LTH was recently invited to offer one of our workshops during Queer Religion Week at a notable Ivy League school in New England. I will not name the particular school in this blog atmosphere out of respect for the LGBT+ Community that invited LTH to participate.
This invitation came via an evangelical student who has developed friendships within the LGBT+ Community at this university. This student found LTH at a large Christian concert festival in New England in summer 2006. I am pleased to share with you the outcome of this unique event.
LTH presented one of our workshops titled, Queer and Evangelical Christians: Two Voices, One Dialogue. There were about 40 attendees. With this particular workshop, we establish a panel of speakers who represent both sides of this issue. In the case of this event, two young gay men who are Christian sat on the panel representing those who believe that God celebrates same-sex relationships. I sat on the panel with them representing those who feel convicted that God does not condone such relationships.
This panel discussion is particularly designed to be a dialogue; not a debate. So many groups on both sides of this issue are interested in fiery debates; we felt led by the Holy Spirit that a dialogue is what is desperately needed on this issue.
The panelists on both sides are all allowed to respond to questions asked by a Moderator, who can then open the floor for questions from the audience. LTH always defers the Moderator role to the LGBT+ Community, and they are free to ask any questions of the panelists. The only guideline is that all panelists get an opportunity to respond to each question asked.
At this event, the Moderator was a leader in the largest queer group on campus. He did a superb job in asking questions and then moderating the dialogue with questions from the audience. Unlike previous invitations LTH has received to speak at universities, there were no protesters and there was no anger. The atmosphere was quite peaceful and welcoming.
Two queer Christian students shared their personal stories of how they came to accept and celebrate their gay – and Christian – identity. I then shared my story of accepting my gay identity and how Christ led me to surrender my whole heart – including that part of my life – at the Cross. Our stories had many experiences and emotions and themes in common; the only real difference was our conviction about what God’s Word says about same-sex relationships.
Following our stories, the Moderator asked some typical questions of the three of us. The program was then opened up for general Q&A. The entire evening was blessed by the Lord. In order to honor the LGBT+ Community and respect their privacy, I do not want to go into much detail about what others shared. Instead, I thought I would share several Biblical Principals that came to life through this event:
ONE, someone must go to those on the other side if they’re ever to hear the fullness of the Gospel (Romans 10). They have their own churches, their own pastors and their own theologians. They won’t come to our churches – they think they would hear judgment and condemnation. Someone must go to them to prove that evangelicals in particular do not judge them or hate them.
TWO, we are called to be “peacemakers” and “ambassadors of Christ” exhibiting what the Apostle Paul described as, God’s kindness that leads you to repentance” (Romans 2). The atmosphere at this event was notably calm. There were no protesters, no accusations and no anger. This opened the door for genuine dialogue in which both sides listened to what the other was saying. Only in this atmosphere was the door opened for the full Gospel to be shared. And indeed, it was shared in a number of different ways throughout the evening.
THREE, we not to judge others or else the judgment we pour upon others will be measured onto us (Matthew 7). As James puts it, mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2). When we humble ourselves in admitting our own weaknesses and extend Christ’s merciful invitation to others without pointing out their failings, it frees others to understand the love Christ is offering them.
After the event, the Moderator said to me, Bill, I can’t thank you and your wife enough for coming here tonight. We reviewed your website and everything looked fine but honestly we did not know what we would get from a ministry like yours. We were actually quite nervous about how tonight would go. But you all were so personal and vulnerable and so honest about your life. We simply didn’t think tonight would work out as well as it did.
FOUR, we are called to passionately pursue and patiently wait upon prodigals to come home while investing in byways and secret passageways back to the heart of Christ (Luke 15).
The famed author Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal Son powerfully writes, “The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations…of the world.” (Page 46-47)
In a culture with so many loud voices – If it feels good do it on one side and You’re going to hell on the other – it is rare that people are able to hear the still, small voice of God. Thus, we minister pathways toward the heart of Christ when we illumine the quiet, soft, loving voice of the Prodigal Father. Only then can prodigals hear and taste the goodness of that place where God dwells…only then might they consider coming home.
After the event, we hugged the Moderator, his boyfriend, and the two other queer panelists. We talked to one of them in particular for over 30 minutes about his life. We loved this young man and were grateful for the trust that he placed in us by sharing with us more about his personal story. It was very touching to hear about his life. It was particularly important for me to see that we had crossed a boundary where evangelicals are highly distrusted – and we planted seeds of Christian love with these two young men and others at the workshop.
This is the love of the Prodigal Father. The same love that my parents freely offered me as I embarked on my own prodigal journey through homosexuality many years ago: a love that gave me space to discern, consider, resist and ultimately surrender to the place God was calling me…the Cross. And yet it is the same love in which Christ smiled and “loved” the rich young ruler as he turned and walked away from Jesus. We can learn how to engage others by watching how Jesus engaged people he encountered – as well as how He has encountered us!
FIVE, in the midst of grace God can bring truth to the surface in unexpected ways. This audience was very diverse – Jewish, Christians, Atheists and Agnostics. Some of the best moments of the evening came when unbelievers asked their questions. We saw this happen in ways that I will not disclose in this blog; but I will say that it was a blessing to witness how God can work in ways that we simply cannot. This should not be surprising since HE loves ALL His children…
This event more than any other LTH has been part of brings to life the vision God gave me for this ministry – to be fishers of men. Beyond the Culture War, Christ is Calling…Fish On The Other Side.
A SPECIAL NOTE TO OUR LGBT+ FRIENDS
If you are a leader in your LGBT+ Community, I hope this article demonstrates that our ministry can represent the Gospel in a manner of love and respect that most in the gay community have never encountered. We would be honored to bring to your community our workshop Queer and Evangelical Christians: Two Voices, One Dialogue.
At the LTH website, we have a special message to our LGBT+ friends that further explains what LTH does and does not do; as well as a full disclosure of why we exist. This would be valuable to read. We make two promises: (a) we will not judge anyone in the LGBT+ Community; and (b) we will never come into your community without an invitation. Further, you will never find LTH engaged in political or Culture War activities.
We invite all visitors to check out the Gospel for more information about the invitations Christ is extending to you (you are not excluded). We also like to report back to the evangelical community stories of individuals who have been hurt by the church or homophobia. We would love to hear Your Story. We will keep your identity anonymous – yet your story is very important in allowing the church to grow in how it responds to the issue of homosexuality.