The Spook Who Sat By the Door The Spook Who Sat By the Door

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Church In Harlem Sanctuary For Black Gay Men And Lesbians look at the x,z

With all the fuss about same-sex marriage and such, there is now a church where gay men and women can feel welcome. Via NYTimes: In a church nestled among a row of residential brownstones, parishioners clapped and danced as a woman began to testify. “Aren’t you glad Jesus got up?” the woman, Twanna Gause, asked the predominantly black congregation, which responded with enthusiastic shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah.” “He got up so I can come out,” Ms. Gause said, as worshipers hopped out of their seats and cheered in agreement. “He got up so you can come out.” For black Christians who are gay and lesbian, church can be a daunting experience, where on any given Sunday they are taught that homosexuality is not only a sin, but a one-way ticket to hell. That alienation has been a benefit for the Rivers at Rehoboth congregation, in Harlem, which has made ministry to gay men and lesbians, combined with the worship traditions of black churches, its mission. The congregation was formed by the merger of two churches, Rivers of Living Faith and Rehoboth Temple. The pastor of Rivers, Vanessa M. Brown, 41, is a lesbian, and the pastor of Rehoboth, Joseph Tolton, 45, is gay, and both were born and raised in Harlem. Their merged congregation rents space out of Grace Congregational Church on West 139th Street, where Mr. Tolton’s former church worshiped for four years. Ms. Brown, the church’s senior pastor and Ms. Gause’s partner, preaches what she calls a “radically inclusive” message, while Mr. Tolton, the associate pastor, offers as a mantra the phrase “Gay by God.” “God doesn’t make any junk,” Ms. Brown said. “He made us knowing who we were going to be before we were it.” Only “small segments” of black church leaders openly welcome gay men and lesbians in their congregations, according to Lawrence H. Mamiya, a professor of religion at Vassar College who has researched black churches. Rivers at Rehoboth is attended by an average of 200 members each Sunday. On Easter, ushers had to place folding chairs next to pews to accommodate visitors, some of whom had traveled from as far as Italy and Australia. Both pastors speak openly about their own experiences struggling with sexuality as black Christians. Mr. Tolton said that for over 20 years, he believed his sexual orientation was a spiritual demon from which he needed to be saved. As a young man, he asked clergy to pray for him to be straight. Mr. Tolton said he left his church after a friend told him he could not be the best man at his wedding because he is gay. “It broke my heart,” Mr. Tolton said. Ms. Brown said she, too, struggled with the church’s stance on homosexuality. She said she married a man who was gay, to help him cover up his sexuality and protect his image in the church. But Ms. Brown divorced him after growing tired of living a lie, she said. “I was ruining my own self,” she said. “I wasn’t happy.” Many members of the Rivers at Rehoboth have their own stories. The pastors say they are now looking for a larger space in which to expand. “We want people to know that they are loved, there’s a safe space for them in the house of God,” Ms. Brown said, “where they can truly worship the Lord and be their authentic selves. lol lol reallyyyyyyyyy

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