The question of whether or not we can have a civil conversation about LGBT issues and the church has been answered. That answer is a throaty, resounding, “yes.” It was billed as a “A Conversation over Coffee,” and became so much more. It was perfectly planned. We had everything lined up. Naturally, that meant that everything that could have gone wrong, did. But we would quickly learn that when everything starts to unravel, that’s when God shows up.
The first issues of the night were technical. I couldn’t find the VGA adapter for my iPad. The DVI/VGA adapter for another laptop didn’t work. As a result, this really awesome slideshow I put together would never be seen. It’s a pity, too. It was a great slideshow. Lots of animations, flashy graphics, and a few bits from George Lucas’ special effects company. It was THAT good. Alas, it was not meant to be.
On top of that, the speaker for the designate sound system didn’t work, and the mics we did have were just horrible. We got feedback, cracks, pops, a few snaps (that weren’t really particularly gay) — anything but consistent sound.
Did I mention the fantastic slideshow that we couldn’t show?
Finally, it came time to start. Already out the gate, we had the forces of technology against us. It was time to see if we could muddle through this thing and see if we could get this thing done. “All right,” I said to myself. “Let’s do this.”
My opening speech was scattered, bland, and a little embarrassing. “We had this crazy idea of talking about topics that are totally non-controversial in the church today,” I said. A few chuckles. Yikes. This was going to be tough.
“Let’s agree to disagree on the obvious,” I said, pointing out that no one was going to change our minds on the “clobber verses,” and that no one was going to change anyone’s mind on same-sex relationships. They are what they are.
After identifying the specific differences, we were able to move forward. These differences are pretty extreme. On the one hand, we have the Westboro bunch with their “God Hates Fags” signs. On the other, we have those who are absolutely convinced that religious people are just a bunch of bigots.
When they get together, they become a big mess. These clashes are often front page worthy with preachers wielding their “homo sex is sin” signs and bullhorns and defiant gay couples kissing right in front of them. That is, if it’s tame.
We had to have a conversation. We had to find a balance. Even if we couldn’t accomplish that goal, we had to try. Really. We did. So off we went. To kick off the conversation, I invited John Smid, former director of Love in Action to share his story — and talk about the ex-gay movement in general. When I tell people “ex-gay ministries don’t work,” I get a lot of blank stares. I’ve never been through an ex-gay ministry. So I can’t know it for myself — but John, a man who had a bird’s eye view of the entire movement for more than 20 years — was intimately familiar with it. He was also familiar with its collective mass failure.
We can change if we have enough faith. If we don’t change, we don’t have enough faith. Shame upon shame, and the cycle continues.
These ministries are staffed with people who lie to themselves and lie to those who go through them. For decades, they taught that “change was possible,” only to find out that it wasn’t. For those in the room, John’s story was an eye opener.
Once the full panel was introduced, we got underway. Boy, did it ever. Playing the “Talk Show Host” role, I had one of the hand-held microphones and offered to let the audience get their questions out. One man popped his hand up, so off I went. He introduced himself as pastor of some ministry in town, and frankly, I didn’t get his name. Anthony. Something. Or other.
Thankfully, the local paper live-blogged the event and quoted him.
“Man can not change a demon. Men that are homosexual have an unclean spirit. God sent me here to tell you this. You can’t get rid of it. There’s a spirit of deception and controlling.”
The Leaf-Chronicle’s writer, Tavia Green, very tactfully described what happened next:
The man was escorted out after he monopolized the microphone.
What actually happened was a little more… lively. After telling Smid that “he had a spirit,” he continued to preach his nonsense. I was about to say something, but I didn’t have to. Panelists Carlo Serrano (Xtreme Christian Fellowship) and John Renken (Freedom Church) both stood and told him he was out of order. He needed to be quiet and hand over the microphone.
Immediately, some rather large men asked him to hand it over, and he was escorted out of the room. The crowd was stunned at what happened, and visibly shocked when he began to “rebuke” people “in the name of Jesus.” Not that they were demonized — but that he was so obviously ignorant.
Immediately upon his departure, the crowd applauded and the real work began. It was as if everyone in the room made a conscious choice that the outburst of religious hate was NOT the way they wanted to go.
Serrano set the tone immediately.
People feel strong passionately about this. We don’t have the right to take a conversation and beat people up with words and hating people. The same judgement you are feeling in your heart from this guy, it’s birthed in the same place.
Charles Martin, pastor of Fellowship Methodist Church (yeah, that’s my church, and he’s my pastor), pointed out the conflict between most denominations and their own members who embrace LGBT members. Our church has several openly gay members, but what really brought him to the “welcoming” side of the spectrum was his own family.
I had a close family member to come out. When I told him to go to church he said, ‘Who will have me?” and it broke my heart. I began coming more intentional in how I show the love of Christ and welcome people into my congregation.”
Another great comment also came from the audience, a man who offered one of the “money” moments of the night:
Many say ‘homosexuality is a sin but we love you anyway.’ They are saying ‘we love you anyway even though we think you will burn in hell for your sin.’ That is incredibly insulting and inappropriate and I think it’s something the church will have to get beyond. I want people to know that there are a vast amount of Christians who do not believe homosexuality is a sin. It’s not every Christian who thinks so.”
His point is valid — not everyone believes that homosexuality is sin. An equally valid point is that the word “homosexuality” doesn’t mean the same thing. It’s a point that Seranno made:
“When I say homosexuality is a sin, I am saying the act is a sin. There is a huge communication difference.”
As the night went on, more questions were asked, and the questions got closer and closer to home. Do people even have real friendships with someone who is gay — or not? And most importantly, where do we go from here?
That, dear friends, is the real question. We have to keep talking. I’ve been saying for years that it’s important to have the conversation. Now that we’ve had one — it’s just the crack in a window, a spiderweb of dialogue, exchange, and ideas. How can we bring people together — that have long since been written off?
Those who were in attendance are nearly unanimous in that the evening was a success. I agree — it was a success. People have heard that gay people are normal people. We’ve heard that gay people are welcome at a few local churches to be who they are. We’ve heard that we want to work through these issues so that we can all be the body of Christ that we’re called to be.
Truthfully, I was moved to tears by the end of the night — knowing that this crazy experiment was not only a success, it helped all of us to begin what can only be a glimpse of what true reconciliation is all about.
Somewhere, somehow, an LGBT person heard that Jesus loves them, and they’re okay. The church they wrote off long ago isn’t what we saw last night. It’s the church made up of people that are truly written in the Lamb’s Book of Life — all walks, all creeds, and all personalities. The Holy Spirit was all over it, and the Spirit of Jesus was revealed time and time again.
It was, in a very real sense, a night filled with faith, hope, and love.
I could not have asked for more. But I do — let’s do it again. And soon.