The Call And Response Of A Gay Bishop: How The Truth Transformed Dennis Meredith's Life and Ministry
“The Holy Spirit can use anybody. I am a pastor, a preacher, a teacher, and I’m bisexual.”
It’s been 14 years since Bishop Dennis Meredith, 68, stood in the pulpit of Tabernacle Baptist Church (TBC), which he has led since 1994, and publicly disclosed that he was bisexual. On any given Sunday, the pews in this 100-year-old church formerly located on Boulevard in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward would be filled, and this Sunday in 2007 was no different. There had been rumblings among members of Meredith’s congregation that the charismatic pastor who was married to former First Lady Lydia Meredith for 27 years and bore three sons, was gay, or at the very least bisexual. But until the words escaped his mouth, no one expected the revered spiritual leader with everything to lose to disclose the truth about his sexuality, including Meredith himself. This moment was the culmination of a progressive shift in membership and theological approach that would spur a mass exodus for some straight and Biblically conservative members while becoming a Genesis for those who identify as LGBTQ+.
“For everyone that left, 15 to 20 people joined because I was the only African American pastor in the city that was saying it's not a sin to be gay. It's okay to be who you are,” says Meredith.
Once the words left his mouth, he knew there was no going back into the closet. A hush swept across the sanctuary. The silence was deafening. Shock and confusion replaced faces that were cool moments before, but now everyone looked as if they were collectively asking—’what did he just say?’”
“Then they broke out into applause and gave me a standing ovation,” Meredith recalls.
“When he said that, I was waiting for the earthquake to come because I knew there was going to be a consequence,” says Tony Winston, a member of TBC for 23 years. “I knew there were going to be some members that were going to leave.”
“They loved the church and loved him, but they just couldn't understand the idea of a bisexual preacher, as well as the influx of LGBT members coming to the church,” says Eric Richardson, a deacon and long-time member of TBC.
Meredith tells The Reckoning that “by the time I announced it, we were, say, 75%, a same-gender-loving congregation.” Initially, Meredith says he was perplexed by the surge in LGBTQ congregants only to find out that Joe Taylor, widely known as Miss Sophia, a popular drag queen, and Atlanta radio personality was behind the uptick.
“He [Taylor] was a member of Tabernacle. He was on the Courtesy Guild. I did not know anything about TRAXX,” says Meredith, referring to the once-popular and now closed Atlanta nightclub where Taylor performed as Miss Sophia.
“I didn't know that he was doing drag. A whole bunch of gay people started joining Tabernacle, just droves started joining the church, and I was like, well, what the heck is going on? The deacons got upset with me because they said, ‘you're turning this church gay.’ I found out that at the end of his show he would always tell the attendees to come to his church. ‘I attend Tabernacle Baptist Church where Dennis Meredith is the pastor,’ Meredith recalls Miss Sophia telling the crowd at TRAXX. “And this went on for months. I knew nothing about it. All I knew was these people were coming to my church by the droves. I mean, sometimes we had as many as 45 people joining a Sunday,” says Meredith.
TBC was becoming a safe place for LGBTQ+ Atlantans to worship without the fear of being spiritually abused. And while Meredith was being embraced by one segment of the Black community, the fallout from his straight Black congregants and other clergy was severe.
“Prior to me coming out, I preached for everybody. As soon as I came out all of that ended,” says Meredith. “I have no relationship with straight ministers in Atlanta. Period. All of those guys were my friends. But you know, they don't put any money in my church, so to hell with them. Why should I care about what they think about me? The people who take care of me are the people I'm going to take care of,” he added.
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