Reverend Bertram Johnson
“In the early 1990’s, in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the United States, Reverend Bertram Johnson was assigned to be a chaplain in the somber AIDS ward of a hospital. The nation and most of its churches turned a blind eye to the suffering, watching hundreds of thousands of people die and failing to fund research for a cure since those dying were primarily gay, poor, Black and Brown men…
A young, Black, gay man himself, Pastor Bertram was still wrestling with shame over his own sexuality at the time, but God’s love and compassion for the sick patients was obvious. Being the only person to embody God’s love to a population condemned to die alone was just one of the many times God showed him ‘the liberatory practices of Jesus, the power of Jesus; that it’s not just about saving our souls and getting ourselves into heaven, but helping us to experience love, heaven, and liberation here on earth too.’ This, he realized, is what it means for me to be a pastor.
Over the next years, God continued to lead Pastor Bertram into ministry with queer people, including closeted choir leaders who gave everything to their ministry despite dying of AIDS, or street youth kicked out of their homes for being LGBTQ…
Pastor Bertram’s life and spirit is a tender invitation into loving ourselves, the world, and God more deeply as queer people of faith. Among so many other things, his story is a testament that ‘God isn’t diminished by our love. God is actually affirmed and reflected by the way we love each other.’
For younger queer people trying to reconcile religion with their LGBTQ identities, Pastor Bertram gave this tender invitation: ‘Start loving yourself today. I delayed the experience of loving myself until much later in life, into my thirties… Start loving yourself today, because that love is the love God has for you.’”
[Excerpt from Beloved Arise: Hall of Faith by Henea De Savy]