Love Is An Action: Chicago Pride

Fun Fact and Disclaimer:
The first draft of this post was written on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Grand Rapids. In some ways, the following post is a continuation of two posts that I wrote five years ago, which were also drafted on an Amtrak train departing out of Chicago. Read Part One and Part Two here.

I recognize that there are some things I wrote within those two posts that I would probably say differently if I were writing them today, but that’s because I, like I imagine most of you, have had several experiences since then which have challenged and informed my thinking.

This past weekend, I attended Chicago’s Pride Parade with my partner, Joe. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands gathered in Boystown, Chicago to celebrate. The atmosphere was full of excitement given the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.

I have thought about and come this close to attending Chicago’s Pride Parade for each of the last 5 years. In 2010, The Marin Foundation launched their “I’m Sorry Campaign,” apologizing to the LGBT community for the ways Christians have dehumanized, disrespected, and hurt sexual and gender minorities.

My journey to reconcile what it means to follow Jesus as a man with a  gay sexual orientation has taken years of conversations, prayer, and study. The work of The Marin Foundation and the book Love Is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin, made a large impact on me. No other book besides Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill has made a greater impact in how I am able to process what it means for me to identify as a gay Christian within a traditional Christian context.

Just weeks after I finished reading Andrew Marin’s book, this blog post went viral and the “I’m Sorry Campaign” was born.

Over the years, I have had off-and-on contact with The Marin Foundation and even road-tripped to Chicago once to attend one of their “Living In The Tension” gatherings. I greatly appreciate the ways that they try to bridge the gap between conservative churches and the LGBT community so that relationships can be formed and healthy dialogue can occur. Christians and LGBT folks frequently speak past one another, making sweeping generalizations about each other which sends dialogue down the drain. The Marin Foundation has made it their mission to “elevate the conversation” so that these two groups of people can move from talking past one another to talking with one another.

The “I’m Sorry Campaign” is a way that The Marin Foundation has sought to publicly elevate the conversation by doing something that is sorely needed, apologizing to the LGBT community on behalf of the church.

As someone who personally sits at the intersection of the LGBT and conservative Christian communities, I have felt for a long time that I can help build bridges between the two. So this year, I finally made plans and followed through with participating in the “I’m Sorry Campaign” at Chicago’s Pride Parade.

In stark contrast to the electric mood at Pride, there was a very different atmosphere I started to sense from my celibate gay Christian friends: a sense of exhaustion.

Many of them shared with me how this past weekend was a muddled mess of emotions. They recognize that marriage equality is a significant step towards securing civil rights for a minority group with whom they identify, and they see their gay friends celebrating. But they also see their conservative Christian friends, family members, and clergy lamenting the state of our nation; saying particularly hurtful things about “the gays” in their false assumptions, ignorance, and fear of persecution. As a result, they are caught in a state of emotional whiplash, not sure who could truly understand what they are feeling. This culture war exhaustion comes along every couple of months, when the conversation about how the church engages with LGBT folks bubbles over and takes over social media. I simply have to say the words, “World Vision” or “Chick-Fil-A,” and I can watch how my friends cringe while they have flashbacks to past battles of the culture war. My friends still have scars from where they took shots from both sides.

When I saw news of the SCOTUS ruling on Facebook Friday morning, I knew that we were entering another solid week of social media being an emotional and exhausting place to be due to the reactions we would have to read from our Christian friends.

Plenty of virtual ink has already been spilled in talking about how Christians who hold a traditional sexual ethic should respond to the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. I’m not interested in “adding to the noise,” other than to say please read this post. Grant is a new friend of mine who captures the spirit of what I would say to conservative Christians.

So, what was it like to participate in the “I’m Sorry Campaign” along the parade route?

I did the following:

  • Shouted “I love you!” quite a lot to passersby who read our sign as they marched/danced/drove past us.
  • Gave out an infinite number of high-fives to people with looks of pure joy on their faces.
  • Offered hugs to anyone who wanted one.
  • Received hugs from people wanting to thank us for what we were doing.
  • Smiled, clapped, and cheered with my brothers and sisters who were celebrating marriage equality and the freedom they felt by being able to take off their masks and be themselves.

I'm Sorry Campaign 2015

How did it feel to attend Pride and participate in this unique way?

Emotionally, being at Pride was a joyous experience. Celebration and hugs and happiness are contagious, so it was definitely a boost just being down there. Physically, it was a long day of standing in one place, so I needed a nap afterwards. As an introvert, it took a lot of energy to cheer, hug, clap, and interact with people I did not know. I prefer having deep and meaningful interactions with those with whom I have already established relationships. Almost every interaction during the parade was the exact opposite of that, so for more than 24 hours after the parade finished, I needed quality time with people who mean a lot to me in order to replenish my relational energy.

Taking all of these things together, I can attest to having had a beautiful experience demonstrating love towards those attending Pride. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It meant a lot to me to share this experience with Joe. We’ve been building our committed partnership with one another for almost a year now. It’s been quite a journey of learning to accept ourselves rather than live in constant shame because of our orientation. The two of us are both living openly and honestly within our faith communities and have experienced  how freeing it is to not have to live a double life or try to live up to the expectations placed on us by others. From this place of self-acceptance, I felt free to stand in the space between the two worlds of my Christian faith and my sexual orientation, professing God’s love for everyone who passed by and sharing more hugs than I could ever have imagined.

“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” – Billy Graham

Pleasant Surprises

For about a year, I’ve wanted to add a little more texture to the story I started telling here. This post is my attempt at expressing the ways I have been surprised by God’s grace in my life as a celibate gay Christian.

I’ve been committed to celibacy now for coming up on 5 years. It was a decision I made for myself shortly after coming to terms with my sexuality and reconciling it with my faith tradition.

For me, celibacy has never meant denying myself of relationships. Reading the writings of Wesley Hill, Julie Rodgers, and other contributors of Spiritual Friendship, I started making intentional efforts to have a life full of meaningful and deep friendships.

I’ve been blessed to build honest, vulnerable, sometimes-messy, and often-beautiful friendships here in West Michigan. These have been the sorts of relationships that have kept me sane while I transitioned to being “out” in the public sense a year and a half ago. My friendships have taught me what hospitality actually looks like. You know, the kind of hospitality where it doesn’t matter if you’ve got laundry sitting out on the sofa or kids needing a time-out. It’s the sort of hospitality that says, “Don’t bother knocking. You’re family.”

Besides these great friends locally, another blessing from God came in the form of an online community. After I went to the Gay Christian Network Conference in 2014, I became a part of a truly unique Internet group for Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted and are seeking to live out their life through the lens of a tradition sexual ethic. Building friendships within this group has been truly life-giving. There’s something comforting about being among people who understand what it means to be the same kind of different as you. Within our online family, we have build actual friendships. We support each other, pray for one another, disagree with each other at times, celebrate with one another, and weep with one another. Over the last year, I’ve had a handful of friends from this community come stay at my home here in Michigan, and I’ve visited some of them, too. This community has truly been a wonderful thing.

We had a retreat last summer in the mountains of Virginia. It was a beautiful weekend where people from all over the US and Canada came together to get to know one another deeper and take off their “masks” for a few days. My friend Gabriel at Mudblood Catholic wrote about his experience at the retreat. He describes what it was like better than I ever could.

After I got home from the retreat last summer, I found myself on the receiving end of another unexpected gift. I was going about building deeper friendships within this community when I realized that I was being drawn into a different sort of relationship altogether with one of my friends. After a lot of prayer and talking with some close friends, I entered into a committed celibate partnership with Joe.

While I have friends who are in similar relationships with their partners, it was not something I was expecting, pursuing, or even asking God for when He surprised me with this gift. I have been surprised over and over again by how God is teaching me about intimacy and vulnerability within the context of this new relationship. Joe and I have been together now for 7 months, though we’re still separated by many miles. He lives down in Austin, Texas, and I’m finishing up grad school in the freshly thawed state of Michigan. We have every intention of closing the distance between us at some point so we can combine our lives together in a single home, as a family, serving together and showing hospitality in whatever ways we can. We’ve been praying to discern how God is leading us into our future together, and we ask that any of you who love and care for us would also pray that we would listen to God as he directs our next steps.

Jesus Died for Bryan Fischer: How I Learned to Let Go of Anger

This past weekend, I attended the Gay Christian Network Conference. In its 10th Annual Conference, held in Chicago this year, roughly 700 folks attended the 4-day event. I have a suspicion I’ll be processing my experience at the GCN Conference for quite some time to come.

Rachel and I

On Saturday morning of the Conference, Rachel Held Evans spoke in the morning session. Her talk, titled “What’s So Annoying About Grace?” was certainly something I needed to hear. Rachel challenged us all with remembering that God’s table is open to all who trust in Him. This was a message that so many of my fellow attenders needed to hear, but it carried a flip-side. The annoying part about grace is that it covers all of us who don’t deserve it. Not just those of us sitting in the conference room, but also those who may have hurt us deeply. Rachel mentioned a few names that have been more controversial in recent times: Phil Robertson and Mark Driscoll. These are certainly folks that have made me cringe a few times. They’re on my list of “People Who Give Christians a Bad Name.”

But grace covers them, too. It covers their ignorance and careless words the same as it covers my pride and gossip and self-promotion.

We Christians like to put things in the way of God’s grace, according to Rachel. We don’t want it to be as inclusive as it is. We try to build up things to put in the path of God’s grace. We seek to exclude because we think some people don’t deserve God’s grace.

The annoying (and amazing) part of God’s grace, Rachel shared, was the way it is lavished upon people that don’t deserve it. Like me. Like you. Like Phil Robertson.

I used to work in foster care. I drove all over West Michigan to visit my foster kids and attend court hearings. And after I left that job, I took a job that had a 45 minute commute on the way home every day. During this time, I started listening to Christian Talk Radio.During this point in Rachel’s talk, my mind drifted to a horrible habit I carried off and on for a couple of years.

At first it was just out of curiosity. What are they saying? What are they telling thousands and thousands of Christians every afternoon? What concerns them? What do they see as the issues? Some things didn’t surprise me. They cared about ending abortion. They cared about people coming to know Christ. They even had fun trivia games that I would play along with every now and then. But, there were things that got under my skin. Things like talking derogatorily about undocumented persons, the poor, and the LGBT community. The messages about gay people weren’t just focused on “defending traditional marriage.” I heard their hosts bemoaning anything that protected the rights or safety of their gay neighbors.

While many different hosts of American Family Radio’s programs were deeply offensive, the hardest to listen to was Bryan Fischer. He hosts “Focal Point” every weekday afternoon. You can Google him if you really want to know the garbage he has said. It’s not the intention of this post to drag out countless examples of how he’s perpetuated a hatred of LGBT folks for years.

I was disgusted with the things I heard him saying. They wounded me deeply. They made me feel that as a person who happened to have a gay sexual orientation, that I was ‘less than’ or ‘unworthy.’ But, in my disgust, I kept listening. I listened to keep myself angry at the vile things that certain Christians were saying. I knew he was wrong. I knew he was misrepresenting Jesus. But I kept listening. I was so upset with what he was doing that I listened to keep reminding myself of how horrible he could be. And guess what?

It hurt me. It hurt my relationship with God. My building up these reserves of disdain for this man didn’t hurt him one bit. I was the one affected by it. Duh.

I ultimately stopped listening because I realized it was destroying my soul. It was hardening me and taking away my tender-heart. Staying away from American Family Radio helped my mood. It helped my disposition. It helped my relationship with God. It felt like I had dealt with it. All better, right?

That’s where Rachel’s Saturday morning talk intersects with this story. I was still trying to withhold God’s grace from Bryan Fischer and the other conservative talk show hosts from American Family Radio. I still wanted to them OUT of the Kingdom of Heaven. I didn’t want them representing me or my friends as examples of Christians.

But I was challenged to give up the anger I was holding towards Mr. Fischer. I can’t be angry at God for being generous towards someone else because I don’t think they deserve it. Because guess what? I DON’T DESERVE IT EITHER.

And that’s what’s so annoying (and amazing) about grace.

Thank you, Rachel, for reminding me of this.