Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Advocacy Spectrum

While I was at the Gay Christian Network conference, I got the chance to meet with Jake, one of the coordinators of the @FaithinFerguson / Theology of Ferguson twitter feed.  Jake called me today to chat, and we got to talking about advocacy and activism and the difficulty of figuring out where people "are".

In any social justice issue -- #BlackLivesMatter, LGBTQ welcome in churches, anything in between -- there is a spectrum of advocacy.  Some people are just beginning to learn about the issue and how it relates to who they are.  Some people are ready to storm the gates of political and religious oppressive systems.  And there are a whole host of people in between.  It's hard sometimes, especially when you are trying to get Very Big Things Done, that there are people just at the beginning of understanding.

As Jake and I chatted, I sketched and doodled, and then after the phone call I tweeted a first draft to him -- the Advocacy Spectrum.

I focused on advocacy/activism around LGBTQ issues (because sometimes being more specific makes a metaphor easier to manage), and here is what I drew:

The PEDESTRIAN:  Just beginning to come out.  Not ready to ride.  Still a lot to discover!

The CYCLIST:  Coming out to safe people, beginning relationships and advocacy.  Not safe yet to be "out in traffic" for emotional, financial, etc reasons.

CAR:  Autonomous!  Safe to be out.  Self-supported.  Out in all or most areas of life.

BUS:  Advocates & allies working together in the same direction.  "Riders" are out in most/all situations.

SEMI:  A smaller group of advocates and activists moving big ideas forward.

MOTORCYCLES:  Nimble and fast.  Cutting edge ideas and hopes.  Intimidating in groups!

Some additional commentary:
- Everyone is going at their own pace, but all are moving in the same direction.
- Not everyone starts as a Pedestrian.  I was extremely lucky and grew up in a family & a church that supported me in my sexuality and faith, so I would say I came out right onto a bus.  That gives me incredible advantage and privilege over those who had to start with walking, and work through the very difficult process of getting to a safe enough point to come out.
- Once you're "on the road", there's no objective benefit to a Car or a Bus or a Semi or a Motorcycle.  Some people like the speed of Harleys.  Some people wanna work together on public transit.  None of these are "better" than another -- they're all different ways, with different benefits and drawbacks, of getting to the same place.

I tweeted this image out earlier and got some fantastic feedback.  So far:

Your turn.  What would you add?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gay Christian Network post the second: "How Dare You"

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 ( 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.

(These are all online, and they are all amazing.)

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.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Gay Christian Network post 1: Why I'm Here

At this moment, I am at the Gay Christian Network conference in Portland, OR.  This is my first GCN conference, and I have so many thoughts, y'all.  So many.  I'm decompressing in my hotel room right now, after being awake for 21 hours straight yesterday and Being Around People this whole time.  I have a running list of things to blog about when I get back.  (It helps that I'm rooming with the fabulous Dianna E. Anderson and running around with the amazing Ben Moberg -- two incredible writers and people.)  But while I've been decompressing, I've been musing on one thing I wanted written sooner rather than later.

Gay Christian Network is not "my people," really.  It's primarily a movement out of the evangelical tradition, which is a place I sojourned but never stayed.  Visible leadership is primarily white, cisgender, and male.  And GCN as a whole was originally conceived (and continues today) as a place for gay Christians to come together and be family -- whether they are "Side A" or "Side B".

This terminology of A and B is Gay Christian Network specific, and refers to two views (a somewhat limited dichotomy, but work with it for now) of human sexuality.  "Side A" opinions fall into the camp of believing that God can and does bless same-sex relationships (and, although less focus falls on this, living "out" as a trans* person).  "Side B" is primarily composed of people who believe that to be faithful and LGBT, one must be celibate.

Side A and Side B, as you might imagine, get into fights quite often.  Side A accuses Side B of being backward, oppressive, internalized homophobes.  Side B can question Side A's religiosity and righteousness.  I've witnessed the back-and-forth on GCN's online community (particularly in comments on blog posts) and have stayed away.

This year I took my hesitancy public and posted on Twitter that I wasn't sure GCN was a good conference to promote because of this infighting.  I was then contacted by Lindsey and Sarah of A Queer Calling.  They're a couple, and they're celibate -- their God-given calling is celibacy.  And they said, "You need to see this place for yourself.  Let us help you get there."

And here is what I can tell you, gentle readers:  they were right.  Whatever the comment sections and Twitter feeds might suggest, this place is beautiful.  The leaders and speakers of GCN are offering to us, over and over, the opportunity to come together and experience the fullness of God and of ourselves, in brave recognition that we do not agree, that Side A and Side B (and Side C, D, and Z) have a place at the same communion table.  And we are responding.  We believe them -- we are desperate to believe that there is a way to be together.

So I need to be here.  Yes, I have a hermeneutic of suspicion around evangelicalism.  Yes, I twitch when worship leaders "just wanna" pray to "Father God."  Yes, I raise my eyebrows at leadership roles primarily filled by cis white men.  But I am discovering that these things are not the core of what matters, right now.

That is what I am seeing instead: raw hunger. 

I forget about this hunger, because long ago I decided to fight for and keep my place in the small community of mainline Protestant Christians who welcome me as an openly gay woman.  I have a church, a denomination, a family, a wide swath of friends, past relationships (and future ones?) where my faith and my sexuality were acknowledged and celebrated.  My hunger gets fed every week at worship and over coffee and in the hundreds of other ways that I get to be fully me.

I don't go hungry.  But so many do.  So many LGBTQ people of faith have no worship home, no family, no friends to go to and feel fully themselves.

There are people at this conference experiencing, for the first time, speakers who give thanks for God and for their same-sex spouses in the same prayer.  There are people at this conference seeing, for the first time, a worship leader with a rainbow guitar strap.  There are people at this conference hearing, for the first time, a word of apology from pastors who once preached conversion therapy.  And so many people who have struggled with how to reconcile their faith and their sexuality are offered -- for the very first time -- a myriad of ways they can be integrated, a table spread full of God's offerings for a full life.

The hungry are being fed.

There is a deep loneliness that can come from faithful queerness.  I am watching that darkness be struck with light.

I do not agree with everyone who speaks at GCN.  Not all of them speak of God exactly as I would.  Not all the songs we sing are ones that play the chords of my heart.  There are hungers still unfed, like safe spaces for all to worship in their own towns, and discussion of trans* issues on a conference-wide scale, and more minorities in leadership.  And I am tired.  But it is a holy exhaustion, in a beautiful place, surrounded by hungry people who are finding seats at God's table.

Join us.