Tolton strives to bridge the divide in the LGBTQ religious community through international efforts


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Bishop Joseph Tolton

Pan-Africanist, Christian and Queer Bishop Joseph Tolton shares his thoughts on LGBTQ solidarity and the past, present and future of Christianity in Africa.

When I first met my Queer siblings, I was not only connecting with them around our Queer reality, but also as people of African descent who had been separated.

– Bishop Tolton

WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, USA, December 10, 2021 / – Delving into the contrasting beliefs of the conservative White Christian church and the LGBTQ community, Bishop Joseph W. Tolton shares his thoughts on the past, present, and future of Christianity in Africa. Emphasizing his experience of growing up as a “hidden gay,” Tolton sounds the alarm bells regarding resistance, manipulation, failure, acceptance, resilience, culture and progress within the church.

In a new essay, “Pan Africanist, Christian and Gay”, Bishop Tolton shares that he was “brought up in the cradle of the Pentecostal Church”. He remembers that the window sill of his childhood bedroom served as his first chair. Focusing on its educational foundations in predominantly Jewish schools, he says the community has served as the inspiration for his transnational work.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the fact that his own fellow Christians isolate and condemn those who identify as gay led him to quietly live a lifestyle contrary to what was accepted. Tolton believed that illness was a curse from God given the church’s position. In turn, he witnessed an exodus from the black church in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to their response to the HIV / AIDS epidemic, which he described as ugly. , mean, vindictive and full of betrayal.

Ultimately, this led the Harlem, NY native to join a black Pentecostal, Baptist, and Methodist reform movement rooted in acceptance. Tolton founded the Rehoboth Temple in Harlem in 2006. While the “right” church was welcoming to all, it was particularly focused on the LGBTQ population. With a frontline view of what was happening nationally, Tolton was inspired to explore the issue internationally. His research led to the transformational work he is currently embarking on.

In 2009, Uganda’s anti-gay bill became a topic of global concern. Bishop Dr Christopher Senyonjo, an Episcopal priest, was propelled to the fore. While creating a safe space for young LGBTQ identifiers, he was the only member of the clergy to voice his disapproval of the bill once passed. After a chance meeting with Senyonjo, Tolton traveled to Uganda in September 2010. Stating that his “life has changed completely since that trip,” Tolton began to see first hand the damage done by conservative white evangelical Christians.

“When I met my queer siblings, I was not only in touch with them around our queer reality, but also as people of African descent who had been separated. We found ourselves having an amazing conversation not only about the future of queer people, but how this relationship between the religious right and church leaders on the continent and the relationship between American aid and how that supported autocratic regimes.

Driven by the murder of Ugandan activist David Kato, Tolton began to witness an increase in African-American clergy supporting the rights of the LGBTQ community. Signaling an uprising and loosening of the stronghold that “religious right” had over the black church, 47.5% of blacks voted for marriage equality in Maryland in 2012.

At the same time in Africa, queer people were starting to defend their rights. In April 2010, a manifesto published in Nairobi declared: “As Africans we all have endless potential. We are championing an African revolution that embraces the demand for a reimagining of our lives outside of neocolonial categories of identity and power.

Building on his bridge from the United States to Africa, Tolton, as a member of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries network, has helped build five congregations in East Africa for the LGBTQ community. They serve people to provide spiritual support and also organize advocacy. The working groups are organized around civil society and include universities, governments, the media, and sectors that foster cultural influence.

“I believe this path is the unpaved road of Pan-Africanism. And that we need to link the movements that young people are building on the ground in Africa with movements in Brazil, Colombia, throughout the Caribbean, and certainly here in the United States. This is the job of Interconnected Justice: to bring together and build a unified network between national and youth-led pan-African movements. “

About Bishop Joseph W. Tolton: Bishop Joseph W. Tolton is the founder and president of Interconnected Justice. The organization’s strategic intention is to be a force uniting global racial justice movements in which the African continent and its diaspora build a self-defined and determined advocacy ecosystem. As a Global LGBT religious leader, Tolton continues to serve as the Bishop of Global Ministries for the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.

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