Sometimes, you look at a story and a headline and you expect you are going to get one thing. Then, you read the story and get something different. While the story you get is quite good, you wonder what the story would have been like if you had gotten the story you were expecting.
A story about a storefront church in the heart of Washington, D.C.’s African American community that serves LGBT people is an irresistible story, especially with a lede like this by Washington Post writer Darryl Fears:
In the middle of a sermon, Bishop Rainey Cheeks felt his medicine bottle bulging in his pocket and realized he hadn’t taken his pills. He paused in the pulpit and faced the congregation in his tiny storefront church.
“Excuse me,” Cheeks remembers telling his parishioners last year as he poured three pills into his hand. “This is my HIV medicine. I’m going to take it now.”
As he washed down the pills with water, Cheeks saw some members staring with wide eyes. Everybody knew that their pastor, an imposing man with flowing dreadlocks who once competed in taekwondo championships, is gay. But not everyone knew that he is HIV-positive.
With a headline like A Sanctuary From Hate, I was assuming this was going to be a story about Cheeks and his Inner Light Ministries. I was expecting a story about the way the church reaches out to LGBT people, how it combines Pentecostal exuberance with an LGBT-friendly theology, and how the parishioners find a respite from the anti-gay messages they hear in many African American churches.
I still think that would be a great story. What we got instead was a very good story about HIV/AIDS in the African American community and how Inner Light Ministries reaches out to help those with HIV/AIDS. It tells a story of how the disease has ravaged D.C’s African American community and, more specifically, D.C.’s African American churches.
They come to the church to pray for forgiveness and seek redemption. But many also come to share their experience of being black and gay, living and loving in a city where HIV and AIDS lurk in epidemic proportions in nearly every community.
Nearly 60 percent of men in the city who contracted HIV through sex with men are black, according to a D.C. government survey released in March. Every minister and deacon at Inner Light Ministries has had a close encounter with the disease. Four of them are HIV-positive, including deacon Ronnie Walker, 54, who said that 20 years ago he had unprotected sex with a partner who never mentioned that he was sick and dying.
I still want to know about the theology of Inner Light Ministries and how it uses religion to make it different from other HIV/AIDS support programs. My sense is that a discussion of the role the church plays in the lives of African Americans–even LGBT ones–could lead to some interesting discussion of faith, disease, and redemption.
But we don’t always get what we want. Still, this is a very good story.