Looking at the exterior of Joshua Generation, you might walk away with the impression it is just another average strip-mall church.
Founded and pastored by Brandiilyne Magnum-Dear, known as “BB” to her friends, Joshua Generation is a nondenominational church that hosts one of the largest LGBT communities in Hattiesburg. It was founded after Magnum-Dear was removed from her ministry position at her former church after publicly coming out.
“Our story ended up on ‘L-Word Mississippi’ on Showtime. When the documentary aired we had started this LGBT support called The Dandelion, and after the documentary aired, everybody wanted a church. So, we started a church,” Magnum-Dear said.
The press from the 2014 documentary brought a huge influx of members. Not too long after opening its doors, the church became one of the plaintiff cases in Mississippi Center’s for Justice lawsuit against HB 1523, the controversial anti-LGBT law which gave employers the power to discriminate against employees on the grounds of religious rights. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately refused to hear the case.
Despite this, Joshua Generation has overall faced little issues at its location in Oak Grove, with the exception of a few angry phone calls and threats letting them know they will burn in hell.
Magnum-Dear said she refuses to adhere to the norms of the traditional church.
“We’re probably more interfaith. We have so many people from so many walks of life, and we just want everyone to feel welcomed. We started calling our church the unchurch because we’re unconditional, unbiased and unashamed.”
Some of the daily challenges she faces as a pastor is helping people unravel all the inner turmoil they face. For many people in the LGBT community, they faced an upbringing of feeling they need to hide their true selves, learning to put up a façade just to make it through daily life and numerous life dampening challenges that lead to dealing with issues they feel unequipped to handle.
Magnum-Dear said she’s in the process of writing a book titled “Recovering Christian: Twelve Steps to Healing from Spiritual Abuse” because of condemning, religious dogma.
Her journey with faith continues to expand. When she is not at the church, she is giving tarot card readings at her store the Red Jasper, which greets customers with the sound of calm, enchanting music and an abundance of pleasing aromas. It is a shop filled with eastern philosophy and religious iconography, healing stones and an assortment of herbs and objects which could be used for different rituals and spells.
“The church was about two and a half years old when I started opening up to some of this. I realized that God was much bigger than a book and dogma. We grossly minimize God by trying to squeeze God into one box, and I think it’s very arrogant to believe we’re the only ones right about God. I’m very open to the greatness of God and how big God is.”
She occasionally implements these teachings into her sermons at the church, tying in the occasional line of Buddha and Dao teachings. She even includes some more secular aspects to worship like playing “Love is My Illusion” by Ziggy Marley during the service.
The church continues to encourage the community in the congregation by hosting events like a potluck every first Sunday of the month. Joshua Generation also helps with organizing other LGBT-friendly events around Hattiesburg like the drag shows. These events are organized by the members of the church’s board, which is headed by Magnum-Dear’s wife Susan.
“It’s just like another family. It’s the family you want to have,” Madison Watts, a recent new member of the board, said. She is also a member of the worship team, along with her partner and Southern Miss graduate Whitney McHugh.
Whitney came into the church after feeling displaced with their former churches and their general resistance among churches to promote pro-LGBT messages. They were encouraged by Susan to join the worship team.
“Susan was always really accepting and welcoming and like ‘come on, come try it!’ So I just kept coming back. I love the people, and I love BB’s messages. She brings a whole new outlook, and whole new perspective to the scriptures,” McHugh said.
Magnum-Dear and her team are hoping to reach as many people as possible with a message that they too can be included.
“God loves you, and that doctrine is not true. Just give me a call, and we’ll have a long talk,” she said.