Dr. James S. Tinney was a leading authority on the history of the Black press and on Black Pentecostalism. When he identified himself publicly as a gay man and founded a church for Black lesbians and gays, he was excommunicated from the Temple Church of God in Christ. Yet he persevered in his work as journalism professor at Howard University and his ministry at Faith Temple in Washington, D.C.
Tinney was born in Kansas City, Missouri. He exhibited an early and fervent interest in religion. He preached a three-week-long revival service at age 14 and became an ordained minister at age 18. During the 1960s, he was pastor of several churches in Arkansas and Missouri and was also an assistant editor of the Kansas City Call.
In 1962, he married Darlene Wood and they had two daughters. The marriage ended in divorce in 1969 when Tinney came out to his wife. Immediately his wife and pastor rejected him and cut him off from family, children and church. Tinney lived quietly with two successive lovers who were also active Pentecostals.
In 1973, Tinney moved to Washington, D.C., and completed his graduate education in journalism at Howard University. During this period, he was the editor of The Washington Afro-American newspaper and a speechwriter for Rep. John Conyers (Michigan) and Samuel C. Jackson, undersecretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon Administration.
In 1976, Tinney became an assistant professor of journalism at Howard University. He helped to establish the first scholarly journal on Black Pentecostalism, Spirit: A Journal of Issues Incident in Black Pentecostalism, as well as the William J. Seymour Pentecostal Fellowship at Howard, an annual Black Religion Writers Workshop and the Society for Blacks in Religious Communications.
In 1979, Tinney came out publicly in an address to the initial Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference. In 1980, he founded the Pentecostal Coalition for Human Rights as part of his mission to help lesbians and gay men to reconcile their Pentecostalism with their homosexuality. In 1982, he organized a three-day revival for gays and lesbians. This resulted in Bishop Samuel Kelsey, the pastor of the church where Tinney served as lay minister, excommunicating him. Later that year, Tinney founded Faith Temple, a nondenominational church with a largely Black gay and lesbian congregation. Through Faith Temple, Tinney organized several conferences to help build bridges between fundamentalist churches and the LGBT community.
James Tinney died at age 46 on June 12, 1988, from complications related to AIDS.
(This biographical information taken from obituaries in The Washington Blade, 6/17/88, and The Washington Post, 6/15/88, and "Black, Gay & Pentecostal" by Mary Lincer in The Washington Blade, 10/23/81. Photo: Washington Blade archive photo, reproduced with permission of the Washington Blade, a Brown Naff Pitts OmniMedia, Inc. property.)
Biography Date: March, 2004
Pentecostal | Faith Temple (Washington, D.C.) | African American | Clergy Activist | Washington, D.C. | Tinney, James
“I never met Dr. Tinney, but we communicated frequently in 1980 and 1981. He was founding the PCHR, and I was founding the National Gay Pentecostal Alliance. It was a major boost to my faith to encounter another gay Pentecostal who was in ministry and determined to bring the good news of God's love for ALL people. He encouraged me frequently... perhaps we encouraged each other. I always wished I had had the opportunity to meet him in person. But his letters and our phone calls to each other were invaluable. He was a great man, and a true blessing to me, and I know to many, many others.”
– as remembered by Wiilam Carey on January 14, 2017
“Dr. James S .Tinney was my journalism professor at Howard University in 1978-1979. He was intelligent, compassionate, and a visionary. One day after class he called me and another student to the side and suggested that we start a gay, lesbian and bisexual club on campus. We thought about it and decided to go forward. As a result we were harassed by some students. However, we started the group (Lambdas) with ten charter members. I will always remember him and that moment of activism.”
– as remembered by Wanda Seay on May 4, 2020
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