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.