Flint, MI—Shortly after Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Genesee Health Services and four local churches announced a pilot program to address the city’s gun violence through improved access to mental health services, a video of Bishop Christopher Martin, one of the partner churches, has surfaced. ‘ leaders, making homophobic remarks from his pulpit.
Since then, some Flint residents have questioned the legitimacy of a partnership between GHS and Martin’s church, Cathedral of Faith, given that his remarks ostracize LGBTQIA+ members of the community who might otherwise seek services in under the pilot program.
GHS and Martin both responded to this criticism and explained how the pilot program, called “4 Pillars”, came about and what it is supposed to do for the Flint community.
About 4 pillars
The 4 Pillars pilot was announced June 8 at a press conference at Flint City Hall, with the “4” designating the four churches originally participating: Cathedral of Faith, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Grace Immanuel Baptist Church and Salem Lutheran. Church.
The Salem Lutheran Church has since decided not to participate “due to limited space and personnel”, according to a GHS spokesperson.
Martin said he and the other partners are working to confirm a new fourth location.
Despite the loss of a partner church, 4 Pillars began operations last week, bringing GHS staff to each participating church on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in rotation for the next three months.
While churches serve as hubs, GHS staff provide mental health navigation, therapy or other support based on individual needs, which are assessed during the first weeks of the pilot.
The program is partially funded by the Community Mental Health Millage, but GHS stressed that any money given to churches is nominal, intended to keep the lights on and a church representative while GHS is on site.
“One of the… misperceptions of the program is that these churches get a lot of money, and they don’t. They get what it costs us to be there,” said Danis Russell, CEO of GHS. “Someone will have to open the building; staff will need toilets; it will cost utilities. Resources will be spent. … we will pay for it.
The goal of 4 Pillars, Martin told Flint Beat, is to “lower the violent temperature of individuals in our city and county” by removing physical barriers, such as transportation, as well as psychological barriers to accessing Genesee Health System mental health services.
“The (GHS) building on Fifth had a negative connotation,” Martin said. “It’s been called the mad house and things of that nature, and it’s not. So what that does is it brings a level of anonymity to who is seen, how they arrive.
Martin explained that anonymity could make community members more comfortable when seeking services to help them deal with disagreements or trauma that lead to violent actions.
In fact, that’s how 4 Pillars was born: Martin went on the news and said the same thing.
“If I see someone, like a community leader, on the news or in the paper, mentioning mental health, I always reach out,” Russell said. “I saw Bishop Martin on the news being asked about the violence in one of the neighborhoods, and it was the first time he said, ‘but I really think my community needs mental health services.'”
Russell said he emailed Cathedral of Faith to offer GHS support, and Martin called him back – something, Russell noted, that rarely happens when he reaches out to talk about Mental Health.
“And it went from there,” Russell said. “We talked about what we could do, what he thought his congregation in his neighborhood needed…He said, ‘Do you mind if I invite a few other pastors?’ and I said, “The more the merrier”.
Russell said he wondered if the pilot would be able to combat Flint’s gun violence on the scale the city and churches were hoping for, but he was grateful for the opportunity to meet anyone in need of services. mental health where she is.
“We try to serve groups that we haven’t served before, and that was what it was about,” Russell said. “We try to serve these groups where they feel most comfortable because we know not everyone wants to come to a mental health building.”
Days after the pilot program was announced, a video of Martin discussing the firing of another local pastor began circulating on Facebook.
In the video, Martin says the pastor’s firing was justified because of his alleged sexual orientation.
“They should never have hired him, he’s gay,” Martin said from the pulpit at his church. “A man, pastor, and you, must be married to a woman. … We can’t have perversion on people.
The video was widely shared and even prompted some Flint residents to reach out to Neeley and GHS for comment at public meetings.
Although Neeley’s office did not respond to Flint Beat’s repeated requests for comment on the video and on the relevance of GHS and the city’s ongoing partnership with Martin, GHS did respond to statements from a concerned resident during its recent board meeting.
At the June 23 meeting, Flint-based social justice advocate Nayyirah Sharriff stepped in to offer her thoughts on the 4 Pillars agenda.
“We should build a community where everyone is welcome, especially vulnerable people who need these services,” Sharriff said. “Is that already kind of a barrier for people to recognize that they need to seek out services, and to have service in a homophobic place? It’s not a safe space.
Sharriff noted that black trans women are among the “most vulnerable to violence.” They added that the program to help combat this violence in Flint is housed in a location that may be hostile to these women.
“If we don’t have a place for black trans women to be safe or LGBTQ youth to be safe, then we’re all doing the wrong thing,” Sharriff said.
“Part of what I heard in the comments was that there is a group of people who will probably never knock on the door (at the cathedral of faith),” said Dr. Jennifer Johnson, member of the GHS Board later in the meeting. “And so for those people – obviously hopefully GHS itself is a safe place to go – but I wonder if there’s another community center, like Wellness (Services) or somewhere, that would be perceived as much more welcoming.”
Russell said the GHS would always work to ensure people receive treatment where they feel safe, adding that in retrospect, “it’s no surprise” that Flint’s religious community and its LGBTQIA+ community have differences.
“I think the good thing about mileage is that I’ve heard more people talk about mental health in the last three weeks than in the last 10 years,” Russell said. He emphasized that the GHS serves everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race or creed.
“It was unfortunate,” Russell concluded of the video. “And again, I’m pretty sure we’re dealing with other bands that we don’t agree with.”
Russell confirmed that GHS has yet to speak with Martin about his remarks, but an upcoming meeting was scheduled to discuss how the 4 Pillars program is going so far.
For his part, Martin told Flint Beat, “The doctrine of the Church of God in Christ, which is the church of which I am a part, is what I preach and what I believe. There is no connection between our doctrine and what this service must provide. The 4 pillars project will have to provide services to every resident of the city, period.
When asked if he was comfortable serving all residents, including Flint’s LGBTQIA+ community, Martin replied, “I have to be.”
Martin added that 4 Pillars is not a “religious project” but a “partnership of unity” between participating churches and GHS.
“Serving is no different than a doctor who works in a hospital, who may religiously believe certain things, but if someone walks in there and gets shot and maybe need surgery, you won’t know, you know, what their beliefs are,” Martin said. “You’re going to do your job and save a life.