Laurel church seeks to bridge religious, gay communities -- Gazette.Net







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Calvin Anderson and Corey Creech used to introduce themselves as cousins. Now they introduce themselves as husbands.

The two men who once felt forced to hide their relationship are using their struggles and experiences to overcome discrimination in what they view as the final frontier for the LGBTQ community: the church.

In 2012, Anderson, 31, and Creech, 30, of Waldorf helped form an all-inclusive church in Laurel that attempts to reconcile the religious and gay communities. In January, New Hope Baptist United Church of Christ created an outreach group called God’s Banquet Table that has around 20 members and will be an extension of the church’s all-inclusive philosophy, said the Rev. Kenneth King, a social worker and openly gay pastor of New Hope.

“The group is geared toward individuals who have been oppressed, suppressed and shut out by the church because of their sexuality,” said King, a Washington, D.C., resident. “The group will also deal with parents of gay and lesbian children or individuals who wish to know more about how religion and sexuality all come together.”

As a predominately African-American church with Baptist roots, New Hope is an anomaly in Prince George’s County, Creech said.

“With the diversity [Prince George’s County] has, there was no all-inclusive church,” he said. “For the suburbs, especially for the black community, tradition outweighs the presence of God.”

The Rev. Jamie Washington is co-pastor of Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore and a board member for Many Voices, which describes itself as a black church movement for gay and transgender justice. Washington said that many in the Baptist tradition and other conservative denominations view same-sex marriage as a sin.

“In the Baptist churches, it’s a rare thing [to affirm same-sex marriage and clergy],” he said. “In those predominately African-American spaces, there is not the same kind of support and backing.”

While searching for a building to host services in 2012, New Hope was denied by about 25 area churches before Oaklands Presbyterian Church in Laurel agreed to rent them space, Creech said.

The Rev. LeAnn Hodges of Oaklands said her denomination does not recognize same-sex marriage, but that Oaklands didn’t think twice about opening its doors to New Hope.

“We welcome and celebrate everyone,” she said. “We are an open and affirming church.”

Anderson and Creech said the struggles they face equip them to encourage and empower others within their community.

“[The church] is the last public battle the LGBT community will have to face in terms of being able to be who they are because it’s not something that’s governed by politics or law,” Creech said. “You need to know that there is a community behind you that supports you, and I think as long as we continue to do that, progression will always be made.”