Abrams Lost Her Church, But Has Found Her Calling

By Jason A. Michael

Her story made national headlines. Bishop Allyson Abrams stepped down from her church, Zion Progress Baptist Church in downtown Detroit, in October after announcing that she had married a woman. A well respected member of Detroit's faith community, Abrams also resigned her positions as secretary of the powerful Detroit Council of Baptist Pastors and co-editor of the magazine of the Progressive National Baptist Convention.

Citing a desire not to split her church, and set member against member, Abrams elected to walk away. But a mere two months later, Abrams, who is currently living with her wife in Maryland, reached out to Between The Lines to let us know that she was still standing, and looking forward to continuing in ministry.

Abrams first felt the call when she was only eight.

"My mother was a preacher in the church," she said. "They called them 'speakers' back then because in the black church, women during those years - the 60s, 70s, 80s - were not allowed to be preachers. But my mother was one who spoke across the city at women's day events and all those special days when they would have women speak."

Though she felt the call early, she wouldn't embrace it right away. An Alabama native, Abrams moved to Washington, D.C, and studied mechanical engineering at Howard University. Then, when she was 26, she relocated to Dayton, Ohio to study divinity at United Theological Seminary where she earned both a master's and a doctorate degree.

After serving at a few churches, she became the first female pastor of Zion, and her ministry grew rapidly. Then, when by chance her ministry crossed paths with that of Bishop Emeritus Diana Williams of the Imani Temple of the African-American Catholic Congregation in Washington, D.C., a special friendship began; one that caused her to reconsider her past beliefs about same-sex relationships and even her own sexual orientation.

"It has been a process for me to work through all of this because of what I had always been taught as a Baptist and then to begin to understand biblical truths on an entirely different level," Abrams said. "I had to go back and do some reading and some studying and some praying and that helped me to become open and change some of my views and change some of the ways that I was taught to think."

The couple married in Iowa, where same-sex marriage is legal, in March 2013.

"My plan was to, at some point, talk about what it means to be welcoming and affirming and to prayerfully bring the congregation, the members [of Zion], to the point where they would want to be a welcoming church," said Abrams. "You have to teach on scripture. You have to talk about it. You have to let people know that a lot of the teachings of old are not biblical truths. They're simply not."

Abrams said that the verses most commonly used to condemn gays in the Bible are misrepresented.

"Those are not talking about persons who are in loving, committed relationships," she said. "Those were talking about the time when there was lots of prostitution going on. Today we're not in those times anymore. People are in loving same-sex relationships. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, so if we are to be followers of Christ we need to be looking at what he felt a need to discuss and address.

"Basically, I'm suggesting we're supposed to be red letter Christians today," Abrams continued. "Just so you know that this is the son of God and what he said. We're supposed to be red letter Christians as opposed to being Paulinian. Most people are Paulinian today."

Obviously, her plan did not unfold as she had intended. Rumors of her marriage began to make its way through the church before she had been able to lay the proper groundwork to allow for the church to accept it. So she did the only thing she felt she could do. She stepped down.

"I know that God uses whomever God pleases to lead God's people, and one of the things that really bothers me is the level of discrimination against clergy who are same gender loving," she said. "That has really gotten under my skin because it's an open discrimination. ... The African-American community, especially the religious community, is quite homophobic. It's disturbing. Because there are so many people of color who are same gender loving, who are identifying as LGBT, so how is it that we're still this homophobic?"

Abrams has been taking a crash course on LGBT politics since being thrust into the spotlight, and she says she's been surprised by what she's found out.

"I've just been looking at the state that I lived in since 1999, and Michigan looks like it's not a state for equality and for the protection of all rights for all people," said Abrams. "I was very shocked to look at the things that Michigan does not have. And I must say saddened as well as shocked. Why would anybody want to remain in the state of Michigan if they cannot have laws that protect them? That has really been on my mind and I'm asking how can I be an advocate for some of those things? I've done social justice things. I was an elected official. I was a school board trustee in Oak Park. So this is now the season to advocate for equality for our LGBT sisters and brothers."

Abrams said it's also the time for her to resume her ministry.

"The United Church of Christ reached out to me and I have submitted paperwork to them," she said. "I have been in conversation with Metropolitan Community Churches and I'm also considering just being on my own, being non-denominational. Somewhere in the next 60-90 days I will be pastoring another church and that church will be welcoming and affirming."

But Abrams promises it will be more than just that, it was also be liberating.

"One of the things I have observed is that oftentimes people in our community, in the LGBT community, go to churches that say they are welcoming and affirming," said Abrams. "But often times these churches allow the LGBT community to come to the door but they are not necessarily always liberated from all of the hurtful words that they have heard from other churches throughout the years. So there needs to be some healing brought to the LGBT community as far as churches and as far as the Bible. So that is my reason for saying that liberation theology must undergird the message. People must know that God loves them, made them in his own image and wonderfully made them to be who they are. "

He made LGBT clergy members to be who they are, too. And if she's advocating for anyone, it's for them.

"I wholeheartedly believe that same gender loving clergy are excellent leaders, excellent preachers, teachers , and are very qualified when you talk about leading a church," she said. "I believe that God is very pleased with our work when we honor him in all that we do."

To keep up with the latest on Bishop Abrams, visit http://www.bishopallysonabrams.com.

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