Original post on October 14, 2021 at “Continuing the Conversation”
In another life, an anxious teenager dreamt of sneaking away to a certain “ex-gay” conference in a far away state.
But what if someone recognizes me?
What if a protester takes my picture and publishes it online?
How does a 15-year-old get from central Illinois to Florida for the weekend with no money, ID, or parental permission anyway?
I never did get the logistics straightened out.
Now, naive as I was at the time, I wasn’t quite that dumb.
Far from thinking I could make my dream a reality, it was the simple idea of a safe space with people “like me” I found comfort in.
Despite being a cradle churchgoer, baptized into Christ at age 11, the reconciliation of my faith and sexuality was a desert wasteland I travailed alone (apart from a magnificent counselor, also same-sex attracted, to whom I bore my soul once a month).
Fast forward over a decade. So much has changed.
The scared teenager who once “struggled” with his sexuality is now a 26-year-old who owns it.
The precarious “ex-gay” promise has collapsed before the biblical call to present my body, my soul, my sexuality–my everything–as a living sacrifice on God’s altar.
Yes, walking into the conference, I was anxious. But this was the normal kind of anxiety that comes when you’re doing a new thing by yourself for the first time.
In fact, that’s the only thing that hasn’t changed: I’m here alone.
Or so I thought.
I saw the message on my Facebook wall, “[X] is there [at the conference]!”
Wait…what? He’s here? I know someone here? Is he gay? He’s gay?? I had no clue!
You see, the way the church talks about sexuality (or doesn’t) forces queer people deeper into silence, deeper into hiding, deeper into shame, and finally right out the doors of the church into the open arms of the world.
As Grant Hartley so eloquently tweeted, “Some will tell you to ‘live above reproach’ when what they mean is to tell you to live below detection, below acknowledgment—*below* reproach. In other words, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down; your voice, your existence itself is the scandal.”
How many of us know the drill?
Stand up straight.
Don’t walk like that.
Watch your hips.
Watch your arms.
Watch your wrists.
Lower your voice.
Don’t cross your legs.
Okay, cross them, but not like that.
Nothing too tight.
Catch the ball.
Now throw it back.
You throw like a girl.
You didn’t watch the game?
You listen to who?
Fueled by the will to survive, we transform ourselves into masters of disguise.
We try and we try and we hustle and we work to play their game only to realize it was rigged the entire time.
If you don’t conform, they put you to death.
If you do conform, you’re the walking dead.
Heads they win.
Tales you lose.
I see Revoice asking different questions, signalling a different way.
What if Christian discernment means perceiving the church as a lush garden, bursting with colors and variety, not a row of identical star shaped cookies lined up on a baking sheet?
What if forcing queer men and women to reflect an imagined stereotype of their straight brothers and sisters actually works against them reflecting the image of God?
What if the Holy Spirit is as pleased to dwell in the temple of a man in a floral button down, sporting manicured nails, as one wearing a baseball cap and Levi jeans (and what if I told you both were gay)?
The truth is that much of the time I can pass as straight (my unremarkable Amish-inspired black wardrobe would never give me away, at least).
But I’m not looking to “pass” as anything. I am looking to exist as I am.
What I saw at Revoice was a couple hundred LGBTQ Christians committed to faithfully following Jesus without committing the old Galatian-inspired heresy of trying to become straight afterward, in appearance or orientation.
This creates an atmosphere where queer-oriented Christians can focus on what really matters–holiness, discipleship, and mission–without worrying about the myriad of things that don’t.
How often did my notepad lay blank in my lap and my pen unmoved in my hand as I sat in rapt attention listening to someone from the platform speak thoughts I thought no one else had had about battles I assumed belonged to me alone.
At Revoice, I realized that while I may have been isolated, I was never alone.
There were always fellow sojourners travailing the wasteland with me, carrying a similar burden, seeking to refrain from sexual activity which dishonors God and chasing after the glory of His name, even when doing so created a disjunction at the deepest levels of what we felt and believed.
Seven of those travellers went from strangers to friends to brothers in the span of two days.
“[T]hough I have had a lot of great community”, one of these new brothers (age 23) wrote in our group chat, “I felt seen and heard this weekend in a way my soul desperately needed.”
And another, “I am so grateful that I can say that you are the first group of guys that I have shared with and felt completely understood. I have had good people listen well, but not with the understanding you guys had. But if I am being honest, it’s also painful to realize that I’m 25 and haven’t had this privilege of being well understood before.” (Quotes shared with permission)
For too many of us, Revoice was the first place in our young adult lives where we could be seen, heard, and hear from people who got us–a coming home.
That has to change. We have to do better. Our families must do better. The local church must do better.
No group of people is going to agree on everything and I didn’t agree with every single thing I heard at the Revoice Conference.
All I know is that precisely when the eyes of my faith were growing dim, I showed up at Revoice and my vision was restored to see just how possible it is for me to live a life that honors God, Christ, and the Scriptures, exactly as I am, queer and all.
May our tribe increase.