On May 22, Rev. Michael Piazza was officially installed as Virginia-Highland Church’s new senior pastor. Originally from Georgia, Piazza was the pastor at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender church in the nation. The church cited just 280 members when Piazza took the helm in 1987 and eventually reached a membership of more than 3,500 people.
What’s it like coming from the world’s largest gay church, Cathedral of Hope, to the smaller Virginia-Highland Church?
I loved being at the Cathedral of Hope, which is why I stayed for 25 years. We succeeded in changing the community in lots of ways. When I went there a lesbian or gay person could not be a police officer. Today, the sheriff is an out lesbian and a member of that church. Because the world has changed in some positive ways, I’m really happy now to be in a congregation that is diverse and inclusive. I’m also happy not to have to raise millions of dollars and manage a staff and board that is bigger than my current congregation.
When did you move to Atlanta? What’s your favorite thing about Atlanta so far?
We arrived in Atlanta on Sunday, Feb. 27, though I lived and pastored here in the mid-1980s. In fact, I met my husband, Bill, at a helpline training at the Atlanta Gay Center on Ponce 30 years ago! I grew up in South Georgia, so it feels like coming home … and I’m grateful to have decent barbecue again.
What about the rapture — what were you doing on May 21 at 6 p.m.?
Pondering whether or not to write a sermon for the next day … Actually, I was simply trying to stay awake. I spent the entire week teaching eight hours a day at Chicago Theological Seminary, and I was so tired I would have been happy to be raptured.
Christians can get a bad rap from LGBT people because a lot of Christianity includes believing gay people are immoral. What do you tell people who are torn by this — who want to be Christian but are also gay?
Long ago, I decided that I would no longer argue with fundamentalists about whether or not you can be lesbian or gay and Christian. As Mother Teresa said, “Too many words. Just let them see what we do.” So, that’s what I have done and what I encourage others to do. The struggle is what prompted me to write resources like “Homosexuality and Christianity,” a brochure I wrote in 1980, and “Gay By God: How to be Lesbian or Gay and Christian,” a book written not only for lesbian and gay folks but for their family and friends, as well. In the end the only thing that will convince the fundamentalists is for us to “out-Christian” them; that is be kinder, more compassionate, and more just.
What’s the best thing about married life? The worst?
Bill [Eure] and I have been partners in the best sense of that word. We got married here in Atlanta on Nov. 7, 1980. Former City Councilwoman Mary Davis came to our wedding, which, back then, was a very big deal. I’m as in love today as I was that day, but we have been careful to create an extended family so that we have a tribe — not just one person — to meet our emotional needs. The worst thing has been trying to buy a new house together. This is the sixth time we have done it, but finding one house to satisfy two gay men is nearly impossible.
What led you to ministry?
When I was a child, I fell in love with the church. After home and school it became the “third place” of my life. I’ve stayed in the ministry because I understand that the antidote to a toxin is made from the toxin itself. Religion has caused my people so much pain that I am determined to use it to bring us healing.
Top photo: Rev. Michael Piazza. (Courtesy photo)