Article on lawsuit raises questions about whether predominantly African-American congregations are subject to different standards
Editor’s Note: The number of gay-affirming Methodist churches in our Feb. 10 article was based on an online database maintained by GayChurch.org.
In a Feb. 10 article in Dallas Voice describing a lawsuit filed against the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church and our recently resigned senior pastor, Tyrone Gordon, contributing writer David Webb distinguished St. Luke from the “six gay-affirming Methodist churches in the Dallas area” and stated that the “congregation includes some LGBT members.”
Although Webb’s statements were an attempt to illustrate St. Luke as gay accessible, his comments unintentionally reduced the congregation’s track record of fighting for human rights, social justice and inclusion.
As a member of St. Luke for nearly six years and as an active member of the LGBT community, this causes me to question the required actions needed in order to deem a church “gay affirming” — especially in light of St. Luke’s efforts not only for the liberation of its gay members, but for all sexual minorities within the state of Texas.
A core value of the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church is to be an advocate and a prophetic voice in the community for all oppressed peoples. Although the membership is largely African American and heterosexual, homosexuals are included the churches understanding of “Community.”
In my opinion, St. Luke has not only served as a place for spiritual development, but also as a safe haven for members of the African-American LGBT community.
It was not uncommon for Pastor Gordon to clarify God’s inclusion of gays in his lineage within his sermons. Gordon has preached sermons where he stated, “Gay or straight, you’re a child of God,” and, “The church needs gay fish and straight fish.” Gordon even facilitated the removal of a member of the St. Luke ministerial team a few years ago when she preached a very homophobic sermon. But these statements of gay Christian identity and affirmation and creating a safe space for sexual minorities didn’t start with Pastor Gordon.
His predecessor, Pastor Zan Wesley Holmes, described by Webb as a “a respected civil rights leader,” was also known to preach of and create an environment of inclusion. Additionally, Pastor Holmes was an avid supporter of the passage of hate crimes legislation in Texas, a position that he has stated he took not only because of the crimes committed against racial minorities but also because of those committed because of one’s sexual identity. Holmes’ support and work with State Rep. Helen Giddings, a St. Luke member, led to the church being vandalized in 2001.
The St. Luke church, under the leadership of Pastor Holmes, was also a forerunner against the fight of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Dallas. As an early responder, the church created care teams to provide aid and services to people living with HIV and AIDS and made it a point not to discriminate against the gay men who were disproportionately affected by the epidemic.
And this list does not include the very personal actions that Pastors Holmes and Gordon have taken to provide pastoral care to St. Luke’s LGBT membership, myself included.
Since the only requirement detailed for something to be considered “gay affirming” is to affirm gays, I wonder how only six local United Methodist Churches acquired that designation — or are there other requirements needed in order to gain membership into the sisterhood? And are the inclusionary practices of St. Luke not a valid source of gay affirmation?
But more importantly, who gets to decide what levels of affirmation are needed even for consideration and are African American’s and other people of color left out of that conversation? Surely that has been the case on other issues related to the wants and needs of the overall gay community, such as things like marriage equality.
For me, my spirituality is based on my individual relationship with my higher power and in that same vein, I believe individuals determined how their spiritual institutes affirm them based on individual desire and need and multiple local United Methodist institutes (more than six) can potentially offer that. But if the very well documented gay affirming actions of the St. Luke “Community” United Church does not position it to be a source of affirmation for sexual minorities, then we are working off of a broken metric system — and it is our work to create an evaluation and reworking of that structure.
The St. Luke Community United Methodist Church has and continues to be a prophetic voice for all oppressed people. That is partially the reason many gay notables such as Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, continue to call it their church home. And every
Sunday when we proclaim through song that “we are the church that reaches up to God and out to everyone,” take it from me, gays are included.
Harold Steward is artistic director of Fahari Arts Insitute and editor in chief of BlaqOut Dallas. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.