I wasn’t entirely certain I wanted to go to the Gay Christian Network conference.
I’ve been gay and Christian for almost fourteen years, since I came out at age 16. I found my way to the Gay Christian Network (gaychristian.net) like many of its members — by googling “gay and Christian.” Back in the very early days of my web- and soul-searching, I didn’t see anything at GCN that I wanted. They primarily had message boards and articles detailing what it meant to be a “Side A” or a “Side B” Christian.
I wasn’t interested. I’d been raised in a home, a congregation, and a denomination that had taught me there was no conflict between my faith and my sexuality. I wasn’t interested in spending time reading (and then debating!) people who believed otherwise. So I closed my Netscape Navigator window and moved on.
|I promise you, it was this long ago.|
Now, ten or more years later, I’d periodically see a Facebook status or blog post from GCN, and the comments were often the same — Side A and Side B Christians going at it, fighting with each other, Scripture sticks and psychological assertions flying. No, thank you.
Then Rachel Held Evans tweeted, months ago, that the GCN Conference was a more expansive alternative to evangelical conferences (like the most recent ERLC Conference on “the Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” which, stupidly but unsurprisingly, had no openly gay presenters). I am always touched by Evans’ support for the LGBTQ community. But I was troubled by this idea that GCN, which I saw as war-torn and dichotomous, would be a safe space for others.
Then my friend Dianna also tweeted about it.
So I tweeted back. I asked, honestly, if GCN was safe.
This is when I re-learned one of the Cardinal Rules of the Internet: never trust the comments.
I was immediately responded to, not by Rachel or by Dianna, but by someone I’d never met named Lindsey. The same Lindsey who’d written (and I’d seen this flying around Twitter) “The sermon I wish had been preached at ERLC“, a beautiful exploration of sexuality in the Scriptures.
After some very honest back-and-forth, Lindsey (and partner Sarah) had not only convinced me to go to the conference but offered to include me on their registration so my fees would be covered.
This … from a couple that has been blogging for a year about their call to celibacy.
I was skeptical at first. This seemed like an expensive but possibly effective conversion strategy – get me to show up for GCN and then sell me on all the benefits of celibacy. (Let’s be real. It’s not like I haven’t had dates that’ve made me consider it.) But as days and weeks went by, and Lindsey and Sarah and I continued talking not only on Twitter but also by email and gchat, some things became clear:
1. They have spent an incredible amount of time reflecting on their individual calls to celibacy, on their own faith journeys, on the Scriptures and traditions of the church.
2. They have spent an incredible amount of time reflecting on their partnered call to celibacy, and what they want their home together to be like in order to reflect previously established models of celibate communal living.
3. They had absolutely no plan to convert me.
4. I had been a judgmental idiot.
I’d been actively avoiding GCN for years, and when it finally snuck into my life it turned out I’d been avoiding a host of beauty and transformation.
At the GCN Conference, I got to hear from Jeff Chu about his hopes for reconciliation with his mother, about the visit where she finally brought chopsticks (a family tradition) for his partner. I heard from Danny Cortez about leading a congregation into becoming a Third Way church, about supporting his gay son. And I witnessed Vicky Beeching’s first telling of her life story, her travels and travails through the life of faith and sexuality, including her coming out last year.
And I met amazing people. Stephen, Sarah, Justin, Andrea, Rosemary, Eliel, Michael, Matthew, Jake. Finally met Lindsey and Sarah and Dianna all in person. There were dads with their LGBT kids, moms proudly wearing “Free Mom Hug” buttons for anyone who needed the mom hugs they weren’t getting at home. There were teenagers holding hands, couples over sixty. There were trans people. People of color. Straight people, gay people, every shade in between.
Nobody wanted to convert me to anything. We just wanted to be together. We wanted to be in a space where we could finally be who we are, and worship there. We wanted to tell our stories, broken and stumbling as they are, and hold each other’s hands and cry together.
Looked like the kingdom of God up in there.
I live-tweeted Lindsey and Sarah’s breakout session on celibacy. Because their life together is fucking beautiful — and I use that language because people came at me for tweeting about it. As a result of tweeting their session, I was drawn into angry conversations on Twitter with logical fallacies a-plenty about how GCN was giving a platform to a harmful theology.
Most of the other sessions were Side A-focused. The three keynote speakers who are gay are also in relationships. And Sarah and Lindsey have been and were and will continue to be clear that their celibacy is in response to a call, not a mandate, and that they do not ever declare it required for other LGBTQ Christians.
If I have to take sides, I’m a Side A girl. Have been and will continue to be. I will continue, till I take my own seat in the kingdom in heaven, to fight for my chair at the table of the kingdom on earth. I will continue to fight for equal marriage rights, for health care coverage for trans individuals, for ordination for LGBTQ people across the board. When a teen or young adult or married person or whoever comes to me in fear and trembling about their sexuality and their faith, I will not suggest celibacy as a first stop. And I will continue to engage in debate and discussion with Side B Christians who insist (unlike Lindsey and Sarah) that their way of life is the only way for LGBTQ people of faith.
But I have been pushed beyond judging the lives of others.
Asked to, I will walk with anyone. I will listen. I will ask questions. I will notice patterns, be unafraid of tension, reflect back what I have heard. I am learning not to assume that everyone is sick or out to get “me and those like me.” I am called to do so, by my baptism and my someday-ordination.
There are many ways to live a life. Some are borne of devastation and pain and self-hatred, and they reflect that, and when invited I will walk into those places and speak the truth I know about gospel freedom and grace.
But there are many ways to live a life that are borne of deep wrestling and heavy prayer and many dark nights of the soul. Many of those lives do not look like mine. Many of those calls are not mine. I have learned to say no to lives and habits that are not life-giving to me, while recognizing that they can be for others. And invitations to witness those lives are a deep blessing, and I will rejoice in them.
That is why I can go to GCN. Why I can love Lindsey and Sarah deeply. Why I can sit at a table with the executive of the Marin Foundation and order another drink and talk till 2am. Their stories, their hopes, their life trajectories are not mine. But they know that, and I know that, and we care for each other’s stories and calls fiercely.
Most days I cannot believe that we will all end up in the kingdom of heaven and no one will be kicking anyone else under the table. The Gay Christian Network conference was not perfect, but it was a hint of what that might look like. It made me believe a little more.