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Colossian Blog
February 25, 2015 | Rob Barrett

A Reflection on the Gay Christian Network Conference 2015

Reflections_Pic_1Joyful people surrounded me, but I must admit that I felt very alone.

Many of these thousand-plus brothers and sisters in Christ had found respite from the loneliness of being a sexual minority by googling “gay and Christian” and discovering the Gay Christian Network conference. One Australian lesbian Christian flew around the world because she needed to be where, for once, people didn’t make wrong assumptions about her and find her strange and confusing. But here I was—suddenly a minority because I’m straight—and I started to understand what my Australian sister meant.

Like when a new friend spied my wedding ring and asked, “Are you married to a man or a woman?”

I felt like I was reliving my experience of dwelling in a foreign country, where the cultural assumptions and way-things-work-around-here were just different enough that I would often get caught unaware. I felt like starting every sentence, “This is probably really inappropriate for me to say, but…”

At registration, they asked if I wanted a red or blue lanyard…What? “Red means no photographs; blue if you don’t mind pictures.” Why would I mind having my picture taken? Oh…right…then people will think I’m gay. I began hearing stories of people coming out and courageously choosing blue for the first time.

When news of an expected protest spread, the GCN hosts assured us that our safety was their primary concern. I had flashbacks to visiting a Christian college last year where the chaplain told me the college was approaching homosexuality questions with one top priority in mind: “We don’t want any students to die over this issue this year.” I was reminded of my world of majority privilege where holding my views doesn’t risk my being attacked or spiraling into suicide. This isn’t my normal world, but it is theirs.

This culture of uncertainty leads me to question the little things I do without thinking. Am I holding my hands to hide my wedding ring or flaunt it? Did I just inject a reference to my wife into that conversation to signal that I’m straight? Or did I confuse things by implying I’m in a mixed-orientation marriage? I notice others around me adeptly dropping details that help others understand where they’re coming from. Every culture requires new skills.

A number of the conference presentations I hear present a common narrative of moving to a marriage-equality position as the traditional Christian position is found wanting – at least in practice, if not in theology. There’s a feeling in the air that everyone will eventually end up becoming affirming. The traditionalists are just holding out against the inevitable. That’s hard for some of my more conservative gay Christian friends to hear: the pressure comes from all sides— and from inside—to conclude that God smiles on same-sex sex.

I have breakfast with a man who invested years into trying to become straight. His story included a pattern of resisting and then falling to temptation, of running off to the city for anonymous sex. He had married a woman as part of trying to get on the right track. No one could blame her for divorcing him. I’m sad for him, but nobody needs to remind him that these were moral failures—he’s very aware. Then he surprises me by saying he just can’t reconcile his faith with affirming same-sex behavior. His earnest struggle to be faithful—failures and all—is impressive and leads me to pray for him. He’s got a hard row to hoe and the Christian support he needs isn’t easy to come by.

One of the many beautiful parts of this culture comes from the common experience of having to hide and keep secrets. To be gay and Christian is to risk condemnation from both the gay community and the church, so most have learned to live with being guarded. So they know the other side: how much of a gift it is to hear somebody out, no matter what crazy thing they’re saying, and to give them a hug. There will be plenty of time for criticism later. So I start opening up and asking my questions and sharing what I’m thinking, sometimes saying some pretty crazy things as I try to sort out what’s going on inside of me. The resilient welcomes are refreshing.

The morning of the protest, I find myself in a tilt-a-whirl of Christian attempts at faithfulness. Supporters from area churches form lines to protect conference attendees from the protestors. Christians protecting Christians from Christians, [as someone noted].

A man with a megaphone yells at me, “You’re going to hell!” followed by “Haven’t you ever read the Bible?” Well, actually I have, and actually I’m straight, and actually you have no idea who I am. And you don’t know anything about the people I’m with, either. I appreciate the supporters who smile and say, “God loves you!” and “You are welcome here!”, but they don’t know me either. I feel alone again. But a gay friend runs up to me—she’s serving doughnuts to the protestors—puts her arm around me and walks me through the confusion.

Maybe I’m not so alone. Becoming a minority for a few days builds a bond with those who suffer these pains every day. I’m a different person for spending a few days of disorientation among so many every-day sexual minorities, as they enjoy a moment of solace from the lonely pressure of being different. I pray that the Holy Spirit is at work within me—and within these newly discovered sisters and brothers—for the glory of Christ.


As you know, TCF has begun to help the church address difficult questions surrounding faithful expressions of sexuality. Instead of endorsing one or another side, we invite Christians to work on these questions together, trusting that Christ’s reconciling love will guide us – together – into all truth.

In January, two of our staff members attended the Gay Christian Network conference. This conference gathered LGBT Christians, their friends, family, allies, and pastors together for worship and mutual support. We attended to deepen our friendships with Christians who seek to engage these questions faithfully. The experience was fruitful for our staff, although – as you will see – their reflections on the conference differ markedly. Their posts highlight just how varied our life experiences can be and, therefore, just how critical it is for Christians to be in genuine conversation with one another, working together to transform our conflicts into opportunities for faithful discipleship.

Suggested Posts
We Need to Talk about Sex
January 3, 2018 | Jennifer Vander Molen
We Need to Talk about Sex
This post from Chuck DeGroat originally appeared on The Twelve. Like many messy situations we face as Christians, the LGBTQ dialog often leads to places of deep vulnerability that help us live out loving God and loving each other. In this piece, Chuck breaks down the bigger (scary, deep, overwhelming, and vulnerable) discussion of sex in the church.  Pardon the length of this piece, but we really need to talk. It’s become inevitable that I’ll get a call or email once or twice a month asking to consult with a church on an LGBTQ dialogue. Most often, I’m grateful that churches seek to be more informed, engaged and conversant. But this blog is not about the LGBTQ conversation necessarily … it’s the first question I ask when I’m invited in: “How does your church talk about sexuality in general around here?” This is often met with a blank stare. Sometimes there is an honest, “We just don’t.” I might hear about a sermon series on faithful marriage or a small group of men talking about pornography, but that’s about it. We need to talk. What is the state of marriage in your church? I bet it’s not very different than anywhere else. If you’re an evangelical Christian, statistics show that your marriage is less apt to make it than a marriage between atheists. Why aren’t we talking about why this is? Why do we seem more concerned with who sells and buys wedding cakes? I do marriage conferences and I pastored for many years and I’ve counseled hundreds of couples and (I hope I don’t need to convince you) there is great pain in many, many couples in your church. Abuse and unfaithfulness and sometimes plain-old disconnection erode trust, yet many couples in churches tuck their pain away on Sunday morning. Emotional disconnection and sexual dissatisfaction are addressed with coping strategies – a little too much alcohol, a titillating show to watch, the drama of Facebook. We’re prone to hide and our fig-leaved strategies are endless. And (can I say it?) the self-help Christian books with their principles and platitudes don’t seem to touch the depth of pain. Many couples that stay together find a tolerable dance to do to keep the peace. Yes, we need to talk. Single folks in your church are hurting too. They’re not sure at all what to do with their singleness, with cultural and ecclesial expectations around marriage “completing” someone, with their own single sexuality, with their need for intimacy and belonging. Sometimes church is the toughest space to navigate in their week as they watch those smiling couples embrace their children. Often, our only advice to singles is “Don’t have sex before you’re married.” Perhaps we’ll create a “Single’s Ministry” for them. But, their questions are bigger than this. As one late 30’s single woman said to me, “Am I supposed to neatly tuck away my longing for sexual connection like a nun?” I discussed this with a pastor and asked him recently, “What would it look like for your church to have an honest conversation about masturbation?” He blushed a bit and said with a chuckle, “Justification. Sanctification. But no, not masturbation.” We default to humor when we’re uncomfortable. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about your middle and high schoolers. Are we naming the questions and realities they are facing? The Bible seems more honest about teenage lust than most pastors. That erotic tale tucked away in the middle of your Bible is a sexually-charged journey of two young teenagers, exploring their bodies, awakening to their desires. That’ll preach. Or maybe not. When I preached Song of Solomon years ago in an evening service, I invited parents of middle and high schoolers. They came the first week, but many didn’t come back. It hits too close to home. What kind of conversation about sexuality is your church engaging in? It’s easy to talk about “those people,” you know…those people you’ve never met or don’t think attend your church. It’s easy to talk about the “LGBTQ issue,” depersonalizing it as a “topic.” But as I say to many pastors – maybe we should start with you. Maybe we should name the very real, on-the-ground realities that everyone in your church faces before going down the path of talking about “those people.” Maybe the “other” we need to face is the “other within,” our cut off shadow-selves that lurk in secret and fear being found out. Maybe cultivating greater honesty and self-compassion in a context of cross-centered grace is necessary before we start talking about someone else’s life. Maybe we should name things. Maybe we should name the elephant in the room – the reality that mental health professionals like me now assume people are addicted to porn. It’s not the exception, it’s the norm. Yes, men who’ve been formed in the sexualized liturgy of our culture are stuffing the shame and pretending to be ok when it’s not ok. But, this may be a shocker. Women are looking at porn too. And for many women (take a deep breath before continuing to read…) same-sex images and stories are most provocative. Can I name that on The Twelve? Is it ok to tell our secrets, fellow Christians? Can I tell how many women and men have said to me, “I started experimenting a bit in middle school – looking at images, masturbating – but no one ever talked about this, not my parents, not my school, not my youth group, and never, ever my pastor.” And perhaps now it’s time to take seriously what #MeToo and #ChurchToo is highlighting – that sexual harassment and abuse are right here, right now realities in your church, among your people. That men have too long blamed women and what they do or wear instead of doing honest work. The church has too-long been a context where men can groom and prey on women. That many men, even accomplished men with degrees and titles like me, are stuck emotionally at 12 years old. That women are tired of living in a world of immature boys led by a President who confesses that when it comes to assaulting a woman he just can’t help himself. That misogyny is the cultural water we swim in. That churches don’t really know how to invite men to do the important emotional work necessary to grow up. That there are few if any, wise sages and elders to mentor us. That this isn’t a conservative or liberal issue, it’s not about Hollywood or DC, it’s not about being a traditional or progressive Christian – it’s about all of us – as news reports are reminding us every day. A personal story. I’ve told the story elsewhere about how I hit an emotional wall in seminary and jumped into an MA Counseling program at the seminary. Like many, I hoped for a quick and painless cure for my anxiety and depression. But in that community of honest peers and teachers, I learned what John Calvin surely must have meant by “self-knowledge” – my awareness of my arrogance, abusiveness, and emotional/relational unintelligence came into full view. One particularly important moment was on an evening I was counseling a young woman in her early twenties. She had the kind of timeless, simple beauty that made my heart start beating fast just as soon as I saw her. A neuro-chemical sexual cocktail coursed through my body, but I had to ignore it because I was a good Christian guy, I was her therapist, and we had a session to do. I sat with her for 50 minutes, asking questions about her life and interests. We found common ground and laughed. Behind the observation window sat my female supervisor and several female classmates observing my magic. When we were done, she smiled and I smiled and she asked for a hug. I made my way back to my supervisor’s office to debrief, expecting them to congratulate me on a life-changing session. “How do you think that went?” my supervisor asked. She had a kind of wry smile as she asked it. Have you seen that wry smile on a therapist? It’s generally not a good sign. “Really good,” I said. “I think we built a lot trust today. I think she feels very comfortable with me. I think we’re doing good work.” I was already starting to master therapist jargon. My supervisor sat quietly for just a moment. Her wry smile disappeared. She looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Well, oh, ok, if you call flirting for 50 minutes a good counseling session then I guess so.” She asked my female peers if they agreed. I recall their faces, mixed with anxiety and anger. Each one nodded. Then my defenses went up. I battled for a few minutes, but before long my supervisor was making connections in my life that only a Jedi-therapist like her could make. And then she said, “I wonder how your wife experiences being married to an emotional 12-year-old?” I learned in that two years to name things that I never, ever dared imagine I’d say out loud. I learned to repent. I learned to grieve. I began to see women, and be seen. I sometimes felt like my shame was the grave I’d be buried in, and at other times experienced the joy of being known in a way I’d never experienced before. Coming out of hiding, the game we played in our marriage couldn’t last – and so what we thought we were had to die, just 4 years in. The next few years were filled with pain as my wife took her own journey. But from the ashes, something new and honest could be born. Jesus writes redemption stories that require crucifixion along the way. We need to talk, friends. We need to come out of hiding. We need to tell our secrets. Let me end it with this: A few years ago, I got the call and question, like I often do – “Will you help us talk through this LGBTQ issue?” I met with the pastor and we had the bigger conversation about engaging sexuality, intimacy, shame, pornography, misogyny, abuse, and more. It was a full and deep conversation, and he walked away fairly overwhelmed. I didn’t hear back for some time. When I did see him at an event a year later, he asked for a few minutes to catch up. He told me that he decided to get therapy after speaking with me. Tears welled up as he talked about years of porn addiction and marital dissatisfaction. He told me that before he could engage any kind of conversation about someone else’s life that he needed to face his own. His own inner work prompted a larger conversation among the leadership team, most of whom seemed compelled by their pastor’s transformation and longed for their own. He told me that he couldn’t imagine engaging any conversation on sexuality from the place where he was previously. “Chuck, I was clueless about my own stuff. Now I can engage others with empathy and curiosity. Facing my own brokenness allows me to see another human being as human, as a person with pain, with a story, in need of Jesus.” Church, we’ve got work to do. All of us. The work of inner transformation is vital, not as an excuse to avoid the hard conversations but precisely because we must have hard conversations as mature adults. If our political culture has taught us anything in the past year, perhaps it has taught us that character matters, that growing in emotional health and intelligence is critical for leadership, that empathy for another requires us to grow in empathy for our own splintered selves, broken as they are. Perhaps we’ve learned that we can never, ever love the “other” if we don’t love what is “other” about us. Jesus can handle our brokenness. Jesus can handle our hard conversations. Jesus can meet us in places of disruption. Jesus can love what is “other” in us. Jesus can’t meet us when we’re hiding. It’s time to talk. Chuck DeGroat teaches Pastoral Care at Western Theological Seminary. He is a longtime pastor and therapist and has authored four books.
Second Colossian Way Cohort Kicks Off
September 27, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Second Colossian Way Cohort Kicks Off
Last week, we hosted 22 leaders, 7 coaches, and 4 observers at our second Colossian Way leader training. This was the first training held in our Grand Rapids office, and we enjoyed hosting these leaders from across the country as they were trained to lead the Colossian Way experience in their local churches and schools. The cohort delved into the mission and vision of The Colossian Forum, unpacked what it means to tackle conflict as an opportunity for deeper discipleship, and got hands-on tips and experience leading a small group. This cohort will lead their local small groups through both the sexuality and origins experience. Leaders came to this training from Alaska, California, Colorado, Tennessee, and Michigan. Please join us in praying for these brothers and sisters in Christ as they gather their small groups to run The Colossian Way in early 2018. We look forward to hearing and sharing more about their journey through The Colossian Way! How you can get involved If you're interested in leading a Colossian Way small group in your church or school, please visit our Colossian Way page to find out more information about upcoming cohorts, training, and details. Our next leader training is in May 2018. We hope to see you there! Scenes from Colossian Way leader training [gallery size="medium" ids="8340,8350,8341,8342,8343,8344,8354,8346,8347,8348,8349,8352"]

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