As the world continues to learn more about coronavirus and its spread, it's vital to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. However, it's also important to make sure that the information being distributed is from credible sources. To that end, Between The Lines has compiled, [...]
1968 was indeed a year that had a profound impact upon this country – the assassinations of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, protests of the Vietnam War and racial inequality – most notably during the Democratic Convention in Chicago and the fist raised during the Olympic ceremony by two Black athletes. And 1968 saw winners – Richard Nixon won the White House and the Detroit Tigers won the World Series! The year also saw the birth of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), and yours truly was born in December of that year.
The more things change, the more they stay the same – this is a well-worn saying, but it still has a ring of truth to it. Fifty years later, we are still grappling with many of the same issues plaguing our country: deep political divisions within our society, racist events like what took place in Charlottesville, South Carolina, and the revitalization of the Poor Peoples Movement to address the same issues our nation faced in 1968. There were key people who worked to transform our nation to what they believed to be our better selves. Clearly, King and Kennedy accomplished much, yet there was another person by the name of Troy Perry who had a vision in 1968. He believed the Christian church could become better by welcoming ALL of God’s children, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ. It was on Oct. 6, 1968, that this former Pentecostal preacher living in Huntington Park, California — a suburb of Los Angeles — was shamed out of his church for being gay and welcomed gay and lesbian Christians to his apartment for a worship service. What began as a gathering of 12 people who were intent on keeping their faith despite being rejected from the church, has grown into a worldwide fellowship of churches in 33 countries.
Perry had several choices when he was rejected by the church. He could have kept quiet to avoid the rejection within a denomination that would not support him. Or, he could have left organized religion altogether and found an alterative way to express his spirituality. Instead, he chose to create another option, an inclusive congregation that encouraged full participation in all levels of the ministry – from being an usher to being the pastor.
Perry knew that the lives and contributions of LGBTQ people were ignored at best and suppressed at worse by the church. This was evident by the way the church responded, or did not respond, to those living and dying from HIV and AIDS. It was during the 1980’s that MCC churches saw their greatest population increase. During that time, people needed a community that was willing to provide pastoral care and bury with dignity those who had succumbed to the virus.
MCC is not the only church that provides spiritual care and dignity to LGBTQ people. When I came out of the closet after being a pastor in the Baptist church for 10 years, I tested and tried many mainline denominational churches to see if I would be fully welcomed as an African-American gay Christian. Many of these churches had no problem if I held my partner’s hand during a service, yet I did not find a church that was willing to address my spiritual violence of shaming and rejection. I wanted to discover how to love the Biblical text as well as my identity. I found what I was looking for in the MCC. I discovered how to live into the Biblical text and became a sacred activist. This is the example and legacy of Troy Perry, who stood against oppression and helped others become their better selves while being unapologetically queer and Christian. MCC has ongoing work as an inclusive church, but our role providing dignity and social justice for LGBTQ and ALL people will continue for another half-century at least!
Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow is the Senior Pastor and Teacher of MCC-Detroit and celebrated 13 years of his ordination as a MCC pastor on Oct. 15.