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By T.J. Williams
In recent years I have committed myself to the work of justice that speaks loudly and boldly to proclaim that God is on the side of the oppressed. As a seminarian and an African American faith leader, I continue to hear progressive clergy speak out against sexism, poverty and economic injustice, but so many stop short of naming homophobia as an injustice.
When I think of the children who have killed themselves after being bullied by taunts of being gay, I weep. The silence of faith leaders who support gay people privately contributes to this loss. And of course, many lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender young people and their families have become used to hearing they are not loved by God. Homophobia does violence to the well being of our children and families—whether we are gay or straight, transgender or gender conforming. No apology after the fact can bring back a child’s life. We must speak out to stop the losses and the harm.
In just a few days, May 22-24, I am joining hundreds of clergy with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. to tell our stories to legislators and the world. There is a word of hope—there is a word of honesty to be shared. Our stories are changing history. Anti-bullying legislation, employment protection and immigration changes are all on the table so that all people can live their lives in peace, regardless of who they love or who they are. Our stories—our truth telling—is making a difference.
I submit that the message of scripture is good news for the oppressed. Hearing the stories of gay and lesbian youth and families is hearing liberation and freedom into being. It is also my story as an African American man studying to be a pastor. The gospel infused into our African American stories created black theology and the black church, because we heard the stories of those crying out for justice and understood that God walked with us.
Gay and lesbian folks have always been part of the black church. Whether in the choir, the pulpit or the pews, we have been there. Today, we long for words of hope and honesty from our gospel singers, our preachers and our neighbors. But too often, homophobia is heard in the pulpit and people take the message of bad news for gay and transgender people into their jobs, schools and neighborhoods. Without a word of encouragement, we are left with the discouraging message that gay and transgender lives and stories are to be ignored at best and condemned at worst.
The stories about God in the Bible tell us that God is with us and that we do not have to be afraid to be prophetic. Being a prophet is simply a matter of speaking the truth. The truth is, that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people are created by God and loved by God. And God has already honored gay rights; therefore, it’s time for the church to catch up with God. We have always been part of the church and all faith traditions. It’s time to tell our stories. It’s time to tell the truth.
T.J. Williams is a member of American Baptist Churches USA, a minister-in-training at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, and a master of divinity student at New York Theological Seminary, where T.J. is also a member of the historic Riverside Church. In 2001 and 2002, T.J. organized the first two years of Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS that took place in the rotunda of the Mahoning County Courthouse in Youngstown, Ohio. Last year, T.J. was a guest speaker at Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” march.