Photo © Daniel Rarela / Dr. J Photography
On January 10, Westboro Baptist Church protested the 11th annual Gay Christian Network Conference in Portland. The protestors were met with a “Wall of Love” from local clergy members and churchgoers who sang Christian songs to block out the hate speech. The conference Together at the Table, took place from Jan 8 to 11, and brought in more than 1400 attendees from 46 states and 14 countries.
“I’ve been a longtime supporter of gay rights and gay marriage. Our folks are leading the wall of love and I wanted to be here to support everyone in attendance at the Gay Christian Network Conference,” Walter John Borris the conference minister for the central pacific conference of the United Church of Christ told The Advocate. “I also wanted to support our local folks who are standing in witness of God’s love for all people.”
In 2013, only 500 people attended the conference, but in 2014, attendance grew to more than 700. The Gay Christian Network (GCN) is an organization that connects LGBT Christians and allies. GCN has approximately 20,000 members worldwide from all denominations and theological perspectives. This one-of-a-kind conference hosts “Side A” and “Side B” Christians; Side A theologically affirms same-sex relationships while Side B theologically opposes same-sex relationships.
“Never before have I seen so many parents, pastors, and LGBT Christians from such wildly divergent backgrounds come together for mutual support and understanding,” Justin Lee Executive Director of the GCN told The Advocate. “There are very few places an LGBT kid could feel comfortable bringing their conservative Christian parents and know they'll hear messages of love and affirmation spoken in their own language. I'm so proud we can help provide that environment, and that we can use it to change lives and motivate Christians to also address larger problems like LGBT youth homelessness and global religion-based bigotry.
On Thursday, author Jeff Chu opened the conference by giving a moving speech on vulnerability as a key to an inclusive church community. Other keynote speakers included Southern Baptist Pastor Danilo Cortez, who was dismissed last year from the Southern Baptist Convention when he announced he was theologically affirming; and Christian songwriter and theologian Vicky Beeching who came out as a lesbian in August of 2013. The closing keynote will be given by executive director of GCN, Justin Lee.
GCN announced a new initiative called Live Love Out which is meant to work with both LGBT organizations and non-affirming churches, organizations to do collaborative work on epidemics like LGBT youth homelessness.
Watch the keynote speeches here.