Race and religion found themselves front and center this week. Thanks to Barack Obama, our nation’s again grappling – and hopefully conquering – what the Senator referred to as our “original sin”.
While some citizens are only just now giving race and religion a thorough mulling, Horace Griffin’s never known a life without melanin-induced tension, nor can he remember a time without Christianity.
Griffin’s Pentecostal minister father and Baptist mother made sure to teach their children the scripture. But the scripture Griffin read as a child and the scripture he preaches today are widely different.
Griffin’s parents, community and pastors all preached against homosexuality, providing him with plenty of self-hating fuel for his anti-gay sermons.
It wasn’t until he went to Morehouse, which he describes as historically homophobic, that Griffin actually faced other gay people. Despite what recognition he may have seen, Griffin continued on his anti-Mary way, garnering quite a following – and a tortured soul. Griffin entered seminary after Morehouse, but ended up taking some time off to battle his personal demons.
Upon his return, however, a fellow gay student, who would become his boyfriend, urged Griffin to reread the Bible and see how it had been used to support discrimination. That first step – that rereading of the Bible – led Griffin out of the closet, a narrative that proves central in his book, Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians And Gays in Black Churches.
Our editor sat down with Griffin this week to discuss race, religion and sexuality here in the United States, particularly in light of Barack Obama’s aforementioned speech. Griffin’s remarks here offer more than just one man’s perspective on racism and homophobia in America, but keen, frank observations on America’s forced ignorance:
I think that most people are still so uncomfortable with race. They just want it to go away. It’s kind of like how they want gays ands lesbians to go away. The average person doesn’t want to work at hard issues. They find it too painful, it makes them too uncomfortable. They don’t want to own their participation in that oppression and change their way of living.
Griffin also offers some insight into the use of the monolithic black church in American politics, particularly with relation to gay Americans, who, he says, are quite right in fearing black religious leaders.
Read all about it, after the jump…
Andrew Belonsky: Let’s start with perhaps an uncomfortable topic. I know you previously preached against homosexuality.
Horace Griffin: Well, at the time, I didn’t think I was gay. You’re taught in the church that if you pray to God, he’ll deliver you from sin. I thought homosexuality was a sin at that time, so I was being delivered from sin and thought I was cured. This was the Anita Bryant period and she was in Florida and I remember giving this high school speech against homosexuality and my teacher actually supported it. So, you have a very homophobic culture both in the church and outside. There was really no one challenging this. It was sort of self-evident.
AB: Did you see the ministry as a way to escape your homosexuality?
HG: It was a sincere thing. I really felt called to this ministry. I was very active in the church all my life, very much into everything the church offered. It was spiritual, but a lot of gay boys in particular go through that “the good boy” syndrome and I think that was playing into my identity and participation in the church.
AB: So, when did you start to crack away at your sexuality?
HG: When I went to college at Morehouse College. My mother really didn’t want me to go. She suspected I was gay and I remember her raising questions about “so many homosexuals” at Morehouse. But I went and I guess it was not so much the consciousness raising, but I did confront homosexuality when I went to college, just because there were many gays on campus. Regardless, I continued with preaching sermons against homosexuality, writing letters in the school newspaper. It didn’t come to a head until the summer after college, when I had my first sexual experience with a man, which was a wonderful experience, but also created major conflict with what I was thinking, my ideology and my theology. It was actually the seminary that challenged my views, where I started having a different perspective about homosexuality.
AB: And what happened there?
HG: I knew of several gay students at seminary and had my first boyfriend, who challenged my sinful view of homosexuality. He said, “We believe this because we were taught it.” For the first time, I thought, “Well, it’s not so self-evident” and then as I studied the Bible in seminary, I began to make some connections with race – the Bible being used to support slavery.
AB: Does that influence your relationship with the church?
HG: I’m so tied to the church – I am a priest, after all – I’m committed to the church, I love the church, but the church often causes me to grieve, because I see the pain and suffering that the church inflicts upon people. I struggle with the church because of that, but I think that the church is going to be here for the rest of our lives, so those of us who are committed to the true gospel must continue to be a voice crying out for people.
AB: Gay people were all over the national landscape during the 2004 election. Now it’s people of color, primarily black people, who are propelling the news stories. Do we always have to have a group that’s the certain apex for debate in American politics? That’s what Obama was saying in his speech this week. Did you get a chance to listen to it?
HG: Yeah, I caught almost all of it. I mean, I thought it was really good, because dealt with race. Race is front and center, race is the issue, but I have a problem when we compartmentalize these issues of oppression. I don’t believe in a hierarchy of oppression. When we talk about racism, we’re also talking about discrimination, we’re talking about bigotry, including that against gays and lesbians. Now, I say that, but let me hasten to say that I think there are time when we just need to deal with racism or just deal with homophobia or sexism. I think there are particular issues that come up that must be addressed, because we don’t all experience life the same way. I don’t experience life as a woman. I don’t have gender oppression. White gays and lesbians aren’t going to go through the same things that blacks – heterosexual or homosexual – are going through: police targeting and having white women grabbing their purses. Those are things that white gay men aren’t going to experience.