Op-ed: Same Church, Different Song of Equality

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com September 08 2011 3:00 AM ET

The scene that unfolded
last week as proponents
for gay rights were expelled from Southern Missionary Baptist Church in
California seemed out of sync with its history. It’s not how I remember the
community.

The year: 1963. The place: the very same
popular and well attended black church nestled on the west side of Los Angeles.
The political climate: blacks engaged in a revolutionary struggle against Jim
Crow laws, hoping to eventually eradicate them and acquire civil rights — a
struggle that would ultimately change the political climate of America forever.
Standing in the wings is a young visionary by the name of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr., destined to emerge as leader of this new cutting-edge movement and
perhaps the most revered and inspiring black civil rights leader humanity has
ever known.

At the piano is the incomparable Bertha
Keys, daughter of the renowned Dr. Rev. Kelly Keys (pastor of the church) and
over in the opposite corner, an extremely gifted organist (affectionately known
as Jimmy). Center stage is a choir stand filled with young talented voices from
all over the city. Suddenly the music begins to play and in typical worship
fashion, feet begin to tap, hands begin to clap and the music fills the huge
sanctuary as a young man only 9 years of age walks down the aisle singing from
the depths of his soul, “Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham, oh
rock-a-my-soul!”

Suddenly one of the church mothers rises to
her feet, followed by hundreds of other parishioners and shouts to the
9-year-old boy, “Sang baaaaaaby sang!” Hats begin to fly, wigs get turned
around, and purses get tossed in the aisle as ushers rush to parishioners’
sides in an effort to calm down those who appear to be overwhelmed with emotion
from the Holy Ghost, as they dance in the aisles vocalizing shouts of praise.

The little child singing is me, Terry Angel
Mason, only one of hundreds of other same-gender-loving children who grew up in
this church and spent what seemed like thousands of hours in worship services,
choir rehearsals, prayer meetings and participating in countless other church
events.

Now the year is 2011 and reflections of Jim
Crow are as apparent as it was in the ‘60s, as evidenced by the emergence of
radical right-wing groups like the Tea Party, STOP
SB 48 and religious extremists known as The Family
. Now, same-gender loving
people have moved to the forefront of the modern day Civil Rights Movement as
we struggle to achieve equality, not just for ourselves but for all
disenfranchised and marginalized people who are victims of homophobia and
discrimination.

The new Southern Missionary Baptist Church
that was recently caught on video cameras as gay people were ejected from the
premises has been transformed from a traditional red brick building to a
new contemporary stucco building with beautiful stained glass and lush red pews
that replaced the old wooden ones damaged by an earthquake. The pastor now is Xavier L. Thompson,
who invited clergy on Wednesday from all over Los Angeles County to Southern
Missionary Baptist Church in an effort to overturn SB 48. The law, which was
recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, and which is dubbed the FAIR Education
Act, ensures the correct teaching of the history of the LGBT community, along
with that of the disabled and other minorities.

As a civil rights activist I am not
surprised that black religious leaders would attempt to reverse this
legislation because of the false and inaccurate distortions that have been
purposely spread in the black community about the bill.

The
opponents of SB 48
have once again skillfully and masterfully played
upon the deeply entrenched homophobic prejudices of the black church. They have
once more distracted black religious leaders by distorting the issues
that SB 48 addresses. 

“We believe you cannot sexualize history,”
Pastor Thompson explained
to a news crew.

But the new law has nothing to do with sex.
It merely enforces the fair writing of history, meaning all those who have
meaningful and positively contributed to history should have their
contributions accurately chronicled regardless of race, gender, sexual
orientation or disability. It is a bill that promotes inclusiveness and
proscribes and prohibits the bigoted omissions that have denied Americans the
complete truth about how all types of Americans have contributed to this great
land of ours.

But because the black church has been so
historically and irrationally homophobic, all the opponents of SB 48 had to do
was wave the rainbow flag in their faces, invoke the word “homosexual”
and then sit back and cunningly watch as Black religious leaders do their
dirty work by mobilizing to repeal a bill that actually honors and protects the
contributions of all minorities, regardless of race and sexuality. Talk about
throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Moreover, in their fanatic zealousness to
begin this misguided process of repeal, the leaders of Southern Missionary
Baptist Church committed one of the most un Christ-like actions of all — they
expelled from the church all other interfaith religious leaders and proponents
of SB 48 who peacefully attended in order to dialogue with them. They even
implied physical threat if gay rights supporters refused to leave.
 

What kind of message does this send to our
LGBT youth? What message does it send to the 9-year-old boy who verges on a
fight for his own emotional, spiritual and physical survival as he sits in
those same pews Sunday after Sunday, hearing himself marginalized and damned to
hell?

What kind of message are those of us who
are Christians sending to that little boy, and to the world, if we do not step
up and speak truth to power and firmly declare that our God is a god of love,
mercy — and equality.

 

 

Terry Angel Mason is a gay HIV/AIDS activist and author. His book Love
Won’t Let Me Be Silent speaks about homosexuality and homophobia in the
black community. Look for his upcoming book,
They Say That I Am
Broken, this fall.