- Religion, Race, and Sexuality in American CultureA Public Conversation1
It was indeed a very warm evening in the summer of 2010 as we gathered at Union Theological Seminary in New York City for the Arcus Conference. I was there to participate over the weekend to discuss the intersections of religion, race, and sexuality, specifically in the United States, with a large assembling of African American religion scholars and LGBGTQ activists. On the opening night I sat with two very esteemed co-panelists, talking frankly, critically, and hopefully about the ways that religion—more explicitly, the Black Church2—has been an empowering source of spirituality for many of its LGBTQ members; but also, for the most part, of its role as spiritual and moral gatekeepers over the sexualities of its members and communities. The church has used its spiritual authority to demean, distort, and demonize the longed-for and expressed same-sex loves of church members. The following conversation is adapted from transcripts of the larger conversation, which took place at Union Theological Seminary that evening.
As a contribution to this celebrated issue of Palimpsest, it foregrounds what, as a scholar in African American Religious Ethics, I believe today, as I did a decade ago as a panelist, that the greatest significance of faith in the lives, practices, and hopes of LGBTQ people is its powerful witness to a love supreme: “Love is a sacred word.”3
Moderator: Good evening. I want to thank you all for coming out this evening for our public conversation on religion, race, and sexuality in American culture. It is good to see such a good turnout on this hot New York City night. . . . We want to jump right into our conversation. [End Page 26]
There are so many directions that a conversation on religion, race, and sexuality could go, and rather than offering some set-up comments, I will simply pose a general question that our presenters will be invited to take any way they like: “In your scholarship, and in your life, what is it about the intersections of the categories of religion, race, and sexuality that you find most troubling, most pressing, most encouraging, or most significant as we think about moving our conversation forward?”
Victor: I’m glad to be here and to see so many friends whom I haven’t seen in a long time. While waiting at the airport to fly here yesterday from Nashville, I overheard two voices behind me. As I listened to them (yeah, I was being nosy), the voices had a familiar sound that verged on stereotyping. I recognized the texture of the sounds. I knew that the two voices behind me were African Americans, and that they were young. But I also recognized another texture in their voices, one that I’ve heard many times before in the close company of other gay friends. It was the sound in their voices that gave them away. I guess my “gaydar” really got into motion there [slight laughter]; and I knew that seated behind me, also waiting for the flight, were two gay African American males. And so, I turned to look for other signs of whether my intuition was correct.
I looked at their clothing, and they were dressed alike. They had on shorts that were similar and white shirts that were similar too. And I said, “Mm. That would be a kind of sign.” When they got up from their seats, I saw the way they walked. They walked pretty normally, pretty much like myself. But it had a kind of, kind of lift to it, and I said, “that might be, that might be another sign!” [audience laughs] But, when I got on the plane and the plane got quiet, I had to go to the bathroom; as I got to the bathroom, I looked over at their seats in particular, and I saw their heads on each other’s heads, and I saw them holding hands. And I said, “Wow. That’s neat.” I said to myself, “Oh, if that were only possible in the era in which I grew up. If such expressions of love...