What can we learn about the texture of Christian ethics by observing how African American congregations have historically dealt with issues related to sexuality?

– Gayraud S. Wilmore

It should be clear to anyone who keeps up with such things that the majority of African American Christians, if asked to vote yea or nay tomorrow on the ordination of lesbian and gay people to the ministry or to important lay offices, would vote nay…

However, this conservatism of the mainline Black churches, and their sisters and brothers who remained in the predominantly white denominations, is nuanced in some peculiar ways that even Black scholars are aware of but do not fully comprehend. The churches made notable exceptions when communal values overrode moralistic constraints…

This kind of finely discriminated and nuanced observance of Biblical literalism regarding matters of sexual impropriety points to a deep-lying humanism, and even pragmatism, in African American religion. To those on the outside it may smack of hypocrisy (and often it can be explained in no other way), but I think more frequently it shows that in the windy interstices of a rigid structure of conservative Christian ethics, built up over years of Bible-thumping sermons on Sunday mornings, sawdust trail revivals, and unrelenting prayer bands and evangelistic efforts of all kinds, there is a common sense and unsanctimonious realism in the faith of African Americans that tends toward the shalom of the community, toward forgiveness, toward inclusivity and prudential tolerance…

Read the whole essay.

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