It took me a while to get here.
Not to the point of LGBT acceptance but to the point of not worrying about what other folks may think of me as the pastor of Exodus Missionary Outreach Church in Hickory, North Carolina.
I never had a problem affirming LGBT people.
When I was a kid, there was a gay fellow that played cards on the weekends with the adults in the neighborhood. He had been their friend and was well-received. As children, we knew he was different, but in my hood, we never talked bad about him.
There was a kid in our hood whom we all knew was gay. His mom and my mother were nurses together. He was a part of my community. We joked, as kids would do, about his mannerisms but nobody was going to mess with them on our watch.
Fortunately, I never heard my parents talk badly about anybody being gay. We were just trying to survive. We looked out for one another. We were friends. We were family. We had a common bond. We shared in the same pain. We shared in the same struggle.
As a prison chaplain, I started bringing people out of prison into the church—everyone from recovering drug addicts to homeless people. I got a lot of criticism from the traditional church.
I knew that that was not the Jesus I read in the Bible. Jesus in the Bible had no partiality.
Folks want to bring partiality in the Scripture sometimes and that’s not God. I read the Scripture not just with my mind but also my heart. It’s got to match up with my heart. I’ve got to ask, “Is this God’s character?”
Scripture has been used to deny men and women their rights—to promote slavery, deny interracial couples the right to get married, justify persecution of the Jews, support Apartheid and the Ku Klux Klan, condemn women as witches, and now to refuse gays and lesbians their rights. You’ve got to dive deep into the Scripture—look at culture, history, and context.
Even though we say Scripture is without error, we’re taking a big risk to say that our understanding is without error.
Back in 2007, I spoke out about LGBT equality and against then presidential candidate Senator John Edwards’ opposition to the freedom to marry. (He attributed his anti-LGBT beliefs to his Southern Baptist background.) The video with me voicing my support for my LGBT brothers and sisters went viral. I soon found myself on the cover of national newspapers. Then I received backlash from my peers that left me struggling to defend my views.
But there were gay and transgender members in my church. I was standing at the church doors hugging them—sitting with them and their spouses in the pews giving them relationship and spiritual advice. I was getting to know them as people and I realized that I needed to be an advocate. I couldn’t shy away from the spotlight and the scrutiny. It would have been sinful for me not to stand up for the rights of others, especially being Black and discriminated against as an ex-inmate. Far be it from me to do to folks what has been done to me.
As allies, we have to be more intentional about working with the LGBT community.
We must continue to be advocates, dare to speak truth to power on behalf of LGBT people, and inform ourselves and our congregation around biblical teachings. It’s also critical to have folks from the LGBT community participate in roles of leadership and be visible, whether that be making announcements or leading Bible study.
I didn’t come up in the church as some folks have. I came up as a street hustler and I was raised by community. Community doesn’t turn their back on you.