Now on Sexuality in the AME Church

Now on Sexuality in the AME Church

Rev. Jennifer S. Leath, Ph.D., Guest Editor

This past Friday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) found that those who consecrated Bishop Karen Oliveto (the first “out,” married lesbian woman elected and consecrated bishop in the UMC) violated their “commitment to abide by and uphold the church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality.”  Awaiting the decision of the Judicial Council, Bishop Karen Oliveto preached in Chapel at Iliff School of Theology this past Wednesday.  After this service, I asked Bishop Oliveto, what would you want to say to the AME Church.  She said the following:

“The one thing I would want the AME Church family, my family, to know is we have so much to learn from you and I pray that your voices will mingle with my voice – will mingle with all our voices – so that the Methodist family can be as strong as possible as we push back hate, and injustice, and oppression in the world in Jesus’s name.”

Though we pretend otherwise, it is clear that there is not agreement within the AME Church when it comes to matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.  In fact, our positions on this matter are so disparate that we could not agree on a way to include gender and sexual justice for our Quadrennial focus on social justice – knowing that people daily suffering hatred, injustice, and oppression on account of sexual orientation and gender identity all over the world!  Given this truth, it behooves us to mind the miner’s canary in the UMC – and get on the right side of these issues.  Bishop Oliveto’s case clarifies at least three important points of which the AME Church should be mindful:

We who understand our sexual orientation and gender identity to be both sacred and outside of heterosexual, cisgender categorization will neither hide and lie nor leave and disappear.  We wish to live with integrity before the G*d who made and loves us – and the people whom G*d has called us to love and serve.  The church has abused and taken advantage of the silences, dissemblances, and dishonesties of LGBTQ people (and especially clergy) who live in fear.  Such fear will not rule the “now” generation.  Integrity is right.

We, as a Church, cannot avoid the work of careful and fair discernment with respect to matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.  This requires consistent interpretive methods – and interpretations – when it comes to scripture.  This requires carefully reasoning, including engagement with the science and biological research that affirms sexual and gender diversities.  This requires the nurturing of our true countermemories that acknowledge that sexual and gender variance has been a part of us and traditions of our communities of African descent forever.  This requires our refusal to dismiss the experiences of sexual and gender variance in our midst – and the voices of those who live out such variance.  Discernment is right.

Our polity must catch up with our problems.  A major stumbling block for the UMC as well as the AME Church is that our systems of governance are oblivious to the seriousness of the discourse on sexual orientation and gender identity for the church internally and externally.  Our legislation and position papers on sexual orientation and gender identity are dated, inconsistent, incomplete, prejudiced, contradictory, and unholy.  Delegates see this at the General Conference.  Members see this in local churches.  Society sees this as they peer through our stained glass windows.  Thus, we hemorrhage members – and where we have cauterized to stop the flow, no new people will enter.  Our regional diversities and hierarchical power games are unsatisfactory excuses for our failure to reform.  Updated polity is right.

Now is a time we could make a different choice as the AME Church.  We could stand with Bishop Oliveto and “push back hate, and injustice, and oppression in the world in Jesus’s name.”  Now we could be free, knowing: where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Rev. Jennifer S. Leath, Ph.D. is the Pastor of Campbell Chapel AME Church (Denver, CO) in the Fifth Episcopal District and the Assistant Professor of Religion and Social Justice at Iliff School of Theology (Denver, CO).  She can be reached at jleath@iliff.edu.

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28 Comments

  1. What an awesome gift on my Birthday!!! Thank you Rev. Dr. Leath. Intregrity is Right! Discernment is right! Updated polity is right!!!

  2. Thank you for this timely article. God can use all of her-his children to reach the lost, lonely, imperfect, unloved…. I pray that God’s Church will see this soon, especially those denominations currently struggling with gender-identity issues!

  3. Thank you for this editorial. It is also important for Black folk to remember that this interminable othering of queer folk into this ‘evil-unworthy-against G-d-deviant …’ steams out of the same VERY DANGEROUS Lockean/enlightenment thought which lead to the transmogrification of the African enslaved into the bestial Negro—>with no purpose to the body, ahistorical, soul-less…. thereby placing ‘our ancestors’ in the same category as a chair, cow, feed.

    We MUST do better and push back against the hate. Now.

    NO. One part of the body is not superior to the other.
    NO. One part of the body cannot say to the other, we have no use for y

  4. I would say I find it hard to believe that the “church” has gone against sound doctrine that teaches in I Corinthians 6:9 BUT since the “church” has denied the teachings of the TANAK and has given way to tickling ears I am not surprised. There indeed will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…

    • Michael with no last name, which one of those do you fall under? Or should the person with no last name be referred to as the person made reference to in Revelations 21:8? According to the good book, cowardice is condemned too. Just saying

      • So, Simeon with an MBA, are you claiming to be a Christian who has a problem with scripture? Such as:

        1 Corinthians 6:9-11New International Version (NIV)

        9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor HOMOSEXUALS or SODOMITES, 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

        The problem you have is with GOD! The operative phrase is, “…, that is what some of you were!” Apparently a CHANGE is expected in turning from sin, including a gay lifestyle!
        You either accept scripture as the true WORD OF GOD, or dismiss it to suit your own love for sin! I learned that from my mother, Bishop Carolyn Tyler-Guidry, who also taught it to my brother, who pastors Shorter Temple A.M.E. in Denver Co.

        I posted this earlier, but somehow I cant find it, so I will post this message again, and see what happens!

        • So Cary, son of Bishop Tyler (Love her dearly) and brother of the pastor of
          Shorter AME, allow me to answer your question with a question… “Are you choosing to be a Christian who throws stones with your eyes wide-shut?”

          Look, I really don’t want to get into personal attacks, so let’s stick with the issue. In my opinion, Dr. Leath’s post identified what many LGBTQ CHRISTIANS experience on a daily basis from those “so called Christians” who are mandated to love…and that is oppression through hate and injustice, all in the name of Jesus. You may disagree with me on that but until you are walking in the shoes of a LGBTQ Christian, then you can’t really debate that…right?

          Check this out, I know you’re an educated man so let’s talk facts. The word “homosexuality” didn’t appear in English translations of the Bible until 1946. So why do we say the Bible, (King James – homosexual himself) condemns it? Because you are an educated man, you might respond with some historical data like the word “homosexual” is a translation of the Greek pro-noun…arsenokoites. Then you and I, and perhaps other bible scholars (which I am not), will go on and on.

          But look, once again…what is Dr. Leath’s post really about? Reading your response, I gather that you are saying the following:
          – Gay men and women can’t be Christians
          – Gay men and women shouldn’t serve in leadership roles (clergy/laity) in God’s church
          – Gay men and women serve a different God than the God straight men and women serve

          If if any of that is true for you or any other person of the Christian faith, then I’m concerned that perhaps you and others would be breaking the laws of Jesus Christ. Remember in Matthew 22, verse 36 when the lawyer tried to test Jesus by asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
          THE RESPONSE
          37 And Jesus replied to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ 40 The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

          In Conclusion, and I’m being “sho-nuff serious”, that scripture (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) you quoted above has been the detriment to many young gay men and women of faith. It is one of the most damning, hurtful and misused passages that Christians have often used to LGBTQ people to convince them of their sin. In essence, many Christians will shoot this Biblical bullet in the heart of others to condemn people straight to hell and this needs to stop. It is one of those passages that, I would argue, has a direct corollary to the rise in gay Christian suicides and depression.

          Teach love my brother and allow the gay folk to answer to God on his/her own judgement day. If you don’t want to marry them in the church or want them serving in the church, then stop taking the their tithes, offerings, and using them for their talent. Be proactive all the way and just ban homosexuals from the church all-together. Practice what you preach and stick to your own kind. That’s really what you and others sound like you’re saying. So you being the son of Bishop Tyler-Guidry and the brother of the pastor of Shorter AME, I’m sure that’s not what you’re saying.

          Simeon Rhoden, the man with the MBA and a last name

    • The Bible does not change! We must stop changing the Bible to fit our lifestyles and start changing our lifestyles to fit the Bible! Ijs

    • Thank you bro. Michael, Amen! Let them compromise, rationalize and ignore the true Word of the Lord, as they will. The Word of God does not change with the times. Naturally, the learned, highly educated would be the ones that mislead the flock in these latter days. Jesus said beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
      Homosexuality in any form is a SIN and abomination in the sight of the Lord, regardless of whatever cutified, watered down, buttered up, way you say it!
      You/we must be born again!

  5. Brave, courageous, and POWERFUL! I loved what you wrote at the end, “Now is the time we could make a different choice as the AME Church. We could stand with Bishop Oliveto and “push back hate, and injustice, and oppression in the world in Jesus’s name.” Now we could be free, knowing: where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. It is always a good thing to read how others feel about certain aspects of humanity. Im of the opinion that openmindedness allows us to understand thar we are first a human being then a Christian. What does humanity teach us and what does christianity teaches us. An article very insightful

  7. Seems like folks, Preachers are working too hard in an attempt to Justify this foolishness. It’s nothing more than a godless attempt at recreating and redefining Creation Theology. Additionally, “He made him and He made her. He made her for him. Let’s stop trying to rewrite the Book!!!

  8. Those engaging in homosexuality are not simply abandoning what is “natural,” biologically speaking; they are rejecting the way God intended all of His creation to operate. Rom. 1:23-27; 1 Cor. 6:9.
    May God open all of our spiritual eyes and heart as He forgives each of us for rejecting Him!

  9. In the secular world I stand up for the LGBTQ community. However,in the body of Christ we have to accept what the Bible says about homosexuality. All sin must be subject to what the Bible says. Where would it end? The un repentant child molester says”I love God, I believe in Jesus, I was born this way, I want to be in the body of Chirist and I want all the members to allow me to live my life molesting children, the unrepentant thief says I love God, I believe in Jesus I want all the members to allow me to live my life stealing what ever I want, the unrepentant liar says I love God, I believe in Jesus I want all the members to allow me to live my life lying when ever I feel like it. The point is sin is sin and sin must be confessed. Confession is to say “I’m wrong and the word of God is truth. I will live my life as a homosexual but without sex, a liar without lying, a molester without molesting, an obese person without saying that obesity is not a sin and just fill in your sin_______. Disciples of Christ are those who are called to leave ALL and follow Jesus. Everyone has an “ALL”. Lay your all on the alter(sacrifice) will it cost? Yes! Following Jesus is worth it.
    If the church AME, UMC, COGIC etc. calls sin sin and loves the repentant sinner. There is no problem. There is no problem when a repentant sinner falls and you love them as they confess they’ve fallen and desire to live for Christ. The problem is when LGBTQs say God could’nt really mean…., God made me this way and…. You have to accept me because I say it’s not sin, the Bible is not really saying homosexuality is sin. The Bible is wrong?…..etc.

  10. Rev Leath, I thank you for this insightful article. Although I believe that it was and still is God’s intent is it is to be a man and woman for marriage, and not two people of the same gender. However, God’s word is we shall not judge one another, which is what I believe was one of your points in your article. I do like the way you closed about now is the time for the AME church (I am a member of a AME church) and all churches to push back against hate, injustice and oppression in the world in Jesus name.

  11. Thanks so much for this witness. For too long, churches, including African Methodism, have been home to oppressive forces which speak liberation and self-determination when it comes to race matters, but suppression of our internal LGBTQ lay and ministerial practitioners.

    We are your daughters, your sisters, your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, your sons, your Stewardesses, your Trustees, your pew-members, your pastors’ kids, and yeah your choir directors, and instrumentalists. We are heir to this fantastic tradition. Our contribution to what this institution has become is immeasurable. 🙂

  12. It makes me wonder. What does the future hold? With fear, emotionalism, ignorance, pride and self righteousness at play, where do we start with a fruitful dialogue? Without the steps beginning in the masses (local church) we will have no progress. But how can we make godly gains without fractioning and marginalizing one another? This is a true struggle that must be defined with a clear definition and soul searching of true SIN. For on every side we all have sinned in our self interpretations of our unfounded positions. I pray that we don’t get lost in expression of who we are and leave out who God calls us to be. May God use it all for HIS Glory. #everysoulisworthsaving

  13. Thanks for the insightful article. The challenges we see in the church is that historically matters of belief / faith are either “white or black” no grey was ever allowed as we may not have all answers for it. I do not agree with the notion that “exclusion of LGBTQ in the word of God” means we should be insensitive to those who are different in sexual orientation” again a comment like it is either a “He or a She”still shows how limited in our understanding of who God created, there is more than just a He and a She! there is Humanity
    and the spectrum is very wide – think of how God can create a person without limbs and legs and they could live a normal life, how great are the possibilities of those with different sexual orientation, be careful this is not only about personal choice. there are human beings born with a different make up – is it their fault?. I agree integrity, discernment, a re-think of our polity is the right thing to do! We need to create a safe forum to discuss and debate – so we agree how we move on!

  14. Once upon a time, we embraced the Eurocentric, power grabbing theology that said Blacks were not fully human, and by no means should their be interracial marriage. Thank God our theology evolved. Later, we yet embraced the Euro theology that said women had no place in the pulpit. Thank God we again evolved. How can it be that we in the AME Church do not recognize the same pattern and woeful theology being used to marginalize our LGBTQ sisters and brothers? Injustice to any is injustice to all.

  15. Let me let, indeed cause, my voice to mingle. While we may still need a “satisfactory” theological-biblical account that supports LGBTQ folks–integrity is still right–we already have satisfactory and sufficient knowledge of the challenges and complexities facing LGBTQ persons–discernment is still right. And this knowledge demands an ethics that “treats every BODY right”–updated polity is right. I support Bishop Oliveto and Pastor Leath–I’m with them!

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