Commentary: The Black Church on Which Others Should Model Themselves

Led by a gay man and a lesbian woman, a church in Harlem is a perfect example of where we should be going.

Posted: 05/29/2012 07:13 PM EDT

Parishioners attend New Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church in South Los Angeles April 29, 2012. There is no association with the church in Harlem, New York. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


Ever since our nation's first president of color also became the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage, the floodgates have been opened when it comes to Blacks supporting gay marriage.

Jay-Z now says he supports gay marriage, and the 64-member board of the NAACP voted to endorse gay marriage “unequivocally.” “The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the 'political, education, social and economic equality' of all people,” said the NAACP’s official resolution. “Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens.”

Even African-Americans in North Carolina, the state that banned same-sex marriage the day before Obama made his gay-marriage proclamation, has come around in the wake of the president’s words. More than half of Black North Carolinians now believe in gay marriage, whereas once only 44 percent supported it.

Alas, though the tides are turning, they’re still not all the way changed. Many Americans both Black and white continue to believe gay marriage is sinful and should be banned, and much of that anti-gay agenda continues to stem from the church. Now, in at least one place in Harlem, Black people of faith are saying “no more” to anti-gay dogma, and changing lives in the process.

In a new article in the New York Times, Gerren Keith Gaynor looks at the Rivers at Rehoboth congregation in Harlem, a church that’s making a name for itself by being wide open to gay, lesbian and transgender worshipers. The lead pastors are Joseph Tolton, who is gay, and Vanessa M. Brown, who is a lesbian, and both were raised in Harlem. Knowing how hard it can be to be gay in African-American communities, Tolton and Brown are standing together to make their house of worship a place that welcomes all comers.


Says Brown, “We want people to know that they are loved, there’s a safe space for them in the house of God, where they can truly worship the Lord and be their authentic selves.”

Something tells me that if Jesus does come back, he’ll be more inclined to worship next to the loving and compassionate Brown than any pastor who says gays are sinful and should be oppressed.



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