It was their motivation to bolster understanding of what it means to be Black, Gay, and Christian that led Tonyka and Jonita McKinney to participate in the BET documentary Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church. In the film, the couple was interviewed during the days leading up to their May 2015 marriage ceremony. During this time, Tonyka’s mother, a devout Christian, decided that supporting their marriage was something her religious beliefs simply couldn’t allow, calling their union a mistake she could not believe God would make.
For Tonyka, growing up as a Preacher’s Kid had already come with its own set of challenges, especially with respect to walking in the truth of who she is. When she came out, her family shunned her, including the uncle who’d helped raise her and taught her how to read. Nevertheless, her mother’s refusal to attend their wedding felt like an unexpected blow. “My mother is my best friend,” says Tonyka, “so as you can imagine, her choice not to attend my wedding was emotionally challenging for me. It’s still impossible for me to understand how the same God I love and serve daily, the same God she’s raised me to honor, could lead her to the conclusions she has about same-gender loving people.” Months after the documentary, not much about her mother’s position has changed.
While tensions and difficulties persist, the conversation is not over. Their faith drives their marriage, their life together, and their standard for living in a way that draws others to Christ. Understanding that they are confirmation of God’s love, that no one can deny His hand in their lives, Tonyka and Jonita continue to use their faith to touch the lives of others. Tonyka works as a public health consultant, while Jonita serves as a Sergeant in the United States Army and is founder of Redefining Fire-Atlanta, a non-profit that uses dance to transform the social, emotional, and spiritual well-being of at-risk youth. Graced with the mutual desire to change lives one heart and one person at a time, Tonyka and Jonita feel especially honored by their unique opportunity to display something many around them have never otherwise experienced: a healthy, loving, committed, Christ-centered same-gender relationship.
Raising three amazing children together, the couple feels called to combat the ignorance that threatens to block LGBTQ persons from accessing Christendom because they believe themselves undeserving of God’s love. “Our ability to love and live just as we are has the power to change the perceptions of others,” Tonyka declares. “We will work our entire lives to let them know that God and his love are available to them too.” Others have thanked them for saving their lives because they hadn’t known that it was possible to be Christian and gay. Though challenges remain, they have overcome their own setbacks by developing personal relationships with Christ. Attending the Vision Church of Atlanta, the couple believes they’ve been blessed with one of the greatest bishops on this side of heaven, Bishop OC Allen, III, who ministers, “The only opinion of you that matters is God’s.” Likewise, their own mission is to encourage others to understand the importance of discovering for themselves how God feels about them, rather than ever allowing anyone else to dictate to them what God says about them.
“As long as you stay in a place where what Mama, Auntie, or Uncle told you about yourself continues to make you feel inferior,” Tonyka insists, “you will never be able to truly embrace who God designed you to be.” Their sincere prayer is for everyone they meet to develop the ability to find comfort and confidence in the fact that God’s love for them is immeasurable, that God makes no mistakes, that they were created on purpose and for God’s purpose. They realize that for others who are still afraid to come out of the closet, it is liberating for people to see them living their lives as they are.
Together, Tonyka and Jonita intend to leave a legacy of loving God, living for God, raising their children to follow God, and loving each other with the Love of God. After all is said and done, their life together will be their worship.