A Reflection on the Gay Christian Network Conference 2015
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.