OK, two disclaimers: first of all, I say “ended up at” as if the event is already in the past, when in fact it’s in the future — I want to talk about it before I do it. (Fair warning: I may feel the need to talk about it afterwards as well). To be specific, it’s a panel discussion called “OUT in Faith: A Discussion on LGBTQ+ People and Spirituality,” it’s sponsored by St. John’s Pride, and it’s being held Monday night, July 14, at the Rocket Room.
Second, you might want to dispute my claim that I’m the straightest woman in the world, and I’ll admit that I haven’t actually won a competition in this area (how interesting that would be, though!). However, I am an extremely heterosexual and extremely cisgendered person to be involved in any way, much less speaking at, a Pride Week event. (I’m also the whitest person you know and the most middle-class person you know, but since race and class are less relevant here I won’t continue to bore you with the million and one ways in which I am bland, boring and vanilla).
So, how I came to get involved in this, is that a person I greatly respect, Matt Caravan (who is a bona fide gay person and quite active in St. John’s Pride) asked myself and another person I greatly respect, Reverend Robert Cooke (an Anglican clergyman who is thoughtful and progressive about a lot of interesting issues) to help out with organizing and planning an event during Pride Week that would focus on LGBTQ+ people and spirituality. I was interested in participating because, as you probably know from my numerous previous blog posts on the subject, the question of how we church people relate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is an issue that I think we need to be having lots of conversations about, and here was an opportunity to have such a conversation.
I did not, at first, grasp that I had actually been asked to speak at this event. And when I did grasp that, my response was, well, what do I have to say that anyone wants/needs to hear? The voices that we need to be listening to are those of people within the LGBT community who have, in many cases, struggled to reconcile their sexuality and their spirituality. And I was interested to hear what Robert had to say, speaking from the perspective of a clergyperson who is affirming towards LGBT individuals. But me? This is a conversation where I need to be a listener, not a speaker.
But as it turns out I will be speaking — very briefly, like for 5 minutes — next Monday night, about my own journey as someone in a conservative Christian denomination and how I’ve moved through trying to be tolerant, to acceptance, to (trying to be) a more outspoken ally of LGBT people in our communities. I’ll talk a little bit about what I think conservative Christians, those of us whose churches have not rethought and are not likely (anytime soon) to re-think their stance on these issues, need to be doing in our encounters with LGBT people. And most of what I think we need to be doing is listening, which is why I’ll very quickly be stepping back from the microphone to make way for some more interesting speakers — people who will talk about their own challenges in reconciling (or not) their faith and their sexuality. Then things will open up to a general discussion in which anyone attending can join in and share their experiences, their thoughts, their questions. I hope it’s going to be a really interesting and challenging evening, from all possible perspectives.
So to get back to why I’m involved with it — like I said, I initially agreed because Matt and Robert are both people I have so much respect for, but also because this is an issue I feel more and more of a burden to speak out on. The few friends who’ve followed my blog closely for a long time know that this burden goes back several years — back to the first time I blogged about “coming out” as an ally of LGBT people, certainly back to before my friend Jamie died. In the last year, within my own denomination, I have been discouraged by events like the church’s Capetown conference on sexuality that excluded so many LGBT voices from the discussion, and the recent church guidelines on sexuality that many fear will make it easier for churches to disfellowship openly gay and lesbian members.
At the same time as our church leadership has been doing these discouraging things, I’ve been so encouraged by grassroots movements like the Seventh Gay Adventists movie, or the discussion held at my alma mater, Andrews University, with, not just about, LGBT students. And what all the encouraging moments have in common is that they involve being with people, listening to their stories, treating them as equals rather than as a problem to be solved.
I know that some people’s views about “traditional marriage” (problematic as that term is) are rooted not in ignorance and prejudice but in genuine theological beliefs related to how they interpret the Bible. And that’s not something that I’m going to change. I’m no theologian (though I can recommend some). I’ve long since decided that my role in this discussion is not to try to convince people to change their beliefs — I can’t do that. I just want to encourage people to listen to each other. And the “OUT in Faith” discussion seems like it will be a wonderful opportunity to do that.
So if you’re in the St. John’s area, and if you’re at all interested in issues around faith and LGBT people, I hope you’ll come out and listen to people talk about their experiences.