As Christian denominations across the country grapple with issues surrounding their gay and lesbian members, when it comes to the black church, the rule seems to be "don't ask, don't tell." According to the Rev. Theodore Lewis, pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, blacks familiar with other forms of hatred and discrimination are more tolerant and tend to hate the sin and not the sinner.
In most predominantly black congregations, gay individuals are usually accepted, especially if they are not sexually active, Lewis says. He adds that he knows several musicians at some of the area's larger black churches who are openly gay. "It's well known that these people were hired for their ability, not their sexuality," he says.
The Rev. Joseph Darby who pastors Morris Brown AME Church, one of Charleston's largest African Methodist Episcopal churches, agrees. He says black congregations usually are more concerned with issues such as equality and justice than their members' lifestyles.
Though his church formally opposes same-sex relationships and unions, some of his colleagues in the clergy are openly gay, Darby notes. "But since they don't make their sexuality a burning issue, just as those who are heterosexual don't make their sexuality a burning issue, they are accepted in the church."
He adds, "In fact, I think it's hypocritical for the church to judge people by their lifestyle. I've had gay members in every congregation I've pastored."
As far as scripture condemning same-sex intimacy is concerned, Darby says the subject is breached most often in the Old Testament, but New Testament references lead him to believe Christ wants the church to interpret the laws with emphasis on "the heart of the law, love for our Lord, and respect for Jesus."
Jerry [not his real name], a gay male who grew up in one of North Charleston's most prominent black churches, says his sexuality has never been questioned. "As long as you live a godly life and do godly things, there shouldn't be a problem," he says.
He serves as a lay officer of his church and is a member of several committees including some whose memberships traditionally are comprised of women.
Unlike some of his gay friends who have questioned whether they live a Christian life, Jerry has always considered himself a child of God. "Any problems I have, I take to my pastor and my God," he says.