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Will the Eddie Long Sex Scandal Force Black Churches to Confront Their Homophobia?

The sordid tale of megachurch Bishop Eddie Long may provide an opportunity for black churches to deal with their regressive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians.

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Aaron says the gay community in Atlanta has known for some time that Long was a hypocrite. He has personally seen the bishop on numerous occasions out at the mall with young, attractive men who were either gay or bisexual. The gay community in Atlanta is upset, he says, by the hypocrisy, but not surprised.

“When the news broke,” Aaron said. “It was like, ‘Oh, there it is.”

On the upside, Aaron says the accusations have touched off numerous conversations in Metro Atlanta about gay African Americans and their place in the black church. The black church has historically accepted gay folks as long as they kept silent about their sexuality. Many African American gays and lesbians have accepted these limited roles for the sake of having a place within the black community. You can walk into just about any black church in the country and find dozens of gay folks present. Gay men are leading the choir. They are ushering you to your seat. They are cooking the church’s Sunday dinner.

"Gay men and lesbians have always been present in the black church, actively engaged at that," said Joshua Altson in a Sept. 23 Newsweek.com article. "The prevalence of gay men in black church choirs and bands, for example, is accepted but not widely discussed. The unspoken agreement is that gay men get to act as seraphim, so long as they are willing to shout in agreement as they are being flagellated from the pulpit. It’s an indignity some gay men subject themselves to each and every Sunday. Why should they have to live this way?"

Alston recalled how another black pastor in Atlanta, Dennis Meredith, had gone from espousing anti-gay views to "preaching acceptance" once his own son came out as gay. While some parishioners left, rather than hear a message of love and acceptance for gays, they were replaced by new congregants looking for a church that would accept and affirm them.

"Long’s predicament is bringing back to the surface the endless debate over whether or not homosexuality is fundamentally moral or acceptable, a debate that preachers like Long have prolonged with their bigoted teachings," Alston wrote. "It’s about the black community on the whole and whether or not gay men and lesbians are going to be considered full citizens in it."

Ray Taliaferro, of the San Francisco Bay area, is just one of many longtime civil rights activists who have used the Long scandal as an opportunity to blast black homophobia.

"It is inhumane to do what black people do when they approach the issue of homosexuality," Taliaferro told the San Francisco Examiner. "Why is it that black people, my people, feel they got to get up in the pulpit and they have to condemn a very active segment of the population of our society who happen to be gay, who happen to be homosexual?"

Taliaferro is a former San Francisco NAACP president and has been a choir director for years at several churches in San Francisco.

Addressing the Eddie Long case, Taliaferro said, "That is just typical. You will have a black man and he will put on a robe and he'll address a large congregation, and man he'll rail against being gay and he'll rail against the sin of homosexuality and he'll rail against all that stuff and he can't wait until what God made him comes into play, and as soon as the sermon is over, he goes into the choir room and grabs one of the choir boys and they go off and have a wonderful time. When, oh when, are people in the black community going to stop preaching that crap? It is crap. It is inhumane to put down wonderful people because of their homosexuality."

 
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