For more than a decade, St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church has welcomed members of Charlotte’s LGBTQ+ community. So when Pastor Clifford Matthews was asked to host this year’s interfaith service to kick off Charlotte Pride, his response was simple.
“It’s about time,” he said.
In doing so, St. Luke became the first historically Black church in Charlotte to ever host the event, which began in 2011.
This year’s service, which was held last Sunday, took place amid growing concern among some LGBTQ+ people. The Supreme Court’s decision that stuck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years had guaranteed women a constitutional right to abortion services, left some in the gay community fearful that same-sex marriage rights could suffer the same fate.
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Matthews, meanwhile, sees another narrative worth discussing.
“Anybody who is even a casual observer of the Black church understands that there is somewhat of a dividing line as it pertains to LGBTQ+ rights,” he said.
A tense history
A common theme among clergy who spoke at the interfaith service was finding acceptance in religious spaces.
Debra Hopkins, a trans woman who leads Essentials For Life Ministries, recalled that, after a long period of strife in her life, she was told by a friend that “God still loves you.”
“It meant the world to me, but it didn’t mean anything at all,” said Hopkins, who had grown up in church and spent decades preaching.
“I knew God loved me,” she said. “But I found myself in a situation where all of whom I thought were God’s children had abandoned me.”
Matthews, who said he was called to ministry at age of 14, has been St. Luke’s pastor for 23 years. In that time, the 72-year-old church has hosted at least seven same-sex marriages — six of which Matthews officiated.
When the church officially identified as pro-LGBT in 2010, many members left, Matthews said, but those who stayed were dedicated.
Joyce Norman, a member of the St. Luke congregation since 1988, said she attended the interfaith service to “see what it’s about.”
“We are all human,” said told QCity Metro.
Ryan Mijumbi traveled from Gastonia to attend the service, which he watch virtually last year because of the pandemic. He said it was encouraging to see older adults speaking and facilitating the event.
Finding a home
Matt Comer, Charlotte Pride’s communications director, said the organization began holding the annual interfaith service because of the difficulty LGBTQ+ people have finding a “home” in faith communities.
Charlotte Pride held its first interfaith service in 2011 with a gathering of just 50 people, Cormer said. Since then, no Black church had hosted the event.
“That leaves out and could send a message of exclusion to a significant portion of our community in Charlotte,” he said.
The Black Lives Matter movement, Comer said, prompted Charlotte Pride to ask, “How can we be better?”
It’s not just Black faith leaders who are missing from the interfaith service, said Mohammed Jibriel of Belk Chapel and a member of the Charlotte Pride interfaith team.
“This is the harsh reality,” he said. “Charlotte Pride has been doing this work for years and has failed to secure a Muslim scholar to come to this event.”
Matthews, who had participated in previous Charlotte Pride-related activities, including the festival and parade, said he remains optimistic.
“The issue of LGBTQ+ inclusion is major,” he said. “But things are changing.”