This is the first of two sidebars from Rhonda Graham's Special Report: AIDS in the Gospel Choir which appeared in the Sunday News Journal October 23, 1994 Wilmington, Delaware.
by Rhonda Graham
Staff reporter Sunday News Journal, Wilmington, Del.
The silence about AIDS in the black gospel community is perpetuated by various theologies regarding homosexuality.
The Rev. Yvette Flunder believes that teaching homosexuality is sin contributes to the spread of AIDS.
"They do what I call predatory sex... because they cannot ever think in terms of having an open relationship because it's not permitted," said Flunder, who runs an HIV/AIDS ministry in San Francisco.
Bisexuality becomes a solution that permits many to hide their homosexual activity in heterosexual marriages. "That means that everybody who sleeps in the subculture of the church is infecting everybody else," she said.
Flunder has abandoned the doctrine she grew up believing as a member of the Church of God in Christ, one of the largest black Pentecostal denominations. She says that doctrine is based on a patriarchy that fears homosexuality "because it feminizes men" and "empowers women not to need men."
But Millicent Cannon and her church aren't about to buck the Bible and tell gays they will go to heaven. She believes they must repent first.
In visiting with AIDS patients, the evangelist/missionary at Northside Church of God in Wilmington is reminded of her two sons who died from the disease, one in her arms. Although they were not gospel musicians, Cannon says her sons convinced her that all AIDS patients need truth and mercy.
She remembers the indignation of one man who recently died.
"He said, 'I've been singing on the choir all my life and you're telling me all that I have done is not right?' I mean he would literally slam down the phone on me. But he would call me, sometimes two or three o'clock in the morning, to come to the hospital with him because his family turned him aside. The joy was the day he went to be with the Lord, and he accepted him for his personal savior," she said.
For some, faith prohibits them from being forthcoming about AIDS. Patients will deny having AIDS by not attaching the term to their symptoms. They turn to the Apostle Paul's reminder that Christians should "walk by faith and not by sight."
"The Word of God tells us by his stripes we are healed. I believe God has been a healer," said Co-Pastor Faye Whetstone of Victory Christian Fellowship, Delaware's largest interracial congregation.
Twice a month the congregation's "We Care" support group can draw up to 20 HIV/AIDS patients and family members for a ministry that focuses on being non-judgmental.
Bobby Jones of the popular TV show "Bobby Jones Gospel," is one of the few in the industry to say he does not believe that homosexuality is entirely behavioral.
"I'm too intelligent for that. I do listen to what experts in the fields of human sexuality have to say about people and what happens to them when they reach puberty, the changes that happen in adolescence. You know, the talk shows have done a lot to educate me, too," he said.
But one Elsmere woman trusts her husband's experience, not experts. Before he died two years ago, he called her to his hospital bed to discuss his other life, one of late night rendezvous in Wilmington-area clubs with men.
"You know, he said he didn't believe he was born that way," she said softly.
Instead, she said, he traced his adult "behavior" to an elementary-school bathroom rape by bullies, the rejection of a 10-year-old female classmate and his ultimate "turning out" by an older man while a sexually naive college student.
Whether homosexuality is right or wrong has not been the personal struggle of one Wilmington choir director, who now preaches against the "lifestyle."
"It was never comfortable for me. I know it's an abomination, because God says so. So I know I wasn't created this way," said, Robert, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity at his wife's request.
What has worked for him after years of seeking God is a "deliverance theology."
"It was just a process," he said. "Anything like this is not a regular sin. The Bible talks about strongholds. Everybody has that one thing they deal with."
His "deliverance" gives him a "holy boldness" to stand up at church services to testify about "sex traps" that flourish in the subculture and lead to the transmission of AIDS.
"As long as you are on this earth where the devil is the prince of the air...he's going to have a struggle with you," Robert said. "If not, then you must be God in the flesh."