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Lighthouse Church provides 'soul care' for queer community
by Ada Cheng

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For gay clergy, the exclusion of their sexuality—as demonstrated by the recent fiasco at the United Methodist Church and its continual prohibition against homosexuality and same-sex marriage—serves as one major impetus for them to create their own church.

Jamie Frazier ( also known as Pastor J )—the leader of The Lighthouse Church of Chicago, a predominantly African-American church—said that "the exclusion of his gayness" was one major reason why he needed to have his own space for soul care.

He told Windy City Times, "I am not just a pastor of Lighthouse. I am the first member of Lighthouse. I need this space for myself. I need this space to bring my blackness, my gayness, and my Christianity all into one space. I also want a space where I can do some theological exploration, where I can wrestle with tough issues around gender, race, immigration, and who Jesus is.

"At the traditional Black church, I loved the gospel music and fiery teaching. But I was missing LGBT affirmation and the affirmation of the gifts of women. I was also missing the theological nuances. Sometimes we don't always have the answers. What Lighthouse [does] is to bring all of these together."

Since The Lighthouse Church of Chicago was established five years ago, Frazier has encountered some difficulties. One major hurdle stems from the internalized homophobia among some LGBTQ members themselves. "Many African-American LGBTQ folks have been told their entire lives that they are wrong and sinful. When I came along and said God loves you, I was met with a lot of suspicion, anger and doubt. A lot of what I have had to work with over these past five years is to help people deal with their own internalized homophobia," said Frazier.

In this sense, soul care must also include the reinvigoration of their critical thinking. Frazier said, "I have had to nurture and teach folks how to read scriptures, how to ask questions of texts and interpretations. For example, who benefits from your type of interpretations? Who gets to decide? I have had to impart some tools for interrogation and critical thinking."

Another major difficulty Frazier has faced is to convince people the continual importance of church in contemporary society. At a time when church attendance is in decline, he strives to bring new insights as to how church can continue to serve as an important locus for community support.

"People are finding new ways of being in community, new frames of reference, and a new locus of authority," Frazier said. "The question is: Why church in 2019? People don't see its continual relevance. For me, church gives us some mystery when we talk about sin, grace, and redemption. Particularly in our political climate—when everyone is so certain about everything—we need mystery. Second, we need community. Folks meet on Sundays, but they go on to build lifelong friendships with one another and the community support they can draw when in need."

The Lighthouse Church of Chicago is committed to social justice, which is another reason why Frazier believes church continues to have relevance in today's world. "I think church is really important because it helps mobilize us for social justice activism. Our church members have helped register people to vote. We have picketed, protested and boycotted. We have enrolled people in Affordable Care Act," he said.

Frazier has no fear of calling out, challenging the status quo, and demanding justice and equity to affirm Lighthouse's social justice tradition. He draws his inspiration from various sources of social-justice traditions. "I find myself calling upon the best of the church tradition, sometimes the best of the African American tradition, and sometimes from the Black, the queer, and the Black queer prophetic tradition," he said.

Frazier emphasized that Lighthouse will continue its advocacy and activist tradition. For example, church members will continue to serve at the Crib shelter, located at the basement of Lakeview Lutheran Church. [Editor's note: The Night Ministry, the Chicago-based advocacy organization for persons experiencing homelessness, announced Feb. 22 that officials are proposing a move of The Crib to Bucktown.] The Crib mainly serves LGBTQ youths of color. As Frazier described the significance of church members' presence, "They get to see this predominantly Black queer church, with folks who are lawyers, professor, and doctors. We are not only serving food, but we are also serving hope."

Frazier said he wants to build intersectional alliance across sections in this complicated world. As he pointed out, while the church is predominantly African-American, it is open to all, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and citizenship status. He said he hopes to secure a property so The Lighthouse Church of Chicago—a member of United Church of Christ since 2018—can have a permanent home, thus becoming an established institution of its own.

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