JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Joshua Generation Church is tucked into a small unassuming strip mall in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The inside is made up of a large rectangular room divided into two main sections. One half consists of a sitting area which includes a large coffee bar. The other half of the space has rows of chairs facing a stage that houses a piano, mic stands, guitars, a drum set and a podium from which dangle two small rainbow flags. The walls are also covered in an array of rainbow colored artwork and in the sitting area rests a wooden heart marked with the names of the 49 victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.
The minister here is Brandiilyne Mangum-Dear, an open lesbian who, mixed with her tattoos, ripped jeans and nose ring, can seem a contradiction to modern Christianity. She hopes to change that, starting with “un-churching” her church.
“We don’t want to be a church, per se. We want to be different,” she says, a multitude of multi-colored necklaces dangling from her neck. “I know the damage that the church has caused… especially to LGBT people. [The church] looks at us through the lens of Leviticus and most of the scripture that they are using to condemn us they’re not even reading it in context. They’re just repeating what they have heard. Just parroting the pastors.. the pharisees,” she laughs.
"BB,” as she is also known, has had a complicated relationship with the church. But in her 20′s, while in the grips of a 17-year-long drug addiction, she says she experienced “the hand of God” at a converging of believers called “The Encounter.”
“This lady laid hands on me and when I tell you it was like a lightening bolt went through me and I hit the floor. I just collapsed. I was not a believer. I wasn’t down there searching for anything. I was not like ‘Okay God, I want you to fix me.’ I was laying on the floor and it was, like, I can’t even describe what was happening, but I felt the hand of God. I felt His finger on my heart. And I heard God say, and this may sound crazy, ‘Don’t move sweetie; I’m doing a work in you.’ And I was still a drug addict, I had been doing drugs for 17 years. For the first time I experience unconditional love. And I knew I was different. I never wanted another drug - it was gone. It was like when Paul was on his way to Damascus. I had a Damascus Road experience with God and it changed me forever and I knew that I was called. I knew that God wanted me to preach.”
After that, Bradiilyne hit the ground running. Starting with a children’s ministry, she soon built 12 separate ministries that, all together, took up an entire floor of her church. At this time she was also married to a man and had a child from a previous marriage.
One day while singing ‘I’ll Say Yes Lord’ in the choir, she says she heard God tell her to start a ministry for the LGBT community. This confused her because, at the time, she believed being gay was against God’s word. Following an internal argument with God, she decided to say yes to the venture.
In the early stages of this new ministry, Brandiilyne met Susan - her future wife. She says that after meeting Susan, for the first time, she felt “that chemistry.”
“And one day I decided I can’t live this lie,” she says. So, Brandiilyne decided to leave the church. She told her pastor, who allowed her to live with him and his wife until she figured things out. She would eventually move in with Susan and watch her old life, including her job, her husband and her friends, slip away.
The aftermath of this decision, Brandiilyne says, was traumatizing. She says she was outed by her preacher, whom she had considered a father, and cyber-bullied to the point of having an identity crisis.
“Am I Pastor Brandiilyne or am I an abomination?” she remembers asking herself. “After all that I was so hurt by the people that I helped. They treated me like a devil… I was done with church. I was completely done. The God that I found on September 26, 2003 loves me unconditionally, one-hundred percent. Nothing I ever could do could take that or change that. I had this child-like faith and the more I went to church, the more they taught me, they kind of covered that up and took that away and exchanged that for a God that was vengeful and a God that was judgmental and a God that would change His mind about me. So I had to find that God again that I found September 26, 2003.”
After restoring her faith, she would create The Dandelion Project. Made up of 50 to 60 members, she calls it a safe-space for those identifying as LGBTQ. This would soon branch off to become The Joshua Generation Church.
She says the name comes from the story of Moses, who, after disobeying God, was made to wander in the wilderness with those in the “slave-mindset” until they passed away, allowing for the new generation to rise up.
“Every 500 years or so in history, the church goes through a huge reformation and I think we’re in the reformation. I think there is a new church, a new generation, that’s really ready to take the liberty Jesus gives us: the freedom, the grace, the mercy, the love, the unconditional, unafraid, unbiased church that loves people - all people. Jesus said love your neighbor and love God and that’s all you have to do… You can see what’s happening with the Methodist church, you can see what’s happening with a lot of churches that are trying to become more open and affirming.”
The Methodist Church is at a crossroads. One that, worse case scenario, could split the UMC which holds roughly 7 million members. The question: To ban same-sex marriages and clergy inside the church or to accept and support those in the LGBT community.
This one decision has fractured the UMC with more than half the delegates at the St. Louis conference in February voting to keep the Traditional Plan which calls for the LGBT ban. In contrast, forty-seven percent of the delegates voted for the One Church Plan which would leave same-sex provisions up to individual churches inside the UMC and would also remove language from the church’s law book saying that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings.
It was because of this infighting that The Orchard Church in Tupelo, Mississippi’s largest Methodist church with over 2,700 attendees among its 3 campuses, decided to leave the UMC in 2017.
“Our departure was not about the homosexuality issue per se, but about the general church’s inability to deal with it,” pastor Bryan Collier told The Aquila Report. “Unfortunately, its failure became an enormous distraction to the kingdom work our congregation is called to do.”
As of now, UMC preachers caught performing a same-sex marriage could face a year long suspension without pay or possible termination. The next conference will be held in May of 2020.
Brandiilyne has come to believe that the verses in the Bible thought to condemn homosexuality are actually condemning pedophilia. “They are condemning child abuse. And that has nothing to do with healthy, same-sex relationships.”
She also says that the Bible includes a gay couple in Jonathan and David. “It’s very clear that they were lovers and more than just best friends. I think David tells Jonathan ‘Your love for me has surpassed that of a woman.’ He says that in scripture! You don’t say that to your bro.”
As she sees it, the church is changing for the better. The old ways are drifting away for the new and a reformation is coming.
“The former church is dying. The former ways are dying and a more radical, more accepting, more Christ-like church is evolving and being birthed. Anytime anything is dying it starts struggling and gets really loud and it really tries to survive and it’s just not gonna make it. Love will win and this new church is a more loving, closer example of Christ.”
The Episcopalian church has been accepting of the LGBT community since the 1960s, yet, as explained by Rt. Rev. Brian Seage of St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Jackson, this does not mean the entire denomination is on board.
“There was conflict and arguing for a number of years and there still is. I would still say it’s an issue that we have dealt with, it’s an issue that we have come to some consensus upon, but it’s still an issue that is contentious and it’s still something that creates some problems within the larger church because there are some pockets of the church that are still very traditional and conservative and still see marriage as being something between one man, one woman.”
Seage says he has had an evolution of thought on the issue and has now concluded and believes that same-sex relationships are scripturally sound. He also believes that scriptures pertaining to homosexuality have been taken out of context of their original meaning.
“I think when we take Leviticus out of context and say ‘This is what it says. [Homosexuality] is an abomination.’ I think we’re removing it from all those other 700 purity codes that are located within Leviticus. It’s couched in there along with all sorts of other purity codes that we don’t live by. Not to mention that that same piece of the Hebrew scriptures has been translated from one language to another language to another language for two thousand years. I think that we can’t really look any one of those as an isolated piece of that. Similarly, some of Paul’s letters also give us some different context as well and, while we may have some believe as a real condemnation, for others, myself included, I don’t see the clear condemnation that a same-sex relationship can’t have the same fidelity that my marriage has.”
“For me, we often say that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation and I believe it does,” he continues. “And I think it contains all things necessary for me to continue to learn about the word of God and continue to learn about the story of salvation. But, at the same time, I think as a 21st century Christian, I’m called to use my God-given intellect and employ scripture, tradition and human reason. And there are some pieces within that that I need to look at and consider from within a reasonable Christian perspective. Was Jonah swallowed by a big fish and then spit out? I don’t know. And for me that’s one of those things where maybe he was swallowed by a big fish but I struggle with the idea of him being spit out by it. That doesn't mean that that story doesn't inform me in spectacular ways about how we experience our call to live and that doesn't mean that metaphor doesn't inform me.”
For Seage, the acceptance of gays and lesbians is important because it gives a form of relevance back to the church. One that, to him, might entice a new generation and a new sect of believers back into the pews.
“I think there is a segment of our population who has not been allowed to participate in the greater life of the church, namely the LGBT men and women who spend a number of their years being told that something is wrong with them instead of being allowed to live in the fullness of who they were. I think finally what we’re saying to them is ‘You’re okay. You’re okay the way you are and we will bless you as the church and you will be a blessing to us.’”
While there is a growing number of Christians, mostly Millennials, who think homosexuality should be accepted, there is still a large percentage of believers who say that the Bible teaches that it is a sin, regardless of the translation. This includes Dr. Rick Boyd, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at the Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson.
He first says that the book of Leviticus, which prohibits homosexuality, is about holiness, and about how the Israelites should not conform to the culture around them. “Many of the prohibitions found in the book are directed toward avoiding the temptation to do as the nations they are about to conquer do. The Israelites are to be God's holy people, devoted to Him and living as He created people to live… Though other cultures and peoples practice certain acts and have a particular lifestyle, the people of God are not to be that way.”
Boyd then moves on to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
“Homosexuality is not the only issue Paul includes here but it is evident that it is grouped with other acts that Christians simply should not engage in or dire consequences will result,” says Boyd, “ultimately being excluded from the kingdom of God.”
Referring to these verses, Boyd says that the term that is translated ‘men who practice homosexuality,’ when read from the Greek, comes from two separate words divided by ‘neither/nor,’ so that it actually reads ‘neither adulterers, nor effeminate ones, nor homosexual men, nor thieves.’
“The first term does indicate someone who is 'soft' or 'effeminate' and could be understood as a young boy,” he explains, “but the second term, as I have translated it, combines one word which means 'men' and a second term from which we get our word ‘coitus.’ In other words, a man bedding another man, and there is no sense at all of underage homosexual acts… The point of the 1 Corinthians passage is that homosexuality excludes someone from the kingdom of God.”
Lastly, Boyd touches on Romans 1:26-27, which says:
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
“The Romans passage is also fairly clear,” Boyd says. “The wrath of God is being revealed on those who simply choose to do their own thing their own way. … If people continually refuse to turn to Him and treat Him as God, eventually He will hand them over to their desires. That is not freedom, according to Romans 1. It is God's wrath being poured out because people refuse to treat Him as God. And in the midst of God handing them over to their own desires we find 1:26-27 which involves both men and women, and, yes, these are full grown men with full grown men.”
“If you look at the Bible from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, you will see that this issue does not change,” finishes Boyd. “God made male and female to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and that purpose for the human creation has not changed, and living contrary to that creative design is an abomination to the God who made everything.”
Questions or comments? Email JCarter@wlbt.com.