty to big business, anti-undocumented immigrant nativism and the homophobic Religious Right solidly aligns him with the very forces that would ensure the 1% remain status quo—only with a new generation of brown (and black)face flat earth minstrels doing their bidding.

Twitter @sikivhutch

#CollegeNotPrison: Secular Community Steps Up

Over the past several years, increasing militarization and policing on school campuses have made African American, Latino and Native American students even more vulnerable to harsh discipline, criminalization and pushout than ever before. When youth of color come onto high school campuses they often see scenes like this:

Gardena High School, L.A., CA

Gardena High School, L.A., CA

 

For African American students criminalization begins as early as preschool, with black students accounting for 48% of school suspensions despite comprising only 18% of the preschool population. By contrast, white students comprise 43% of all preschoolers and 26% of those suspended. Nationwide, LGBTQ and disabled students of color have some of the highest pushout rates among all student groups. Last year Black Skeptics Los Angeles became part of the Dignity in Schools campaign, a nationwide coalition of organizations working to end school pushout and redress the institutional conditions that contribute to it. As a result of these deepening trends, our First in the Family Humanist scholarship focus has expanded to include youth who are or have been system-involved.

 

For the third year of Black Skeptics Los Angeles’ First in the Family Humanist scholarship fund the secular community stepped up and helped us exceed our fundraising goal for 2015. We’d like to thank the following donors for their advocacy and generosity:

Hugo Cervantes (2013 & 2014 winner)

Hugo Cervantes (2013 & 2014 winner)

 

Bridgette Crutchfield and Minority Atheists of Michigan

Zach Moore

August Brunsman IV

Mai Dao

Mandisa Thomas and Black Non-Believers

Roy Speckhardt and the American Humanist Association

 

Jamion Allen, Tiare Hill, Elizabeth Hernandez & Kelvin Manjarrez, 2014

Darlene Pineda

Kirreck Williams

Daron Scott

David Duncan

Susan Walsh

Greg Epstein

Steve Schlosnagle

Catherine Crompton

Donald Wright

Greta Christina

James Underdown

DeAngela Morant

Victory Yates, 2013 winner, CSULB

Jennifer Taylor

Michael Lightsmith

Black Beyond Belief

Andrew Tripp

Phillip Aubrey, 2013 winner, Babson College

AJ Johnson

Debbie Goddard

Amelia Pergl

Ruth Seid

Chris Stedman

Bri Van Til

Stef McGraw

Sincere Kirabo

Perde Williams Jr.

#DeathByCop

Death by cop coffins

600 plus coffins of police murder victims

 

Yesterday Black Skeptics Los Angeles participated in and endorsed the #DeathByCop demonstration and die-in in downtown Los Angeles. The demo was organized by the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) and featured Black Lives Matter L.A., the Dignity and Power Coalition against Sheriff’s Violence and other local activist groups that have been on the frontlines of protesting state violence, terrorism and police murders in communities of color in Los Angeles as well as nationwide. The protest took place on the same day the nation was rocked by yet another revelation of a videotaped execution of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in South Carolina.

According to the Youth Justice Coalition, Los Angeles “leads the nation by far in law enforcement killings of community members”, with African Americans (who are 9% of L.A. County’s population) accounting for a whopping 28% of those killed by law enforcement. YJC reports that “since 2000 (according to data furnished by the District Attorney’s office)…there has not been a single prosecution of these cases” and that the D.A. will not investigate cases that involve use of force until law enforcement conducts its own internal investigation. One of the key policy changes that the Los Angeles coalition is pushing for is the creation of an elected citizens’ review panel that would have full subpoena powers to investigate, advise on and participate in the adjudication of cases of police brutality, shootings and killings of civilians.  Los Angeles has long been a major epicenter of police violence—from the Watts Rebellion of 1965, to the murder of African American homemaker Eulia Love in 1979, to the 1991 beating of Rodney King to the civil unrest of 1992 and into the present where “At least 617 people have been killed by law enforcement since 2000”, a figure that breaks down to one person a week.

the Youth Justice Coalition, Los Angeles “leads the nation by far in law enforcement killings of community members”, with African Americans (who are 9% of L.A. County’s population) accounting for a whopping 28% of those killed by law enforcement. YJC reports that “since 2000 (according to data furnished by the District Attorney’s office)…there has not been a single prosecution of these cases” and that the D.A. will not investigate cases that involve use of force until law enforcement conducts its own internal investigation. One of the key policy changes that the Los Angeles coalition is pushing for is the creation of an elected citizens’ review panel that would have full subpoena

Death by coppowers to investigate, advise on and participate in the adjudication of cases of police brutality, shootings and killings of civilians.  Los Angeles has long been a major epicenter of police violence—from the Watts Rebellion of 1965, to the murder of African American homemaker Eulia Love in 1979, to the 1991 beating of Rodney King to the civil unrest of 1992 and into the present where “At least 617 people have been killed by law enforcement since 2000”, a figure that breaks down to one person a week.