A global move­ment

GA Voice - - Faith & Religion -

At first glance, Bishop O.C. Allen III ap­pears to be like ev­ery other min­is­ter in the African-Amer­i­can church tra­di­tion: well-groomed, ar­tic­u­late and charis­matic, with a voice that os­cil­lates be­tween a whis­per and a prophetic roar. But there is some­thing unique about him and the com­mu­nity of be­liev­ers he’s been called to lead as the founder and se­nior pas­tor of The Vi­sion Church of At­lanta, a three thou­sand-plus con­gre­ga­tion that has grown from 12 faith­ful mem­bers in Allen’s liv­ing room in 2005, to weekly ser­vices in The Vi­sion Cathe­dral in At­lanta’s Grant Park neigh­bor­hood.

The Vi­sion Church of At­lanta, or sim­ply “The Vi­sion Church,” as it’s com­monly called, is a place that wel­comes all peo­ple on pur­pose, and LGBT peo­ple are no ex­cep­tion.

Allen says the idea from the very be­gin­ning was to cre­ate a place of wor­ship for “peo­ple who felt like they did not have a space where they could be au­then­tic, but with a caveat that this would be a place for ev­ery­body.”

The Vi­sion Church is home to one of At­lanta’s most thriv­ing LGBT con­gre­ga­tions, with roots in the black Pen­te­costal tra­di­tion, but with a the­ol­ogy that leans to­wards in­clu­sion in­stead of the ex­clu­sion­ary and harm­ful mes­sages of­ten heard in tra­di­tional churches. Allen re­jects the no­tion that a gospel of ex­clu­sion ex­em­pli­fies the spirit of Chris­tian­ity.

“It is im­pos­si­ble to be a place that ex­cludes peo­ple and say that you’re Chris­tian; that is an­ti­thet­i­cal to Chris­tian­ity. The no­tion of in­clu­sion has al­ways been a Chris­tian ideal,” said Allen.

“We al­ways wanted to keep God and his love first, so it was not about be­ing of a cer­tain sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or race in or­der to have mem­ber­ship,” said First Gen­tle­man Rashad Burgess. It was about hav­ing a place of au­then­tic­ity that wel­comed peo­ple fully for who they are into a space of God’s love.”

That au­then­tic­ity at The Vi­sion Church goes from the top down, as Burgess and Allen are not only part­ners in min­istry but also part­ners in mar­riage and fa­thers to Joshua, 4, and Caylee, 3.

It’s a level of au­then­tic­ity that serves as a model for the mem­bers who fill the pews on Sun­day morn­ings and am­mu­ni­tion for crit­ics who ques­tion the au­then­tic­ity and ho­li­ness of a same-gen­der lov­ing min­is­ter, his hus­band and an LGBT con­gre­ga­tion.

Peo­ple are lis­ten­ing

For his part, Allen says he no longer de­fends his brand of Chris­tian­ity.

“I think it’s a dis­trac­tion. Spend­ing time in con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who are com­mit­ted to not sup­port­ing us frankly has no fruit. What is im­por­tant is to con­tinue to preach jus­tice, to preach equal­ity, to preach love. That is what my job is, not to de­fend it,” he said.

“Our job is to speak to the peo­ple whose ears are as­signed to lis­ten to us and whose hearts we are as­signed to speak to,” said Burgess.

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Court­ney Wal­ter has been lis­ten­ing since he joined The Vi­sion Church at the end of 2012. He cred­its Allen’s min­istry with help­ing him to rec­on­cile his sex­u­al­ity with his faith.

“I wanted to be some­where where I could grow spir­i­tu­ally. My sex­u­al­ity and spirituality are not sep­a­rate en­ti­ties, they’re one,” said Wal­ter. “I wanted to be some­where where I could bring my whole self in the room.”

Like­wise, Jar­rett Wal­ton has been at­tend­ing The Vi­sion Church for over seven years, and he tells Ge­or­gia Voice that he strug­gled in the past to un­der­stand what the Word meant for him in terms of his sex­u­al­ity.

“It (The Vi­sion Church) min­is­tered to me,” said Wal­ton. “Bishop has a very non­tra­di­tional way of min­is­ter­ing the Word and mak­ing sure to meet peo­ple where they are, then tak­ing them to where they need to be.”

So why do so many LGBT peo­ple re­main in harm­ful churches in­stead of flock­ing to af­firm­ing min­istries? The an­swer is var­ied

Jan­uary 22, 2016

Above: and com­plex. Burgess ad­mits that this is one area where he is quite dog­matic.

“I do not par­tic­i­pate in my own op­pres­sion,” he said. “When you go to other main­stream com­mu­ni­ties, no one ex­pects them to go to a place that doesn’t up­lift them, es­pe­cially a place that’s about their spir­i­tual nour­ish­ment and grow­ing.”

Allen and Burgess agree that they won’t be able to “bring ev­ery­one along, but our re­spon­si­bil­ity is to those who do come along.”

“We’re not just about be­ing a church, we’re also about the em­pow­er­ment of the com­mu­nity in ev­ery way pos­si­ble,” said Allen.

From HIV test­ing to feed­ing the home­less and com­mu­nity out­reach through Black Gay Pride events such as the Pure Heat Com­mu­nity Fes­ti­val, the reach of The Vi­sion Church will not be con­fined to At­lanta.

“It’s a global move­ment, said Allen. “It will spread to places where there is no Vi­sion Church, like Iran, Rus­sia, Chile, places where LGBT folk ex­ist and need a space where Je­sus can be taught.”

By DAR­IAN AARON

Bishop O.C. Allen III, founder and se­nior pas­tor of The Vi­sion Church of At­lanta and First Gen­tle­man Rashad Burgess are part­ners in min­istry and mar­riage. Sun­day wor­ship at The Vi­sion Cathe­dral.

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