Posts Tagged ‘Homophobia’

Gay Marriage, Black Churches, and Kyriarchy

May 19, 2009
Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

As the marriage equality issue heats up, the media continues to pit blacks and gays against each other in a competition to define “civil rights.”  The Buffalo News got into that game with an article on Monday:

Black clergy have long opposed the march toward legal same-sex marriages. Now, they’re also challenging the growing efforts of gay-marriage supporters to frame the issue as a civil rights cause.

The Rev. William Gillison, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, a large African-American congregation on East Delevan Avenue, said he is insulted by the comparison.

“We know what we have gone through as an ethnic group. We feel the terminology, the definition itself, has really been hijacked,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s just another ploy to garner more support from people who may not understand what the civil rights struggle was all about.”

Bishop Michael A. Badger, pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church on Main Street, said that he doesn’t doubt there is discrimination against gay people but that it is hardly on the order of what African-Americans have encountered and still face.

“As an African-American, I don’t have a choice in the color of my skin. I have a choice in whether I’m abstinent or not,” Badger said. “I don’t think you can compare the two.”

The intended effect of articles like this is twofold: first, they damage the credibility of marriage equality advocates by removing one of their strongest claims to legitimacy; and second, they damage the reputation of the black community as a whole by highlighting those black “leaders” who are bigots and buffoons.  Of course marriage equality is a civil rights issue — it questions whether the government has sufficient cause to deny equal rights to a particular (and historically oppressed) group.  And of course homosexuality isn’t a choice, nor can someone stop being gay by abstaining from sex.

What can’t be as easily dismissed are the tensions between different forms of oppression that are at the heart of the conflict.  Trying to sort out whether racism or homophobia (or other oppressions) are “more important” or “worse” seems like a waste of energy at best, and dangerously counterproductive at worst.  Nobody wins when racial minorities, women, LGBTQ folks and the poor are fighting amongst themselves, yet our typically rigid and dichotomous way of looking at oppression practically guarantees that that’s what happens.

I was doing some reading on this subject when I came across the concept of kyriarchy. Some may already be familiar, but it was new to me:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

Let me break this down for you.  When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy.  When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy.  When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy.  It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid . . .
But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom.   And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom – here’s my advice: don’t bother.  The pyramid shifts with context.  The point is not to rank.  The point is to learn.
This seems like a much more valid — and useful — model for understanding oppression and how it operates.  It recognizes that everyone — even members of historically oppressed groups — can be oppressors themselves, and it steers us away from contests about “who has it worse” while recognizing that all oppressions aren’t the same.  And it doesn’t allow people like Gillison and Badger to hide their bigotry behind their own history of oppression.