01/05/2012 07:45 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Occupy Christian Oppression

I sat down to pen the first post on the black church's oppression of gay people after an episode of The Rosie Show. Ms. O'Donnell had looked into the camera to tell Rick Perry that his anti-gay campaign commercial was hurting people.

Initially, I intended to write about the Christian churches, and how their leadership so often casts out homosexuals. But contemplating the issue triggered all of my personal experiences growing up in my grandparents' church and seeing its treatment of gay people. As I said in my prior post, as church members, we did not acknowledge the sexuality of gay people, and they dared not be open, expressive gay people. I believed gay people would go to Hell and that they were an abomination to God. But this was problematic because of the love I felt for my gay uncle. He was the funniest and most endearing human being; he went out of his way to make me laugh. He took me to Patti LaBelle concerts and the theater. In my young mind I couldn't reconcile my religious instruction with this very loving experience I had with my closeted uncle. The confusion caused me deep pain and emotional stress. I knew something was off, but I couldn't name it, because it had not been named. I can't image how he felt.

I'm no longer a little girl looking for my cues from parents and church leaders, seeking their approval to determine my worth and that of others. I'm now the mother of a son with Down syndrome, and I know unquestionably that he is looking to me to determine his lovability. Like young gay people who want to feel a sense of belonging, my son desires the same. His presence helps me remember the ostracism and abuse borne by my uncle because he was different, and I do my best to sparkle my eyes and let my son feel the love in me emanating toward him. I did not learn to love in church. It was witnessing the pain of oppression and the exclusion of others that forced me to dig deep within myself for an eternal wellspring of love.

In response to my initial blog, I have had more conversations with Christians than I can count. And in many of them I've heard, "I love gay people, I just don't approve of their lifestyles." Something rises up in me when I hear this. Being gay is not a privilege, like getting to stay out an hour later as a teenager. To say that Christians don't approve of a gay person's lifestyle is to assume that approval is desired or required in order for a person to be gay. When did love have to start asking for approval? Love, by its very nature, is an expression of allowing and acceptance, not approval or control. To love is to allow, surrender, and trust. Today I speak for the little girl I was growing up in church, reading the Bible, loving Jesus, and being taught to disapprove of people due to their sexual orientation or sinful lifestyles. Has it occurred to any Christians that the high rate of suicide and depression among gay teens might be influenced by an experience of disapproval?

Today in many churches all across this nation, we continue to indoctrinate innocent children in the practice of homophobia. These children grow up with a desire to please God, and in doing so they become the Rick Perrys of the world. In his ad he clearly says that there is something wrong with gay people being able to serve openly in the military. This "get to the back of the bus" mentality toward gay people is obsolete and outdated. The work for freedom was started decades ago under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black people weren't just marching, being jailed, and dying for their own freedom; this freedom belongs to all people.

In the last decade we have witnessed the furtherance of gay people's acceptance in many ways. The Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has been abolished under the leadership of President Obama. The president also ordered the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act. We see greater numbers of openly gay people in our mainstream entertainment, and equal marriage rights have been adopted in several states. But the hearts and minds of Americans do not follow legislation, and many leaders of the predominant religion in this country, Christianity, continue to deny the rights and humanity of gays. While black people still live with the residual effects of racism, gay people still have mountains to traverse. If Christianity is based on the teachings of Christ, it might be time to reconsider its current practices in light of the love, inclusion, and overall intention of Jesus' message.

This is a conversation about the mistreatment of people and the denial of their basic and equal rights due to their sexual orientation. Yes, these experiences manifest in political and social injustices, but the seeds of this mistreatment are in the human heart and the hatred, often subtle, that we share with one another. I simply stand to say I will no longer participate in the dehumanization of gay people. I will be silent no longer. My silence, and yours, regarding the mistreatment of gay people, is the problem. And the solutions are spiritual. They lie in our willingness to take responsibility for our treatment of, and beliefs and feelings about, gay people -- and all people. We are responsible for our thoughts, projections, and actions toward others. When I hear someone like Ms. O'Donnell pleading for an end to hatred, when I witness her vulnerability and pain, I ask myself, "How have I contributed to her suffering?" And when I witness the self-righteousness of a Rick Perry, I look within for my participation in this denial of the value of all people. In our churches we might begin questioning the validity of scripture and how it influences our relationships. If Jesus the Christ is our greatest example of love and life, it's time we begin asking ourselves, "How did Jesus transcend all manner of hatred? How did he love? How did he live?"