Most polls show African-Americans evenly divided in their views of gay marriage, but a small group of Black pastors who are vocal in their assertions that homosexuality is a sin (such as Kim Burrell, a pastor and gospel singer whose diatribe went viral in January 2017, earning her a disinvite from the Ellen TV show) have commanded all the attention. The real story, however, is more nuanced: rather than a conservative anomaly within a singularly progressive tradition, black churches and their clerical leaders were both the hyper-homophobic foil to and a formidable voice for LGBTQ equality. And with the increased visibility of police violence, the church slayings in Charleston, South Carolina, the murder of George Floyd, and the increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, renewed attention has been given to a host of issues that, some would suggest, make women's, gay, and transgender rights connected to sexuality a lesser concern within black communities. But the continuing appeals to freedom of religion as a means of opposing gay and women's sexual rights--which many Black clergy still oppose on theological or moral grounds--make it reasonable to ask how are we to understand the relationship between the cultural politics of black churches and how these churches (and their members) participate in the formal processes of electoral politics?
Josef Sorett (PhD, African American Studies and Religion, Harvard) is Professor and Chair of Religion and Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, where he is also Director of the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics, and Social Justice. He is the author of Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford, 2016) and The Holy, Holy Black: The Ironies of an African American Secular (Oxford, forthcoming). In addition to his scholarly publications he writes for popular media including the Huffington Post, The New York Times, and the Washington Post, and he has appeared on ABC News, the BBC, and NPR.
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