Radical Shift in Black Church on Sexuality and Choice


Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts reporting on the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice’s National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality. To read the other posts, click here

As an African American pastor, I have worked for more
than a decade to bring hope and healing to the Black
Church
community by breaking the silence about sex and sexuality. Today, reflecting on
the just-concluded 12th annual National Black Religious Summit on
Sexuality, I can see that the Black Church is
undergoing a radical change. In place of the silence bred from fear and
ignorance, we now see our youth and adults affirming God’s good gift of
sexuality and seeking the wisdom to live responsibly as spiritual and sexual
beings.

You can just look at the high
rates of unintended pregnancy and HIV/AIDS to know that the silence about sex in
the African American church community has been disastrous. The fact that more
than 740 clergy, educators, lay leaders and youth came together last week at the National Black Religious Summit on
Sexuality to learn, talk and pray about
sexuality issues is a breakthrough. And the fact that so many people have taken
action to address the problems we face is an unmistakable sign that we are at
the dawn of a new day.

Those who know the Black Church know
what I mean when I say that talking about sex was taboo. We pastors turned our
heads rather than acknowledge teen girls in our own congregations becoming
pregnant, young men and women suffering HIV, and domestic violence and sexual
abuse being perpetrated in the most upstanding families, including clergy
families. We acted as though we did not know that the abortion rate among
African American women is more than three times as high as that of White women.

We shattered the bonds of
silence at last week’s Summit on Sexuality.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders challenged us to "start doing what
we say" as Christians. A health system that leaves 47 million without basic
insurance is a betrayal of the values that we as Americans say we hold dear
– the values of fairness and justice.

She challenged us to face up to
the fact that many of us are guilty of child abuse – of saying we love children
but allowing children to go without the basic necessities of life. Having
children is a serious, lifelong commitment. We need to fund comprehensive sex
education – including but not limited to education about abstinence – and
contraception so people have the information and means to plan their
pregnancies.

The Black Church – and
our society at large – shows enormous respect and concern for the fetus, as do
I. But I am also pro-choice because I believe women are moral agents, with the
God-given ability to make conscious decisions and to know when to bring or not
bring a child into the world. To people who attack me for being pro-choice and
call me a "babykiller," I say there’s something wrong with a society that is
pro-life for the fetus but aborts the child through inadequate health care, poor
education, and lack of opportunity.

During the 12 years of
the National Black Religious
Summit on
Sexuality, the Black
Church has
become more accepting of women in ministry and of individuals who are gay and
lesbian in church leadership positions. But we are far from finished in breaking
the silence about sexuality in our Black churches. We are still exploring what
faith communities can do to improve sexual health, family relationships and
communications, youth development, women’s lives, and parental responsibility.
Hundreds of leaders of the Black Church
have taken part in this movement to
bring about a new vision of what it means to have "the abundant life," as Jesus
called it. A new day is dawning, but what it will bring depends on our will to
continue to move forward.

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