BY VICTOR HOFF
Black. Gay. Christian. To be a member of any one of those groups is fraught with all the ugly, untoward stereotypes a country like ours rarely hides. Or, if it does, it’s blanketed in a sort of subtle gloss that shields the perpetrator with an unbelievably high level of unawareness.
But for some people, therein lies the challenge; succumb to the race-baiting,homophobia and reflexive distrust we have for organized religion or overcome it. Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, activist, poet, civil rights activist and humanitarian, Bishop Terry Angel Mason chose the latter.
Born in Los Angeles, Calif., with a home there and in our very own backyard here in San Diego, Angel, as he prefers to be called, has made a name for himself with his tireless advocacy on behalf of the black community, specifically the black,gay, Christian community. He emphatically rejects outright the idea that gay black men, wounded from years of ostracism and homophobia from the very moral epicenter of the black community – its churches – has inflicted a perverse sort of spiritual carnage that cannot be undone.
In his first book, Love Won’t Let Me Be Silent, Angel explores the experiences and trials of parenthood from an African American gay male perspective and sensitively chronicles Angel’s search for love and self-hood. In his follow-up, to be released in hardcover this spring, They Say That I Am Broken, he expands his already formidable range by addressing everything from healthy same-gender-loving relationships and tackling some of the uglier recent chapters in our history including Kobe Bryant’s ill-informed comments at a recent Lakers game to Tracy Morgan’s callous remark about killing his own child during a comedy routine to the state of same-sex marriage in California and the barbaric political posturing going on in Uganda today.
San Diego LGBT Weekly
had a chance to catch up with the Bishop to discuss his views on a variety of subjects and found, like his writing, he pours every ounce of passion into his responses. We are honored to have him speak with us.
San Diego LGBT Weekly:You mentioned in the book that you’ve been involved in the church for more than 40 years. What drew you to that life? As a child, surely you must have seen and heard the rampanthomophobia that exists. Were you compelled to overcome that? How did this effect you as a child struggling with your sexual identity?
Bishop Terry Angel Mason: In the African American community, it is very common for children to be reared in church as much as in the home – this was the case with me as well.
Ironically, most of the discrimination that I experienced as a youth did not come from the church, but rather from schoolmates and peers in my community. My polite demeanor, ability to sing, play the piano and speak well, shielded me to a great degree from much of the religious intolerance that I would have most certainly experienced, if I were not endowed with these gifts. It was only after becoming an adult openly gay Christian minister, LGBT civil rights activist and HIV/AIDS advocate that I began to experience the horrific expressions ofhomophobia that many experience in the black church on a daily basis.
This did not mean that I did not hear homophobic sermons catapulted from the pulpit that did not offend me and chip away at my self-worth and self-esteem, because I did! Because of my high regard for those who were my spiritual mentors, their words added to the spiritual conflict in my soul and nothing that I could find (as a child and teen) in the Bible at that time seemed to offer any glimmer of light in regard to resolving these inner conflicts.
My love for God and quest to know Him better and to understand myself better eventually led me to this liberating truth and that is: God’s love redeemed, sanctified, justified and placed me in His family when I accepted Him as my Lord and Savior – and by the way, this redemption is available to all humanity, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or sexual persuasion.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: Where do you feel that the bigotry and homophobia so prevalent in the black church comes from? In other words, what makes the black community so much more resilient to the LGBT community than, say, other groups?
Bishop Terry Angel Mason: Much of the reason the black church is so intolerant is not because blacks are more homophobic than any other race, but because of its deep roots in Christianity and because white evangelicals frequently infiltrate its ranks and heavily influence black ministries, even though they may not worship together. This is exactly what happened in 2008 when Prop. 8 was being considered by voters in California during the historical 2008 presidential election.
It is also my opinion that slavery is a direct cause of homophobia since slave owners purposely dismantled the African American family unit in order to gain more psychological and physical control over the slaves. African American males were removed from the family unit and psychologically castrated and stripped of their masculine role as a husband, father, lover and man. The African Americanwomen became the matriarch and leader of the family, not necessarily because she wanted to be but because she had to be! As generations went by, the musicindustry birthed the hip-hop culture and this was extremely appealing to blacks because this genre of music re-embraced the lost masculine image and portrayed black men as hard, strong, Mandingo urban survivors. Anything white, feminine, sensitive and contrary to this ideology and disposition was labeled by hip-hop artists as weak and a threat to everything that the African American male was and had struggled so very hard to regain. This is also the reason why manyAfrican American gay men refuse to refer to themselves as “gay!” They simply feel that they do not fit the image of the preppy, white gay male that Hollywood often stereotypically depicts as an overtly feminine enigma traipsing across a television screen dressed in inappropriate feminine attire.
San Diego LGBT Weekly: Your book, They Say That I Am Broken, is a sprawling conglomeration of poetic odes, essays, uplifting parables and more. Was that your motivation when you started the book?
Bishop Terry Angel Mason: Not long ago I heard a well known bishop state that the reason same-gender-loving people are the way they are is because of spiritual and emotional brokenness. Because this minister is highly regarded and esteemed by thousands worldwide, it wasn’t long before other copy-cat-wanna-be bishops and aspiring televangelists picked up the phrase (coined it) and began to spread it on the Internet and throughout the country like wildfire.
To be honest with you, I did not realize how prevalent this type of spiritual malpractice was until one day I did a Google search on the subject and to my dismay, discovered how widespread this ideology is in Christendom today. Even though it is said that same-gender-loving people are broken, current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual.
I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I wonder how the heterosexual community would feel if someone told them that the reason they were black or heterosexual was because they were spiritually broken!” Trust me my brothers and sisters, if anyone dared make an outlandish statement like this, every African Americanwould be up in arms and ready to crucify the offenders! I realize that this comparison enrages many African Americans who feel that the gay community has hijacked the civil rights movement to champion their cause and that I have no right to make such a comparison. The interesting thing to note however is that the Bible makes it very clear that ALL OF HUMANITY, IN GOD’S EYES ARE BROKEN and in need of a REDEEMER! I find it amazing that the heterosexual faith community foolishly believes that God somehow excludes same-gender-loving people from the fold because of some special heterosexual privilege.
My heart breaks year after year as I witness my brothers and sisters who are same-gender-loving people leave the church by the thousands because of the spiritual blindness that handicaps our spiritual leaders and those who subscribe to their legalistic doctrine.