Two predominantly black congregations in Harlem, NY., where the respective pastors are gay and lesbian, have merged to fight for homosexuality to be accepted by the Church, giving their congregation the message, "He (Jesus) got up so I can come out. He got up for you can come out!" However, their promotion that God created people gay has been firmly rejected by mainstream Churches, who maintain that the Bible clearly identifies homosexuality as a sin.
The Rivers at Rehoboth is a combination between Rivers of Living Faith, headed by Pastor Vanessa M. Brown, a lesbian, and Rehoboth Temple, which is led by Pastor Joseph Tolton, who is gay. The new church's message combines black church traditions but uniquely makes its core mission to minister to gay and lesbian people, The New York Times has reported.
"Aren't you glad Jesus got up?" Twanna Gause, Pastor Brown's partner, was quoted as asking the congregation at a sermon.
"He got up so I can come out," she continued to the shouts of "Amen" and "Hallelujah." "He got up so you can come out."
The Rivers at Rehoboth combines two similar philosophies upheld by the two previous churches – a message of being "Radically Inclusive," which preaches that Jesus Christ accepted all people no matter their circumstance; and "Gay by God," which is based on the notion that God created all people in his image, gays and lesbians included.
However, the doctrine of "Radically Inclusive" has been condemned by some who rebuke the idea that Jesus accepts all people regardless of whether people have repented of their sins. The promotion that God "created" people gay has also been rejected by mainstream Christianity.
However, the "Radically Inclusive" church has chosen to ignore the criticism. Brown, who will lead the new church, has said, "God doesn't make any junk. He made us knowing who we were going to be before we were it."
"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," Brown remarked.
Tolton, who is now the Associate Pastor, said that for over 20 years, he believed his sexual orientation was a spiritual demon from which he needed to be saved, and asked clergy to pray for him.
"It broke my heart," he shared of an experience where he left his church after a friend of his told him he could not be the best man at his wedding because of his sexual orientation.
Pastor Brown has revealed she married a man who was gay to help protect his image in the church, but divorced him after growing tired of living a lie.
"I was ruining my own self," she said. "I wasn't happy."
The church boasts that it attracts 200 people each Sunday for service by promoting itself as a safe haven for gay and lesbian people who feel excluded in other churches that support traditional views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
"It's the safest place to go without being condemned at the end of service," said Julie Chisolm-May, who attends the church with her wife and six adult children.
Rivers at Rehoboth church insists in its articles of faith that it not only accepts gay and lesbian people; it celebrates all who are marginalized by society for their "uniqueness."
The Eighth Article on the "Radically Inclusive" guidelines states: "The radically inclusive ministry of Jesus does not encourage people to hide their 'unacceptable' realities (based upon the dominant culture' point of view or faith) in order to be embraced. True community comes when marginalized people take back the right to fully "be." People must celebrate not in spite of who they are, but because of who their Creator has made them. In order for marginalized people to have community they must develop community "naked" with their "marginality" in full view while often celebrating the very thing that separates them from the dominant culture."
The issue of black churches and homosexual affirmation has long been a controversial one, though most black pastors and congregations in America stand behind the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.
Recently, Dr. Alveda C. King, the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed her disappointment that the Africa-American civil rights organization NAACP backed President Barack Obama in his endorsement of same-sex marriage.
"In the 21st Century, the anti-traditional marriage community is in league with the anti-life community, and together with the NAACP and other sympathizers, they are seeking a world where homosexual marriage and abortion will supposedly set the captives free," King expressed.
In his argument that most African-American pastors believe that homosexual behavior is sinful, CP contributor and Nebraska pastor Dan Delzell expressed, "President Obama is leading the way on gay marriage for what he hopes will be a large following of black pastors and their congregations. Many black pastors are not following his lead. The vast majority of pastors in the black community do not want the children in their church being taught that homosexual behavior is no longer sinful."