Jamal Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, will observe his one-year anniversary this month.
Bryant recently sat down to talk about the challenges he faced coming to the Stonecrest megachurch and his plans moving forward.
On Sunday, Bryant is headed to Ghana with rapper Clifford Harris Jr., known professionally as Tip or T.I., business leaders and influencers for the 400th anniversary observance of when the first enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown.
Bryant said he will be given dual citizenship and made a chief in the West African nation. Ghana has declared a “Year of Return” for African descendants around the diaspora.
>> One year ago: New Birth’s new pastor Bryant promises church’s rebirth
For the church, Bryant said his plans include reducing the environmental footprint of New Birth, including the installation of solar panels, which is expected to save the church $80,000 a month.
He also wants to develop an urban farm, begin a church podcast and an internet radio station.
Below are excerpts of the interview that touched on a variety of topics including whether he is back together with ex-wife and “Real Housewives of Potomac” star Gizelle Bryant ( “Yes.” That’s it.) to a recent Sunday sermon on the church addressing AIDS and, of course, a visit by Kanye West:
On New Birth addressing the HIV-AIDS epidemic in metro Atlanta:
When I came a year ago, within four days of my arrival was the CDC’s (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) announcement that Atlanta was now rivaling Third World nations. And, embarrassingly, in a year I gave absolutely no redress to the issue until we were mounting towards World AIDS Day.
I knew that everything sexual is taboo in the church. So, the church doesn’t speak to molestation, incest, rape, STDs or AIDS and I really felt if New Birth and the church at large is going to be relevant that we really have to deal with it when so many in the community are being impacted by it.
On the reaction by members when he addressed AIDS in his Sunday sermon:
I really didn’t know what it was going to be because I hadn’t dealt with anything in that realm, so I was really holding my breath to see, “OK, maybe this is going to be too far for these people.”
But they were overwhelmingly relieved.
I think several things happened that lightened the tension as I asked everybody who had somebody in their family that’s been impacted to stand. To see those numbers and across demographics stand and be represented, as well as to question people’s faith and relationship to it. If God can heal somebody of cancer, why can’t He heal somebody of HIV/AIDS?
On his come to Jesus moment:
I think my ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting for me or my bro-mitzvah, as it were, on really re-evaluating my philosophy and theology happened a couple of years ago when same-sex marriage was on the ballot. I was a strong proponent against it and waxed eloquently against everything related.
And one Sunday in Baltimore, as I do here at New Birth, I was shaking hands and as I say to my members on the way out: “Love you. Have a great week.”
A young man, maybe about 24 years of age, I hugged him said “Love you. Have a great week.” And he looked me square in the eye and said you don’t love me. I said why would you say that? He said, “You don’t love me. I’m gay.”
It really convicted me in that moment that much of what it is that we preach may be a hate gospel and not one that reflects the love and compassion of Christ. So I don’t know if the message I preached yesterday would have been a message I would have preached five years ago. It kind of took my own journey of evolving. The church, in many regards, has been found guilty of hate crimes.
On what the first year has been like at New Birth:
It’s been the longest honeymoon in history. It’s been a tremendous ride. I came with great trepidation and apprehension, not sure what to expect. How long it would take us to get our rhythm and momentum and to find how to dance without stepping on each other’s shoe.
On New Birth’s growth:
Our church took a significant dip in terms of their attendance and membership through the illness of Bishop Long, then the death, then going nine months with no pastor (Editor’s note: Bishop Stephen A . Davis became senior pastor after Long’s death. He resigned in June 2018.) It would impact as it would on any church. We were averaging about 1,200 on Sunday in a sanctuary that holds 8,500. And now we’re orbiting around 5,000 a Sunday.
Is New Birth in the black (financially)?
Was it when you came?
No, it was in burgundy
On the debt:
The debt now is right at $28 million. We’ve paid off almost $2 million since I’ve been here.
Are tithes up?
Yes, by 68 percent... A third of our giving, which is significant, a third of our giving is now online giving.
On Kanye West coming to New Birth (for a “Sunday Service” performance in September):
It was good and bad. It introduced us to a market that would have not necessarily darkened our doors or come to our church. I think it was high risk with his allegiance to President Trump. I align with his faith. I’m polar opposite with his politics.
Did you talk with him about that?
Oh, yes. Really at the time of his coming I was in the heartbeat of the devastation in the Bahamas. So, I invited him to come to the Bahamas because I wanted him to take the message back to the president because at that time they were blocking Bahamians from coming in. Hampton University came into partnership with New Birth. They extended to me 150 full scholarships and the state department only let me get 43 out because they didn’t have the paperwork. We tried to explain these people have lost their homes... I wanted Kanye to be a champion for the Bahamian community, which to me was an easy sell and it didn’t happen.
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