Though there is a long way to go before gay Christians find total acceptance, the tide is beginning to change.
After over 25 years as a minister, I gave up my religion when I came out. It was a long, arduous and emotional process. It took decades to come to the conclusions I finally made. Naturally, not everyone understood. The backlash from my church community was swift. They mostly went silent, but not before I had disconnected from them in an act of emotional self-preservation.
Walking away from the faith, for me, was thoughtful and methodical. Years of study about the Scriptural inconsistencies and history of how American Evangelical Christianity evolved put it all in a different light. Much of it didn’t make sense, especially as I studied and understood how our brains create perceptions of our own individual realities making it impossible for all of us to come to one conclusion about life, let alone about God.
My experience, however, is different than the experiences of others. Faith for them, as it was for me, is as ingrained in their core identity as their sexual orientations. The struggle is so intense and so personal that, regardless of the overwhelming evidence that sexual orientation change efforts – conversion or reparative therapy – don’t work, they will spend years trying. That intense discomfort and mental conflict causes them to try almost anything to make it work.
Then there is the flip side of coming out. For those able, or eventually able to come to terms with their sexual orientation and faith, they come out to their friends in the LGBT community as Christian. While they may not lose friends because they are Christians, they will almost certainly come under some kind of scrutiny or face questioning.
Gay Christians, however, have many more options than they used to. Over the last several years, while the Evangelical Church has contemplated how to come to grips with LGBT issues and the reality that conversion therapy doesn’t work, bridge organizations have been popping up to help. The end result is that gay Christians aren’t as isolated as they once were.
I first heard of, and became involved with, The Evangelical Network (TEN) in 2014, after the release of my book, Going Gay. I attended their July 4th conference in Houston and was struck by how seamlessly attendees integrated their sexual orientations and gender identities with their faith. The conference is decidedly Pentecostal, complete with speaking in tongues and vibrant, charismatic worship. The TEN conference is a great place for Pentecostal believers, or those more comfortable with experiential theology, to express their faith.
TEN began in the late 1980’s and specifically reached out to the LGBT community who identified with the Evangelical faith. But it wasn’t until 2005 that the organization began to find its place along side its mainline evangelical counterpart. According to TEN’s website, Todd Farrell, the current president, began making inroads with Rick Warren at Saddleback Church after Todd attended Saddleback’s AIDS Conference. From that point on, TEN began “bridge building,” by meeting with evangelical pastors in the U.S., Canada, Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia. It continues to do so to this day, though many of the meetings are held with church leadership behind the scenes. The landscape of LGBT acceptance within conservative churches continues to shift to a more favorable position.
The Gay Christian Network (GCN) is another organization, which began as an online support group for Christians in 2001. Led by Justin Lee, GCN carefully toes the line between conservative Christians, who believe gay Christians must remain single and celibate their entire lives (Side B), and those who support full inclusion in the church, supporting same-sex marriage and relationships (Side A).
When gay marriage was an impending reality earlier in 2015, GCN suddenly captured the attention of conservative churches all over the country. The annual conference, traditionally held in the second week of January, nearly doubled in attendance with another expected increase to nearly 1,500 people in 2016.
Controversially, GCN’s president, Justin Lee, has never made an official statement on marriage equality, allowing members – and critics – to make their own decisions on the issue. Though highly debatable, this allows Lee to connect with conservative leaders across the country and have discussions about LGBT inclusion and acceptance in congregations traditionally opposed to equality.
Lee’s book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays Vs. Christian Debate, which I’ve reviewed on my website, manages to lay out the issues in a non-threatening way. Lee, a Southern Baptist, masterfully walks the reader through his own transformative experience, asking the questions he needed to personally address in order to reconcile his own conservative beliefs and same-sex attracted reality.
Based on Lee’s desire and ability to have difficult conversations with opposing points of view, GCN brings together both sides for civil and meaningful conversations. In some cases, people simply agree to disagree. In other cases, GCN helps members of the LGBT community find a place in their own conservative Christian communities.
Additionally, there has been a growing movement within the conservative church called, “The Third Way,” which allows church members to hold contradictory beliefs regarding homosexuality and yet remain in fellowship. Pastor Danny Cortez, a straight pastor, famously stood up to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 2014 when his views on the LGBT issues changed.
He studied the theology for several years and met with LGBT members inside out and outside his congregation. He realized how much damage the SBC position had on the community, along with the inconsistencies of other positions his denomination held, such as on the topic of divorce. He decided to become an inclusive church and offer full membership to LGBT Christians. Ultimately, Cortez was excommunicated from the SBC.
Pastors across the United States have since joined him in their belief in the third way position as a way to address homosexuality in their own churches. In a twist of ironic fate, Cortez’s son came out as gay following his father’s “coming out” in support of the LGBT community. Cortez’s moving story can be found here.
Then, there is The Reformation Project (TRP), a non-profit organization founded by author Matthew Vines, which seeks to educate the evangelical church on the “true” meaning of Scriptures regarding homosexuality. Vines book, God and the Gay Christian, made waves in 2014 when Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, became so concerned by its appeal he felt the need to respond with a 90-page rebuttal. Vines and his team hold conferences across the United States two times a year and invite conservative, evangelical churches to have a conversation.
The dissension between gay people and Christianty isn’t going away anytime soon. Unfortunately, gay Christians, those who embody both sides of the heated debate, are often caught in the crossfire. They are the ones whose lives and experiences dismissively become political fodder and ideological missiles. Gay and Christian is still an oxymoron in many circles. Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources to account for the diverse points of view within the Christian and gay Christian communities.
Photo – Flickr/ Drama Queen