A House Divided

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"This is a really conservative community, but the reality on the streets here is that you'll find wonderful surprises like Benjamin Reynolds -- a lot of people who go about their work without a lot of fanfare. And that's very encouraging," says former Springs mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, who is now executive director of the Gill Foundation's Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado.

"It's still not an easy place," she continues. "We don't really have any forums at the moment for expression of opposing or different ideas. But there are a lot of people in the Springs who are saying to themselves 'We can't stand by and let this stuff go on.' I am modestly optimistic that there will be other voices heard."

There are fewer people in the pews at Emmanuel tonight than there were last week. The crowds have gotten progressively smaller since "The Black Church and Sexuality" series began. Some stayed away; some came to try to get a handle on what Reynolds is getting at with all this homosexuality stuff. Verna Williams, for one, had to see how things played out.

"I'm still not real comfortable with what sexuality has to do with worship," she says. "Sex has to do with the flesh, and worship is the spirit, and you cannot combine the two. And I'm still not real comfortable with everything that's said about homosexuals and gays and lesbians and whatever you want to call it.

"I do think that some of my attitudes about it have changed a little from being in this class," Williams adds. "But I'm ready to move on to other things. I don't want this to become the all-gay church."

Tonight is the second-to-last session in the series, and there's a feeling of nervous anticipation in the room. Even Reynolds, who sits in the first pew, looks uncharacteristically anxious. Tonight is a test of how far the class has come, how much they are willing to listen to, and how much they'll take.

"I knew that there will be some voices of opposition to what's going to happen here, and I didn't want to invite the same controversy that we had last time," Reynolds says. "But I prayed about it, and I realized that even if there are naysayers, the fact that we're even having this class shows that there's been a lot of growth."

Reynolds has invited Herndon Davis, an author and activist from Los Angeles, to lead tonight's class. Last year, Davis wrote a book called Black, Gay and Christian, an inspirational tome for gay African-American people of faith. The son of a Baptist minister, Davis travels the country speaking to church and community groups. Reynolds brought him to Emmanuel to let his congregation see, and listen to, a living, breathing, homosexual Christian brother.

When the class begins, Davis assumes Reynolds's usual place at the pulpit to address the forty or so students who sit in clusters around the church. He begins with a story about a church service he attended in his home town in Arkansas, when the minister got the congregation so riled up with anti-gay fervor, they sounded like rabid fans at a football game.

"I was afraid to move, because I felt like I'd be lynched," Davis tells the Bible-study students, many of whom shake their heads and interject affirmative "hmmmphs" and clucks of empathy.

But then Davis cranks things up. He picks a Bible up off of the pulpit, throws it on the ground and jumps up and down on it, turning his foot to squash the book as if it were a bug. There is a collective, audible gasp.

"I understand the point you are trying to make -- I think -- but I really wish you wouldn't do that," says Savannah Jackson, sitting in the second pew behind Reynolds, wearing a purple sweatshirt adorned with quotes from Maya Angelou. Jackson is also wearing pants and sitting next to a man who isn't her husband, something she couldn't have done before Reynolds came to Emmanuel.

"I know, I know," Davis says, brushing the book off and returning it to the lectern. "And I'm not going to tear the pages out. Though if it was my Bible, I would."

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Laura Bond
Contact: Laura Bond