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New book examines gays in the black church

New book examines gays in the black church

An open secret about the African American church in the US is the role LGBT musicians have in the institution’s music.

In 1971, Anthony Heilbut wrote a comprehensive study called The Gospel Sound. In its first edition, he kept knowledge of the personal lives of gospel performers quiet (one sentence was focused on sexuality). Now, as reported by the New York Times, the scholar’s new work details the contributions of LGBT singers to church music. Heilbut also chastises black Christians for standing firmly against marriage equality  while depending on the work of gay musicians.

‘The family secret has become public knowledge and the black church, once the very model of civil rights, has acquired a new image, as the citadel of intolerance,’ Heilbut writes in The Fan Who Knew Too Much.

Heilbut opens up about many leading gospel singers, such as James Cleveland, Alex Bradford, Clara Ward, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. He can do so because these musicians are now dead (Cleveland died from complications due to AIDS).

Despite the contributions of LGBT gospel musicians, Heilbut insists homophobia is prevalent in the black church.

‘I heard it forever "He’s a great singer, but he’s a sissy,"’ the writer said. ‘Or, "He did a terrible thing, but at least he’s not a sissy."’

A few black clergy have pushed back against Heilbut. They freely admit the presence of gays and lesbians in their pews and choirs, but see gay marriage  support as counter to their moral precepts.

‘The black church respects the talents of musicians who have gay and lesbian tendencies,’ said Rev. Emmett C. Burns Jr., the pastor of Rising Sun First Baptist Church. ‘But the church never gives up its beliefs that such persuasions are anathema to individuals within the church and in direct conflict with the Bible.’

The reverend’s church is located in Baltimore, a city in the US eastern state of Maryland. In March, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a same-sex marriage bill that Burns opposes.