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Protesters fight against bias at Apostolic Church of God
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times

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More than 50 LGBT activists and allies turned out Sunday, July 30 for a protest outside of Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester, to speak out against the dismissal of a woman church member after she married her female partner. Chic Chic's Social Club hosted the protest.

The woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, was a member of the church for 30 years. Her grandmother and mother also belonged to the church, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal movement, and her friends say she is devastated by this situation. Her daughter subsequently criticized the church on Facebook, including its pastor, Dr. Byron T. Brazier.

Brazier then used a sermon to lash back.

Friends of the woman called out the pastor for publicly trying to humiliate her. That was "way beyond the calling of a pastor to do such a thing amongst the congregation!" one woman wrote on Facebook. "I thought the church was the place to be delivered of sin, why did the pastor contradict himself in the video?"

Protesters, including lead organizers Maxwell and Shyy Brown, a married couple who are part of Chic Chic's Social Club, gathered at 8 a.m. Slowly, the crowd built throughout the morning. Activists from many past protests over the decades were joined by people who said this was their very first protest.

One ally showed her support beautifully through music—by playing her violin. Wendy Benner had a sign in front her as she played church hymns, saying "I judged gays & lesbians. I was wrong." Benner said: "I think my sign says it all: I used to judge gays and lesbians, but I realize how wrong I was. I wanted to join in the message that we're all children of God and shouldn't judge people for how God made them."

Longtime Apostolic church member Helen Vallera was among the few who approached the protesters to speak. She said she was 78 years old, recently retired, and she asked people not to protest. From her point of view, it was wrong for the banned member to have posted her marriage on Facebook, and also wrong for her daughter to have attacked the pastor for what he did. Vallera said the church is standing behind the pastor, because he represents god to them.

After three hours of chants and marching, Anna DeShawn, Affinity Community Services' board vice president, provided the opening prayer for the press conference at 11 a.m. "We Are The Church," was among the chants that parishioners heard as they streamed in and out of Sunday morning services.

Pastor Jamie Frazier of The Lighthouse Church of Chicago went toe-to-toe with those who would use the Bible against LGBT people, citing passages from memory with his fierce call for a welcoming religious community.

"One of my favorite passages of scripture is Matthew 22:36-40," Frazier said. "A lawyer walks up to Jesus and asks him: What's the greatest commandment? His response is telling: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength, and mind. The second commandment is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

"With this passage in mind, sin can be defined as anything that diminishes our capacity to love God, love self, and to love others? How can two women or two men who commit their lives to one another diminish love? NO, their union increases their ability to love God, self, and others."

Two other speakers from Lighthouse were former members of Apostolic Church of God, Michael Copple and Jimmy Harvard. Both men said they felt unwelcome by Brazier and they were happy to find a new connection to religion at Lighthouse.

Imani Rupert-Gordon, executive director of Affinity Community Services, also spoke about the importance of inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and community. Community leader Chris Smith, a founder of Affinity, spoke about how important it is to speak against religious bias.

Keith Butler, a Lighthouse church member, closed the event out with song, even as one Apostolic church member tried to read passages from the Bible speaking about sin.

"There needs to be a substantial conscious look at the origins of the intersection of homophobia and racism in churches such as this," said longtime gay activist Max Smith. "African Americans learned Christianity at a time when it was literally illegal for Africans in America to learn to read and write. Therefore the interpretations and understandings of Christianity featured Christianity more as a social control mechanism than as a mechanism for spiritual uplift. That's what we want to change."

"I just want to say that love is love," said Maxwell Brown. "It was imperative for us to do something to say, 'This is unacceptable.' We wanted to round up a peaceful protest. It posted something on our Facebook, and it just went from there. We didn't know it was going to be this big. We want to make sure we are heard here today in a peaceful manner."

"The message that we're hoping to get out today is that because this was done in the church in such a public way, as a way to humiliate and publically shame the person that it happened to, our message is that that was not the Christian love that should be shown by leaders," said Shyy Brown. "We would like to show Christian love in a peaceful protest because it's not right to use the words of God as your own and to twist them to do such a hurtful thing to someone. Our message today is that God is love and therefore love is love."

Following is an excerpt from pastor Brazier's remarks, said at a recent sermon:

"[People] have asked me, if all have sinned, and gay marriage is the law of the land, then why does the church, and in particular Apostolic Church of God, find this objectionable? And If there are homosexuals in the church, then it appears to be hypocritical not to accept gay marriage. I am sure that people who ask the question are asking for a true understanding. I am sure there may be those who are homosexuals that are part of the family of the Apostolic Church of God. I am sure of that. But there are also liars, fornicators, back-biters and all other types of humanity. Because if there were no sin there'd be no reason to be a church. ( applause ) And if there was no forgiveness, why would there be grace?

"So it's not that everybody's perfect, we're all imperfect. But what we must realize is that we can not institutionalize that which the lord has already condemned. ( applause ) And we can not make exceptions. It is the word of the lord, that is the critical point, and no man, no man, has the capability, or the right, to add to, or take away, from the word of god. ( long applause ) To that end, a prominent member of this church married a woman of the same sex. Her grandmother was a member here. Her mother was a member here. She was a member here along with her family. Her marriage was posted on Facebook, and I was informed by several members of the congregation concerning this matter. I spoke to her earlier, late last week, and explained the church's position on gay marriage. Which she knew. She understood, and she accepted that could no longer be a member of the Apostolic Church of God.

"However, her daughter took exception, and began to place derogatory comments on Facebook and other social media concerning the Apostolic Church of God, evangelist [Ivory] Nuckolls, myself, and my [late] father Bishop [Arthur Brazier]… extremely negative, that really has provided me great anguish."

Chic Chic's event page stated: "We raise our voices, and invite you to join in a community protest organized in support of love and justice! A peaceful protest is being held in opposition to the hate inspired doctrine and public shaming by Apostolic Church of God, against its LGBTQ congregational members. A community of black LGBTQ community members and our allies will gather to serve as protest against religious bigotry and in protection of ideals which embrace the diversity of the black family. We hope our presence will serve as a public witness and inspire houses of worship to treat all of its congregates with dignity, love, equity, and compassion. We stand on the side of Love!"

The church's website says it has more than 20,000 members. On the church's website, Pastor Brazier states the church's path is "not a road of restrictive religion or a path of personal ambition, but it's the freedom to follow the way of Jesus Christ unapologetically as we take God at His Word and serve as a beacon of light to the whole world."

In 2011, newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Pastor Brazier to his transition team, a move that upset some LGBT activists.

At the time, Rev. Irene Monroe, coordinator of the African American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion, said Emanuel's selection of Brazier while not including any LGBT co-chairs was an intentional, and troubling, choice. "It is a great concern," Monroe said. "Why that particular church when there are so many progressive churches he can choose from?"

Brazier is a very powerful pastor on Chicago's South Side, especially in the areas around Hyde Park and Woodlawn, which are experiencing a development boom. While he has a right to discriminate within the church walls, neighbors and activists are concerned that his bias also influences the work he does where he and others are in charge of tax-funded community development projects.

Videos and more photos with the online version of this story.

For church info: .

Also see: .

— Also contributing: Nina Matti

The video playlist below contains multiple videos. Choose Playlist in the top left hand corner to watch videos out of order, if preferred.

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