My name is James Farlow, and I attended my 6th Gay Christian Network conference in Houston. It’s a pilgrimage my wife Rebecca and I make every year.
Why do we go? We’re not gay, bi, or trans; just a straight cis married couple. We’re also evangelical Christians, which makes many people think that this is the last place we should be.
We first visited in 2008 in Washington D.C. In a room of about 150 people, they asked all the straight people to stand up. There was us, Kathy Baldock, and a couple of parents. I confess I had never been around that many LGBT people in one room, and I was unsure about what to expect. All my evangelical training had taught me that gay people were the enemy, a threat, people to be wary of. I had stopped believing that years before; but changing your mind doesn’t change years of mental conditioning.
So what happened? Why do we continue to go, and more importantly, why should a Christian evangelical, consider going as well?
Here are 4 things we find at the GCN conference.
That first night many years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. But once everybody started singing, I knew where I was. I was among the community of God. LGBT Christians have had to fight for their faith; they’ve lost family and community in the process. They wouldn’t be here unless they wanted to be. And so when they sing, they sing loud. They sing passionately. The words in prayer, in song, and benedictions matter, and they sing both with delight and purpose.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8y7lMpawvdc&feature=youtu.beRebecca has led musical worship at 3 conferences, and it’s still her favorite place to sing. The spirit of God is present.
GCN gets some of the best speakers around. Want to hear an epic journey of about faith, hardship, pain, and grace? Check out Jeff Chu’s testimony. Want to hear a pastor who risked everything, including his livelihood, to follow Christ and love his family? Listen to Danny Cortez’s impassioned plea for grace. Want to hear a conservative evangelical Christian call for a change in how traditional communities relate to the LGBT community? Check out Misty Iron’s talk from just this morning.
Of course it’s not just the keynotes. There are wonderful breakout sessions everyday featuring speakers such as Ken Wilson, Matthew Vines, Emmy Kegler , and many, many, more.
- A Safe Place to Ask Questions: People at the GCN conference emphasize being kind and listening. There’s a place to share your story and listen to others. From the beginning, GCN has modeled civil disagreement. There’s space for side A believers, those who believe in monogamous same-sex marriage, and side B believers, those who believe that celibacy is the faithful option. It’s not always easy, of course, but it does work. Whether you’re a pastor, a parent, an LGBT person, or just curious, there’s a place for you to connect and grow.
- Community: Rebecca and I have made friendships with amazing people from all over the world. Every year we say hello to old friends and make brand new ones. We’re family, and there’s no family like GCN family. It’s hard to really even describe, or believe, until you’ve been yourself. The best way to describe it is joy; people here come uncertain of what to expect, but then they leave with a new community of love that crosses time and and space. We go out to dinner, hang out late at night, cry together, confess together, hurt together.
Every year, more and more people recover their faith in Christ at GCN. When I ask Pat Evert, a GCN veteran and parent of LGBT kids, why he keeps coming back, he said
To learn the love of God. I learn it here better than anywhere else.
If you’re a pastor, a family member, or just a regular churchgoer who wants to have a powerful experience with God, heed the words of my friend Danny Cortez:
My wife and I needed support in learning how to parent a gay child. We learned that we didn’t have to be afraid. There were people here who were going through it, and flourishing, and that we didn’t have to be alone.
Another conference has come and gone. But next year, for the first time, GCN will be in Pittsburgh. It’s worth your time to come check it out, no matter who you are. I’ll be in the lobby waiting, along with all my friends.
GCN is what inspired us to start Sanctuary, where we and others gather to make safe space for all to worship. To find out more, head over to http://www.sanctuaryforall.org