A House Divided

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"She had us swinging from the rafters. Her sermon was very powerful, and people loved it," Reynolds says. "It wasn't until Monday morning, after people had a chance to read over the program guide, that the crap hit the fan."

For a week afterward, Reynolds was deluged by calls from members of the congregation. They felt betrayed, emotional. Some were angry. Others were more confused about the direction Emmanuel was heading. Was it to become a gay church? they wanted to know. Didn't Reynolds know that what he was doing was an affront to God?

"I talked to a senior member of the congregation, he had four children, and I said, 'What would you do if your child's life was touched by homosexuality?'" recalls Reynolds, who himself is the divorced father of an eighteen-year-old daughter. "He said he would disinherit that child. He left the church. After that, I sat here and bawled like a child."

Entire families, some with members who had attended Emmanuel for decades, left the church after McAllister's visit. Reynolds looked out on the congregation in the weeks that followed and noticed holes where high-ranking members of the community had formerly sat every week.

"The message was very clear," Reynolds says. "Some left for a while and came back. Some left and I never saw them again. But I knew that God adds by dividing. I love my congregation, and I was saddened about their leaving. But there were others who said, 'Pastor, thank you for allowing me to be here in this safe space.' That made it worth it."

For people who are both black and gay, safe spaces can be hard to come by. Leah Lynn, who was raised Catholic, never felt comfortable in the Baptist and Methodist African-American churches she attended in Denver. But she didn't want to go to any of the handful of white gay-friendly churches in the city: Church is family, and Lynn's family is African-American. Then a friend introduced her to Emmanuel.

"It used to be I'd try out a new church and sit there and wait for the gay-bashing to begin," says Lynn. "In every other church I've been in, it starts out great. Then eventually they get around to it. They start clapping and hollering and condemning my lifestyle. Sometimes it'd be like, 'We're going to pray it out of you.' I'd feel personally attacked, and then I'd leave."

Lynn is still at Emmanuel, she says, because the gay-bashing never started. For the past two years, she's driven from Denver to the Springs twice a week: On Sundays for worship, and on Thursdays for Bible study.

"It wasn't until I came to this Bible study that I realized I was okay," Lynn says. "I really believed all these things I'd been told about homosexuality. I'd allowed myself to be abused by men; I got into drinking and drugs and tried to kill myself. This place gave me a new energy.

"I pray for him all the time," she says of Reynolds. "I think about what he must be going through, trying to bring this to people. I can see the pain in his eyes."

Reynolds's eyes are big, brown and expressive, and they do, often, reflect the challenges inherent in his current campaign. During Bible study, his face is a fluid canvas of emotions: He brightens when the class seems to get it ("Look at how critically you are reading this! Look at how much you've learned!" he exalts to one woman who questions a literal interpretation of a Bible verse) and deflates when they don't. Doing the right thing is often lonely, all- consuming work. To get away, Reynolds goes to the movies, rides his bike around the Springs and takes the occasional trip to Denver for a nice meal at Maggiano's. But mostly, his mind and body are in the church.

"Emmanuel has been instrumental in the shaping of who I am; I never really leave," he says. "[It's] always on my mind. I am constantly thinking of ministry ideas and contemplating ministry opportunities. I enjoy every moment of it. It's my path."

Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church, like many traditional African-American Christian congregations, is having a tough time figuring out where it stands on homosexuality.

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Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond