At this moment, I am at the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland, OR. This is my first GCN conference, and I have so many thoughts, y’all. So many. I’m decompressing in my hotel room right now, after being awake for 21 hours straight yesterday and Being Around People this whole time. I have a running list of things to blog about when I get back. (It helps that I’m rooming with the fabulous Dianna E. Anderson and running around with the amazing Ben Moberg — two incredible writers and people.) But while I’ve been decompressing, I’ve been musing on one thing I wanted written sooner rather than later.
Gay Christian Network is not “my people,” really. It’s primarily a movement out of the evangelical tradition, which is a place I sojourned but never stayed. Visible leadership is primarily white, cisgender, and male. And GCN as a whole was originally conceived (and continues today) as a place for gay Christians to come together and be family — whether they are “Side A” or “Side B”.
This terminology of A and B is Gay Christian Network specific, and refers to two views (a somewhat limited dichotomy, but work with it for now) of human sexuality. “Side A” opinions fall into the camp of believing that God can and does bless same-sex relationships (and, although less focus falls on this, living “out” as a trans* person). “Side B” is primarily composed of people who believe that to be faithful and LGBT, one must be celibate.
Side A and Side B, as you might imagine, get into fights quite often. Side A accuses Side B of being backward, oppressive, internalized homophobes. Side B can question Side A’s religiosity and righteousness. I’ve witnessed the back-and-forth on GCN’s online community (particularly in comments on blog posts) and have stayed away.
This year I took my hesitancy public and posted on Twitter that I wasn’t sure GCN was a good conference to promote because of this infighting. I was then contacted by Lindsey and Sarah of A Queer Calling
. They’re a couple, and they’re celibate — their God-given calling is celibacy. And they said, “You need to see this place for yourself. Let us help you get there.”
And here is what I can tell you, gentle readers: they were right. Whatever the comment sections and Twitter feeds might suggest, this place is beautiful. The leaders and speakers of GCN are offering to us, over and over, the opportunity to come together and experience the fullness of God and of ourselves, in brave recognition that we do not agree, that Side A and Side B (and Side C, D, and Z) have a place at the same communion table. And we are responding. We believe them — we are desperate to believe that there is a way to be together.
So I need to be here. Yes, I have a hermeneutic of suspicion around evangelicalism. Yes, I twitch when worship leaders “just wanna” pray to “Father God.” Yes, I raise my eyebrows at leadership roles primarily filled by cis white men. But I am discovering that these things are not the core of what matters, right now.
That is what I am seeing instead: raw hunger.
I forget about this hunger, because long ago I decided to fight for and keep my place in the small community of mainline Protestant Christians who welcome me as an openly gay woman. I have a church, a denomination, a family, a wide swath of friends, past relationships (and future ones?) where my faith and my sexuality were acknowledged and celebrated. My hunger gets fed every week at worship and over coffee and in the hundreds of other ways that I get to be fully me.
I don’t go hungry. But so many do. So many LGBTQ people of faith have no worship home, no family, no friends to go to and feel fully themselves.
There are people at this conference experiencing, for the first time, speakers who give thanks for God and for their same-sex spouses in the same prayer. There are people at this conference seeing, for the first time, a worship leader with a rainbow guitar strap. There are people at this conference hearing, for the first time, a word of apology from pastors who once preached conversion therapy. And so many people who have struggled with how to reconcile their faith and their sexuality are offered — for the very first time — a myriad of ways they can be integrated, a table spread full of God’s offerings for a full life.
The hungry are being fed.
There is a deep loneliness that can come from faithful queerness. I am watching that darkness be struck with light.
I do not agree with everyone who speaks at GCN. Not all of them speak of God exactly as I would. Not all the songs we sing are ones that play the chords of my heart. There are hungers still unfed, like safe spaces for all to worship in their own towns, and discussion of trans* issues on a conference-wide scale, and more minorities in leadership. And I am tired. But it is a holy exhaustion, in a beautiful place, surrounded by hungry people who are finding seats at God’s table.