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27 Aug, 2009 07:50

Teaching inclusiveness: DC church welcomes gays and HIV positive

Health officials say AIDS in the US capital has almost become a severe epidemic. Among complaints that there is little spiritual help for those infected, some of them go and create support with their own hands.

Marcellious Gaines is black, young, gay, and Christian, and sometimes all those identities have made things difficult for him.

”I think the biggest thing was judgment,” he said. “It was, you know, ‘you will go to hell because this is not the universe or god,’ you know? You are cursing yourself.”

However, Gaines has found a place where he can be religious.

Inner Light Ministries church, where about 70 percent of the congregation is gay, was founded 16 years ago by Bishop Rainey Cheeks.

The bishop says that, as many churches still don’t accept gays in their communities, he is there to support them.

”I told you a long time ago – I will climb a tree and worship God by myself before I go back into an oppressive situation,” Cheeks preaches.

And while statistics claims that more than 60 percent of men in Washington DC who have been infected with HIV through sex are black, the bishop wants to talk about the issue directly.

“I don’t expect to go out and change the whole city, but we work in small groups and what we do is empower each person,” he said.

The priest tries to foster an environment of inclusiveness since most here have come from places where they felt left out, speaking openly and directly about the oppression many have suffered.

“I can’t put the new thoughts I have in the old church I came from,” he said. “Why do we keep going back into places of oppression that don't want to affirm your life?”

He teaches his congregation that God loves everyone regardless of their lifestyles, and his message reaches the crowd.

”If you learn and study as the scripture tells us to do, you find that we are all part of God’s plan and that God loves us just as we are,” Inner Light church member Reverend Michaele Moore said.

Read also The American dream increasingly further away for blacks