May 17, 2002
In one-on-one chats and resounding sermons, the Rev. Kenneth Samuel is trying to lead his 6,000-strong congregation on a path few black churches have trod: wholehearted acceptance of lesbians and gays. After convincing himself that homophobia should be combated as zealously as racism, Samuel severed his Victory Church's links with black- and white-led Baptist organizations. He plans to affiliate next month with the liberal United Church of Christ.
Grateful for Samuel's encouragement, some gays and lesbians have risen to leadership posts at the church in Stone Mountain, Ga., but many congregation members remain dubious of the changes. "We're still working through it," Samuel said. "You can't just get up and say, 'OK, that settles it.' I'm trying to get the message out there that any kind of exclusion of persons -- based upon their color, their gender, their sexual persuasion -- is wrong."
While some new, alternative churches have formed in recent years, only a handful of established black churches -- mostly in big cities -- have sent a clear welcome message to gays. Most black ministers, like many of their white counterparts, believe the Bible condemns homosexuality.
In a newly released survey of more than 2,500 black gays and lesbians, 54 percent said their church or religion view homosexuality as "wrong and sinful." Donna Payne works with black churches as a field organizer for the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights advocacy group. She describes the homophobia in those churches as "a silent disapproval, sending a message to black gays and lesbians that they're not welcome." "There are no policies in the African Methodist Episcopal Church that acknowledge that," she said, referring to one of the largest black denominations. "It's not something they would write down, so there's not something there you can challenge."
05.16.02; David Crary
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.