Rev. Hart has been the pastor of Sherman Methodist Church for seven years as of July. He roots his long work in advocacy and uplift in being “raised by Black women” and in scripture. In particular, in his advocacy and allyship with the LGBTQIA+ community, where others pick passages from the Bible to exclude, Rev. Hart finds that “in looking at the scriptures and seeing what Jesus truly meant” he is led to “just having compassion for humanity.”
Rev. Hart’s journey was formed from his youth. “I grew up with this very liberatory spirit. My home place, my home church, imbued me with a lot of fight and a lot of justice,” he said. Rev. Hart has taken those teachings to understand the work toward justice is for all “who need real allies in a real world.”
Rev. Hart frames his work through an intersectional lens: “I think maybe 10, 20, 30 years ago we were very careful to make a distinction between the oppression and pain that we faced as Black people and the oppression other communities faced.” Rev. Hart says, “I understand why that’s done. I certainly want us to see our pain and see our joy and see our community as unique and distinct and beautiful, but the more that I experienced, the more that I looked around and saw not only our pain, but the pain of others, the more I’ve been with other folks who are suffering, there are more things that bring us together and are similar to our struggles than that are dissimilar or pull us apart.”
But in all of this, Rev. Hart also speaks of pain. He speaks of pain in the way the world and religion continue to harm his queer family. He speaks of pain that some of those who taught him justice and advocacy at the beginning of his journey do not join him in advocacy for Queer both in and outside of the walls of the Church. He lists some of the ways his persistent, insistent advocacy has cost him. “There are many things I have lost on the path of being an ally. Friends. Family members. Grants. Speaking engagements. Positions on boards of directors for national organizations. Church members. Church security,” he said. But the truth of all this, he adds, is that he has his “integrity, dignity, self-respect, and God’s love. I’m able to look myself in the mirror and know that how I’m moving is affirmed by God. And that is everything to me. I’ve gained everything on this path.”
Rev. Hart states that his own approach to the Bible is deeply rooted in Womanist framings. Womanism centers the experiences, contributions and efforts of Black feminists to better the world around them for all of humanity. Rev. Hart said of this framing: “I’ve never known another way to look at the scriptures other than through a Womanist lens.” A Womanist theologian, in Rev. Hart’s words, “is really anybody who looks at the world through the intersectional lenses of being Black and Woman but certainly queer Black women find a home” in Womanist thought. He said, “Womanist frameworks are particularly applicable to my life. I was raised by Black women and saw a single mother who knew she had to speak her child’s greatness into existence in order for him to be great.”
We Are All One
Rev. Hart turns to scripture for his understanding of queer uplift and justice. He starts by acknowledging that we who are queer, or allies, often need to “do a lot of responding about scripture, because people very carelessly use the scriptures to take a passage out of context,” using scripture to confirm their own biases. But Rev. Hart names that “when we read the gospels in their entirety, inclusively, we see that Jesus says absolutely nothing about the rightness or wrongness of human sexuality but more about loving our neighbor and loving one another as church folk, as neighbors, as humans, than he does about anything else.”
Rev. Hart continues, dispensing with the way a scant few lines of scripture have been, and still are, used to harm queer people, to say clearly, “and so the gospels in their entirety lead me to a firm ground where I sit and stand on human sexuality and with the queer community.” He starts with a well-known line from Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:28): “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Rev. Hart points to places where queer love is given space and uplifted, most notably in the story of David and Jonathan (1 and 2 Samuel in the Hebrew Bible). But beyond this, Rev. Hart sees queerness is in the work and existence of Jesus and the disciples, saying, “Just the way that the 12 disciples moved and acted and interacted with each other were not heteronormative,” adding, “They just moved in a fashion that was queer. They had the mission on their mind first and then all of the other things that they needed to do were secondary and tertiary. So you know, in every one of their actions they were not acting in a heteronormative fashion as they moved from city to city and did the work of the ministry.”
Raising up Together
Rev. Hart moves into work to uplift and welcome all into his home in faith. He also spoke about showing Pride, saying, “From the second I got here, we have been open and affirming. So I never felt like we needed to have outward expressions of how our church was with our inward grace. I think maybe a year or two ago, we had a Pride flag raising celebration because individuals said we’re doing all this great work, and it may not occur to you, but maybe there are some folks who need to understand out there about all the work that we’re doing inside, and maybe sometimes it takes a symbol or two or three for them to understand that we’re doing the work inside.”
In his work, Rev. Harts says, “I model the kind of the kind of allyship that I want others to display with me. When I see sexism or racism or homophobia or any hatred toward queer people, I have to say a thing and do a thing rather than running behind closed doors and just saying, ‘I’m with you,’ and ‘Oh, you’re so brave,’ and ‘This is so unfortunate.” No. You are as tired of homophobia and queer hate as I am about racism, so I would certainly want somebody to stand up and say, ‘That’s not acceptable,’ when they hear something wrong. I’ve had opportunities to authentically illustrate that I’m an ally. You shouldn’t have to be in a place where you have allies but you still have to take the brunt of the hate.
“There was a forum where one of my friends, who is a lesbian woman, speak on a panel with us about some things that she was an expert in, and another invited guest launched into a diatribe about how the downfall of our society was being caused by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer folk. And I’m here, just flabbergasted that I’ve invited this woman in and she has to hear this. So I had to take that moment, like we do in any other time, to say to the person speaking hate, that no, you’re absolutely wrong, and if you can’t stop the hatred then you’re going to have to leave. And that’s what we do as a church. We want folks to feel at home. We want folks to feel like they matter here, like this is a safe space for them.”
And in thinking about what we can all do to pursue justice and celebrate each other, Rev. Hart said, “Do the work. We all have work to do. White queer community has work to do. We, Black folk, have work to do. The larger population has work to do. All of our communities have work to do in terms of just being able to see each other in a more loving way, and treating each other in a more loving way, and being in community with each other the way that God intends for us to be. I want to just close by saying this: “I have found, and I’m finding, that there’s always more that unites us than divides us.”
Vica-Etta Steel is a Vicar at St. John’s Lutheran where she preaches and does outreach. She also serves as a public chaplain at the Madison Farmers’ Market, at coffee shops, and on Tik-Tok. It is her joy to work with people across the spiritual spectrum who have returned to their queer family, Jewish, Pagan, Christian, to name a few, and the many atheist and agnostic people who taught her how to believe deeply in love, in community.