First of Two Parts
Bishop Allyson D. Nelson Abrams, outgoing secretary of the Detroit Council of Baptist Pastors, is a Christian spiritual leader, national speaker, theological teacher and author who has built a strong reputation in African American faith-based communities around Detroit and across the nation. For more than five years, she has served as pastor of Zion Progress Baptist Church, located in downtown Detroit. On Friday, October 18, 2013, Bishop Abrams will officially step down as pastor.
Abrams’ decision to leave Zion Progress is based on the revelation she made to her congregation on Sunday, Oct. 6. She announced that she is now in a same-sex marriage. “With some buzz going around about my same-sex marriage, I wanted my church to hear from me before members heard it from other sources. I had already talked with my deacons,” said Abrams. “I knew that it would eventually get to my congregation. So I stood in my pulpit and openly talked about love, Christ, and that I was married, and it was a same-gender marriage.”
According to the 43-year-old pastor, there were a myriad of reactions from the congregation. She said some expressed disappointment and many expressed love and support. Abrams said the next day, a groundswell of calls poured in, some, said Abrams, from members who have not actively attended Zion Progress Baptist Church in years.
“Some members asked me to stay. Some said if I was leaving, they would go with me to another church. Some members even said that if I was going out of the state, they would go to another church.”
Abrams quickly realized that her same-gender marriage had the potential to cause a deep divide, so deep that even families in the church were split on which side of the issue to stand on.
“It is not my desire to split the church,” Abrams said, during an exclusive interview at the Michigan Chronicle office.
“It really hurts me because I don’t want to be the reason for the church to split, and potentially for family members to be at odds with one another. Therefore, I felt that it was in the best interest of everyone to resign.”
Abrams also severed ties with other faith-based organizations in the region. After a nine-year stint with the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit, she stepped down, citing that she didn’t want to be the topic of proposed meetings on the issue, which could have ultimately caused a rift within the Council.
“I want to make it clear that I was not forced out or put out as some rumors have suggested,” said Abrams. “I’ve had many calls from people in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and other places who have asked me about leaving the Council. I was not put out; I resigned.”
In addition, Abrams removed her church from the Baptist Missionary and Education State Convention, as well as the Progressive National Baptist Convention. She also stepped down from her co-editorship of the nationally published Progress National Baptist Convention magazine, The Baptist Progress.
After several decades of serving and leading in the African-American faith community, Abrams knew that her marital status would not sit well with everyone.
Nevertheless, Abrams has proudly identified her new spouse as Bishop Emeritus Diana Williams of the Imani Temple of the African-American Catholic Congregation in Washington, D..C. The couple married in March of 2013 in Iowa.
“She is definitely my best friend, a wonderful person and is a support system to me in tremendous ways,” Abrams said. “We have a lot in common. We have similar visions, missions and goals. We complement each other very well in how best to serve God.”
Abrams added that when she (Abrams) was consecrated as bishop on April 14, 2012, the topic of same-sex marriage or gay relationships was never brought up, as it was not on her heart or in her spirit at the time. About a year or so before she was married, she became open for love, and love not necessarily from a certain gender.
“At some point you have to be honest with yourself,” said Abrams. “This is my first same-gender relationship. I knew the person before, but we were just friends. We had a great relationship where I began to ask questions of myself about a year ago.”
Abrams believes, “We are all made in God’s image and in God’s likeness, which means whoever you are, whatever you look like, whatever your gender is, whatever your color, whatever your culture, whatever you orientation (sexual), everybody is made in God’s image.
“There are so many people who are wounded, so many people who are hurt, so many people have been cast out; people have been pushed to the point where they actually have tried to hurt themselves and have even killed themselves because of what the religious community says about who they are.”
She continued, “One of the things that really hurts me is that for so many years, African-American churches, and maybe White churches as well, are saying that these people (gay) are going to hell. Some ministers (male) are being hypocrites because behind the scenes they are right there doing stuff. Many people, especially young people and the unchurched, when they come to church, want to be welcomed and affirmed.
“There is a difference. If I’m affirming you, that means that I am accepting you as you are and that you are free to serve in any capacity in the church as a member. If a same-gender loving person can clean the church, play the organ, sing in the choir, they should be able to lead the church…teach, preach and do all of that.”
Abrams, who holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from United Theological Seminary as well as a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Howard University, believes that two Scriptures are important to read as “scriptural references” as it relates to same-gender relationships: Luke 7: 1-10 and Matthew 8: 5-13 (about the Centurion’s servant). She also believed the Greek words “entimos duolos pais” when seen together mean beloved servant, which means male lover. This, according to Abrams, is different from the other servants in nature of the relationship.
Abrams also said that during this time in history, the law did not consider it adultery when men had sex with men; it was only viewed as adultery when men had sex with other women.
“The references in the Bible that discussed ‘homosexual acts’ referred to popular male prostitution during that time,” said Abrams. “The men would have sex with the male prostitutes, often. This is what was discouraged in Scriptures.
“However, nowhere does Jesus or any text discuss males who engaged in loving committed relationships with other males that were not totally sexual in nature, but were simply love between two consenting individuals. This is what we see between many same-sex couples on today, and what is being fought on today.”
Editor’s Note: Bishop Abrams has much more to say about her groundbreaking decision, the future of the Black church on this issue, and her plans moving forward in part 2 of this exclusive interview