Believers in Exile

Kansas City was represented in January at the world’s largest gathering of LGBT Christians. The Gay Christian Network Conference was held Jan. 8-11 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. People whose faith was aborted, believers in exile, concerned parents, inquiring pastors, and the infamous Westboro Church protesters were among the 1,500 attendees.

I heard stories of rejection from gay men and women who had been followers of Jesus until “good Christians” declared that it was impossible to be Christians if they were gay.

“I’m not ready to accept organized religion of Jesus again. Those people really did a number on me.” That man’s faith was aborted. He was through with God.

A Kansas City native expressed a different reaction. “I left the church, but I refused to leave my faith.”

Others shared similar experiences. They were not only unwelcome at their church, but were asked not to return until they stopped being gay. They were outcasts, exiled from their church and often their families, too. They became believers in exile.

Fortunately, many joined with members of the LGBT community who had found ways to reconcile their sexuality with their faith. Some even found affirming churches.

The conference was an opportunity for all “to meet together and focus on Jesus Christ, who unites us in his perfect love,” regardless of our religious background. Participants came from 48 states and 14 foreign countries, a 55 percent increase in attendance over the 2014 conference. Most of the foreign guests came to the United States just for this event. They came to be encouraged and to learn how to better minister to others in the LGBT community. The voices of the marginalized are being heard. Every denomination is being forced to listen.

Speakers and workshop leaders shared the pain of hiding their sexuality. Jeff Chu, an award-winning journalist, personalized his experience of being gay in a traditional Christian Chinese home. His book Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America is his account of being rejected by those he loved.

Vicky Beeching, a London-based media personality and gospel recording artist, shared her struggle with being “so right for the church” until she revealed she is a lesbian in 2014. Hiding her true sexual identity took a physical toll, resulting in a complete breakdown. When she began to speak on same-gender issues, her financial security was endangered. Christian media and churches began to boycott her music. She challenged us to tell our stories so that others will be willing to share. “It’s time to let the world know just how big our number is.”

The Rev. Danny Cortez became a celebrity ally when, at the 2014 convention, he addressed the attendees and apologized for what he and other pastors had done to us. Several months later, he and his church were dismissed from the Southern Baptist denomination for supporting and loving us. His congregation in Los Angeles is now gay-affirming.

God’s sensitivity to LGBT issues was apparent on Saturday morning during the conference. The Westboro protesters stood outside the convention center in a rain shower, attempting to disrupt those arriving for the morning session. Instead, they faced a “wall of love” created by Christians from Portland-area churches who came to stand in solidarity with us and to serve as a barrier separating them from us and escorting us safely to the main doors. When a beautiful rainbow appeared over the convention center, the protesters moved to the sports arena.

I’d like to hear your story. You can reach me at marvinbaker1925@gmail.com.

Marvin Baker is the moderator for LET’S TALK, sponsored by Gay Christian Fellowship.

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