It was a joy to participate in the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference, along with other Christian Feminism Today (CFT) members: Marg Herder, Criselda Marquez, Susan Cottrell, Deborah Jian Lee, Erica Lea, and Catherine Stremlau. Staffing the CFT table in the exhibit hall with Marg Herder, CFT’s Director of Public Information, was, for me, the best part of the conference. I came to a deeper appreciation of CFT by listening to Marg give the many people who came by our table a concise history of our groundbreaking organization, one that has been doing transformative work for 40 years, and I was impressed by her ability, at the same time, to make healing connections with so many people.
As I listened to people’s stories, my heart ached over the pain they have suffered from denunciation and rejection by church and family, and I felt inspired by their courage in claiming who they’re created to be and working to liberate their churches from homophobia and unjust, unloving actions.
One young man talked about his parents’ reactions when he came out several months ago. His mother calls him demon-possessed and his father refuses even to talk to him. He has loved his conservative church, especially singing in the choir; this church has been his life. Since he has been out, he is no longer allowed to sing in the choir or even to hold membership in the church. He can attend, but no longer as a member. He continues to attend, trying to change their hearts.
One young woman told her story of coming out several years ago and trying to stay connected with her parents and church family, even though she hears over and over that her relationship with her partner is “sinful” and that they’re praying she will “repent.”
At the GCN Conference, this young man and woman, along with hundreds of others, find full acceptance and affirmation just as they are. And I, also, find acceptance just as I am. At this conference, it’s good for me to experience being a minority, just as when I participate in worship services and other meetings where people of color predominate. Privileged in all ways except my gender, it’s good to feel what it’s like to be the “other.” And it’s good to learn from those in the majority at these meetings. People at the Gay Christian Network Conference, just as in meetings where people of color predominate, make me feel welcomed, affirmed, and completely accepted. When I introduce myself, they smile and shake my hand, and some hug me. No one asks me if I’m LGBTQ or straight. It doesn’t seem to matter to them what my sexual orientation is or if I’m married or single. No one asks me when I first knew I was straight or if I’m sure I’m straight or if I’ve prayed hard enough to change from being straight. They accept me just as I am without any questions.
I find myself longing for all faith communities and all groups to accept and celebrate LBGTQ people just as they are, without any questions. I long for all churches to welcome and affirm all people, period. No questions asked. I long for all churches to give equal value to all people because we’re all created in the divine image. Why can’t all Christians follow Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)?
Some other questions bubble up for me as I attend plenary sessions and worship services at the GCN Conference. I have the question that I often have in meetings where people of color predominate: Why don’t all oppressed groups work together to end injustice? Why don’t oppressed people feel empathy for other oppressed people and work together? Why don’t women, LGBTQ people, racial minorities, economically disadvantaged, and other oppressed groups work together to bring justice for all? How can one oppressed group oppress another? How can some African American churches deny ordination to women and deny them opportunities to serve as pastors? How can the Gay Christian Network use exclusively male language, beginning with the name of the organization, called “Gay Christian Network” instead of “LGBTQ Christian Network”? And the God worshiped at this conference is most often exclusively male. Hymns, prayers, and responsive readings projected on large screens name God as “He,” “Him,” “Father,” “Lord,” “King.” There are women keynote speakers, workshop leaders, and a few worship leaders, but not an equal number.
My friend Marg tells me that things have improved over the past few years, as she and others have advocated for more women speakers. But we both lament that the Gay Christian Network has never invited Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott to speak at a conference, even though they had the courage and compassion to make personal and professional sacrifices to write one of the first books by Christians advocating for LBGTQ people. First published in 1978, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? gives biblical support for the full affirmation and acceptance of LBGTQ people. Books since then that have made the same points are celebrated at the Gay Christian Network Conference, and their authors speak and sign books. We wonder if Letha and Virginia are overlooked because they’re women.
Maybe women contribute to erasing women by calling everyone “you guys.” At the pre-conference weconnect Women’s Retreat, I feel perplexed and dismayed to hear some women speakers refer to the group of entirely women as “you guys.” (I’ve written about this previously.) But I smile to hear Marg call God “She” in her moving presentation and to hear several other speakers use female divine imagery. And it is delightful to gather in circles to share our stories.
This retreat is, indeed, a time of connection, focused on building relationships. But, like at the Parliament of the World’s Religions that had a pre-conference Women’s Assembly before the “main” conference, this pre-conference Women’s Retreat at the GCN Conference before the “main” conference also feels marginalized. It reminds me of years ago when I attended Southern Baptist conventions, where Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and, later, Southern Baptist Women in Ministry (SBWIM) held meetings before the “main” convention. When will women and the Female Divine be the main event? Or better still, when will women and the Female Divine and people of all races and sexual orientations be fully and equally represented in the main event?
My dream is that we will join together to create gatherings, faith communities, and a world where the wide, wild, beautiful diversity of the Divine Image is fully welcomed and celebrated.
Originally published in Christian Feminism Today. Reposted with permission.