The year 1963, the place, a very popular and well attended black church nestled on the west side of Los Angeles called Southern Missionary Baptist Church. The political climate: blacks engaged in a revolutionary struggle against Jim Crow laws, hoping to eventually eradicate them and acquire Civil Rights, a struggle that would ultimately change the political climate of America forever! Standing in the wings is a young visionary by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., destined to emerge as leader of this new cutting-edge movement and perhaps the most revered and inspiring black Civil Rights leader humanity has ever known.
At the piano is the incomparable Bertha Keys, daughter of the renowned Dr. Rev. Kelly Keys (pastor of the Church) and over in the opposite corner, an extremely gifted organist (affectionately known as Jimmy) and center stage is a choir stand filled with young talented voices from all over the city. Suddenly the music begins to play and in typical worship fashion, feet begin to tap, hands begin to clap and the music fills the huge sanctuary as a young man only 9 years of age walks down the aisle singing from the depths of his soul, “Rock-a-my soul in the bosom of Abraham, oh rock-a-my-soul!” Suddenly one of the church mothers rises to her feet, followed by hundreds of other parishioners and shouts to the 9 year old child, “Sang baaaaaaby sang!” Hats begin to fly, wigs get turned around, and purses get tossed into the aisle as ushers rush to parishioner’s sides in an effort to calm down those who appear to be overwhelmed with emotion from the Holy Ghost, as they dance in the aisles vocalizing shouts of praise.
The little child singing is me, Terry Angel Mason, only one of hundreds of other same-gender-loving children who grew up in this church and spent what seemed like thousands of hours in worship services, choir rehearsals, prayer meetings and participating in countless other church events.
Now the year is 2011 and reflections of Jim Crow are as apparent as it was in the 60s, as evidenced by the emergence of radical right-wing groups like the Tea Party, STOP SB 48, and religious extremists known as The Family. Now, same-gender loving people have moved to the forefront of the modern day Civil Rights movement as they struggle to achieve equality, not just for themselves but for all disenfranchised and marginalized people who are the victims of homophobia and discrimination.
And the new Southern Missionary Baptist Church has been transformed from a traditional red brick building to a new contemporary stucco building with beautiful stained glass and lush red pews that replaced the old wooden ones damaged by an earthquake. The current pastor is Xavier L. Thompson who decided just one day ago (Wednesday, August 31, 2011) to invite clergy from all over Los Angeles County to Southern Missionary Baptist Church in an effort to overturn SB 48 (recently signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown), the FAIR Education Act, which ensures the correct teaching of the history of the LGBT community, along with that of the disabled and other minorities.
As a Civil Rights activist, I am not surprised that black religious leaders would attempt to reverse this legislation because of the false and inaccurate distortions that have been purposely spread in the black community about the bill. The opponents of SB 48 have once again skillfully played upon the deeply entrenched homophobic prejudices of the black church. They have once more distracted black religious leaders by distorting the issues that SB 48 addresses. It merely enforces the fair writing of history, meaning all those who have meaningfully and positively contributed to history should have their contributions accurately chronicled regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. It is a bill that promotes inclusiveness and proscribes and prohibits the bigoted omissions that have denied Americans the complete truth as to how all types of Americans have contributed to this great land of ours. But because the black church has been so historically and irrationally homophobic, all the opponents of SB 48 had to do was wave the rainbow flag in their faces, invoke the word homosexual and sit back and cunningly watch black religious leaders do their dirty work for them by mobilizing to repeal a bill that honors and protects the contributions of all minorities, regardless of race and sexuality! Talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Moreover, in their fanatic zealotry to begin this misguided process of repeal, the leaders of Southern Missionary Baptist Church committed one of the most un-Christ-like actions of all, they expelled from the church all other interfaith religious leaders and proponents of SB 48 who peacefully attended in order to dialogue with them. Moreover, they did this by request and even implied physical threat if they refused to leave! What kind of message does this send to the Community of Faith in general except, that Southern Missionary Baptist Church is a church made up of misguided bigots who use the teachings of Christ to justify mean-spirited acts of homophobia? What kind of message does this send to our LGBT youth who are fighting for their very emotional, spiritual and physical survival as they sit in those same pews Sunday after Sunday, hearing themselves marginalized and damned to hell? Lastly, what kind of message are we as Christians, sending to the world if we do not step up and speak truth to power and firmly declare that our God is a god of love, mercy and equality. And because of these Divine attributes, He loves ALL of His children, black, brown, white, yellow, straight, gay, disabled, male, and female! Why? Because we were all made in His image.