As an immigrant, a woman, and a person of color, I know what a public show of solidarity can mean in the face of adversity. Ashamedly, there have been times when I did not offer such solidarity to others.
When I first became a Christian, I failed to be a public ally to LGBT people I loved dearly.
I remember, some years ago, spending Christmas with my college ministry director and his wife and getting into an hours-long discussion on how deeply my heart was broken by the way the Church treats LGBT people, and in particular, transgender people.
Instead of boldly championing equality, I sat there sobbing as they explained to me how homosexuality was a sin and trans people were “broken.” As a Godly woman, they said, the best I could do was love an LGBT person by speaking “truth” about their “sin.” I caved and let the conversation end without refuting this sincere yet distorted idea of love—an act that I regret to this day.
At the same time, I had a friend, William, who shared in confidence with me about his “struggle” with his sexual identity. I assured him of my love and acceptance, but in our years in that ministry, he never came out and I never made my support of LGBT people—and their relationships—unabashedly clear in front of others.
I know a great deal of my relative silence was due to not having a strong theological footing to speak boldly about things I already knew to be true in my heart. Many Christians can relate to the difficulty of challenging spiritual authority when we’re not properly equipped.
We are often left grasping for an articulate way to challenge deeply ingrained belief systems.
The Reformation Project gave me the tools to advocate more effectively for LGBT inclusion in the church. Founded by Matthew Vines, whose viral video and recent book God and the Gay Christian have reached wide audiences, The Reformation Project (TRP) offers the Bible-based tools crucial to pushing past the Church’s stalemate regarding the full inclusion of LGBT people.
I was one of the 50 participants in TRP’s inaugural leadership training conference last year, which was a turning point in my journey as an ally. I spent the summer reading more than 1,500 pages of academic literature about the Bible and LGBT issues, all in preparation for an intensive four-day gathering.
I came out of that training with the knowledge and confidence to have constructive, persuasive conversations with non-affirming people.
I finally feel prepared to be a part of shaping a more inclusive Church. So can you.
If you are an LGBT Christian or straight ally, you are not alone in trying to reconcile what you know to be true about gender identity and sexual orientation with your desire to honor God’s Word.
For some, this is overwhelmingly intimidating and could precipitate real loss. We have relationships, jobs and communities that are contingent on not challenging the status quo, on not questioning the “truth.” I’ve come a long way since making those first fumbling mistakes as an ally, and I’m blessed to now work for The Reformation Project.
Those people I met at that inaugural conference? They’ve become what I fondly refer to as mi familia. We share one another’s joys, heartaches, and a common hope for the Church. We offer unconditional support as we navigate the challenge of having parents, spouses, and various loved ones who do not yet share our affirming stance.
We are a unified prophetic voice, but more importantly, we are family and when you have your family standing beside you, the risks don’t seem quite so frightening.
In the last year, we have all taken steps towards ushering our communities and congregations into an affirming stance.
Some have preached on inclusion, others have led LGBT-affirming Bible studies or effectively challenged the leadership of our congregations to take a stand for equality. All of us have found a new confidence and strength.
It’s now a year later, and we’re offering the same to you. We have a Bible-based training conference coming up from November 6-8, 2014 at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C. We’re honored to be featuring many of the key leaders in the LGBT Christian movement, including Rev. Allyson Robinson, Dr. David Gushee, Matthew Vines, Dr. James Brownson, Nikilas Mawanda, Bishop Gene Robinson, Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, Justin Lee, Joseph Tolton, Jane Clementi, Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, and many more.
If you are looking for the skills necessary to advocate on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in non-affirming churches, then this conference is crucial. Perhaps you’re in need of a safe environment to explore your own confusion or doubt about whether it is even possible to affirm LGBT people and remain theologically sound?
I encourage you to join me in Washington, D.C., this fall.
Worry not, this conference will match last year’s conference in value, but not in intensity. It is an opportunity to dip your toes in the water. Those who are ready for a greater commitment can then apply to join our next leadership development cohort and possibly launch TRP chapters in their cities and states.
A couple of years ago, I reconnected with William and I was filled with so much joy to learn that he’s now openly gay, in a committed relationship, and part of an inclusive Christian community. We discussed our time at a non-affirming ministry and I apologized for my role in an unjust system. I am so grateful to have gotten the chance to rebuild a friendship that wasn’t able to be fully open and honest when we were younger.
His view on our time at that ministry was that “we were in the deep, but we were in the deep together.” I’m confident in William’s forgiveness, but also know I must do better going forward.
To love as Christ loves is to be bold in our defense of others and to stand as witnesses for them even at the expense of our own comfort.
As I have become a more vocal ally, I have been entrusted with countless stories that show me just how much the sin of rejection and anti-LGBT bias is entrenched in some of our hearts. Silence in the face of injustice is an affirmation of that injustice, and God calls us all to more than that.
“This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, in opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Oscar Romero
We are not the master builder and we do not have to do this weighty work on our own. But if we are truly interested in building loving places of worship, we must go into the deep…but we can go into it together.
Photo provided by The Reformation Project