Plenty of people in the LGBTQ community leave Christianity. That is unsurprising; after all, mainstream Christianity has not historically been kind to our community, to put it mildly. However, when you are Black, church is more than just a place of worship. It is like a family. Churches for folks of other races can operate this way as well, but there is something unique about the institutional Black church. Historically, it has been a place of social justice organizing, and it still is. It is a refuge for children in underprivileged communities during the hot summer months. They are fed and kept off the streets and out of trouble. It is a place of food, fun, family, help in times of need – in other words, it is such an integral part of one’s life that unless you completely disconnect yourself from your own Black community locally, especially if you live in the town in which the church you grew up in resides, there is no way to make a totally clean break. It is just how it is.
Now that election time is upon us, I have to return to the Black church for the all-important organizing, voter registration drives, and, of course, Souls to the Polls. Doing these things as a Black lesbian Satanist can be a very strange experience. Everyone who remembers my public excommunication for being gay realizes that not only am I no longer a church member, but I no longer believe in their god or their Bible. There are plenty of Black folks who don’t believe this stuff anymore, but there are plenty who still do as well. So, I often find myself in a quagmire as I do my part at Ground Zero during the election season.
Now, I know better than to go telling elderly relatives, church ministers and elders, and others of that ilk that I am a Satanist. They would automatically jump to “devil worshipper!” and throw holy water on me or something. However, I am not going to lie about who I am. If someone asks me, point blank, what I practice and what I believe, I tell them I am an atheist (true), who is also a member of an alternative, non-theistic religion (also true), but I often do not name it right away because of the fear and assumptions that will follow without explanation. I also make it clear that this approach has nothing to do with shame and everything to do with safety, and, most of all – especially in these troubled and dangerous political times – to protect my space in that community and make sure that I am still welcome. If they are interested in learning more after that, I am more than happy to educate.
While there are folks there who remember my excommunication and why, there are plenty of non-members, and even those who abandoned the place, who still arrive to organize, register voters, take people to vote, and give refuge to activists and others in the community. Every set of hands counts during these times, and that is all that matters. That is a good thing, because when it comes to activism and community organizing, we are all on the same side, with the same fate at stake. There is no room for a religious litmus test.
At the end of the day, the Black Church is not going anywhere. Honestly, if I had my way, the Black community would do the things it does without that particular anchor dragging it down, but I am surely not getting my way anytime soon. But I also refuse to lie to people – even in a Christian church where there is always plenty of fear and ignorance (someone once called me the devil to my face – yes, really) – about who I am. I could do what I did when I first really realized I did not believe any of what they were selling, which was to pretend to still believe. That, however, was exhausting. The biggest favor they ever did was throw me out. In the end, I choose to live authentically. After all, without being true to ourselves, and honest about who we are, we have very little in this life. Those who would reject you for being different are not worth your time or space anyway.