“One of the greatest acts of courage is to be vulnerable with someone with whom we disagree.”
This semester, I had the opportunity to do research for a class called Practical Theology. In this class, we looked at how theologies influence and affect local church communities and contexts. Our teacher asked us to analyze a religious community and its practices while offering up new strategies for the improvement and flourishing for that faith community. For my paper, I picked a topic that I knew I could tell best. Octavia E. Butler once said, “Every story I create, creates me. I write to create myself.” That quote resonated with me. Each time I sit down to write, I can only speak of what is true of my experience. In many ways, writing is what helps me process the world. For my paper, I chose to examine my own roots and think critically about LGBTQ+ inclusion in church.
In full transparency, this project, in some ways, helped prepare me for the reality and circumstance my family and I currently find ourselves in. I am aware of the timing of this post. Yet, I feel the Holy Spirit nudging me; I feel that this is a “strike while the iron is hot” moment. My intention is to not cause a stir. But as I said in my coming out blog post, I am committedto LGBTQ+ reconciliation in the church. I am not coming with my arms swinging. The church has missed the mark when it has come to conversations around LGBTQ+ people. This paper is exploring that idea and ways for flouring and bring forth the Kingdom of Heaven now.
Below, you’ll find a love letter to the church family that raised me, taught me my Bible stories, and baptized me in that holy river. (I can still hear the echo’s of “Praise God” to this day.) I cannot forget those memories. Despite the current situation, I can only speak fondly of my church family. The vivid memory of wrapping our arms around one another, sweaty and tired from cleaning up camp, swaying side by side, and singing “Lean on Me.” We would laugh, cry, smile, and hug and then we’d shout “We are family. And family sticks together!” It is that memory and that feeling of full and complete belonging that makes me cherish my family. Brené Brown speaks to this idea of belonging in a podcast with Krista Tippett. She says, “A very important specific tenant of spirituality which I believe cuts across faith, denomination, and belief system. And by spirituality, I mean, the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to each other. By something greater than us.” Because of this connection, I am stuck to you. And you are stuck to me. It is because of that inextricable connection that I cannot leave without a final word.
Although I call this a love letter, I want to emphasize that I bring this paper forward in grace and truth. The truth is…I was not the only gay kid raised in that church. The truth is… I am confident there are currently other LGBTQ+ children in the church. The truth is… I don’t want another child to feel like I did for almost 10 years of my life. The truth is… whatever the church is doing now to address LGBTQ+ sexuality is not enough or working. The truth is… we need to stop being so afraid all the time about disagreeing with one another. I can speak fondly of my church roots. But I can also see where we fall short. I am not spiteful, bitter, or even angry. I am heartbroken. It is from the place of heartbreak that I write. I write for the kids from my tradition who are currently afraid and confused about their sexuality. I write for their sakes.
Above all else, this is a call for peace. 2020 has been a year so divisive and polarizing that it has left me speechless at moments. The path forward, in years to come, is the ability to still see the humanity in those we hate the most. We need to recognize that we don’t have to be torn apart by issues that seem “too big.” However, I am not naïve to think I have figured out the solution below. Conversations around sexuality are messy and require nuance to navigate. But I hope to shed some light and meaning from someone who cares deeply about reconciliation work. What this year has illuminated is that reconciliation is needed just beyond this specific conversation. I pray that my words will allow us to begin thinking about reconciliation in our own lives. How do we begin to build trust again in our communities? How will we ever cross the polarizing gap that exists between us in our homes, workplaces, communities, and churches? I think the answer finds itself in the simple truth that Brené Brown speaks of: that we, as humans, are inextricably connected. We may forget that bond, but we can never sever it.
Fear and Silence: The Absence of LGBTQ+ Conversations in Church
A friend from undergrad recently wrote in a blog, “All churches I have been a part of have successfully managed to skirt around the conversation of sexuality activity within its congregation. Not only have they managed to skirt from the topic, but that silence, in many ways has developed a voice of its own.” This silence speaks to my own experience of growing up in a conservative, evangelical tradition. I come from the Church of Christ tradition where my father preached at the same church for twenty-three years. He began preaching there when I was only a few months old. I am incredibly thankful for my church background in teaching me the importance of service and outreach. At my home church, I fell in love with Jesus Christ and his mission. At one point in my life, I considered that blue room my home. However, I grew up hearing that homosexuality was an “abomination” to God. I was led to believe that my identity and personhood was fundamentally flawed, and I had to wrestle and live in the tension between faith and sexual identity. However, I never heard these words spoken from a youth leader or senior pastor. I heard it in the whispers of concerned parents or the bullying from other kids who threw the word “gay” around. Yet, my church stayed silent on this issue, and like my friend said, that silence became a voice of its own. My denomination’s choice to stay silent on this issue has harmed and hurt many gay Christians. I consider myself fortunate to have parents and siblings who have accepted me as I am and cheered me on. My family’s support and love for me has proven that a path exists for those seeking to understand their sexuality in the context of 21st century faith. Although I have grown into a confident, gay Christian, I still find myself caught between two worlds: the progressive sphere of academia and my more conservative hometown. This project has been birthed out of this tension. How can we begin to bridge the gap between these two polarized spheres? Some of the following reflections stem from my own experience, but I hope to participate in a conversation that can be fruitful for both LGBTQ+ Christians and the conservative friends and mentors that raised me in my youth.
LGBTQ+ inclusivity has plagued the church and continues to be an issue for certain denominations and churches today. Growing up in a southern, evangelical denomination, the absence of queer people in church has been deeply personal for me. Many contemporary theologians have worked to rethink and reinterpret scriptures that bar queer people from church. These theologians have made great strides in pushing the church to become more inclusive and welcoming. However, my research project will not focus on queer apologetics but instead take a few steps back. My research is aimed towards the churches who are not having conversations around sexuality and faith. The question I want to unearth is “Why are conversations around sexuality and queerness not happening?” The reasons are obscure, but my goal is to explore the nuanced reasons for why many evangelical churches avoid topics of sexuality. One could make arguments for Biblical interpretation as the answer; however, in my experience, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was and continues to be the norm as well in many churches. Then, my paper will shift towards the end and seek to answer the question “What are best practices for engaging/starting these conversations?” This question is a much more difficult endeavor, so I will attempt to illustrate best practice for church leaders to engage in these conversations that both protects LGBTQ+ members and the overall church’s spiritual health. Overall, my paper seeks to provide a brief diagnosis of the issue in contemporary, evangelical churches surrounding sexuality and then to explore practical steps for churches where curriculum and teaching about sexuality is absent. Although I plan on focusing on evangelical communities, much of my experience and research centered itself around the Church of Christ tradition. I will do my best to avoid generalizations, because those are not useful or helpful in a conversation like this. It would be a generalization to say that all evangelical churches have remained silent on same-sex sexuality. This is not true. Many churches are outspoken on their views of homosexuality as a sin. Some evangelical spheres have decided to be fully inclusive, but my focus is towards the churches and traditions like mine who have been oddly silent on this issue.
I began my research process by speaking with Sally Gary. Sally Gary is the founder of the non-profit, Center Peace. Sally shared so much knowledge and wisdom with me on this particular issue. When I talked with Sally Gary, she mentioned that many religious leaders want to know the “numbers.” When religious leaders ask about numbers, they want to know how many LGBTQ+ people are actually being affected. Through “numbers,” church leaders can determine whether the numbers justify beginning a conversation about same-sex sexuality. I believe this line of questioning is harmful because numbers should not matter. Jesus shows in The Parable of the Lost Sheep that only one should suffice in bringing justice. If we took that parable and scripture seriously, I think religious leaders would be more hesitant to ask about numbers. However, I believe this conversation is urgent, because if we look at the state of LGBTQ+ youth, we can see that whatever the church is doing now is not working. The “numbers” look bleak. According to the Reformation Project, research has shown how greater religious feeling was tied to greater risk of suicide for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Along with spikes in suicide rates, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and are rejected by families have an increase of depression by 5.9x and increased risk of illegal drug abuse by 3.4x. Transgender people have the highest suicide rates among any other demographic: 41% of transgender adults in the U.S have attempted suicide. These statistics are grim. I illustrate these facts to illuminate why this conversation should be happening and why it is urgent. I am not speaking metaphorically when I say that this conversation can be potentially lifesaving.
However, the flourishing of LGBTQ+ people is not the only group being negatively affected. The church and its vitality are at risk, too. I also have stake in the church itself. I not only care for the inclusion and welcoming of LGBTQ+ people in church, but I am deeply committed, if not more at times, to the growth of the church. I am steeped in church tradition, and I plan on serving in ministry roles as my vocation after graduate school. Yet, I believe the church will disappear if it continues down the current path. The statistics on church attendance and religious life in America already look bleak. According to a survey of religious life conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018, Christianity is declining at a rapid pace. Today, 65% of adults describe themselves as Christian which is down 12 points from 2009. The religious “nones,” those who do not ascribe to a particular religion, have risen in the religious landscape. Religious “nones” currently stand at 26% of the population which is up from 17% in 2009. Similar to these trends, less people are attending church services. Pew Research Center attaches these trends to generational differences. More young adults account for religious “nones.” Only 49% of millennials describe themselves as Christians compared to the Baby Boomers (76% Christian) or the Silent Generation (84%).
Millennials are leaving church at a rapid pace, and I believe there is a connection between this trend and the treatment towards LGBTQ+ people. In David Kinnaman’s book UnChristian, Kinnaman outlines how the younger generation (Mosaics & Busters as he calls them) has been influenced differently from the older generation which has resulted in different behaviors. He writes, “For example, the lifestyles of Mosaics and Busters [Millennials] are more diverse than those of their parent’s generation…For both Mosaics and Busters, relationships are the driving force. Being loyal to friends is one of their highest values.” From Kinnaman’s research, one can see that millennials, due to diverse influences, are more willing to accept LGBTQ+ people. From my own experience, millennials tend to be more affirming. My peers have felt safer to talk to than those who share my parent’s age. Kinnaman also notes the driving force of loyalty. Because millennials place so much emphasis on friendships, millennials who are friends or close with the LGBTQ+ community find themselves at odds with churches and the older generation. Kinnaman explains that the number one descriptive word that millennials used to describe the church was “anti-homosexual.” What Kinnaman’s research shows us is that LGBTQ+ people are not the only “numbers” church leaders should be worried about. Straight millennials, who are allied with LGBTQ+ people, are leaving church at rapid rate due to their perception of the church’s anti-homosexual stance. However, Kinnaman offers a piece of hope when he writes, “it also suggests the possibility that our words and our lives can change these negative images.” Kinnaman determines this possibility based on evidence that most people have negative perceptions of the church through personal experience. Words, action, inaction, and silence are all ways that can be illumined to pave a better path forward. I do not believe that this is a lost cause or endeavor. I believe that things can still be turned around and changed for the flourishing of both the LGBTQ+ community and the church. I think it is easy to believe these two communities stand on opposite ends of the spectrum. Yet, on a deeper dive, one can see how they are irreversibly linked now, and the only way forward is acknowledging this interwoven relationship and seeking to do good.
In my conversation with Sally Gary, I asked her what she thought the main deterrent in these conversations was. Her response surprised me. I expected her to name scriptural interpretation. However, she believed that fear was the driving force in undermining these conversations. Sally believed that most evangelicals carried their fear onto the text and read anti-homosexual scripture through that lens of fear. In some ways, the question of whether fear or scriptural interpretation is the driving force resembles a chicken or the egg situation. However, fear seems to be the foundation for avoiding same-sex sexuality conversations and curriculum. Why is there fear? Do people fear the homosexual? I believe this answer is two-fold. Sally mentioned how she grew up during the AIDS epidemic that plagued the majority of the 80’s. The AIDS epidemic caused widespread fear in which society began to attach LGBTQ+ people to a deadly disease. During this time, Sally noted how the word “homosexual” began to assume a clinical connotation, and the way people spat out that word indicated fear. It is a natural human reaction to fear the unknown, the stranger, and those who look different from us. However, this fear manifests itself in another way for more conservative people. During my research process, Sally Gary pointed me to Peter Enns who became a valuable starting place. Enns possesses great wisdom on the evangelical sphere since he writes from his own experience of being raised in an evangelical community. In Peter Enns’ book The Sin of Certainty, Enns fleshes out the way faith has been simplified to having right beliefs or accurate ideas about God which he concludes is a sin. Enns centers in on the anxieties and shortcomings that plague this particular community. He writes, “For many of us, faith is our rock-solid source of security and hope. It provides the map and values for how we navigate the world.” His diagnosis of evangelical culture and faith resonates with my own experience. Evangelicals cling to certainty, and they do this through scripture. Specifically, evangelicals cling to the authority and inerrancy of scripture. Enns continues, “And so when our beliefs are threatened, the instinct, understandably, is to guard them fiercely, to resist any move as long as possible, to make the stress go away, and to stay in the comfort of our familiar spiritual homes.” When progressives attempt to start a conversation about same-sex sexuality, fear strikes in conservatives. This fear is valid, for their faith is at stake. Enns writes how faith is formed in a way to deal with the chaos of the world. On the other side of certainty is chaos. Enns argues that Christians build these walls to protect themselves from the chaos of the world. When progressives poke and prod at scripture in an attempt to devalue the literal interpretation, they do not realize what is at stake for the lives and faiths of those who interpret the Bible literally. Their worldview, faith, existential wonderings are on the line. What makes this bridge harder to cross is the generational difference that influences the conversation as well. Kinnaman’s work illustrates how fewer millennials ascribe to an evangelical form of Christianity. In fact, Kinnaman’s surveys revealed that an overwhelming 49% of millennials had a negative perception of evangelicalism. Because of the generational difference, many devout evangelical Christians are older. For many who hold on to this view of the Bible, they have done so for most of their lives. For progressives, understanding this fear helps humanize those who are conservative. Rarely do progressives realize that poking holes in the Bible is opening a door to chaos in which people run from out of fear. However, it is important to note that this is not simply a conservative issue. Fear affects everyone. Fear exists on every side of the cultural equation. We must become self-aware in realizing that unnamed fears do not only influence a particular sect, religious group, race, gender, etc. Fear is a human response.
This fear extends beyond just members of a congregation but plagues church leaders as well. Mark Wingfield in his book Why Churches Need to Talk about Sexuality notes during his 18-month church process towards inclusion that many church leaders feared “intense pressure to keep the church afloat, avoid schism, to keep staff employed, and to avoid being distracted from the big picture of the church’s mission.” This fear drives many leaders to forego the conversation in hopes of maintaining church unity. However, Brené Brown says “He or she who chooses comfort over courage and facilitating real conversations in towns, in cities, in synagogues, in areas that need it. When you choose your own comfort over trying to bring people together, and you’re a leader, either a civic leader or a faith leader, your days of relevance are numbered.” I think there is truth in what Brown says. This generation needs leaders who are able to step into the awkwardness. To have honest conversations. We cannot continue to allow fear to dictate our behaviors. When we begin to name our fears and hold them in our hands, we are freed from them.
Lack of Resources
Sally embodies this type of leadership. A type of leadership that is willing to engage in vulnerable conversations that are needed in the church today. However, throughout my research process, I discovered that leaders like Sally are scarce. I realized the church lacks both resources and leaders. Organizations like The Reformation Project and Center Peace do tremendous work, yet their efforts pale in comparison to the endless need in churches today. I understand why this lack of resources exist. Millennials who share a similar upbringing like me feel a pull to step away from evangelical communities. To step back into a community that was exclusive or harmful requires tremendous strength and courage. I feel like the easy choice would be to move on from evangelicalism and forge a new journey in the mainline tradition. However, reconciliation work like this can never be fulfilled unless those with evangelical upbringings can begin to step back into those communities and lead from within. A generation is needed to fill the gaps within this particular ministry in order to bring about reconciliation.
However, a different type of need and resource is missing in most church leaderships about this conversation: knowledge. Mark Wingfield illuminates the need for education and knowledge about the topic when he writes, “one of the things that immediately became evident when the study group gathered for the first time was the lack of knowledge most of us had.” In Wingfield’s book, he outlines his church’s process of forming a study group that would slowly walk through the process of LGBTQ+ inclusion. However, as Wingfield noted above, many of the lay leadership did not feel well equipped to lead in the study group. This lack of knowledge invites the question of education’s role in inhibiting these conversations. During the E3 Conference, several lectures were held by professionals who were asking questions like “Are ministers well prepared to engage with their LGBTQ+ youth or “What do pastors need to know in order to faithfully serve their LGBTQ+ members?” These questions reveal a lack of training in higher education for pastors in regard to LGBTQ+ training. Although, this line of questioning falls beyond the scope of my research, questions regarding the shortcomings of education might be necessary and a fruitful endeavor for more research to be done in this field.
Strategies for Change:
Emergence/Embodying Healthy Tension
As noted above, Wingfield notes how the care for church unity brought doubt into the study group over same-sex sexuality. This observation brings into the question of what does church unity mean? And is there a danger in overemphasizing church unity? The Christian Protestant sphere has been plagued with churches and denominations splitting over the controversy of homosexuality. The Methodist church in the past couple of years has decided to split over this very issue. As soon as tension and conflict arise, people immediately take sides which results in inevitable severance. A piece of wisdom that I would like to offer up to the church as a potential strategy in carrying out this conversation is embodying healthy tension. I bring this from my own experience. Although my faith and sexuality has provided many obstacles and challenges in my life, I have developed an ability to look past binaries and settle into the “gray space” of life. My two identities have taught me how to reconcile seemingly polar opposites, and my body is a living testimony of walking out tension. I believe the greater church lacks this ability to wrestle with tension well. There is an expectation in church that everyone holds the same beliefs, ideals, morals, etc. under the guise of unity. I believe an attitude shift is necessary in seeing tension not as an antithesis to unity but an avenue for growth and greater unity. I believe that church leaders must do this well and embody a non-anxious presence. Susan Beaumont defines this embrace of tension as “emergence.” She writes, “Authority figures are often hooked by these expectations and scurry about trying to restore order and resolve chaos. They step in to manage the chaos as a way of demonstrating their leadership competency. In liminal seasons, the temptation to resolve chaos by restoring the status quo is seductive.” However, the answer is to not skirt past the chaos, but Beaumont asserts that the best way is through the chaos and uncertainty. When churches find themselves in a liminal season through conversations like same-sex sexuality, the best thing ministers and congregants can do is to sit with the tension. Beaumont reflects Enns in her diagnosis of chaos as a motivating force; however, chaos cannot drive the attitudes and decisions of a church. Instead, I believe that embracing chaos drives churches to innovate and create better strategies for contentious moments like this.
Power of Listening & Patience
In Justin Lee’s book Talking Across the Divide, Lee outlines several key strategies that one can facilitate fruitful conversations with those who disagree with you. Conversations like sexuality seem overwhelmingly difficult in years like this. Polarization plagues American culture. We lack the ability to not hate those “on the other side.” We have built ourselves into “ideological bunkers” as Brown calls it, and we have lost our ability for civility. How do we even begin to cross this great divide that seemingly exists between every demographic, controversy, dilemma, etc.? Justin Lee begins by defining strategic dialogues as the means in which helpful conversations happen through. Under the umbrella of “strategic dialogue” Lee emphasizes the important aspect of “strategic listening.” Strategic listening is defined as “an information-gathering process to help you find the most effective ways to reach someone with a new idea or different perspective.” Lee later on highlights the need to “always listen to them before asking them to listen to you.” Listening allows for each side to hear the pain, fears, and experiences of each person. This process of listening humanizes those we see as strangers. Conservative Christians are quick to point to scripture in the midst of heated discussions over sexuality, but Lee reminds us to slow down and listen before we speak. Listening goes beyond congregants of a church but includes church leaders as well. In fact, listening should be a key strategy for church leaders who want to introduce conversations around same-sex sexuality. I look to Sally Gary who is an extraordinary leader who has these traits of listening and patience. One viewer during the conference remarked about Sally, “Sally has so much love, concern, and hospitality for those who might disagree with her.” Although Sally is affirming, Sally strives to understand her own tradition, Church of Christ, and engages with those who often fight her and dispute her beliefs. Yet, Sally continues to listen to their concerns and fears. Listening is a posture that requires great humility. This humility inevitably leads to changes of both heart and mindset. But how do we do this practically? Brené Brown, again, says it best, “Listen with the exact same amount of passion that you want to be heard.” Fostering deep listening helps us to slow down and stop thinking about what we will say next. Deep listening invites openness into the conversation that allows for both sides to feel both seen and heard. When we are entering into these difficult conversations and when you are really struggling with someone, Brown says that despite believing that “you’re supposed to hate [someone] because of ideology or belief. Move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection. Ask yourself: In what ways am I connected to you that is bigger and more primal than our politics?” It sounds counter-intuitive, but I know it to be true that it is harder to hate people the closer we move in.
In an On Being episode with Krista Tippett, Tippett interview the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks about the opposition to Sacks’ progressive theology during his career. Although Sacks is speaking towards the discussion of religious pluralism, Sacks provides incredible wisdom for leaders who seek to challenge their followers or constituents. He says, “You’ve got to challenge them and be challenged by them…you have to listen when they [followers] say, ‘you’re going too far or too fast for us to follow,’ and then you say, ‘okay we’ll slow it down but I want you to come with me.’” In this conversation, Sacks reveals the power of listening for leaders. Leaders need to listen to their congregations because sometimes the conversation can go too fast. In beginning this conversation, leaders must listen to the church because there exists a fine balance between challenging a church and recklessly pushing the church to adopt beliefs that are not feasible. Patience is required. Wingfield exemplifies this need for patience as he outlines his church’s 18-month long process towards inclusion. Wingfield’s church spent a year and a half discussing and studying sexuality before they moved towards LGBTQ+ affirmation. In this case study, one recognizes the need for church pastors and leaders to listen to what the church needs to grow and inviting patience into the process.
Because scriptural interpretation plays such a fundamental role in these conversations, I will briefly outline a way that can invite a new perspective in viewing scripture. My goal is not to jump into queer apologetics and re-interpret the same passage that so many others have done, but I want to look at Matthew 12. Sally pointed this passage out to me, and I found it enlightening to this conversation. In Matthew 12, the texts reads: “He [Jesus] went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they [Pharisees] asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’—so that they might accuse him.” In this passage, the Pharisees and Jesus clash again in which the Pharisees subtly question Jesus’ authority by trying to catch him breaking the law. The Pharisees are referencing the covenant that God gave Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments. Specifically, the law relates to the keeping of Sabbath which required the Israelites to abstain from work one day out of the week. This tradition of the law was still upheld in Jewish culture during Jesus’ time. Right before this passage, the Pharisees question Jesus and his disciples as they picked heads of grain to eat because they were hungry. In both situations, the Pharisees wield the law in order to disrupt Jesus’ action. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is surprising. He responds to the Pharisees with a question, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Jesus completely disregards the tradition of the law in this context. In these two short passages, Jesus both times places the need of humans over the need to preserve the law. However, to clarify, as Jesus says in Matthew 5, Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Jesus’ intentions are not to do away with the law but to disrupt harmful practices that stem from the law. In this way, Jesus reframes the law and provides a way for Christians today to self-reflect and analyze the effects our interpretations of law and scripture have on people. A helpful practice for churches today is to shift their attitude towards scripture. How would our church practices shift when we begin to value human life in light of scripture? Through this attitude, scripture still carries tremendous authority, yet Jesus reminds us to look at the human need/experience in front of us. The law should never be given priority over human flourishing. If Jesus could ask us today, he might ask, “In what ways are you protecting the need for Biblical inerrancy over the abundant need of human life and flourishing?” The answer we would give right now might be insufficient in response.
A Call to Courage
Why are these conversations important? The urgent need for helping LGBTQ+ youth who struggle with suicide, depression, drug use, etc. is a valid reason. However, the church’s current situation reveals a hole in what we call the “body of Christ.” When we disengage and avoid these conversations, we are losing an opportunity to be changed and grow ourselves as a church. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “one of the things we most fear is the stranger… [but] we are enlarged by the people who are different from us; we are not threatened by them.” Again, Sacks speaks into the fear that plagues Christian churches. Yet, Sacks affirms that difference should not be divisive, but it is holy. Sacks discuss his book with Tippett in which a theme of finding God in the stranger arises. When we are met with diversity, we are allowed to learn from one another. When LGBTQ+ people are barred from churches and from conversations, conservative Christians are losing the opportunity to find God in gay Christians. In all of the literature and resources I have read, one of the particular truths that repeated itself was the idea of transformation through dialogue. Although David Kinnaman’s book UnChristian does not affirm LGBTQ+ choices, Kinnaman does concede that his life was changed through conversation with a gay friend. Mark Wingfield describes his experience of transformation with close friendships with transgender people. Gay Christians need straight people and straight Christians need gay people. In this interdependence, the body of Christ is truly embodied where everyone brings themselves to the table and offers up their experience as testimony to the life of Christ. Throughout this research, fear has been a foundational theme that has unearthed itself many times over. I want to end this essay with a call to courage. I have already shown how fear has inhibited the church from moving forward with this conversation. When fear grips the church, the church cannot bear good fruit. We need a church that acts out of boldness, not fear. In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown affirms this when she writes:
I think we’re sick of being afraid, and I think there’s a growing silent majority of people who are really kind of thinking at a very basic human level, “I don’t want to spend my days like this. I don’t want to spend every ounce of energy I have ducking and weaving.” I don’t know where we’ll go next. But I really believe with every fiber of my professional and personal self that we won’t move forward without some honest conversations about who we are when we are in fear. And what we are capable of doing to each other when we are afraid.
This call extends not just to this particular conversation but all aspects of the church. The church cannot survive if it has traded trust for fear. Enns writes, “It hinders the life of faith, because we are simply acting on a deep unnamed fear of losing the sense of familiarity and predictability that our thoughts about God give us.” Not only is this a call to courage, but a call to believe in a bigger God. Is our God not bigger than the problems or controversies that mere humans can stir up? A wise friend once repeated the verse in John that says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” He said if that’s true, then the inverse is as well: “Perfect fear casts out all love.” I know I sound like a broken record here. But I find it to be absolutely true in church today. Where fear is present, love is absent. The love that Jesus calls his disciples to is radical; it is scary. Jesus’ love requires us to leave our assumptions at the door and see the other in their own innate sacredness. When we allow fear to block our vision and forget the other’s sacredness, we lose the ability to love well. I always heard growing up that the Bible repeated “Do not fear” 365 times in the Bible: one for each day of the year. May we remind ourselves to not fear in the midst of confusion, chaos, uncertainty, or the unknown but allow ourselves to be emboldened and encouraged by the Spirit.
Thank you for listening.
I love you.
Beaumont, Susan. “Engaging Emergence: Are We There Yet?.” In How to Lead When You Don’t Know
Where You’re Going, 133-159. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019. PDF.
“E3 Conference.” Center Peace. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://www.centerpeace.net/e3conference.
Enns, Peter. The Sin of Certainty. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016. Kindle.
“Find Support.” Center Peace. Accessed December 3, 2020. https://www.centerpeace.net/.
Gary, Sally. “Still One of You.” October 31, 2020. E3 Conference. 1:28:07.
Gary, Sally. interviewed by Matthew Smith, November 13, 2020, recording, Matthew Smith’s personal iPad.
“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Pew Research Center. October 17, 2019.
Kinnaman, David. UnChristian. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.
Lee, Justin. Talking Across the Divide. New York: Penguin Random House, 2018. Kindle.
“The Need for Reform.” The Reformation Project. Accessed November 27, 2020. https://reformationproject.org/the-need/.
Tippett, Krista. (Remembering Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks) Interview with Jonathan Sacks, On Being.
Podcast audio. November 12, 2020. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/remembering-
Tippett, Krista. (Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart) Interview with Brené Brown, On Being.
Podcast audio. January 1, 2020. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/brené-brown-strong-back-soft-front-wild-heart/id150892556?i=1000461377441.
Wingfield, Mark. Why Churches Need to Talk about Sexuality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019. Kindle.
Wingfield, Mark. “Amid a Global Pandemic, Is There Still Room for Churches to Talk about Sexuality?.” October 30, 2020. E3 Conference. 48:42.
 Krista Tippett, interview with Brené Brown, On Being, podcast audio, January 1, 2020, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/brené-brown-strong-back-soft-front-wild-heart/id150892556?i=1000461377441.
 Rylee Russell, “Do ya think I’m goin’ to hell?,” Rylee Russell (blog), October 26, 2020, ryleeruss.weebly.com
 Sally Gary, “Still One of You,” October 31, 2020, E3 Conference, 1:28:07.
 “The Need for Reform,” The Reformation Project, accessed November 27, 2020,
 “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace,” Pew Research Center, October 17, 2019,
 David Kinnaman, UnChristian (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 22.
 Kinnaman, 28.
 Kinnaman, 31.
 Sally Garry, interviewed by Matthew Smith, November 13, 2020, recording, Matthew Smith’s personal iPad.
 Sally Gary, interviewed by Matthew Smith.
 Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016), 8, Kindle.
 Enns, 16, Kindle.
 Kinnaman, 25.
 Mark Wingfield, Why Churches Need to Talk about Sexuality (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), 8, Kindle.
 Tippett, interview with Brené Brown.
 Wingfield, 31, Kindle.
 Susan Beaumont, “Engaging Emergence: Are We There Yet?,” in How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 135, PDF.
 Krista Tippet, interview with Brené Brown
 Justin Lee, Talking Across the Divide (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), 50, Kindle.
 Lee, 52, Kindle.
 Sally, Gary, “Still One of You,” October 31, 2020, E3 Conference, 1:28:07.
 Krista Tippet, interview with Brené Brown
 Krista Tippett, interview with Jonathan Sacks, On Being, podcast audio, November 12, 2020., https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/remembering-rabbi-lord-jonathan-sacks/id150892556?i=1000498367332
 Wingfield, 14, Kindle.
 Matt. 12: 9-11 ESV
 Matt. 12:11-12
 Krista Tippett, interview with Jonathan Sacks.
 Krista Tippet, interview with Brené Brown
 Enns, 21, Kindle.