Exploring Faith, Sexuality and Safe Spaces Through Film and Art
You might not expect a lesbian and a straight woman who graduated from the largest evangelical seminary in the world to be a leading force pushing to create safe space for LGBT people in Christian faith communities.
But that's exactly what Chelsea McIntruff and Samantha Curley hope to do with Level Ground, a nonprofit working to create safe space for dialogue about Christianity, gender, and sexuality through the arts and fesitval programming.
McIntruff, a lesbian, and Curley, who is straight, are both graduates of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. Before the women graduated, they made Christian evangelical history, establishing the first officially sanctioned LGBT student group at any seminary in the world with One Table.
One Table made news — and ruffled some evangelical feathers — while engaging Fuller's student body on issues concerning faith and sexuality. The group hosted monthly events focusing on various topics surrounding faith and sexuality. One such event saw the group host a screening of Love Free or Die, a documentary by now-retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
With the success of One Table, McIntruff and Curley felt called to continue promoting healthy dialogue between two groups often set in opposition to one another. That's where the idea for Level Ground was born.
Level Ground bills itself as a nonprofit organization that works to foster dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality through the arts and festival programming. While the organization hosts events year-round, the Level Ground Film Festival — which is currently seeking submissions for this year's festival — is the only event of its kind that specifically focuses on the intersections of Judeo-Christian faith, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
"There are few places for healthy, human conversation about the things that matter to us most deeply," Curley tells The Advocate. "Our churches, our families, and ourselves are being broken in the crossfire. Level Ground is working to create a more peaceful and redemptive conversation. A conversation that can bring us back together. A conversation that puts people before ideology. And because we believe this kind of dialogue is in art, we are using art to create it."
Now in its third year, the festival has proven to be a unique endeavor, bringing together eclectic individuals and showcasing stories from numerous Christian denominations and theological convictions. In years past, the film and arts festival has featured stories of celibate individuals and same-sex couples alike.
Organizers hope that what would normally be a hostile environment can be transformed into a space for education and understanding. While tensions may well arise over the course of the festival, participants come together and interact while respecting one another's beliefs.
"We believe this kind of space is integral for transforming how we see each other and create a world of peace and civility together," Level Ground's website states. "Level Ground works with artists and communities, curating art that tells stories and fosters reconcilation."
While its approach is somewhat novel, Level Ground is actually part of a growing trend of artists profiling the experiences of LGBT individuals in religious spaces. While some seek to build upon that safe space Level Ground seeks to establish, others point out the blatant homophobia often found in conservative denominations and "justified" by religious conviction.
Seventh-Gay Adventists: A film about Faith in the Margins, tells the story of three couples in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, documenting their struggles as they reconcile their faith and sexuality. God Loves Uganda exposes the imported homophobia from western evangelical leaders to Uganda, heavily influencing the passage of legislation that was initially known as the "Kill the Gays" bill. Kidnapped for Christ shines light on the terrifying and abusive Christian rehabilitation centers to which supposedly "troubled teens" are sent in the Dominican Republic. All three documentaries previously screened at Level Ground's annual film festival. And more films like these are being made every day.
The Level Ground team has been on the road since May, when it launched its new traveling Road Show in Portland, next planning to visit Toronto and Chicago in September, then concluding the tour in New York beginning November 14.
"We are working with the Collegiate Chruches of New York, Believe Out Loud, GLAAD, and faith leaders and artists from across New York City to bring together a diverse audience to engage in a public conversation about faith, gender, and sexuality," Curley tells The Advocate.