“Jesus is not a frying pan” and other notable moments from #GCNConf

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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19 thoughts on ““Jesus is not a frying pan” and other notable moments from #GCNConf

  1. For whatever reason, many people lose sight of the fact that you are honoring God authentically and sincerely. A calling, whether celibacy or any other, can be a beautiful rapture and a heavy burden, often simultaneously. It’s not always easy, but I, for one, think you both deserve all the blessings and honor that we can muster for the path you are walking together.

    As you say, Jesus is not a frying pan. As the body of Christ, we are called to live Christ’s example of radical grace and welcome. Both of you do so beautifully through this blog, through your tweets, and as is obvious from this post, through your attendance at the GCN conferences.

    Our “mandate” is to love God, follow Him, and do everything we can to welcome our fellow travelers to the table. Sometimes, it’s for laughter, sometimes for tears, and sometimes, the invitation is refused. We stumble in our awkward attempts to make community, because no community is perfect. But Lord knows we try.

    All this is to say – Lindsey & Sarah – you are an outstanding example of the kind of people our community needs more of.

  2. I pray for the day to come quickly when the traditionalist doctrine is abandoned so that gay kids no longer have to wrestle with questions about their sexuality – they can just live authentically into the person God made them to be.

    I pray for the day to come quickly when the teaching of contempt for gay people is abandoned so that the church actually *is* safe – not “safer” – for the gay kid in the front pew.

    Anything less than full affirmation of the humanity of gay people is knowingly causing injury – both emotional and spiritual – and is patently immoral.

    What you describe as a grace-filled experience is actually an exercise in providing moral cover to those who insist on subscribing to a demonstrably harmful belief.

    • Clearly we disagree with that assessment of GCN Conference, but you’re entitled to your opinion. We believe that excluding people from the dialogue because they don’t hold to a certain belief is harmful. People don’t learn or grow from being told, “You’re wrong” over and over again. Progressive voices can be just as prone to taking the frying pan approach as conservative voices can be.

      • A Mattachine approach certainly has it’s place, but sometimes a Stonewall approach is called for. When the Church is doing harm – which it undeniably is – then insisting on recognizing the full humanity of gay people is not “the frying pan approach.” Too many lives are at stake.

        As for GCN, Justin Lee once told me that during the creation of the group, they made the conscious decision to exclude “side x” people. He cited the dangers of living in denial. I think he made the right decision in that regard. I asked him why, considering the harm inherent in the traditionalist doctrine, it was OK to sanction that belief? And he responded in a way similar to your offending sentence above – we want to give conservatives space to process their beliefs, we want to make the church “safer”.

        I’m no more comfortable having GCN be the de facto spokesperson for me as a Christian than I am having Dan Savage as the de facto spokesperson for me as a gay man.

        I obviously agree with you that obligatory celibacy is dangerous, but traditionalist theology insists on it. That’s why a belief/teaching that gay sex is sinful is intolerable. So while I genuinely appreciate that you are trying to be the kinder, gentler traditionalists, I find your position to be inconsistent. (Unless, of course, I’m completely misunderstanding you and you don’t believe gay sex is sinful and your call to celibacy is not a response to your sexuality.)

        Sharing our stories is important. I really, really appreciate yours. Truly. I think one of the dangers, though, is the possibility of others using your story as a prop to differentiate “the good gays” from the rest (e.g., the way my friend Preston Sprinkle has done on his blog). That, in itself, is contributing to the shame, stigma and emotional coercion that constitutes your frying pan.

        • Hello, and thanks for your continued engagement with us in these difficult conversations.

          We agree with you and are earnest advocates for recognizing the full humanity of gay people. We would add that we recognize the full humanity of lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender, and genderqueer people as well. We affirm the full humanity of people who know how to label their sexual orientation and gender identity just as we affirm the full humanity of people who aren’t sure how to describe themselves. We take it as an absolute truth that everyone is created in the image of God, and we must take care when ministering to anyone on any social margin… whatever that margin might be.

          We consistently argue that it’s more useful to have the conversation in terms of vocation rather than in terms of sin. In our best estimation, constantly framing the conversation in terms of sin is what has been so incredibly destructive. We’ve lost sight of encouraging people to pursue the kingdom of God. We’ve stopped talking about how all Christians are called to order their love such that our love reflects God’s heart. We’ve stunted our theological imaginations by cheapening celibate vocations… and by extension, we have trivialized marital vocations. One of the reason why we love GCN is that, through the love and grace of people from GCN, we had support and encouragement as we discerned what our celibate vocation looks like. We’ve had people exhorting us to go deeper into our Christian tradition, to search for Christ, and to press into God’s love especially when our fellow parishioners have said incredibly discouraging and hurtful things.

          We believe that all churches, whether traditionalist or progressive, have serious work to do on helping people see marriage and celibacy in terms of God’s call to participate fully in the Kingdom. God calls us in interesting and unique ways that have everything to do with living fully into Christ.

          We very much take issue when people use our story to tell other specific people their vocation. We have spoken and will speak as forcibly as we know how that our story is not to be used as a weapon. We do everything we can to call out people we perceive to be weaponizing our story. We’ve generally found most people to be entirely flummoxed by our existence where we exist as a quaint example of a hypothetical situation. If people want to talk to us about specific cases where they perceive another person weaponizing our story, we’re happy to have those conversations.

          • I’m unclear as to how a change of semantics is any less dehumanizing. Saying “gay people are called to the vocation of celibacy” is still saying “gay people are fundamentally flawed in a way that makes them unsuitable for romantic intimacy.” And, not for nothing, that is still the obligatory celibacy message you claim to disavow.

            Any version of that message does not recognize the full humanity of gay people – it denies our God-given capacity to form meaningful, intimate relationships. It denies the sanctity of those relationships.

            Further, you say “We’ve stopped talking about how all Christians are called to order their love such that our love reflects God’s heart.” That sounds an awful lot like the RCC natural law argument that the relationships that gay people form are intrinsically disordered.

            Putting your (very much appreciated) legitimization approach aside for a second (i.e., “we’re not going to tell other people what their vocation is”), do you believe that gay relationships can be ordered to truly reflect God’s heart? Do you believe gay people can truly be called to marriage?

            Because there’s a world of difference between saying “we’ve been called to celibacy, but don’t hold a theology that says all gay people are so called” versus saying “we believe that all gay people are called to celibacy, but don’t condemn those who have come to believe differently.”

            If you are of the latter perspective, then to whatever degree you’re sharing your story to advocate for your beliefs, you’re perpetuating the obligatory celibacy message and weaponizing your own story.

          • Hello again. We don’t see ourselves as changing the semantics. We are trying to change the conversation.

            When we journey with anyone in Christ, we ask them questions like: Who is Jesus to you? What do you think God’s asking you to do with your life? How do you seek the Kingdom of God, and is there anything we can do to help you in that pursuit? Who has God put in your path for you to love? How is the light of Christ illuminating your way? Where do you find support for your journey in Christ? Does any Christian tradition resonate with you?

            If people choose to tell us their sexual orientation or gender identity, they’ve entrusted us with an intimate part of themselves. We’re profoundly grateful that we’ve merited such a sacred trust. But they haven’t told us anything about their vocation. Conversations about a person’s vocation need to happen within the context of his or her specific Christian tradition as not all Christian traditions understand vocation in the same way.

            The question of “Do you believe that gay relationships can be ordered to truly reflect God’s heart?” should have an obvious answer by the way we live our own lives. We are two LGBT people in a lasting, enduring relationship with one another. As Lindsey said in our workshop, we were absolutely awestruck and overjoyed when a priest told Lindsey, “Sarah is a gift given to you by God for your salvation.” We believe that holds true for each and every loving relationship that any of us have in our lives. Anytime two people make an earnest effort to love and serve one another, Christ is there and working in their midst. Loving well is hard; we all try to do our best to grow in love as we go along.

          • Candidly, your refusal to actually discuss your beliefs is frustrating. I can only guess at the reasons why you’re evading the question. There are several possibilities about why you’re loathe to be open about this. But, in my experience, intentional opacity doesn’t engender trust.

            I also think it’s inconsistent to say (elsewhere) “our relationship isn’t marriage without sex” then imply here that your relationship is comparable to others’ marriages.

            As best I can presume from this dialog, you believe and promote the obligatory celibacy perspective while simultaneously striving to withhold judgement of those who you believe to be in theological error. While that approach certainly has some value, it’s contradictory to the substance of the original post. Ultimately, you are publicly perpetuating the obligatory celibacy belief.

            Thank you for your engagement.

            I wish you peace.

          • Changing the conversation is not the same as evading a question. We’ve stated from the beginning that the “Is gay sex a sin?” debate does not fit into the purpose of our writing. As much as you would like to fit us into your box, no one person owns this conversation. I do not understand why you seem to think our last comment is a comparison between our relationship and others’ marriages. It is a comparison between our relationships and all kinds of meaningful relationships that other people have. Nothing on this blog perpetuates an obligatory celibacy perspective. You can presume anything you like, but no amount of assumptions about us and our intentions will force us out of the vocation discussion and into the sin discussion instead. There is a fundamental difference in the base question that interests you and the base question that interests us. That’s not a justifiable reason for lumping us into a category that fits your own preconceived notions about advocates of obligatory celibacy. Frankly, we see this approach as a hindrance to dialogue and believe that it will only perpetuate hostility between progressive and conservative Christians. We wish you peace as well.

          • I’m really trying to muster charity here. Really. And I should probably just let this go. But those are some bold assumptions you’ve made about me.

            I’m not trying to put you in any box. I asked you a direct question that you refuse to engage: Do you believe that all gay people are called to a vocation of celibacy, or do you believe that some gay people are called to the vocation of (gay) marriage? Your claim that you’re not perpetuating an obligatory celibacy perspective necessarily requires an answer to that question. Your claim that you want to make the Church safe for gay people also must be judged in the context of that answer.

            I’ve laid my cards on the table. I believe the traditionalist doctrine is emotionally and spiritually abusive and needs to be abandoned. It has caused unjust and unnecessary suffering. It is demonstrably harmful.

            I’m asking you to put your cards on the table as well.

            Christian unity is not about conflict avoidance. Our disagreements are too important for that. We need to be able to discuss our them openly as we walk toward shalom together.

          • Hi Ford, thanks for working on mustering charity. We strive to do the same, even when it’s hard.

            We do not believe that all LGBT people are called to celibacy. No one can assign an individual to a vocation simply by knowing that individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity. We never make claims to know another person’s vocation. We believe conversations are best had with a spiritual director within one’s own Christian tradition. To be concrete, the UCC is likely going to have a different understanding of marriage and celibacy than the PCA. A person discerning vocation in an Episcopal context will have a different set of questions than a person doing the same thing in an Evangelical Protestant mega-church. Discernment looks different even in closely related Christian traditions. For instance, the Orthodox view of monasticism differs than the Roman Catholic view of religious life. It’s not our job to tell other people what their vocations are. Part of what we’re trying to do here on the blog is talk about why it’s important to have the vocation conversations within all Christian traditions.

            We know celibate LGBTQ Christians across the gamut of Christian traditions. We’d be hard-pressed to identify a single Christian tradition that doesn’t throw shame at a celibate LGBTQ Christian for one reason or another. There are some isolated parish communities here and there, but for the most part, many celibate queer Christians feel like both progressives and conservatives like to take their jabs.

            With that said, there are many approaches to LGBTQ people in church life that could be labeled as traditionalist. We don’t see all traditionalist approaches as being created equal. (And we could say the same thing about more progressive approaches.)

            We agree that Christian unity is not about conflict avoidance. In the particular conversation about vocation, we wish more Christian traditions were taking the time to ask really hard questions about marriage and celibacy. Is marriage a sacrament, an ordinance, a blessing, or something else all together? Is there anything absolutely required to be present in a relationship before the tradition can bless it as a marriage? How do the essential elements contribute to a fuller understanding of what marriage is? Does our tradition have space to bless and affirm celibacy? Do we regard celibacy as the worst consolation prize in the universe? How do we treat people who are discerning a call to celibacy? What options do we have as a church to celebrate people making lifelong commitments to celibacy? Is there evidence that our church regards marriage as the default vocation? What’s the proper attitude to take when deciding that two people should divorce? How do we understand remarriage in our tradition? Are we searching within our tradition to help us answer the questions or looking towards external sources? How do we determine what godly marriage looks like? What indications will we have that a person is thriving in a celibate vocation? etc.

          • Thank you for that. I sincerely appreciate the thoughtful reply. And, in my view, you’ve made it clear that your beliefs are aligned with your claims. That’s very helpful in the conversation.
            Peace and blessings.

  3. I had a very interesting conversation with a college professor of mine today. He told me about a book he’s reading about group-think issues. The writers of the book did two experiments. First, they put a group of “liberal” thinkers together and asked them to talk about a certain topic, identifying problems and solutions. The writers found that the longer they talked, they further “left” they moved in their thoughts, ideas, and solutions. Second, they did the same with a group of “conservatives,” with the same results: the more they talked, the further “right” their conversation went. The conclusion the writers came to was that in order to have a truly constructive conversation, and in order to come up with real solutions that solve all the problems (not just the ones a certain group sees as problems), people from different mindsets, opinions, and beliefs have to come together and talk about this issues.

    I thought this was incredibly applicable to the Church, and I thought the sentiment behind coming to the table together makes this possible. I think that what the Church is really lacking is the ability to love well in spite of disagreeing. Although I could not attend the GCN Conference, I watched, read tweets, and followed along as best I could with what was going on. And more than anything, I felt like people were trying to accomplish this. I can’t imagine that every single person at the conference agreed with everything that was said or with every other person’s beliefs. But what they did do was try to love each other and have conversations anyway.

    I was so encouraged to see that happening. It was beautiful to hear that desire coming from the speakers and to see it in so much of the conversation that happened during and after the conference. But I agree that there is so still work to be done. As LGBTQ Christians, though, I think we have begun to take things into our own hands and make the effort. Instead of waiting around for our family, friends, churches, and the world to come to us and apologize or verbalize their acceptance or even accept us at all, people have begun to see that we have to love others in spite of our differences, and that mostly likely we are going to have to love first. That, I believe, is beautiful, and I believe it is exactly what Christ wanted His Church to do. I feel so blessed to be part of a conversation of loving others first, in spite of differences.

    • Lindsey, thanks for your comment here. We’re going to highlight one small part of what you’ve said: “I think that what the Church is really lacking is the ability to love well in spite of disagreeing.”

      Loving well is incredibly difficult. It’s costly. It hurts. And it demands that we grow into the very best versions of ourselves. Perhaps that’s why Christians are so often exhorted to love one another.

  4. I think that what many people lose track of is that L&S have made a decision for themselves & their relationship in light of their calling, and used God’s guidance to shape their vocation. They acknowledge that their calling is a vocation that is suitable for them, may not work for others, and are willing (and enthusiastic) to fellowship with people on the “other side” of the “Side A/Side B” discussion.

    Personally, I’m Side A. Passionately so. But L&S have taught me, through their writings, our interactions, and the hospitality & grace they have shown other people I hold dear, that it is absolutely possible to hold strong disagreements in a loving, respectful way.

    As much grief and difficulty as LGBTQ people of all different types receive from the outside world on a daily basis, the importance of this family can’t be overstated. Does that mean unity for unity’s sake? Of course not? But it does mean, to heavily paraphrase some of the things I saw in the various GCN keynotes, that it’s better to keep the channels open and keep chairs at the table for your brothers, sisters, and others. And it’s better to act in God’s love, mercy, and kindness, especially when it’s hard, and especially when you don’t want to.

    Our struggle, to live as authentically as God calls us to, in a world full of humans that typically don’t understand us, is a difficult one. We resolve it in different ways, through different denominational perspectives, and sometimes no denomination at all.

    What is most important, in the end, is fellowship with each other and with God. That is what we can’t lose sight of.

    • Hi @hermitary

      I don’t wholly disagree with you. I think 1) we’ve misunderstood “obedience” in American Christianity (both progressive and conservative) and 2) we impoverish ourselves when we break communion with those who believe differently than we do.

      However, with all we now know, to choose to subscribe to the traditionalist doctrine is to choose to cause harm. That choice is, in my understanding, patently immoral. It is the moral equivalent of Christian Scientists withholding essential medical care from their children.

      A Christianity that knowingly causes harm is completely incompatable with the faith as I understand it. The gospel, as I understand it, is generative – not destructive.

      That’s not to necessarily cast aspersions about traditionalists. Many are simply trying to be faithful to God by being faithful to their understanding of scripture. But doctrine is a choice. I cannot, and will not, condone the destruction of human life. The destruction inherent in traditionalist doctrine is now abundantly clear. It is not OK to choose to subscribe to destructive beliefs. And it’s not OK to deny the harm that’s inherent in the traditionalist belief.

      I’ve said countless times before – my prayer for the Church is that we humble ourselves, admit the harm our beliefs has caused, repent, and pray that God shows us a way to believe that doesn’t cause harm.

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