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Reverend Leah Daughtry

(Photo credit: New York Times)

By Mikhail Bell (@Bellsworld)

On February 19, former Democratic National Convention Committee CEO and ordained Pentecostal minister Reverend Leah Daughtry delivered one of Black History Month’s most honest and thought-provoking talks at Wesley Theological Seminary. The fifth generation preacher’s comments addressed sexuality, intolerance, and race relations in the church.

Sexuality and (In)Tolerance

Responding to intolerance she sees in the Democratic Party, Daughtry regretted the modern view of friendships as “like who I like, hate who I hate” arrangements.

Our society has increasingly becoming intolerant of those who do not believe the same as us, Rev. Daughtry asserted. A Twitter attack directed at Rick Warren by other users embodied the public square’s shifting mores around acceptable discourse. Reverend Daughtry challenged the detractors on Twitter, who had “cut [Warren] out of conversation,” referencing his humanitarian work and positive social influence. Why did Warren come under fire? He stumped for George W. Bush and opposed same-sex marriage, she said.

Rev. Daughtry knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of invectives. In 2008, liberals in the Democratic Party attacked the effusive Pentecostal minister for affirming marriage as a union between a man and a woman. (“The Blade,” a GLBTQ newspaper, originally reported this in an article that has since been removed.)

That same year, the former Harvard fellow came under fire when she announced that non-religious groups would not be admitted to the DNC’s first interfaith caucus.

Attacked by those outside of the church, Rev. Daughtry recalled a situation with a Wesley Theological Seminary student from earlier in the day. The seminarian, who supports same-sex marriage, delivered a vigorous and emotional apology for redefining marriage. While passionate, the diatribe squelched any opportunity for those “whose opinions are unsettled” to dissent. It is become “in” to be intolerant of those with are not the same as your own.

“It is an issue that I struggle with personally,” Daughtry admitted. The church and her party, she posited, need to be a place for the “unsettled” to think through their stance on sexuality in the context of faith.

The Myth of the Color Blind Society

Ethnicity and race no longer exist, it has been asserted. Responding to the politically correct refrains that one does “not see color” and “color does not matter,” Rev. Daughtry inquired how a woman would respond if a man did not notice her sex. “I want you to know I am a woman,” she joked.

“To say that you are color blind,” is akin to saying, “you do not see people,” she said.

“When you tell me you are color blind, you are saying that you don’t see me. You are seeing what you want to see and you are negating my experience. Why do we feel that is okay?”

Dr. Martin Luther King famously opined that he wanted his children to be known for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. This, Rev. Daughtry contends, is not an invitation to erase cultural and phenotypical realities from our interactions. “[Dr. King] meant he wanted you to see them and for their color not to matter – for good or for bad,” she explained.

“To say that you are color blind, is to negate my existence. [It is] to negate my experience,” the Brooklyn native continued.

Race pervades human interactions and, in some cases, indicates social location. “Your skin color has shaped your experience in the way that it has shaped mine. We should acknowledge and celebrate how our skin color has carried us through our lives.” For it has given us “advantages and disadvantages and the experiences that make our lives richer, fuller and interesting.”

“If we were all the same, it just wouldn’t be fun,” the Wesley Theological Seminary alumna jested.

The issues Rev. Daughtry addressed are deeply personal, complex and controversial. However, she would argue this is cause for dialogue, not avoidance. While Rev. Daughtry spoke during Black History Month, her reflections, as did those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, will certainly transcend the immediate moment.