At first glance, Bishop O.C. Allen III appears to be like every other minister in the African-American church tradition: well-groomed, articulate and charismatic, with a voice that oscillates between a whisper and a prophetic roar. But there is something unique about him and the community of believers he’s been called to lead as the founder and senior pastor of The Vision Church of Atlanta, a three thousand-plus congregation that has grown from 12 faithful members in Allen’s living room in 2005, to weekly services in The Vision Cathedral in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood.

The Vision Church of Atlanta, or simply “The Vision Church,” as it’s commonly called, is a place that welcomes all people on purpose, and LGBT people are no exception.

Allen says the idea from the very beginning was to create a place of worship for “people who felt like they did not have a space where they could be authentic, but with a caveat that this would be a place for everybody.”

The Vision Church is home to one of Atlanta’s most thriving LGBT congregations, with roots in the black Pentecostal tradition, but with a theology that leans towards inclusion instead of the exclusionary and harmful messages often heard in traditional churches. Allen rejects the notion that a gospel of exclusion exemplifies the spirit of Christianity.

“It is impossible to be a place that excludes people and say that you’re Christian; that is antithetical to Christianity. The notion of inclusion has always been a Christian ideal,” said Allen.

“We always wanted to keep God and his love first, so it was not about being of a certain sexual orientation or race in order to have membership,” said First Gentleman Rashad Burgess. It was about having a place of authenticity that welcomed people fully for who they are into a space of God’s love.”

That authenticity at The Vision Church goes from the top down, as Burgess and Allen are not only partners in ministry but also partners in marriage and fathers to Joshua, 4, and Caylee, 3.

It’s a level of authenticity that serves as a model for the members who fill the pews on Sunday mornings and ammunition for critics who question the authenticity and holiness of a same-gender loving minister, his husband and an LGBT congregation.

People are listening

Sunday worship at The Vision Cathedral.

Sunday worship at The Vision Cathedral.

For his part, Allen says he no longer defends his brand of Christianity.

“I think it’s a distraction. Spending time in conversations with people who are committed to not supporting us frankly has no fruit. What is important is to continue to preach justice, to preach equality, to preach love. That is what my job is, not to defend it,” he said.

“Our job is to speak to the people whose ears are assigned to listen to us and whose hearts we are assigned to speak to,” said Burgess.

Courtney Walter has been listening since he joined The Vision Church at the end of 2012. He credits Allen’s ministry with helping him to reconcile his sexuality with his faith.

“I wanted to be somewhere where I could grow spiritually. My sexuality and spirituality are not separate entities, they’re one,” said Walter. “I wanted to be somewhere where I could bring my whole self in the room.”

Likewise, Jarrett Walton has been attending The Vision Church for over seven years, and he tells Georgia Voice that he struggled in the past to understand what the Word meant for him in terms of his sexuality.

“It (The Vision Church) ministered to me,” said Walton. “Bishop has a very non -traditional way of ministering the Word and making sure to meet people where they are, then taking them to where they need to be.”

A global movement

 So why do so many LGBT people remain in harmful churches instead of flocking to affirming ministries? The answer is varied and complex. Burgess admits that this is one area where he is quite dogmatic.

“I do not participate in my own oppression,” he said. “When you go to other mainstream communities, no one expects them to go to a place that doesn’t uplift them, especially a place that’s about their spiritual nourishment and growing.”

Allen and Burgess agree that they won’t be able to “bring everyone along, but our responsibility is to those who do come along.”

“We’re not just about being a church, we’re also about the empowerment of the community in every way possible,” said Allen.

From HIV testing to feeding the homeless and community outreach through Black Gay Pride events such as the Pure Heat Community Festival, the reach of The Vision Church will not be confined to Atlanta.

“It’s a global movement, said Allen. “It will spread to places where there is no Vision Church, like Iran, Russia, Chile, places where LGBT folk exist and need a space where Jesus can be taught.”

9 Responses

  1. Dr. Terrell Foster, TH.D

    My husband and I have been asked to lead a new church(MCC) in our community and I was wondering if we did what should his title be. I like First Gentleman very much.

    Reply
    • Bobby Witcher

      The devil is a lie. That’s a waste of time God ain’t accepting no sin can’t change the truth and can’t call evil good.

      Reply
  2. Everett

    Greetings my friend,

    First Gentleman is indeed a worthy title. Go forward and be blessed.

    Dr. Everett L. Kilgo, DMin

    Reply
  3. Denise J

    Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. Leviticus 18:22. How do you two explain your behavior when God is flat out against the sin of same-sex relations, let alone unions?

    Reply
    • Danny

      If the church would preach the gospel as Jesus commanded and allow God to change people’s lives the way in which He wants to through His power there would be no need for LGBTQ churches, however as in these comments you hurl scriptures and point fingers and badger gay people who attend your churches and it becomes a fight towards a group of people then drawing anyone with love and kindness. I am sick and tired of the cruelty I have experienced in church, the laughing and making fun of gay people, even the use of derogatory words to describe them. Then the excuse that if you don’t do this you are sugar coating the word of God…Using God as an excuse for behaviors that have nothing to do with Him neither His plan for salvation. Although I don’t agree with mediums coming in the church, I do see why all this is happening. It’s just not because we are living in the last days…it’s because the church needs to come out of themselves and see what’s they have done that’s not working and ask God to give them a new vision as to what will

      Reply
      • William

        I have come from a dead and gone past, same sex. I know the feelings of attraction very well. I also know how the percentages of abuse that took place in the lives of the majority of the LBGTQ communities. Despite the lies, Jesus not only saves us, but transforms us into His image, WORD, likeness. If it is written in the word, it is his. To many have itchy ears and teach people deception. Don’t be fooled by your feelings, they don’t save us, Jesus does. Yes, He does transform us too. Check out Ephesians, there is a spiritual battle going on. Blessings in Christ, may He open the blind eyes of deception that is trying to mislead the church.

  4. David

    For as in the days of Noah before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the Ark and the flood took them all away. So will it be when the Son of man returns, two will be working iniquity and be taken away by the Angels of our master. to be thrown into the fire where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Repent of your open sins and those that are hidden, it is an abomination for man to lay with man and to teach others to do so! Repent and change your ways before your too late. Seek YAHUAH while you still can and be saved by His righteous right hand YAHUSHA HA MASHIAC and turn from your wickedness which sends a stench to YAH’s nostrils! Aman

    Reply
  5. Greta Johnson

    Revelation 18-4, Leviticus 19-31why are you leading the people to hell why not telling them the truth the word of God look you people make sure you read the word of God for yourselves work out your own salvation pray for yourselves being members of an church is an occult yes I said that it is what it is

    Reply

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