Homosexuality in the Black Church AIDS has ravaged America's black and gay communities. But what role should the church play in raising AIDS awareness if it disapproves of homosexuality? Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., is the founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition. He speaks with Tony Cox.

Homosexuality in the Black Church

Homosexuality in the Black Church

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AIDS has ravaged America's black and gay communities. But what role should the church play in raising AIDS awareness if it disapproves of homosexuality? Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., is the founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition. He speaks with Tony Cox.


I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Earlier, we heard from activists trying to get black churches invested in the fight against AIDS. But some pastors are reluctant to take a stand against AIDS, although it's not limited to the gay community because they've already taken a stand against homosexuality.

NPR's Tony Cox spoke with one such pastor, Bishop Harry Jackson. He's senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., and founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition.

TONY COX: Bishop Jackson, welcome.

Bishop HARRY JACKSON (Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church): Thank you, Tony, for having me today.

COX: Tell us first of all about the High Impact Leadership Coalition. What is it and what is your thrust?

Bishop JACKSON: It is essentially an organization that has been designed to encourage Christians but primarily clergy to get involved in the political process of our day. We think that the civil rights movement was great for African-Americans but we need a resurgence of the kind of enthusiasm and power we had back then.

Today, we have a thrust of unifying, if you would, the black church and the white church to help us alleviate things like family breakdown, poverty, prison reform is something we need, health care reform and a few other items.

COX: The white church and the black church are both united, I suppose would be the correct word to use in terms of their being divided, if you follow my point, with regard to issues such as homosexuality.

Now, you have recently been quoted in the New York Times in regard to homosexuality as saying that it is one of several factors that are taking away the interest in traditional marriage in the African-American community. How do you mean that?

Bishop JACKSON: There's been a de facto don't ask, don't tell kind of policy in the black church. And although most African-Americans, if polled, would say they're against same-sex marriage, the fact is that we have many, many friends, brothers, cousins, who happened to be gay - we are attempting to minister to them.

But my point would be that if you have same-sex marriage openly condoned in all the nation, that the already faltering family structure of the black community can plummet even further. In the countries where in there has been open acceptance of same-sex marriage there has been a correlation with a devaluation of the institution. Therefore, people get married later and they don't connect with their kids.

COX: How do you, Bishop Jackson, minister to people that you don't feel belong in the church?

Bishop JACKSON: Well, I think everybody belongs in the church. The issue is that some folks - and this is not just gays - some folks want to live according to their own moral standard even though they want the excitement and the rhythm, the beat and the uplift of the black church.

And I think that there needs to be a raising of the bar morally in the black church, whether it be heterosexual or gay sexual practices. Because we're having too many babies out of wedlock, we're having dysfunctional disintegration of the black families we've already eluded to. And I think that has to do with the fact that we aren't preaching a moral standard and we are not encouraging people how to develop and prolong their relationships.

COX: Is it your opinion, your view, your belief that the devalued family values come from homosexuality or did it not occur before this instance of gay marriage?

Bishop JACKSON: Tony, you're very insightful. It happened before; we can't push off and foist upon the gay community the decline of African-American families. It starts really way back during the time of slavery and the breaking of tribal identity, which is family base, as we know. And then I think with the '70s and the free love movement what we had was a very, very stable unit called a black family who is under duress because of slavery, now gets twisted and turned with liberal concepts of anti-racism and anti-all these other things, somehow women's liberation, somehow feminism, all these things said to black people your foundational institution is not as valued as it once was.

So, this gay marriage issue and gays in the church is a secondary wind, not the primary wind that's helped bring destruction to our families.

COX: How difficult for you is this position, given the fact that HIV and AIDS as a disease is tearing apart literally the black community? And there is a connection obviously, between HIV and AIDS and drug use and homosexual behavior as well.

Bishop JACKSON: Absolutely.

COX: So how torn are you in terms of trying to say than help the community and at the same time separate yourself from part of it?

Bishop JACKSON: Well, it's interesting. I want to minister to folks who happen to be on a gay lifestyle. But I had to say at the recent conference that was referenced in the New York Times, as we were talking, I said, hey, responsible sexual behavior of the gay community is a major issue and the room iced over.

But it's got to be known that we are contracting AIDS from somewhere, and that is drug use and/or from sexual practices that aren't safe. Although some people say, well, you know, you're just the white man's toy, you're just standing up and saying what's some other group is telling you. That's not really true.

I believe that we need a restoration of fundamental Christianity. And if we'll get back to those things, it will bring healing to the church internally and then to the community externally as we become an ark of safety, if you will, for the entire black community.

COX: We have been talking with some other people who are involved as AIDS advocates, some who are a part of faith-based organizations and some who are not. And one of the things that I asked of this group was how do you convince those theologians who feel that the Bible supports their position with regard to not accepting homosexuality within the church and gay marriage, et cetera, et cetera.

And their answer was - and I like to get your response to it - was that we are educating these ministers about what is involved with HIV and AIDS, and we are bringing them around. So my question to you, Bishop Jackson, is can your mind be changed?

Bishop JACKSON: Wow. I don't see my mind being changed short-term. I feel as though the Bible is clear. What I think can be changed is how we minister to people in our community who are gay. I think that many, many people who are in the gay lifestyle feel trapped, they want out. I know that there are other folks who are advocates and they're passionately pursuing advancing gay causes.

But I want to say this is not something I have got this global mindset that it's the biggest deal that ever happened. But rather, it's part of me standing the ground and believing in what the (unintelligible) the scriptures, that's my take on that.

COX: Along that line, you're using the scriptures to sort of bolster your argument. Are you ever…

Bishop JACKSON: Yes, sir.

COX: Are you ever given pause that white Christians use those same scriptures in the Bible to defend their positions with regard to slavery and unequal treatment of people who looked like you?

Bishop JACKSON: Well, I am given pause by that. The thing that we have to look at, though, is a motive of heart, the issue of love. And when I say love - if I move from the idea that I'm attempting to serve someone into an idea that I want to harass or hurt someone, there's a problem. I think I'm operating within a Christian character and within a Christian kind of framework or theology, and therefore I don't have fear, I don't have concern. But I am concerned about the anger I sense on the other side about this issue specifically.

COX: Bishop Jackson. Thank you very much, sir.

Bishop JACKSON: Tony, thank you so much for the opportunity.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox speaking with Bishop Harry Jackson. Jackson is senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., and founder of the High Impact Leadership Coalition.

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