The hurt we all caused
by: Rev. Gary Marcelin
One of my earliest and fondest memories as a child was my time at my home church, South Dade Haitian Mission. Later on, I found out that the word “Mission,” in our name meant we were poor.
I start my experience here because I believe the level of tolerance for gay individuals follows a line from less acceptance to tolerance, tolerance does not equate full inclusion. That progression starts with how far removed the culture is from their African roots. With some African nations being the less acceptance.
I want to emphasize the direct relationship between the colonization of Africa and how the uses of religion have shaped a system of exclusion and dehumanization of the other, in particular the LGBTQ+ community.
Growing up I witnessed a culture with deep hatred for gay people, mostly gay men. Growing up, there was a passive juxtaposition between faithful God-fearing Christians and an underlining distaste that saturated our embedded theology, music and culture towards gay individuals. I can remember listening to artist like Sizzla and many others, who was known for calling for the burning of gay men. It was so entrenched in our society that it seemed normal. It didn’t matter what denomination Baptist, Methodist, Church of God in Christ, Mennonite or any other denominations, if you were Caribbean, we shared the same belief around homosexuality. There is no room for gay individuals in the Caribbean church! I witness families disclaim their own children. Family members testify in front of the church and demonizing their own flesh and blood. So called loving parents giving outsiders permission to inflict pain and suffering on their loved ones in the effect to rid them of their so-called “disease.” I’ve witnesses sane gay individual be force out into the margins by people who claim to follow a loving God. People that claim, nothing can separate us from the love of God, but wait unless your gay, that will send you to hell where you will burn for eternity because you have chosen to fall in love with the same sex.
In the African-American context there is a higher level of tolerance. Our African-American brothers and sisters are not as adamant against homosexuality but, many are not openly accepting either. During my four years in undergraduate and afterwards I worked in the African-American church where gay individuals played a large role in the church. They led worship and are very active in the life of the church. There is an understanding, a subtle quietness, not widely spoken about, the church turned a blind eye towards gay individuals, but there was a line, though the line was faint it was there.
I grew up in a context where the words “gay”, “faggot” and “homo” where all some of the worst words someone can be called. We figuratively built the closet where gay black boys ran to hide, but in our case, it wasn’t a closet it was a dark dungeon. From childhood to my early adult life, my view of homosexuality was unmovable. I was taught that homosexuality would ruin society. Agreeing with a politician who said, (paraphrase) “We should round up all the gay people and execute them,” wasn’t a big deal. There is an underlining system within the culture that keeps this belief alive and well. A system till this day claims it does not overtly teach hate, but hate is deep-seated in the fabric of life. There is great danger in a system operating on fear and hatred. Throughout history this has been the driving force towards dehumanization of the other, so I understand why my African brothers and sisters voted like they did at General Conference.
In 2010, God was doing something within me, prevenient grace was working in my life. In the UMC Discipline, prevenient grace, “surrounds all humanity in divine love and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses.” My wife and I moved to Washington DC, I went to cemetery, my bad, I meant seminary. The first couple of months were extremely difficult for my wife and I. We didn’t have a community, she couldn’t find a job, and on most days after class, when I came home from class she was sad and I would find her home crying.
There was a gentleman with an office in the building we lived in. He heard of my wife’s hardship and extended a helping hand. My wife did some clerical work for him. It was obvious that he didn’t need her help but out of the kindness of his heart found something to keep her busy and a small pay that would help pay the bills (she supported us financially while I was in seminary.) The help he gave was huge, it filled a gap between the transition of us moving to DC and my wife finding a stable job. My wife would come home talking about how great this guy was. He introduced her to people who would eventually connect her with other opportunities. He was truly God sent, I had to meet this guy.
When I met John, (not his real name…) He was everything my wife said he was, plus more. I saw in him God’s perfect love pressed out into visibility. He had something that I was longing for, something about him was contagious. Whatever it was I wanted it. Have you ever met someone that permeates a since of stillness, confidence and compassion? Yeah, that was John.
One evening my wife came home and said, John was having a big catered party to celebrate his 50th birthday. The most important part of her statement was catered party! Catered meant really good food. For a poor seminarian, that was heaven on earth. John’s family came into town, he introduced us to all of these great people. My wife and his niece became great friends. John treated us like we were part of his family. Even at his birthday party he was introducing my wife to potential employers.