George N. Gibson is Bringing Gay-Friendly, Old Timey Pentecostalism to Miami

George N. Gibson has a dream. That one day all Miamians -- gay and straight, HIV-positive and -negative, black and white -- will attend church together in old timey clothes, speak directly to the Lord, wash one another's feet during Communion, and play music on wooden washboards.

Now that dream has a deadline. Gibson says he will open Set Free Ministries through Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith Church some time this spring.

It will be one of a kind, he claims.

First, many African-American churches in Miami are homophobic, says Gibson, a 44-year-old gay black man.

"Being gay-friendly is not very popular among Pentecostals," he says. "Lots of churches say, 'We welcome everybody. But....' There is always a 'but.'"

For example, when Gibson proposed a free HIV clinic at a church he used to attend, the initial reaction was good. But then church leaders began approaching him with uneasy questions: "Would the patients be clean? Would it be dangerous?"

"People act like (homophobia) is just the way it is, maybe because their pastor always taught it that way," Gibson says. "But nobody bothered to look into the scripture."

Of the few Pentecostal churches in Miami that do welcome gay men and women, none practice the "old, traditional ways" that Gibson grew up with: washboards, head coverings for women, and feet washing during Holy Communion.

He says he hasn't yet faced much opposition from other Pentecostal churches who don't agree with his all-inclusive philosophy. But Gibson is only now on the verge of being ordained by a gay-friendly church in Ft. Lauderdale called Shine Ministries. He delivered his first sermon just a few months ago.

"None of us are perfect," Gibson says, explaining his proposed church's open-doors policy. "We've all got some dirt on us. When they go to the altar, let the holy ghost clean them up."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.