Blessing the Slave Ships: The Black Remix

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A while back, I was at a White girlfriend’s dinner party with some academic friends, and there were two White men there who were gay and who were life partners. During the appetizers, the two men started talked badly about Christianity and Christians, calling them stupid and close-minded and homophobic. I raised my hand and defended myself as a “progressive, pro-gay, feminist Christian.”

They sort of smirked at each other and it made me mad,  but I was at a good friend’s home and there was food on the table. I was raised that you don’t break fool where you don’t pay the rent and you don’t break bread in anger, either. So I let it go.

But a few weeks later, I was spending time with the girlfriend who had thrown the dinner party and I brought up the men’s comments.  I told her that when Black folks came over here on slave ships, they had been taken from everything they knew, and they had to lie in their own physical mess—their feces, urine, and vomit. (I used a harsher word than “feces.” Full disclosure.) This must have been horrible for them.

And so, for many African Americans who had been converted to Christianity, that faith became a gift and a soft place to rest. I knew the practice of that faith had some problems, I said, but as a Christian it hurt me for her to allow people talk nasty about my faith because it took away part of my heritage.

Finally, I shared with my friend that I was a child molestation survivor and a rape survivor, too, and I had been through some real heavy stuff emotionally. (Again, I used another word other than “stuff.”). And for me,  faith in God was the only thing between me and leaving the world before my time. I loved the Lord and I loved His Son, and I wasn’t ashamed to testify about that and the importance my faith had in my life.

Then I changed the subject because I didn’t want to shame her or hurt her feelings or make her think I was looking down on her because she was an atheist; I just wanted to tell her what was on my mind, as a friend and someone who loved her.

Because she was white, I didn’t bring up the strange relationship Black folks have had with Christian theology, either, not the actual tenets of the faith, but what some White men and women have burdened with faith with.  It’s how White Europeans justified their meanness—the slave trade and its accompanying displacement, rape/molestation, and murder of Black women, children, and men—based upon their interpretation of the Bible.

Well before the slave trade started, racist theologians believed that Black people were cursed. They pointed to the story of Ham in the Bible; Ham’s the son of Noah, and he laughed at his father one night when Noah had gotten drunk and lay asleep in his tent, butt-naked. As a result of that laughter, Noah cursed his son. Throughout the ages, racist theologians have said that the “curse” Noah laid on Ham was blackness and his station as  “servant of servants.” (This story occurs in Genesis 9: 20-27 if you want to read it).

And so, for several centuries, Noah’s cursing his son was used to justify slavery.

But read that passage. You don’t see the word “black” anywhere in that Noah-Ham chapter in the Bible. You don’t even see “dark.” But that doesn’t matter, because anytime some racist White “Christians” want to explain why Black folks are less than other (White) people, they point to the story of Noah and Ham.

And in the same way, homophobic “Christians” point to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or Paul’s letters to lowrate and persecute homosexual people and explain why God doesn’t like LGBT people.

Bishop Eddie Long has done this theological remix in the name of his homophobia, but he is not alone. T.D. Jakes has preached of the sins of homophobia, even as he is celebrated on the pages of Black publications such as Essence Magazine, smiling and flashing his seemingly kind, gap-toothed smile.

On a personal note, I have broken off friendships with Black Christian friends because of their homophobia. I’ve stopped coming to my family reunions, too, because of this religious hatred.  I’ve had people tell me, “Family is family.” But tell me, would you pay hundreds of dollars to show up to a reunion where your White relatives used the “N-word” or your male relatives called women “b—-es” and “h–s”?

You know, I just don’t need good barbecue that bad to suffer through somebody praying about “the evils of men wearing dresses.”

Over the past few days since the Bishop Eddie Long scandal has broken, I’ve been reading many articles about homophobia and the Black church, but what I’ve found so curious and tragic is the twisting of theology. My guest blogger L. Lamar Wilson put his finger right on it, how theology is altered for the purposes of the one who’s really doing the wrong.

Ever since the Eddie Long scandal broke, I’ve been thinking about the notion of slavery, and what I told my friend about those young folks kidnapped and place on slave ships. When we had our talk I didn’t mention that in the past, White folks picked on African Americans because of a biblical interpretation, and now, given the chance Black folks will pick on our own because of biblical interpretations. I was too embarrassed and thought that maybe it would undercut my whole “testimony.”

We Black folks always go back to slavery and talk about how we’ve been “’buked and scorned” over the centuries; we bring up those slave ships that our ancestors rode in, laying in their filth and carrying their heart-hurt. Yet we are now guilty of the spiritual abominations of slave catchers and masters when we nurture homophobia in our community and our churches and say nothing. A few of us blogging and a few more of us reading and quietly saying, “Amen” in front of our computer screens is not going to lift our sins, either.

White slave ship captains would get preachers to cloak those slave ships in the word of God. They used theology to justify murder and rape and child molestation because Africans needed to be brought to Jesus–and now Black Christian homophobia does exactly the same thing and blesses a new kind of slave ship. They use the Bible to tell LGBT black folks–their kin– that they are headed to hell and that Jesus hates them because of the way they were born to love.

If we Black folks are going to talk about the moral responsibility that America owes our Black community, we should think about the type of community we need to be to deserve that ongoing help, because it doesn’t come for free. And a community that justifies hatred or looks away when they see it is not a community deserving of help in the name of morality and in the name of past–or even present– sins committed against us.

Maybe I’m naïve, but I was raised that being African American in this country was supposed to mean something great and worthy, something that we could be proud of.

I was taught by my mother, who is a godly progressive Christian woman, that when we Black folks stand on that testimony rock to talk about the pain of four hundred years, we are lifted up by something greater than ourselves: The struggles of our ancestors. The merciful God of our weary years. The blood of our mighty good Jesus.

Call me self-righteous, but call me a true Christian, too. And to that charge, I hope and pray I am able to answer, “Guilty.”

7 thoughts on “Blessing the Slave Ships: The Black Remix

  1. Honoree, I don’t know what to say after reading this, it has taken me a few moments because I have shed some tears (although the girls will tell you on face book that I cry easily). Reading your story, put me into instant tears. As you know, or may not know, I am Jewish and was brought up to accept everyone’s religion, color, gender, etc. I have to say my family is involved with Reform Judaism which is one of the most liberal, so I can not speak of all the people of the Jewish faith. I can never know what it is like to be black, or to understand the faith of Christianity, and I also wonder about all the wonderful beliefs that must have been lost due to the forced conversion, but as you say that was a long time ago. I have been asked about the horns in my head, I have been called some of the names I won’t use here and anti-semitisism is on the rise. I am sorry that you had to attend a dinner, where people were rude, close-minded and unable to realize that we are not all homophobic, we are not all anti-semetic, we are not all racist, or anti one religion or another, that many of us do subscribe to the belief of looking for something good in everyone and trying to give that goodness back to them. I am not a writer, so I hope this makes sense.

  2. This is off and on the subject, because it does relate to the faith in ones religion. One of your friends just made a comment so I re-read this posting and if I am so far off forgive me, but I have no where to write my thoughts. Here in California, there are two cities that are trying to bring up a ban against circumcism, San Francisco has enough votes for the ballet in November and Santa Monica is working on getting the proposition of the ballet for November. For us Jewish people and for the people who follow the Mulim faith, circumcism is a very important ritual that goes “way back” having to do with cleanliness, just as the not eating of pork products probably had to do with the way they were cooked 1000’s of years ago. I asked my son who lives in the East Bay area who was behind the proposition, because I just couldn’t understand who would be involving themselves in a religious practice, that in most cases takes place safely in the hospital. I understand that it is the gay community that is trying to ban circumcism, which is very important to the practice of our religion, besides the fact that WHO has announced that it is slowly reducing HIV in Africa, and Jewish woman have been know to have less occurance of cervical cancer due to circumcised partners.

    I know this is not about slaves, Honoree’, but it is about someone inserting themselves in one’s religious faith. Circumcism on males is not the same as female mutalation, one is for keep the penis cleaner and one is for making sure the woman has no sexual pleasure and remains pure. If this is not appropriate for your site, you may remove it, but once again, it is the subject of faith, when people have gone through very hard times to get where they are, many times it is their faith that brought to this point and keeps them going.

    I was offended by what you had to sit through that night, and I posted so. I am really disturbed when people start going after other people’s religious values. Someone will come up with the argument of more than one wife, etc, but that is not where I am at, I am talking about the faith and hope that one’s religion brings to them. Many Jewish people had to convert to Catholicism to stay alive during 1930’s and 1940’s and I would not take there beliefs away from them.

  3. Your a fool for following the white mans false religion and false prophets.
    whats the use in being lynched by the KKK and the black people saying “forgive them, they no not what they are doing”.. the fact is, they knew EXACTLY what they were doing, they had done it every night of the week in a clan and horse back.
    If you wanna be a christian that turns the other cheek and surrenders to the white devil, then more fool you!
    If you wanna be recognize yourself and look at the history you lost. Become a Muslim!
    Stop worshiping a white Jesus!
    Where are you from? Your surname is not “Spencer”, “Jones” or “Smith”. In Africa we dont have names like that.
    Time to recognize who you are, instead of being a christian among white people who dont accept you and lets face it. They only practice Christianity 1 day a week. Become a Muslim, reconnect yourself with your brothers and sisters.
    Stop turning the other cheek.
    In fact, you should have not broke bread with such fools. Just leave the table!

  4. You know that the story of Ham is not the only biblical story used to excuse / “justify” slavery right? Leviticus 25:44-46 Exodus 21:2-6 Exodus 21:20-21 and in the New Testament, Ephesians 6:5 1 Timothy 6:1-2 . Maybe those guys were a bit close minded, but remember, this stuff IS in the bible, and while most christians have never read the bible beyond what was mentioned by their preacher on sunday, its still how christianity is viewed. Also, you don’t seem to acknowledge that many African Americans joined churches as a way of escaping torment, or finding comfort in an otherwise uncaring allegedly ‘christian’ nation. as for Lee X’s comments… the Muslims were shipping slaves out of EAST Africa before the Europeans Christians started wholesale slave trading from WEST Africa. Don’t pretend one religion is better than another. They both have their flaws when it comes to human rights.

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