Four years ago I didn't think it was possible to be both Gay and Christian. Those identities were diametrically opposed in my mind. To be gay was to have adopted a false identity rooted in sin and to be Christian was to find ones identity in Jesus Christ alone.
So any attempt to mesh these two radical identities seemed to be futile to me.
One canceled the other. You were either gay and opposed to Christianity, or a Christian and opposed to homosexuality. There was no other option.
Fast forward to this weekend. I spoke to a group of nearly 100 people, most of whom identified as LGBTQ, and asked "How many of you currently identity as Evangelical Christians?" To my surprise, nearly all 100 hands shot up.
A room filled to the brim with 100 real, live LGBTQ Evangelical Christians sat right in front of me. I literally stood in awe before this group. Just four years ago, I didn't think such people could possibly exist.
But now, before my eyes, I saw evidence of the new thing that God is doing in our day.
These 100 LGBTQ evangelicals were just a small percentage of the nearly 1,500 people that gathered at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland for the Gay Christian Network Conference, an annual gathering of LGBTQ Christians and our allies hosted by The Gay Christian Network.
This year's conference brought together a diverse group of LGBTQ activists, pastors, authors, journalists, and lay people to network, learn, strategize, and dream about making the Church and the world a more inclusive place for LGBTQ people.
Over the course of the weekend, speakers like Pastor Danny Cortez of New Heart Baptist Church, the Southern Baptist Church that was dismissed from the convention last year for embracing a "third way" perspective on LGBTQ issues and Vicky Beeching, a leading evangelical songwriter and worship leader who came out in 2014 as lesbian encouraged the group to hold tight to our faith and to be bold and courageous in the face of exclusion and oppression from the non-affirming Church.
Every morning before the plenary addresses, the group of 1,500 LGBTQ Christians gathered for prayer and a time of passionate worship.
Of course, any Gay Christian conference could not be complete without protestors, and this year the GCN Conference was visited by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, who showed up on Saturday morning with their signs and songs declaring God's hatred towards LGBTQ people.
In response to WBC's hateful rhetoric, a number of local faith communities united to form a "Wall of Love", a chain of individuals singing songs of worship to drown out and protect conference attendees from the shouts of the protestors. And right in the midst of Westboro's protest, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky over the conference center, which seemed to many to be a clear "wink" of approval of the conference from the Man upstairs.
But beyond the conference talks, times of worship, protests, and rainbows the most valuable part of the weekend for me was getting to sit down and talk with dozens of fellow evangelical Christians, young and old, who's hearts and minds have been transformed on the issue of LGBTQ acceptance and inclusion in the Church.
I sat and listened to the heart wrenching stories of individuals who were kicked out of churches, schools, and homes because of their sexuality and yet still embraced their faith and had a desire to work for reconciliation and reformation within the very communities that caused them so much harm. I met evangelical pastors and leaders who came to the conference secretly, hoping to find encouragement and resources to help move their churches and denominations forward on LGBTQ issues. I even met parents of LGBTQ children who were seeking guidance on how to best love their children well as Christians.
Every person I met and every story I heard was a clear testimony to me that brighter days lie ahead for LGBTQ people in the Church.
Instead of hostility and rejection of their faith, many of the people I met were committed to working from the inside of their faith communities to bring about transformation. Instead of being motivated out of self interest, I sensed that many of the people at the conference were actually being moved to selfless action by Christ's command to love their neighbors and to bless those who have harmed them.
I was encouraged to see that a group of people, that many Christians still don't believe can even exist, not only exist but are flourishing in our faith. This conference stands as a witness to the world that there are many LGBTQ individuals who are deeply committed to their Christian faith and are striving to live lives that uplift the name of Jesus while also embracing their God-given sexual orientation. What I once thought was impossible is now becoming the norm.
As I walk away from this weekend, I can honestly say that my life has been changed. I have experienced God's truth and love in a more profound way that I ever have before.
I have glimpsed into the future of the Church and am filled with hope and expectation.
I anticipate that one day very soon, the Church will finally become the place where all people can be welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated for who we are, just as God made us to be.
May it be so.
Photo provided by Brandan Robertson