Photo is provided by James Farlow. Follow him on Twitter @jamesonfarlow.
Imagine. In the heart of Houston, Texas, a city that has remained in the national media for the last year because of it’s fight to include sexual and gender minorities in an equal rights ordinance. A city whose protection of sexual and gender minorities was suspended by the states Supreme Court. And yet, gathered in the heart of downtown Houston are 1, 600 LGBTQ+ Christians, singing songs of praise to God while holding the hand of their significant other of the same-gender.
Last week, The Gay Christian Network hosted its annual conference in Houston, Texas, the largest LGBTQ+ Christian gathering on the planet, bringing together 1, 600 faithful LGBTQ+ people together for a weekend of worship, education, and encouragement as they journey together seeking to follow Christ from the margins, as exiles from many Christian denominations and churches who still refuse to allow them into membership. This years conference theme was “What’s Next?”, referring to where LGBTQ+ Christians should focus our attention after a year of great triumphs and victories for our rights, both in society and in the Church. Workshops were offered on topics ranging from healthy dating practices to theological expositions on Biblical passages and four keynote addresses were given from an incredibly diverse range of speakers.
This year was my third year at GCN. My first time was two years ago in Chicago where I was a student at the Moody Bible Institute, a conservative evangelical school in the heart of the city. At the time I was beginning to ask questions about my own sexuality and what the Scriptures actually taught about same-sex relationships, so I decided to sneak in to the conference, which was being hosted just a few blocks away from my school. As I sat in the back of the packed ballroom, listening to a thousand LGBTQ+ people singing songs of praise, I was moved deeply. Here I was, experiencing an anomaly- Gay Christians couldn’t exist in my theological paradigm. You couldn’t love God and love someone of the same-sex. And yet, in that room, as I saw a multitude of LGBTQ+ people worshipping Jesus with all of their hearts, something shifted within me.
Two years later, I now feel like GCN has become a home of sorts. Every January, I look forward to coming together with a thousand other like-minded LGBTQ+ people to reconnect and refocus on what matters most. This year’s conference was no exception. I was challenged to confront my own prejudice, bias, and privilege, and encouraged to continue pressing into Christ as my hope and sustenance. I heard stories of deep pain and tremendous courage, and I became all the more aware that a revolution is bubbling just beneath the surface of the Church that would forever change how Christianity would be manifest in our world. At conferences like these, it’s the conversations and informal interactions that make it all worthwhile for me. But this year’s lineup of speakers brought some of the most powerful and timely messages that I’ve heard at any conference.
On the first evening, Father Broderick Greer, a leading activist at the intersections of human rights and racial justice and curate at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Memphis, challenged us to confront the prejudice and privilege that seeks to oppress racial, sexual, and gender minorities and to think of theology as a form of liberation. Misty Irons, a “Side-B” (meaning non-affirming of LGBTQ+ relationships), spoke about the importance of leaving space at the table for those who disagree. Rev. Allyson Robinson, a leading trans* activist and Baptist minister, challenged us to stand for justice and equality of all people, not just those who share our convictions. And closing down the conference, the director of GCN, Justin Lee, called us to become increasingly intersectional in our approach to justice.
As the conference came to end, thousands gathered together in a room to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, a gift that has so often been denied to those of us who identify as sexual and gender minorities. As the bread was broken and the cup was blessed, healing and liberation flowed. One by one, each individual stepped forward to the table of Christ and was reminded of his unfailing and unconditional love and grace for each one of us. As I thought of each of my fellow LGBTQ+ Christians receiving this most precious and sacred gift, I was reminded of my first time at GCN. I was reminded of the fear and the self-hatred that once lay heavy upon my soul. I was reminded of how, at that first conference in Chicago, I experienced the Spirit of God washing away all of my shame and naming me a child of God, in all of my queerness. I was reminded of why this space was so important to so many of us. I was reminded that the Spirit of God had begun a new work this weekend, in the center of Houston, Texas, that would liberate, heal, and restore so many beloved children of God, and I rejoiced.