Being the loudest queer voice in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination has made me a big target in my church. While many members are genuinely interested in a dialogue, there are still those who wish I would stop talking about equality.
Each outburst made, each letter written, and each sermon preached against my message perpetuates the ignorant intolerance I work so hard to dispel.
The force of fear surges against my own will to promote love and acceptance. It exhausts me, body and soul. Naturally, I seek restoration from my Father, who himself has given me this task to share this message.
I know He will see me through it, but so often, I am unable to walk into a Seventh-day Adventist church or campus without a person recognizing my face or name. Then the whispers hiss, the stares pierce, and my hopes of worshiping God in His house begin to slip away once more. Where is my refuge?
This past weekend, I attended the Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference in Chicago, where over 600 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and allies of the community came together. People from all different Christian faith backgrounds, from all over the country, and from all parts of the spectrum on beliefs about sexual and gender identities gathered together for fellowship. It’s an amazing group of believers, and I have to tell you, this event is unlike anything else I’ve experienced.
The Gay Christian Network conference is one of the safest religious spaces I’ve been in since my early teen years, if not ever.
About a year and a half ago, I read Torn, a book by Justin Lee, the Executive Director of GCN, and invited him to speak at last year’s annual Intercollegiate Adventist GSA Coalition Summit meeting. This interaction really made me want to attend the Gay Christian Network Conference.
In the past two years, I’ve attended many conferences on Christianity, homosexuality, and the combination of the two, each in an effort to equip myself with more tools to engage in gracious, helpful conversations with my brothers and sisters in Christ as we strive for equality. However, until this year, I had never attended the GCN Conference—and I really had no clear idea what to expect.
Just after registration for the conference on Friday, I had dinner with a group of attendees, most of whom I had only just met.
During introductions, I was surprised at how many people knew of me and my work.
“I’ve read your articles!” and “That ‘Where Were You?’ poem was fantastic!” I was completely taken aback upon hearing these words and didn’t know quite how to respond. This was the first time in a religious space that people recognized me for my work and were actually full-fledged supporters!
After dinner, our group joined the larger body for the conference kickoff event and were welcomed into the space by the most energetic person I’ve ever seen on stage. We sang praise songs at the top of our lungs and we listened to the Reverend Dr. Christine Y. Wiley give the classiest, sassiest keynote speech I’ve ever heard.
I sat there stunned, with tears running down my cheeks. The address wasn’t sad—it was really very uplifting—but I still stood there crying.
They say that soldiers feel the most unsafe when they’re back home from war.
I understand that now, because my own church has become a battlefield. And the lives of queer folk like me have been at stake.
On the first night of the 2014 GCN conference, I was crying because I could finally take off my armor and rest my weary soul. I was crying because for once, when people recognized my name, they had only encouragement for me and not disdain.
I was crying because I felt safe in a church for the first time since childhood. At last, I could just worship my God again without worrying about anything or anyone else. The living water restored me and it tasted so good.
I had forgotten what it’s like to feel safe around Christians, and this conference was unapologetically Christian.
There was something so beautiful and unfortunately, rare, about the event. It was a moment of healing—a moment of rest for a community of people who didn’t have community. Far too long we had all been second class citizens in our own homes.
But at this conference, we were all able to gather together and no longer feel homeless in the house of God.
Photo via flickr user Elvert Barnes