To Hell and Back: Reclaiming Spirituality, Faith, Even God
Jackson, Janyce, Weahkee, Laurie, Klein, Kim, Foster, Lenny, Zheng, Eddy, Colorlines Magazine
The media spin these days would have us believe that the left is godless and the right is godly (hence their election wins last year). But history has a different opinion: hell, there were more than a few prayers said during the Civil Rights Movement, the expulsion of the British empire from India and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. These fights for social justice and so many more have been rooted in faith.
So we talked with a five activists who have made spirituality, religion, faith or god the cornerstone of their political work. Why is faith important to them, and what difference has it made in their work and their own lives? Herein is a little of what they told us.--Editors
Black, Gay and Christian
When I fell in love with a woman, I was in my 30s. It was very exciting. At that time, I was going to the Baptist church. I would go to listen to the sermon and pray. I told God, "I love this woman. I don't know how it happened or why." It was really like a prayer. I told God, "If I'm doing the wrong thing, tell me." This was in the late '80s.
When the Unity Fellowship Church came to Brooklyn in 1991, it was the first affirmation that I could love God and that God would still love me, and I could be gay. The Unity Fellowship movement had started in Los Angeles. It was a church that I could go to with my partner and be all who I am because I identify as lesbian. I'm what they call "femme." I wear skirts. But my partner wouldn't go to the Baptist church with me because she wouldn't wear a dress. So when the Unity Fellowship church came to New York, they talked about "coming as you are," and we started going. Our church's motto is "God loves you just as you are."
My faith was always important to me because it's a feeling that there is a higher power that loves me. So I decided that I would help the new church in any way that I could. I started out as a trustee, helping the church with its business. I worked very closely with the pastor and did all the things you do to help organize and build something. When Rev. Jacquelyn Holland went to Newark, New Jersey in 1995 to start the Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church, I joined her. We talked to Trinity & St. Philips Cathedral, an Episcopal church in Newark, and they gave us space to use. We were embraced by them.
Rev. Holland felt that Newark was a place that needed a church. There were a lot of gay people in Newark at the time but no gay church. We were the first to say, "We're here because we know there needs to be a place for gay and lesbian people of color." We didn't immediately have weekly services. We began that in the summer. We're a Christian church. We have the choir, the choir, the sermon. We do libations in the beginning, where we offer homage to our ancestors.
In the beginning, especially for our community it was exciting. We had a full house for Sunday service, 200 to 300 people. People were curious. We had a lot of support. People would come from other places. Membership has been between 50 and 75 people a week.
In 1999, I became a deacon. How did I make the decision? I said a lot of prayers. I had a lot of questions. Being a deacon is really about serving the community, the people in your church. And that's just what I've always done. I started going to classes, training and serving more. The rest was just natural procession, and I was ordained as a reverend last year .
We're a Christian church and we're a social justice ministry. Our mission is to work in the community to uplift in any way that we can. So our message is that we believe in Jesus as a diety that uplifts and liberates. And so that overflows into the community in our HIV prevention program. We'll do everything we can to stop the epidemic. That's just part of the work of our ministry.
What brought us here as a church is that there were so many people of color who were shunned, put out, abandoned and talked about in other churches. …