Black Churches in Newark Move Toward Tolerance

The Star-Ledger, New Jersey's highest-circulating online and print newspaper, informally surveyed a number of Newark African American pastors on LGBT equality and acceptance in the Black church. Some pastors expressed that there are a number of gay members of Black churches, but many are not open with their orientation. While this indicates that there is progress to be made, the article noted the growing acceptance in Black churches:

“A random sampling of black ministers in the Newark area found many are aware of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and [transgender] men and women in their congregations, singing in the choir or working in a church office. And they are willing to welcome them with open arms.”

This is a significant step forward for many of the congregations named in the article; however, placing barriers to participation is not fully inclusive. Although the piece mentioned LGBT people “singing in the choir and working in the church office,” church leadership by someone openly LGBT is not specifically addressed.

Pastors like Rev. M. William Howard of Bethany Baptist in Newark said he speaks out against anti-gay sentiment from the pulpit. He acknowledged that some churches, not just ones in the black community, are figuring out how to be welcoming of all people, regardless of their orientation.

While the tides are changing, marriage equality and HIV/AIDS advocacy remain two areas where there is still work to be done. The Star-Ledger noted, “Polls show a generational divide in the black community, with younger members growing more supportive of same-sex marriage...Some pastors object on the basis of scripture, others just don’t see it as the church’s mission to take a political stand on gay rights of any kind.”

Regarding HIV/AIDS awareness, the paper later explained: “The black church is still generally criticized for its slow reaction to the AIDS/HIV epidemic. Many pastors admit as much. ‘We had our heads in the sand,’ says Howard. Now, he points with pride to Bethany educational programs and the church website, which heralded World AIDS Day this month.”

Rev. Reginald T. Jackson (pictured), pastor of St. Matthew AME Church in Orange and executive director of the 600-member Black Ministers’ Council of New Jersey believes black churches are moving toward more tolerance. “I think anyone who is gay or lesbian or whatever should be welcome in all of our churches,” he tells The Star-Ledger. “That shouldn’t be a question.”

GLAAD appreciates that The Star-Ledger provided a more nuanced look at changing attitudes in some black churches and also examined the often overlooked response of African American faith leaders to HIV/AIDS. At the same time, GLAAD is currently working to elevate the voices of LGBT-affirming pastors in Newark that are fully welcoming of LGBT people (including leadership) and support marriage equality.