It only takes a casual search on Google Maps to discover that the 107th Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ was held 11.2 miles away from the site of the shooting of Michael Brown. And yet, one of the most popular videos emerging from the annual gathering of the United States’ largest black denomination isn’t of bishops, pastors, and evangelists decrying the evil that produced Michael’s death, but a video of a 21-year-old man being “delivered” from homosexuality. In it, the man exclaims that God has delivered him from wearing makeup, carrying a purse, and dating men. Near the end of the clip, the presiding minister gives the “former” gay man $100, saying that God sent it to him because of his “newfound commitment”.” While Church of God in Christ clergy and laity were making a spectacle of a young man’s “new” sexual orientation, prophets and protesters in Ferguson were awaiting an indictment in the grand jury case of Darren Wilson, the police officer who took Michael Brown’s young life.
This, sadly, does not come as a shock, given American Christianity’s track record with racism. While many Christians were advocating for the prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of black people were being lynched by racist mobs. While black people were being denied the right to vote and attend white schools in the 1950s, many Christians were totally consumed in the Red Scare. Common to all of these historical scenarios is American Christianity’s tendency to ignore the often pressing social needs of black people, content to preoccupy itself with secondary or neutral “moral issues” that are of little to no consequence to the common good. And then there occurrences like the “deliverance” from homosexuality at the 107th Holy Convocation that stab at the heart of the good news Jesus Christ so faithfully embodied. Instead of telling the young man that he is loved and treasured by the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, the assembly waits to affirm him only when he proclaims he is straight.
Any form of Christianity that privileges one sexual orientation over another has the gospel of Christ deeply misconstrued. And a Christianity that would rather celebrate its own theologically and socially violent heterosexism is in need of a long process of introspective discernment. It is time for the Church of God in Christ to cease from persecuting its sexual minority members. It is time for the Church of God in Christ to develop a hermeneutic of mercy, joyfully baptizing — by water and the Spirit — new members into God’s own fold. It is time for Christians — of all traditions and ethnicities — to stop using their varied forms of holiness as violence. Any form of “holiness” obscures a person’s God-gifted sexual orientation is not holy at all. It is actually profane.
Despite our good intentions, Christianity in the United States still has a long way to go. Instead of seeking to heal the wounds of slavery and institutionalized racial discrimination, many denominations are seeking out fresh ways of shaming and condemning their gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual members. Instead of boldly addressing growing disparities of wealth, education, housing opportunities, whole denominations are forming to prevent the full participation of sexual minorities in the life of the baptized people of God. And while the 107th Holy Convocation of the Church of God in Christ was held only 11.2 miles away from Ferguson, Missouri, it was lightyears away from the New Jerusalem, where the streets are paved with justice and neighborhoods are lit by the presence of the Lamb.