Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls is a national faith leader and social justice activist who has focused the majority of her work in the Southeastern United States fighting oppression and discrimination. In 2000, Bishop Rawls founded Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte and in April 2008, was consecrated as one of the first women Bishops in the Los Angeles-based Unity Fellowship Church Movement’s history. In 2014 she founded Sacred Souls Community Church, a diverse congregation of progressive Christians in Charlotte. They are currently finalizing steps for affiliation with the United Church of Christ. She also takes her work outside the walls of the church. Bishop Rawls is cofounder of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice and the National Trans Religious Cohort which provides training and support to trans and gender-variant seminary and religious studies students.
She is the Founder and Executive Director of The Freedom Center for Social Justice (FCSJ). Founded in 2009, they work intersectionally through their programs that support the trans community, people of color, people of low wealth, youth and sexual minorities. Bishop Rawls is the architect of the FCSJ Do No Harm Campaign, which provides safe space for faith leaders to discuss challenging justice issues like marriage, religious refusals, equal protection for LGBTQ citizens and other current issues impacting communities of faith. Her team also created the “Yes, You Can Go” campaign which is distributing trans-welcoming restroom signage in NC. She is also one of the leaders of the NC Moral Monday Movement which was created by Rev. Dr. William Barber, to combat injustice in the State of NC. April 2016 marked the launch of the Beta testing for a new network they are creating for trans people of faith and allies. The Transgender Faith and Action Network provides critical information that ranges from healthcare and employment opportunities to research and community for those often left isolated.
Bishop Rawls has also been a reviewer for the Journal of African-American Studies and is published in Black Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies (Released 2010), Sojourners, SAGE and other printed and electronic publications. She has been a guest speaker at Duke University School of Divinity, Union Theological Seminary, and met with groups as diverse as the NAACP and leadership teams at Wells Fargo bank. Bishop Rawls is a graduate of Duke University and done post-graduate work at Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, MA. She is a two-term member of the Governing Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches, and currently sits on several other local and national boards and advisory councils. She is passionate about working closely with other local and national leaders and organizations to create a more just world.