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by Max Smith

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The Chicago Defender has a 99-year history of empowering the Black community. Its May 22, 2004 weekend edition's front-page headline was 'Black Gays, Lesbians Claim Anti-Gay Hate Being Fueled.' The nearly half-page photo just below that headline included several people from Church of The Open Door, one of whom held a poster that said 'Black Christians For Gay Marriage.' It was coverage of a rally at the Cook County Building. In the accompanying page 3 article Rev. James Meeks, a state senator and pastor of Salem Baptist Church, and Bishop Larry Trotter of Sweet Holy Spirit Church were singled out for broadcasting rabidly anti-gay sermons.

One of those sermons, or the cumulative effect of several of them may have led to the suicide of a 26-year-old woman in May. What is clear is that in Boston, Atlanta and Chicago anti-gay ministers are organizing support for Bush's proposed federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Their intolerant and hostile rhetoric about same-gender love in sermons does a lot of emotional damage to many people. They leave LGBT people in their congregations spiritually broken. Hetero people who hear them get an 18th Century understanding of scriptures they use to clobber SGL folk.

To coincide with the ongoing public debate on gay marriage, I actively participated in a series of Bible study workshops at Open Door to memorize 21st Century understandings of those 'clobber scriptures.'

On Sunday, June 13, 2004 I visited Sweet Holy Spirit Church to hear Bishop Trotter in person. On that day it was announced that Bishop Trotter is about to become the leader of his entire denomination. On Nov. 13, 2004 Bishop Trotter is to be installed as International Presiding Prelate of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ. That he is set to lead over 300 local churches is all the more reason to challenge his 18th Century understanding of what the Bible says and does not say about same-gender love. Without mentioning Rev. Karen Hutt of Church of The Open Door by name June 13, Bishop Trotter did complain to his congregation about the people who have criticized him. Then, rather than give the anti-gay sermon I expected, Bishop Trotter instead, with no shame, flagrantly violated the clear teaching of the Holy Bible.

In the Revised Standard Version the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 14: 34-35 'As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.'

Dr. Yvette Flunder, a woman from San Francisco, was allowed to preach the sermon from the pulpit at Sweet Holy Spirit Church. She said in her remarks that she divorced her husband, who subsequently passed from AIDS.

Just one week earlier I'd had an intense conversation about that very scripture with a conservative Black Christian woman. It was at the National Book Exposition, which attracted thousands of authors, editors, marketers, publishers and printers to McCormick Place for four days in June. I distributed information about Staying Power, a book I edited, to hundreds of people. When this conservative Christian woman saw the two men in a loving embrace on the cover of Staying Power, and when she read that it's 'The Unofficial Guide to Maintaining Positive African American Male Relationships,' she immediately challenged me. She said a relationship has to be between a husband and wife only. She was suprised when (thanks to the Open Door Bible study) I was able to reference I Corinthians 14: 34-35. I asked her whether she is silent at all times in church? She said no, that when she hears that scripture preached, she feels her spirit as a thoughtful educated Black woman is not respected. That reaction prompted an hour-long talk that was joined by her husband, whose new book is about the troubles hetero couples are having. Her husband and I agreed with Bill Cosby's comments to the NAACP that parents need to get children to read and to study to learn to speak proper grammar. When I agreed with their conviction that excessive bling-bling materialism, hedonism, violence and too much profanity and misogyny (debasing of women, as in calling women 'b's' and 'h's') in hip-hop culture is harmful to society: they said to me that maybe gay and lesbian Christians have more values in common with them than they ever imagined.

Later that day I got lucky and found a new novel God In The Image of Woman by D.V. Bernard. I gave it to the conservative Christian woman, and she was delighted. We had become friends, and I'm sure I influenced her perception of gay marriage and of what same-gender loving relationships are about.

That evening an association of Black publishers had an awards ceremony, with hundreds of people in attendance. When the awards had been given, the emcee invited authors, writers and editors to come to the podium to say a few words about our latest books. I jumped at the opportunity to get in line to go up there to tell everyone there about Staying Power. Like all the other writers and editors, I got polite applause after describing the book and Chicago Moon Publishing, Inc.

By choosing to come out to the conservative Christian woman, her husband and dozens of other individuals I found it easy, in essence, to teach people at the Book Expo that it is OK for an explicitly gay book an editor to be 'in the house.' The icing on the cake? A brother at the Book Exposition who wrote a book about the difficulty Black men have expressing feelings caught my eye in the crowd as I returned from the podium to my seat.

He smiled and winked at me. Sweet!

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