The change wasn't always so pleasant. Like a stage in detox, it left her in need. One day, Harley says, she found herself driving on Interstate 495, overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow. She pulled over to the shoulder as the traffic raced by. "God, why did you let me deceive myself?" she cried out.

At times, she says, she felt so empty she didn't want to live. She, too, contemplated ways of taking her life. Like Thomas, she found something new through the pain.

Revivals

A potent message of faith and rebirth radiates through much of Christianity: "If you cling to your life, you'll lose it," Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke. "If you let your life go, you'll save it."

Thomas and Harley lived this paradox. It wasn't until they reached the brink that they learned what they really believed.

Doctors guessed Thomas would die. If not, they told his mother, he would lose all brain function. He woke up after three days.

When he looked around his hospital room, he says, he was surrounded by friends and family, all the ones who had abandoned him. "Why did you go and do that?" they said. "We love you."

Thomas had a strange reaction. Their opinions no longer seemed to affect him. He found he could move his limbs and could speak. He had taken every bit of his anguish and thrown it at God, and the Creator seemed to telling him, in effect, "I heard it all, Harris, and I'm sustaining you."

"For the first time in my life," he says, "I knew God loved me."

He spent the next three years studying something he never realized existed — a theology he sees as more fully in keeping with 21st-century thought.

"In Leviticus 18, it also says you shouldn't eat pork or shellfish," he says. "Why do we get to be selective in what we obey and what we don't? God should be about relationships, about how we show love for each other."

In 2000, he founded the Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore, the local branch of a nationwide movement ministering principally to gay, lesbian and transgendered people of color. The congregation of 150 meets in a rented space on Old York Road, where Thomas preaches, has a busy counseling ministry and works with colleagues to promote the law to legalize same-sex marriage.

He commutes from Washington, where he lives with his longtime male partner. He has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage in Maryland, though he said other pastors at his church have been more active in the cause.

Harley had her own resurrection. A friend gave her a tape by the evangelist T.D. Jakes, and she loved how his Dallas megachurch helped domestic abuse victims and featured ministry work tailored to women. Reading more, she learned he held an annual conference called "Woman, Thou Art Loosed."

The reference, to Luke 13, almost floored her. It tells of how Jesus speaks to a woman who had been "crippled" for 18 years, laid his hands on her said, "You are freed from your infirmity." The woman stood and walked. Harley went on to become an ordained minister.

She counsels gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals in the Washington area and around the country, offering prayers for deliverance from what she calls the dangerous deceit of homosexuality. She has an Internet TV show, "God's Will & Grace." She speaks out against same-sex marriage.

To those who call her ministry intolerant, Harley says it can work, given a kind heart, and in any case, she's more concerned with people's eternal souls than their momentary reactions. "This life only lasts a moment," she says. "God's love is forever."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

Elder Harris Thomas

Age: 57