Bishop Allyson D. Nelson Abrams resigned from her position as pastor of Zion Progressive Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich., after revealing to her congregation that she was in a same-sex marriage.
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In an exclusive interview with NewsOne, Bishop Abrams said she married Bishop Emeritus Diana Williams of the Imani Temple of the African-American Catholic Congregation in Washington, D.C., in Iowa back in March, but choose to keep it private until she was ready to share it with the public.
Though rumors about the union began spreading around the church, forcing her to break the news sooner than she wanted.
”I could have been like so many people are and lied and said it’s not true,” Abrams, 43, said. ”But that’s not how I was raised and, as a Christian, I was always taught to be a truthful individual. So when it came up I said, ‘OK. I need to be honest with my congregation and tell them truth about what was a great event for me.”’
She opened up to her congregation about her marriage on Oct. 6 and said she would resign from her position to avoid being a distraction. Many of the members came up to her after the service and gave words of support and stated that they loved me. One even knew the name of the woman she married.
Her last day as pastor of Zion Progressive was yesterday.
Abrams, who first told the Michigan Chronicle about her resignation, also resigned from her position as co-editor of the nationally published Progress National Baptist Convention magazine, ”The Baptist Progress.”
During her tenure as pastor, Abrams said she always preached about openness and inclusion, but never specifically touched on the subject of same-sex marriage. It simply was something she did not feel the need to preach about. What is unique about her marriage is that this is her first relationship with a woman.
”I been progressive in my theology and I got to the point where I was open to love whatever way that came,” she said.
Abrams, who has three adult children and was once married to a man, told the Chronicle how wonderful a fit her new wife is.
“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.”
In a city full of churches and nationally-known pastors, Abrams distinguished herself among the elite well before her marriage announcement. Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., Abrams was 38-years-old when she took over as pastor of Zion Progressive, making her one of the youngest pastors in the city at the time. She was elected to the Oak Park, Mich., school board in 2005 and is well-respected in the city’s faith community.
She 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.
Abrams told NewsOne that many of the city’s top pastors have called to support her since her resignation, but she declined to name them. To be sure, Abrams has gotten her fair share of critics, but she is less interested in them and more focused on how to open up the discussion of same-sex marriage and homosexuality within the Black faith community.
She shared with the Chronicle:
“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.”
As for her next steps, Abrams says she is certainly looking forward to pastoring again in the future–even if it means leading a church somewhere outside of Detroit.
”God has called me to pastor,” she said. ”God has gifted me. God has anointed me and given me great talents and abilities. I know that God has clearly equipped me to pastor and work with people, so this is not going to cause me not to walk in the gifts of God.”
Abrams says that her opening up about her marriage has not limited her. She sees herself guest preaching, speaking at revivals, or any event she can help spread the Lord’s word. ”If you want to say this way, God has enlarged my territory,” she said.
As for those in the African-American community who may have reservations about a pastor in a same-sex marriage, she would suggest that they be open to whomever God sends to bless them and share the good news.
God is the one who does the proving of ministry and God is the one who that anoints us, Abrams said. ”There is a scripture that talks about where Jesus says if you receive the one that I send then you receive me. So who can say who God has called and who God has anointed and who God has appointed. None of us can say that because none of us are God. We know God can use anyone he pleases, so I believe that we’ve got to get to the point that we’re open to whomever God sends. And if were looking for a word then we ought to be willing to receive it from wherever that word comes from.”
As to whose pews she’ll be sitting in tomorrow morning, she hasn’t made up her mind yet but says she will ”visit somebody.”