CLGS Town Hall Brings Hollywood to Oakland

October 29, 2008
Richard Lindsay

Hollywood came to Oakland on October 2, thanks to the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry and the newly revitalized Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations. CLGS and the Bay Area CWC held a town hall meeting featuring a panel of PSR alumni and the cast of the LOGO network series Noah’s Arc and the upcoming feature film Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom. The meeting, held at First Congregational Church of Oakland, discussed the issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples from the perspective of the African American faith community. The panel included actors Darryl Stephens, Doug Spearman, Rodney Chester, Christian Vincent, and Jenson Atwood, appearing at an event together for the first time as a cast, and PSR graduates Revs. Lynice Pinkard, Francine Brookins, Dorsey Blake, and Roland Stringfellow, newly hired coordinator of the Bay Area CWC.

The event was held in front of an enthusiastic audience of fans of the show and members of the community concerned about the upcoming Proposition 8 vote on marriage equality in California. CLGS executive director Mary Tolbert began the night by exhorting the audience to register to vote and make their voices heard at the polls. LGBT rights organizer Andrea Shorter, campaign director of And Marriage 4 All, also urged that the evening’s events would lead to involvement at the polls.

The audience sang a rousing rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing, also known as the black national anthem, and enjoyed a performance from the Transcendence Gospel Choir, a transgender choir affiliated with San Francisco’s City of Refuge UCC before the conversation got underway.


Stringfellow introduced the members of the Noah’s Arc cast to loud applause and began by asking them questions about the show and the upcoming film. The television program broke new ground in depicting the lives of five young African American gay men as they negotiate relationships, church and community, careers, and their friendships with each other. The cast explained that the term that inspired the title of the film, “jumping the broom,” was a practice used during slavery as couples pledged fidelity to each other despite official prohibition against marriage. (Two of the characters are married in the upcoming film.) The actors acknowledged the social significance of their roles in the program and the film. “People characterize black men as being violent toward each other,” said actor Jensen Atwood. “So black men loving black men really is a revolutionary act.”


The panel continued with the three ministers adding to the conversation. Pinkard, pastor of First Congregational Church of Oakland, related same-sex marriage to the larger issue of justice in the community. As her voice lifted into preacher mode, she said: “We must remember that the crucifixion was a political act before it was a spiritual act. Jesus was a dissident.”

Francine Brookins, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, referring to classes she took at PSR, pointed out: “When somebody says the Bible is why they hate gays or hate themselves for being gay, they need to take a Bible course like Mary Tolbert’s so they can learn why they are wrong.”

Referring to LGBT and related issues, Dorsey Blake, dean of the faculty of Starr King School for Ministry, urged “the black church, which began the freedom movement, to reclaim its prophetic voice.”

The event represented the beginning of a successful reinvigoration of the Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations. This is an outreach program initiated by CLGS as a multi-faith coalition working to achieve full equality and justice for LGBT people and their families in faith communities and society. The Coalition, with more than 50 member congregations, has held a variety of educational workshops and public events, created a Web site, and compiled a list of welcoming congregations in the 9-county Bay Area.

Stringfellow, the first full-time coordinator of the Bay Area CWC, said he hopes to expand the view of what it means for a church to be “welcoming.” “We need to discuss how to create spaces that are safe and affirming of all—not just LGBT people, but the sex worker, the homeless individual, those from a different social-economic class. We need to answer the question of how to create a ‘whosoever church’ that makes no distinction based upon gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, race, mental ability level, marital status, or family configurations.”

Commenting on the revitalized role for the Bay Area CWC, Tolbert said, “We are at the beginning of a new day in LGBT work in faith communities, and the CWC, with Rev. Stringfellow directing it, will clearly be in the forefront of that work.”

 --Photos by James Knox

For recent media coverage of PSR students, faculty, and staff on the marriage equality issue in California, see: