Equality Forward: Bishop Tonyia Rawls
August 6, 2009
A National Conversation about Race, Sexuality and Gender The Equality Forward essays are a collection of stories about race, sexuality and gender from some of today’s most distinct voices in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-rights movement. Read their essays. Share your own story. Join us for a national conversation on August 13. And read more about Equality Forward.
This essay in the series is submitted by Bishop Tonyia Rawls, founding pastor of Unity Fellowship Church in Charlotte, N.C. As a product of conservative Black church environments, I know how powerful the church and all things connected to her can be in the life of those who embrace what she has to offer. It provided strength, comfort, direction and hope in my times of greatest need while celebrating with me when the Lord provided. However, as HRC’s ”At the Intersection: Race, Sexuality, and Gender” study shows, the church also made it very difficult at times for me to be authentic, both within the walls of the church and in the life I was striving to build and live. When hearing that God could not use me as a woman even though I felt the call to preach and lead, and when hearing that I and others like me were abominations because of our orientation, it was difficult to see how my gifts and voice could ever be used. Ironically, it was my fundamentalist teaching that led me on the path of freedom. The scriptures encouraged me to worship God, not just in spirit, but also in truth, and assured me that God did not make a mistake when creating nor calling me just as I am. My faith journey ultimately led me to the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a denomination birthed from the 1980’s struggle the Black Church experienced when HIV/AIDS hit the Black community. While this Equality Forward study is powerful, and a great tool in the arsenal of things people can use to fight discrimination, homophobia and racism, it alone cannot affect change. When people, organizations and businesses decide to look beyond difference and actually use this tool and others like it, that is when true change comes about. With that change we can then say, FREE AT LAST! Bishop Rawls is the Founding Pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte, and in April 2008, was consecrated as one of the first women Bishops in the Unity Fellowship Church Movement’s history. She is prelate of the Southern Jurisdiction and Vice President of the National Board where she oversees the denomination’s day-to-day business operations. Bishop Rawls is also Founder and ED of the Charlotte-based Freedom Center for Social Justice and a Principal in the newly launched Women’s International Empowerment Zone, a business that helps women executives and leaders through innovative, strategic and professional development that readies each for the challenges and opportunities within dynamic environments. Bishop Rawls sits on the Faith Advisory Council of the National Black Justice Coalition and is a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Council of the Human Rights Campaign.
Issues: Religion & Faith
May 2, 2013