Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Intersecting Identities: African American, Congregational (UCC) Minister, and Gay

I've not addressed this issue of intersecting identities, but this article about Benjamin Reynolds--Rev. Benjamin Reynolds--caught my intention. He is a UCC minister who is working as a transitional/interim pastor in a UCC church, and he is African American, and he is gay.

What Reynolds speaks of eloquently is what it "feels like" to being an African American who is Christian and gay, because historically black churches are, or tend to be, more homophobic than white churches:

In a report published in 2005 by the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health, Elijah Ward wrote: "Both directly and indirectly, black churches have been identified as fostering homophobia ... Indeed, theologically driven homophobia, aided by black nationalist ideology, supports a strong and exaggerated sense of masculinity within black communities that, along with homophobia, takes a significant but generally unexamined psychic and social toll on people's lives."

Reynolds can testify to the accuracy of Ward's statement. In 2006, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, a congregation that grew from 125 members in 1992 to as many as 1,500 while under his leadership, voted to dismiss him as senior pastor after he came out at a congregational meeting.

Indeed, the term transitional is apt for Reynolds. He is not only serving as the interim minister for Pilgrim but he is also on his own journey, searching for a place where he can be true to both his calling as a preacher and identity as a gay black man.

Reynolds was also married, with children, and tried to pour himself into his marriage, into being a heterosexual. But, alas, God had other plans: that Reynolds would live in truth:

"My marriage wasn't doing well," he said. "We were a good face for the people, but we weren't having a good marriage. What I was doing to my daughter and the damage I was doing to her mother led me to the point where I felt I needed to divorce."

During his divorce, Reynolds enrolled at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver where for the first time he found language that gave him faith he could be both gay and a Christian minister. At the same time, he had become the primary care giver to his gay younger brother, who died two years later from complications with HIV.

"Through that journey," he said, "one of the freeing things my brother gave me was that I should live my life as who I am. His freedom in life and death enabled me to come to some rationale about that."

While at Iliff, Reynolds discovered how resistant his church was to having a gay man be a minister of the gospel. On the night he came out, one of the deacons approached him and said, "Everyone in this church knows that you are gay, but I'm mad as hell that you told us."

What is interesting is that the Church where he interim pastor--Pilgrim Church (UCC)--is also experiencing new growth, as is Reynolds.

You can click here for more.

Intersecting identities is very important: one is more than being "gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or queer expressing." We are male or female, rich, poor, young, old, black, white, etc. And all these cultural contexts shape and change us. And we change these contexts as we tell and live our story.

Live the story. Tell the story.

Pace! B

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