Going to church can be particularly overwhelming when you are queer, houseless, or feel unwelcome, especially when you live in the South. But a revolution for a more equitable church is happening and people like the Rev. Brandon Wrencher are steering the way.
Wrencher’s ministry creates space for what he calls those beyond the margins, people historically excluded and displaced from the four walls of the sanctuary like houseless people, the LGBTQ+ community and social justice warriors.
“I believe to be a person of faith is to be a dissident disciple. To me, this means breaking ranks, norms, and the status quo,” said Wrencher.
Dissident discipleship, a way of thinking and living out faith that he adopted from Rev. Lynice Pinkard, lead many faith leaders based in Greensboro, N.C., including Wrencher to form the Good Neighbor Movement, a spiritually-rooted activist group influenced by Black, multiracial and queer Southerners.
Wrencher’s prophetic critique of the church allows him to lean heavily into what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called the Beloved Community, a world in which everyone is cared for, absent of poverty, hunger and hate.
This belief has motivated Wrencher to play a vocal role in social justice issues like police brutality.
Is there room for activism in your Christianity?
While these injustices, unfortunately, occur far too often across the country they are particularly alarming in North Carolina. From 2013 to 2021, police have been twice as likely to kill Black people than their white counterparts.
In Greensboro, on Sept. 8, 2018, police officers used fatal force to restrain Marcus Smith, an unarmed, homeless Black man experiencing a mental health crisis.
Police restrained Smith in a hogtie position — tying his feet to the handcuffs around his hands and leaving him face down on his stomach on the pavement.
“When Marcus tried to call out for help to the EMS folks because he couldn’t breathe, they just stood by and did nothing. By the time they decided to intervene it was too late,” recalled Wrencher.
Smith soon stopped breathing while restrained in this way and died shortly after.
Since Smith’s death, hog-tying has been banned by the Greensboro Police Department (GPD). Smith’s family is suing the city of Greensboro, eight police officers, and two county EMS workers involved in his death.
While the case is still ongoing, the Good Neighbor Movement continues to galvanize the Greensboro community to hold those involved in Smith’s death accountable. They work in coalition with a myriad Greensboro justice groups.
“We organized the largest mass demonstration in Greensboro’s history where we amplified Smith’s story by connecting police brutality and the death of Floyd to the Greensboro community.”
The battle of white supremacist Christianity
Fighting against police brutality also means decolonizing the church for Wrencher.
Often police attempt to justify unnecessarily harsh actions by blaming suspects for fleeing, for example. Wrencher connects this type of gaslighting with the narrative churches have perpetuated about the life and crucifixion of Jesus.
“Did Jesus die for our sins? Is that the core of the gospel? Or is the core of the gospel that Jesus lived a powerful life and with his teachings, if we follow them, we might have the most loving, equitable, and generous world we could have,” said Wrencher.
Traditionally Christian doctrine has painted a narrow view of Jesus’ story where scapegoating and victimizing lay at the forefront.
“Jesus was a revolutionary, he wasn’t some Messiah that was masochistic, self-deprecating, and looking to be murdered for the sins of all humanity.”
Think of it as Jesus is on trial for his crucifixion instead of the people who crucified him. Before the headlines said George Floyd didn’t deserve what happened to him they originally painted him as a criminal and insinuated his death was the result of counterfeit money.
It’s okay to be Queer and love Jesus
White supremacy makes up every fabric of this country and is not only reflected through the Black experience but also the queer experience.
The Good Neighbor Movement affirms the LGBTQ+ community by centering queer leadership and incorporating the writing and teaching of LGBTQ+ visionaries like Octavia Butler, bell hooks and James Baldwin in their Biblical studies.
“We have to deconstruct a lot of what we learned from the pulpit, Sunday school, and certain interpretations of the Bible about what it means to be queer and the supposed punishment for that,” confirms Wrencher.
By deconstructing the Bible Wrencher hopes folks can reclaim a more loving, inclusive, and just vision of God that isn’t tied to white supremacy or religious slaveholder Christianity.
“It says something about how we understand God by seeing him as a punisher. If you believe God punishes folks for being queer then God should also punish folks for stealing. And guess who is the biggest purveyor of violence and theft in the world? America.”