Hundreds of LGBT Christians gathered last weekend in Portland, Ore., for the Gay Christian Network’s largest annual conference to date. Conference guests tweeted about the experience using the hashtag #GCNConf.
Gay Christian Network is an organization that is inclusive of both “Side A” Christians, who favor marriage equality, and “Side B” Christians, who believe that gay Christians are called to live celibate lives. GCN executive director Justin Lee says the conference’s growth to 1,400 guests represented “a huge leap forward for us.” (Besides more than 1,000 guests, the event also drew the attention of Westboro Baptist Church and counterprotesters.)
Lee attributes the growth to word of mouth and GCN gaining a reputation as a safe space for people to “dip their toes in the water.”
For instance, an LGBT person might bring a conservative parent or pastor — someone who wouldn’t be comfortable at an LGBT political conference — to the GCN gathering. From there, the minister or parent’s views on LGBT people might evolve, Lee says, but there isn’t a requirement to agree before being welcomed into the community. Instead, the network supports a dialogue between the sides.
The idea of reaching out to and working with people with different views is also at the root of a new initiative announced during the conference: the Live Love Out initiative. Lee says the initiative will involve meeting with and reaching out to folks from “across the spectrum,” from people who aren’t religious to people who aren’t LGBT-friendly. The goal is to find common ground in addressing issues that affect LGBT people.
“The idea is that Christians are supposed to be known for their love,” Lee says. “We’re starting this campaign to encourage Christians everywhere to not only love but to live that love out by doing practical, measurable things to support the LGBT community. That means making real progress on issues like LGBT youth homelessness … and the state of the world for LGBT people in places like Uganda. There are a lot of real issues.”
Among the conference’s speakers was Christian musician Vicky Beeching, who came out in 2013. Beeching recounted her experience as a lonely child “hanging out with God” on the playground, then as a 13-year-old “kneeling on her bedroom carpet, sobbing and sobbing” as she grappled with a “growing awareness that was my interest wasn’t in boys but in girls.”
Many of the LGBT Christians who spoke to Portland's Oregonian newspaper about their identities also struggled to reconcile their faith and their sexuality. Here are excerpts from some of their remarks rounded up in the item, “LGBT Christians aren't 'oxymorons,' they say. 'We exist.'”
I love being a living contradiction. It's a merger of two things that are part of you. Coming out gay as a Christian turns a lot of things you thought on their head.
God loves me and accepts me as who I am. I can be saved by the Lord and still be transgender.
Being a bisexual Christian means I have to be careful in both the LGBT community and Christian community.
You can view videos from the conference at GCNConf.com.