Pride and the Black Church: An Outcry from the Mountaintop

Ian Haddock

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The lowest point of my life was my mother’s death. Like many black gay men, I was raised and built by a strong black woman. Sitting outside of the nursing home room where she was barely breathing, I found myself wondering about what fears she had as she was nearing eternity — or potentially, the lack thereof. Being that close to death was an awakening for my spirit in a morbid way. To live such an imperfect life filled with secrets alongside the societal need to be connected to church — I could only imagine how the expected relief of an afterlife free of struggle might be replaced by an inkling of anxiety that her last breath would just be...the end. Could heaven really exist?

Two weeks later, I was sitting in the front row at my mother’s funeral, dressed in all black, rubbing a piece of paper in my hand while mentally preparing to speak my truth, heal my grief, and free her spirit. I was being held up by my chosen family — my LGBT patriarchs and matriarchs — for support. I had a bit of hope knowing that though my biological brother hadn’t arrived at the service, I had a family that would be with me through the end. 

I was jerked out of my thoughts as the Pastor began his eulogy. He was an eloquent speaker with a knack for speaking to real world issues. In my heart, I was looking for him to expand the hope that I had just been pondering on. To my disgust, he began his remarks: “We have to get right, right now. The kingdom of heaven ain’t gonna except no gays and crossdressers. Get right church! God is coming!” The audience roared with applause. 

I was devastated. Not only was I robbed of the chance to say a final goodbye to my mother, but I didn't get to say the speech that promised some sense of closure. I left the church with my chosen family, embarrassed and broken. The audience’s applause replayed in my head. overpowering the loss I felt at never kissing my mother’s face again. 

I began to do what is considered the appropriate way to cope: I signed up for a grief counselor, I volunteered, I traveled, and I went and met new people. I was leading work in LGBTQIA+ spaces, mentoring folx, building communities — doing “the work.” All of this, yet I was numb. Everyone around me embraced me and I felt nothing. Well-dressed, well-paid, well-connected...and broken. Organizations were giving me awards to express how proud of me they were, and yet, I had no pride. 

It was six years before I acknowledged the depth of my hurt. All this work, and my grief journey was only beginning. All these years empowering others to feel comfortable and complete in their queerness, and I was still feeling perplexed by it. 

I decided I needed an Outcry. I wanted to create a space that I could be proud of as Black, Gay and Christian! I needed clergy to hear the disgust I had with being beaten down by their words. I needed them to feel the love I have for my community, chosen family, partner, and work. I needed the Black Christian Church — specifically my home church — to understand that I am loved by God even if I am hated by them.

Before I knew it, as if by divine intervention, I was sitting in the megachurch of a Pastor in the same denomination as my former. I had spoken to him about my project “Outcry,” and he invited me to tell the church about that work. Reverting back to the young man sitting on the front row rubbing his hands together, I became terrified. My underarms started to perspire, my throat became dry, and my voice became shaky. 

“I am here to talk about love,“ I began. 

The Pastor responded, “Tell them who it’s focused on.”

Remembering that first devastating applause, fear took over me. But it was my time to finally speak, “This project is about LGBT trauma and the church.”

There was no applause, but there were smiles — a sea of smiles. As I finished my speech and walked off, there were hugs and expressions of gratitude. Though I felt confident, I still didn’t feel complete. There was more work to do. Healing, when desired, isn’t easy; but it will chase after you. 

Weeks later, I was asked to be a part of eulogizing those who died in shame and silence for Pride Month. Many of my community had died quietly in the corner with no one, while my voice and my heart had died with them years ago along with my mom. I spoke with power and passion because not only was I putting my grief to death, I had finally gotten to lay my mom to rest with pride. I had truly reached my mountaintop. 

R.I.P. Varia Walker

 
 
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