Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard was born in Promised Land, South Carolina, the son of a Southern Baptist Minister, and says, “I grew up in church as much as I was in home.” He was given his nickname at the age of three, when his grandfather noticed his ability to replicate any dance move he saw.
When he came out as a gay man, he experienced rejection from the church. “I was angry at God,” he says. After struggling to reconcile his faith with his sexual orientation, he says he came to the conclusion that, “I was created like this, so I can’t believe in a God who would create me bound to hell, as they’re telling me I am.” Blanchard is now a co-chair of the Faith Leaders for Fairness—part of the Fairness Campaign—and leads the True Colors Ministry at Highland Baptist Church. He’s earning his Masters of Divinity at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and will be ordained at the end of May, making him the first openly gay person to be ordained at Highland Baptist.
Maurice Blanchard spoke with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis, beginning with a story he says illustrates how far Louisville still has to go in making public spaces feel safe for LGBTQ citizens.
On the Work of Faith Leaders for Fairness
“We’re rebuilding bridges for the LGBT community, back to faith. To be honest with you, the biggest conflict I get is from LGBTQ folk when I tell them I’m a gay minister. There is some animosity there, understandably. That’s probably the biggest struggle I see right now, is re-introducing faith to a people who have been wounded so much.”
On Being Called to Ministry
“I began reading deeper into scriptures, speaking with theologians, doing study, getting into the ministry, and realized that there is a place for everyone in the Kingdom of God. That has been a realization that has taken time to soak in. And I have felt the calling to ministry, and no in seminary, and active in my church, and leading a True Colors Ministry, which is the first LGBT-affirming ministry in a Baptist Church that I’m aware of.”
On Ministering to the LGBTQ Community
“The first thing I do, when confronted with a person who’s obviously been wounded, is not to say anything, but to be a listener. I think too many times religious leaders talk too much and listen too little. Sometimes we meet two or three, four times, and I haven’t really said anything about my own faith. Because I need to hear what they’ve been through, and I need to understand that, to be able to respond in a way that would be appropriate. Some folk respond to scripture well, some folk don’t want to hear anything about it. So mainly, with folk, I try to listen to them, hear where they’re coming from, and then start wading in the water and introducing them to the fact that there is a faith community, there are congregations that love you—not in spite of your sexuality, but simply for who you are as a child of God.”
On the Issues Facing LGBTQ People of Faith
“They’re facing outright rejection that they’ve felt their entire lives, from churches or church members. These people are covered in wounds and scars that emotionally run so deep, and we don’t see it on the outside, but they know very well they’re not welcome in many churches. They’re confronted with going back in and opening themselves up to be slighted again, to be condemned, and they don’t want to do that. And I don’t blame them. So, for example, my ministry, the True Colors Ministry, offers them a place almost like a wading pool. You’re not jumping into the pool—the pool being the full church—but you have something you can dip your feet in and get comfortable again, and start learning to trust again. And then when you’re ready, you can move into the larger pool.”