Tuan N'Gai (TN): We will start every interview with a statement.
I will give the first part of the statement, and would like
you to finish it in your own words.
Pastor Brown (PB): Okay TN: "God opens doors…
PB: "so that whosoever might come in."
TN: What exactly is the mission of Freedom Fellowship Christian
PB: I think the mission of our church is tow-fold. To recognize
the value of all of God's creation and the requirement that
all of God's creation to be allowed to worship freely and
comfortably. We believe that whosoever (all oppressed people)
should have a place and the opportunity to understand that
Jesus is a liberator, and He is working toward getting all
of us who are abused or oppressed free. The second mission
of our church is one of social action. We're not comfortable
only in a right belief. Not only in an understanding of God
as liberator, but that God is working in and through us that
we might liberate others. We intend not only to warm the pews,
but to fan out and bring the Ministry of Jesus Christ to whomever
and whosoever needs to hear the good news of Jesus.
TN: What auxiliary ministries do you have that serve and
meet that mission?
PB: We have worship service, fellowships, Bible Study….the
basic church ministries. But there are also the outreach ministries.
The first that we are particularly proud of is the Hypothermia
Ministry where whenever the temperature falls below 30 degrees,
the church is instantly turned into a homeless shelter for
women. We open the doors to the church every night as shelter
from the cold. We offer a meal and the opportunity to be safe
from the streets on nights like that. We are actively working
toward a new ministry where we are hoping to collaborate with
other affirming churches and churches of like thinking to
address some of the social concerns of the LGBT community
and other oppressed people in our city. Issues related to
HIV, Same-Sex Marriages, the need for churches to stand and
be counted as a valuable resource to the community as opposed
to an obscure fringe element. We hope to bring the requirements
and needs for affirming communities to be mainstream and not
marginalized. We work with other organizations that deal with
the youth, HIV prevention and education, and whoever else
is interested in collaborating and communicating with us.
TN: How do you define the term "affirming church"? And since
most churches are structurally the same, how is your church
different from other affirming churches or mainstream churches
for that matter?
PB: I think what makes us different is most "affirming"
and/or "mainstream" churches have at their core the requirement
for a particular sexual identity. They seem to have as an
essential element of their ministry the sexual orientation
of those who participate. Whereas we believe sexuality to
be irrelevant. The relevant factor is oppression. If one is
an oppressed minority, a marginalized humanity then this is
the place for you to find wholeness, health, and the liberation
offered by Jesus Christ. That's what makes us different. We
accept all those who have found themselves on the margins
of mainstream society and the mainstream church establishment.
One of the other barriers in the mainstream church experience
is an implied racial identity. There is certainly no one standing
in the pulpit saying they are a church that accepts only black
people, but the reality is, some of the experience is consistent
with disallowing and devaluing other cultures and ethnicities.
Here, we are trying as best we can to offer a system of worship
that is not exclusive and are not passively exclusive. We
are a welcoming "whosoever" ministry.
TN: What do you think is the root of "gay-bashing" sermons?
PB: I think the root of that is a cultural norm that is clearly
American. I think it rises out of a sexual moray that has
condemned sexuality as an entity. There is as much fear of
heterosexual sex as there is homosexual sex. I don't believe
that Americans have accepted sexuality for all that it is.
When one defines sexuality as "an act performed with genitals"
I think one misses the mark of what sexuality really is. At
its core, sexuality has to do with human relationship or an
extension thereof. And how good it is for humans to relate.
And the genital part is such a small part of it. The American
ideal has focused on genital sex as being sex. I think therein
lies a lot of the fear and misunderstanding. I believe that
when sexuality is raised in the context of Christian love,
it is difficult if not impossible to rationalize exclusivity
of one group or another, all of us loving equally and being
in relationship with God. So, when we have an understanding
that sex and sexuality is a means of human loving. That human
loving is an extension of our relationship with God. As God
showed us through Jesus what loving really is.
TN: With the numerical growth of affirming churches and initiatives
like Operation Rebirth, do you think we will ever get to a
point where bashing will change and all of us will be able
to live together? Or will this continue to be a battle until
PB: The first answer is "I hope so". I hope it will get
better. The second is, there is no peace until it does come.
There is clear evidence that there are some changes. I recently
read an article that spoke to there being a revolution of
sexual thinking in teenagers. It was focusing on youth increasingly
discarding traditional stereotypes of sexuality, and embracing
it as a means toward relationship as opposed to that which
is prescribed by society. Some of the quotes from the article
suggested "I love who I choose to love, and I want to not
exclude or limit my opportunity to love by limiting it to
one sex or gender". The recent changes in government or decisions
made in the courts have clearly pointed out that this is an
opportune time to stand with those who seek to eliminate slavery
or anything that would hold people down or back from loving
and living. So, is it changing, "yes". Will it change before
Jesus comes, "I hope so". And it's going to be my mission
for the rest of my life to see that it does change.
TN: On a more personal note, after seeing you interact with
your wife and children, and noticing that most of your congregation
are part of the Same Gender Loving (SGL) or Trans-gender Communities,
have you dealt with the argument "you're straight, so how
can you minister to me"? If so, how did you overcome it?
PB: That has been a challenge. Not nearly as much as it was.
One of the primary tools against the things that bind us with
respect to sexuality and general oppression is knowledge.
Knowledge is power. And that's the primary tool of this church
and my ministry. The more you know, the better off, and the
more equipped you will be to make reasonable decisions. "How
can you understand our issues" was a challenge when I first
came to this church, but I basically said "let me try, and
if it doesn't work, throw me out." Well, as of today I haven't
been thrown out because the issue of sexuality is irrelevant.
My ministry really speaks to "where do you hurt? How can I
show you that Jesus wants to and can heal the hurt inside
of you? Why are you not a full and accepted member of this
society? And what can Jesus do in order to cause you minimally
to feel whole and feel like a complete person?"
My presence and acceptance at this church says that this
church is different. It says that we're not just a bunch of
gays and lesbians who are gonna go and have church all by
ourselves in a corner so we can be happy like in a nightclub.
But this is my attempt to bring the mainstream to those who
TN: There's a debate that asks if a person is really effective
in ministry if they haven't been to seminary. Where do you
stand on that issue? And what is the requirement to be on
the ministerial staff at this church?
PB: Good question. I do believe in professional ministry.
Because one of the things I learned in seminary is you don't
know what you don't know until you know it. And as a professionally
trained individual myself, I thought ministry was just another
thing I could do. I was encouraged by a pastor to go to seminary,
and I thank God for it every day. Because it allowed me an
opportunity to know what I didn't know. In respect to a firm
requirement for serving on this staff, there are none. But
again, I do insist upon, and feel very strongly that there
is a requirement for professional ministry.
One of the disciplines of seminary is systematic theology.
Systematic Theology will not teach you how to preach, but
it will teach you what not to preach. There is a fine line
that one must walk in making the scriptures real to people
without making it not unlike what's really in there. Is seminary
the only means of training? Most likely not. But it is, in
my opinion one of the best. One of the things I offer those
who work with me here is, by my own experience, we can learn
and share together. So it's not a requirement to have a degree
or a seminary certificate. But I do strongly believe that
one needs to be trained.
TN: Thank you so much Pastor Brown. I am honored to have
you as the first Pastor Spotlight for Operation Rebirth. I
look forward to working with you in the future, and wish you
much success in the struggle for social justice. Let us know
if there's anything we can do to help you and Freedom Fellowship