The general public may have been surprised by the results of a survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which found that African Americans overwhelmingly support policies that promote greater equality for LGBT people. In fact, more than any other racial group, African Americans believe that businesses and the government should not be allowed to refuse services to LGBT people based on religious beliefs. I believe that the silent majority of African American supporters of LGBT equality remain silent because our community has not had a holistic conversation about what it means to support LGBT equality. We allow a louder minority to paint a distorted picture of our true values. And, that obsequiousness is holding our whole community back.
The question of African American support for LGBT equality has been couched in terms of support for marriage equality for too long. Let's take a look at the number revealed by the PRRI survey. The survey found that, among Black Protestant respondents, only 38 percent supported marriage equality. But, when that seemingly unsupportive group was asked about their views on nondiscrimination and religious refusal laws, 51 percent actually favored nondiscrimination protections, and 62 percent opposed religious refusals. Among all Black Protestants, 64 percent support nondiscrimination laws, and 67 percent oppose religious refusals, regardless of their views on marriage equality. The survey found even stronger support for LGBT equality among non-protestant Black Americans.
This data demonstrates that in the minds of most African Americans, LGBT equality means more than supporting marriage for same-sex couples. Our community is not completely there yet on the marriage question, and we know why. It is largely the result of misguided misinterpretations of the Bible and a belief that homosexuality and gender difference are at odds with God.
That's why we have to change the way we approach conversations about LGBT identities in the bible. The whole bible - not just the few passages considered to condemn same-gender love - belongs to us. Focus on love--God's most treasured and universal gift. An honest reading of the bible reveals there is more written about justice, hospitality, grace and love than anything else.
The verses most often referenced to condemn homosexuals, in fact condemn abuse, rape, prostitution and violence. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is similar: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Such a strong mandate and challenge to love ought not go unheeded.
The majority of African Americans support nondiscrimination laws. The majority support protections for LGBT people in our society, and oppose allowing religious refusal laws. All of this is true even with high levels of church attendance, traditional religious beliefs and fidelity to the bible among African Americans. Our community has experienced marginalization, discrimination and hatred, and those experiences have shaped and defined the ways in which we conceive of God's intentions for all of his children.
We know well that God intended justice, freedom and equality for all of us, not just some. When one must constantly affirm "oneself" as a child of God, of inherent worth, it is not a simple matter to exclude others. And, if we dare remain open to fresh revelation, rather than being reliant upon the limiting understandings perpetuated by our traditions, broader justice is possible. And as the report reveals, many of our young people are already seizing upon that brighter future in which all of God's children receive love, compassion and justice.