Bishop Tonyia Rawls

Founding pastor of the Unity Fellowship Church (Charlotte, NC)

God helped me to understand that His love for each of us trumps everything: ‘I love you straight, I love you gay, I love you bi, I love you trans. Because I created all of you. And what I create is good.

A native of Newark, New Jersey, Bishop Rawls grew up attending a Baptist church with her mother, grandmother, and younger sisters.

From an early age, she loved the ceremony and aesthetics of church – the singing, the sermons, the stained glass, etc.

In her 20’s, she was in her first relationship with a woman while simultaneously attending a Church of God in Christ (COGIC) mega church. It was there that she encountered her first condemning sermon. In short, she was told she was going to hell. She decided to become celibate and remained so for seven years while pursuing her dream to become an evangelic missionary.

After years of significant interpersonal struggle, scriptural study, and self-transformation, Bishop Rawls heard the message of Archbishop Carl Bean, founder of the Unity Fellowship Church Movement. An out, gay man, his words were: “God is love and love is for everyone.”

She gravitated toward his ministry of love, compassion, liberation, HIV/AIDS advocacy, and social justice work, and later became the founding pastor at Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte. Rawls is also the founder and executive director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice, located in Charlotte.