We’ve literally just returned home after an amazing weekend at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Portland. We’re sure to write some more reflections in the coming week, but we wanted to share some highlights for now.
First of all, all of the keynote speakers were incredible. We’re so glad that they were broadcast on live stream. For a limited time, you can watch them here. Jeff Chu kicked off conference with one of the most poignant, compelling, and thoughtful addresses we’ve ever heard. He has graciously provided a transcript on his blog. He modeled vulnerability, graciousness, and generousness. The love Jeff feels for his mother was palpable in the room as all those gathered listened with rapt attention to Jeff discussing showing love across differences. We’re still processing Jeff’s address ourselves. What we do know is that both Jeff and Tristan would be very welcome in our home; we, too, eat family-style. We’d also be sure to find some sweet tea to put on our table for Vicky Beeching. Vicky opened her story to us with humor, grace, and authenticity. Anyone who thinks that LGBT Christians have a superficial appreciation for their Christian tradition and shy away from earnest theological inquiry would be well-served by sitting down to listen to Vicky’s address. By God’s grace, may we all continue to wonder at a loving God who rejoices in four-year-olds who want to reach up and share a cookie.
Second, there were so many people. We’ve never gone to GCN Conference with the intention of counting chairs, but this was the first conference where “I’ll see you in the General Session” was much easier said than done. When two-thirds of the room stood up after Conference Director Trey Weaver called for first-times, we knew something had happened. As conference veterans, we did whatever we could to make connections with people who really need the GCN community. We connected with so many people who aren’t out to their parents, who don’t know which letter of the LGBTQ-alphabet-soup works for them, and who feel torn by worry that they have to choose between their faith and their sexual orientations. We also met first-timers who are straight allies committed to doing whatever they can do to make the church a safer place to wrestle with questions of sexual orientation and gender identity, who are parents committed to loving their kids who came out to them over the holidays, who are LGBTQ Christians from Open and Affirming traditions trying to understand experiences of other queer Christians, and who are seeking to converse with authors and speakers who have done so much work to help them reconcile their faith and sexual orientations/gender identities. The rich tapestry of humanity was on full display.
Third, there was love. Honestly, we don’t remember the last time we were wrapped in day after day of love. It was something else to walk around and see scores of parents wearing “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs” buttons. People constantly checked in with one another to see how things were going. We saw so many people taking the 5 minutes, 10 minutes, hour, and hours to talk, hug, pray, and cry things out when another person was hurting. People loved without asking permission. It was a beautiful thing. We can’t remember the last time we heard so many earnest questions of “Do you need any help?” People got creative when it came to showing love, including dear friends who helped us out by livetweeting our workshop.
This year, we presented a workshop on Celibacy and the Church. We wanted to support dialogue about celibate vocations in general while helping people living and discerning celibacy access quality pastoral care. We shared about our own journeys into our celibate vocations and identified various dimensions of helpful pastoral care. One way to talk about helpful pastoral care is to talk about distinctly unhelpful approaches. The title of this reflection came as Lindsey was giving some suggestions about how to re-frame a particularly difficult and unhelpful approach: the celibacy mandate. When pastors think the only thing they need to say to an LGBT person is “Gay sex is a sin! Just be celibate,” they have embraced the celibacy mandate.
We regard the celibacy mandate as akin to hitting LGBT people over the head with a frying pan. It’s dangerous, dehumanizing, and destructive. Lindsey has been on the receiving end of many different pastors wielding the celibacy mandate and eventually got better at dodging the frying pan. Eventually, Lindsey realized that the message “Gay sex is a sin! Just be celibate.” is not the Gospel. Lindsey’s pastors who were delivering this message were not preaching Jesus. The frying pan approach excuses pastors of their pastoral responsibilities and cheapens the beauty of celibate vocations. We earnestly believe that LGBT Christians who experience a call to celibacy should be free to cultivate that vocation and have support in doing so. Choosing to follow a calling is choosing freedom in Christ. While Jesus calls us in ways that are challenging and not always immediately apparent, he also journeys alongside of us every step of the way. The Incarnation tells us a lot about how Jesus views the role of pastoral care. And Jesus is not a frying pan.
[For those interested in a more complete summary of our workshop, we’ll be posting one reasonably soon. If you’re interested in seeing our notes from our Celibacy Involves Family workshop from Chicago’s conference, feel free to take a look.]
We left Portland feeling refreshed, renewed, and revitalized. So many people we met took time to hear our stories about the difficult parts of this past year, to pray with us, to encourage us, to cry with us, and to hug us. GCN is truly a family for us. We’re so grateful for everyone at the conference.
It didn’t take much web browsing today to realize that we still have significant work to do such that all LGBTQ Christians know that they are fiercely and wholly loved by God. We know that there are LGBT Christians returning to congregations that post this article (that honestly needs to come with a content warning for extreme homophobia) front and center on their notice boards. Attending GCN Conference gives us the courage to keep sharing our stories, to press on towards Christ, and shine Christ’s light to all. And when we see intolerance and bigotry, we’ll choose to remember the love, the life, and the colors of #GCNConf in Portland while doing what we can to make a difference. When words escape us, we’ll warm up with the heavenly choir singing LA LA LA in rhythm and glorious harmonies.
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