A Gay Friendly Message to Mega-Churches

Human Rights

When Michelle Freeman fell in love with a woman 12 years ago, she felt compelled to leave her predominantly African-American church.

"The last sermon I heard as a practicing Baptist was very anti-gay," recalls Freeman, 42. "I had internalized homophobia. But when I met Georgia, I wanted us to worship in a place where we could be ourselves."

Her partner, Georgia Chambers, had also grown up in a predominantly African-American church with anti-gay messages. The Texas couple transferred their spiritual gifts and needs to the Metropolitan Community Church, a gay-friendly denomination.

Strengthened by their relationship and spiritual growth at MCC, the couple recently decided to join an outreach mission that, between Mother's Day and Father's Day, will visit six influential mega-churches. "I am taking a stand for the God I love, who I know made us all equal," explains Chambers, 39.

The "American Family Outing" has four sponsors: Soulforce, which adapts the principles of nonviolence honed by Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to challenge anti-gay messages in places of worship; the National Black Justice Coalition; MCC; and COLAGE, whose members have gay parents. (To participate, go to soulforce.org.)

The sponsors have asked the six mega-churches to welcome Outing's gay and gay-friendly families for meals, conversation and worship.

But even if the mega-churches don't extend the hand of fellowship, they will be visited. Respecting the six mega-churches' work on such issues as poverty and AIDS, the Outing visitors hope to sow seeds of love and understanding so that, one day, mega-churches will help to end physical and spiritual violence against gays.

The outreach comes at a pivotal moment in the evangelical movement: the passing of the old guard -- signaled by the deaths last year of the Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. D. James Kennedy -- and the rise of a new generation of mega-church leaders, who reach mega-millions through massive worship services, TV and radio shows, books and CDs.

The new generation tends to be less fiercely anti-gay. Their subtle softening of anti-gay rhetoric and shifting of priorities reflects polls showing that evangelicals in the pews care more about issues like health care and the Iraq war than about gay marriage.

Three mega-church preachers to be visited largely avoid gay issues: Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America, Lake Wood Church in Houston; Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California and author of a Christian classic, "The Purpose-Driven Life"; and Bishop T.D. Jakes, the African-American senior pastor of The Potter's House in Texas, who was dubbed "America's best preacher" by Time magazine.

Two others serve up a more familiar anti-gay message: Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., the African-American pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland, and Bishop Eddie Long, the African-American pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia.

In between is Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois.

Freeman, who plans to visit New Birth and Hope Christian with her partner, wants to worship and talk with families there.

"Our relationships are just as sacred to us as yours," she plans to say. "The only difference, at the end of the day, is instead of a man and a lady, we are two ladies."


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