Dec 2, 2010

A different kind of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' thrives in black church

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell", as we know it, was introduced in the early 1990s when President Bill Clinton presented the policy as a "compromise" in the debate over whether gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women should be allowed to serve openly in the armed services.

If an individual was believed or found out to be same gender loving they were given immunity from being barred from the military. However, individuals who were living openly were barred from joining the military.

Long before President Clinton's time, the same issue was alive and well within the black church, said Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, professor of Homiletics and director of Black Church Studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA. And it began not long after integration.

Prior to integration, say the Harlem Renaissance, a person's sexual identity was not an issue.

"That was what you did and who you were," Fry Brown said. "But the more we identified with other cultures, the more we would step on one another. We became so mind alteringly obsessed with others' sexuality. It made us turn on one another."

At one time, the black church was the home of unity, love, and acceptance. It was the black church that served as the home of the civil rights movement. It was the black church that helped strengthen the black community. But then the obsession made its way into the church -- thanks to the influence of some conservative capital.

Who a person slept with and how they lived became a cause of critique, that is except for the choir director or minister of music.

The minister of music is a coveted position, said Rev. Charles E. Collins, Jr., a Baptist preacher from Chicago who is now an associate minister Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, GA.

"You don't talk about him or her, but particularly him, at least until you leave the church house and only in passing," said Collins. "The 'mothers' protect that one, the preachers depend on him and the church, well they live for his music. So they excuse him and love on him while everyone else is an open target."

Growing up with a mother who was a choir director in Kansas City, Fry Brown said the main critiques of the choir director were that he, or she, were either sleeping with all the women in the church (if they were a man), gay or living with their mother.

No one talked about the sexual identity of the choir directors then, but everyone knew about them. Labels like, "He's special" or "She's special" were always placed upon the director. But that was as far as it went.


"It is because of the importance of their role in the worship experience. It is because of the pure benefit that these men and women bring to the church. They are creative; gifted, and I dare to say...anointed at the highest level," said Collins. "They add to the religious experience. And when done with excellence, as many of these folk are capable of achieving, the church experience comes alive."

Showstoppers are how Philip David Hill, minister of music of the Victory Church in Stone Mountain, GA, describes them.

"It seems as though the most talented singers in the church, the most talented musicians in the church just happen to be gay," he said. "I don't know why that is. People go where they are most talented. It just is what it is."

Hill said it is not a matter of trying to hide the fact that these individuals are gay. It just is not talked about.




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