This past weekend my partner and I had the opportunity to attend The Reformation Project’s yearly conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Throughout the weekend, we had the opportunity to spend time with over 200 individuals seeking to find inclusion in the Christian Church. I wanted to process some of the conclusions I came to as a result of this conference.
Deep pain risks deep cynicism
Throughout my weekend with LGBTQ individuals, the common theme was clear: We’ve been deeply hurt by the way that Christians have addressed us. It’s unfortunate that this tone was evident throughout the conference; however, it was evident that so many in attendance are desperately seeking to fight an alluring cynicism toward fellow Christians. This pain was even evident in the keynote sessions. At times, speakers would exhibit two main tones throughout their presentations: 1) A tone of frustration and, 2) a tone of grace.
In their frustration, it was clear that the presenters’ pain has not completely healed. At one point, in a speaker’s attempt to highlight the severe treatment of LGBTQ people at the hands of Christians, I could sense the subtext of the speaker, essentially saying, “Isn’t this ridiculous! Why can’t Christians be better Christians?!” I explain this attitude not to condemn the speakers. Almost weekly, I find validity in their frustrations with the Christian community and I feel them myself. Instead, I explain this as a reminder that immensely deep pain exists in those trying to find inclusion in the Church.
In contrast, I was pleased to see attitudes of grace given to the Christian community by those feeling this deep pain. One speaker explained that we—the LGBTQ community—will see no success towards inclusion if we condemn those for their lack of understanding. Simply, we must not return condemnation with return condemnation. It was amazing to see all theses LGBTQ individuals exhibiting enough grace to seek acceptance into the Christian Church. After all, it seems logical that many of these people should have left the Church with the way they had been treated.
Witnessing these two tones throughout the weekend served as a great reminder to myself that I have the choice to allow pain to corrupt me or draw me more closely to Christ. Often times, using this conference as a sample, I see how easily pain can do a little bit of both.
Regardless of theological conclusion, being out is best for all parties.
Prior to attending the conference, I felt like I had a solid understanding for why people refrain from coming out as gay. I mean, let's be real, I stayed closeted for nearly 20 years! I see the complexity of closeted individuals’ lives and the possible devastation it would most likely cause if they were to come out as LGTBQ. I no longer seek to understand this; rather, I hope to encourage people to come out as soon as they can.
Over the course of the conference, I heard countless stories of the personal devastation that people had incurred as a result of remaining closeted. Some experienced life-threatening health issues, others were drawn further from God, and some were alienating themselves from their families and friends. These issues only stand to show the personal effects that remaining closeted has caused.
See, the Church struggles to truly see exactly what homosexuality is beyond just sex because so many people are afraid to come out! When describing that most people equate homosexuality exclusively with sex, a speaker at the conference explained that the best way to show the Church what homosexuality truly is, is for more people to come out.
Now, those who read this and are non-affirming may be inclined to argue with this idea. However, I believe this thought is void of theological position. In order for the Church to understand what LGBTQ actually is, we have to know people who orient to it! I suppose this merits an future post on the subject. From the place of understanding what it's like to be LGBTQ, and only from this position, can we—Christians and LGBTQ individuals alike—engage a meaningful discussion around our theological positions.
Theological research is rare.
Finally, the most interesting takeaway for me was the depth of interest that attendees had in scriptural theology surrounding same-sex relationships. Witnessing so many individuals (affirming and non-affirming) who earnestly sought to understand scripture at a deep level, I saw just how important this understanding is to the larger discussion.
Now, I truly don’t enjoy having theological debate surrounding this issue, mainly because I often find these discussions to be unproductive due to an individual’s lack of biblical research. I’m gay. I’ve literally spent years examining this issue from a theological perspective and trying to understand what it means for my life. Most people just haven’t done this! Frankly, I'm not sure I blame them, because it probably doesn’t affect them so personally! That is, I don’t blame them unless they want to make a biblical case against why someone shouldn’t be accepted into the Church, OR they try to explain why they believe I am going to Hell—this is when I change my posture.
Pastor Mitch Randall explained like this: "We’ve become a generation of lazy theologians. We want to be told what to believe... People don’t have their own hermeneutic; rather, they just read the Bible at face value..."
This conference reminded me just how vital this conversation is at a theological level. For Christians and LGBTQ individuals alike, theological research is absolutely imperative to draw practical conclusions for the inclusion of LGBTQ people.
This weekend was one of the most refreshing weekends I've had since I've begun this journey as a gay Christian. It was refreshing to feel less like a unicorn in a crowd of people and instead be surrounded by people from all walks of life, unafraid of the LGBTQ discussion.