No group in America suffers more from entrenched bigotry than African Americans. So why, of all groups, have the African American churches dug in their heels against the civil rights of LGBT people? Shayne Lee tackles the question on, “Why black church culture rejects homosexuality.” Lee offers the most elemental answer, because the Bible says so:

…many black Christians pride themselves on a plain reading of Scripture, making it virtually impossible to foster an inclusive embrace or acceptance of homosexuality. As long as African-American Christians adhere to biblical mandates as authoritative prescriptions from God, they won’t be easily dissuaded from rejecting same-sex lifestyles as viable alternatives to heterosexual norms.

The irony is that white Americans used that same Bible to bolster their moral certainty that slavery was just. (There is not one negative word about slavery in the Bible, and countless scriptures on how to do it right. Questioning the morality of one man owning another never occurred to the book’s authors.)

African American churches are now doing to gay rights exactly what was done to them on race rights—using the Bible to justify their existing prejudice. But why? Why would the good people of these celebratory churches decide prejudice is the answer? We all know answer, for as W.H. Auden wrote:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

I know this dynamic from my own Mormon heritage. Mormons are the most mocked group in the country for their weirdo marriages, so to defend themselves against the relentless taunting, they transformed themselves into the staunchest possible defenders of traditional marriage. “See! You can’t pick on me anymore, because I’ll prove I am way more zealous about this than you!!”

Mormon Temple in the dark of its reflecting pool

Mormons are by far the most anti-gay people in the country, and they put their political focus on traditional marriage, the very issue they are taunted for. The black community is stereotyped as hyper-sexual, receiving white culture’s repressed sexual projections (Black men want to steal our white women! Their women dance like Jezebel! The evils of Jazz!), and they respond with some of the most sex-phobic churches. The CNN article refers to Princeton religious scholar Wallace Best’s comment that “maturity and honesty about sexuality is dangerously low in a great many black church communities.” It goes without saying the same is true in Mormon churches as well, if we are talking anything beyond procreative sex which, shockingly, many Americans engage in.

Gay people have qualities that the black churches and the Mormons (and the Catholics, and the evangelicals, and everyone else) could gain from. But whether we bring gifts or not, we deserve the same human rights as every other American citizens. For the black churches to see this, they will have to work through their own issues about sex, sexuality, sexual projections, and the like. For the Mormons to see this they will have to work through their own issues about marriage, sex, non-standard relationships, and their polygamous history.

Neither of these groups gets the irony of their current positions, but they can change. They can come to see that being once oppressed does not grant you the right to become the oppressor. In fact, this might be just the place for them to practice a little of that Christian empathy we hear so much about.