I was a month from turning 14 in the summer of 2002 when my home church, then affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, baptized two gay men. I'll go much more in depth in later content, but when the church was threatened with expulsion from our various associations, including one we helped found, there was a meeting to decide next steps - would we baptize these men? The church made the decision to move forward with the baptism, but one thing stands out to me from that meeting where this decision was made. There was a woman I knew, I believe in her late 30s at the time, who was so upset by this decision that she cried and hugged me in the hallway. I, a closeted and suffering 13 year old, was comforting an adult woman who didn't want people like me in her church, the church my family had attended for generations.
Of course, I remember my pastor's emphasis on love and not judgment, I remember the amazing feeling of unity and family when our church was faced with protestors who interrupted our services and when we were removed from more associations. I remember the swell of pride and deep love I had for people who didn't know much about LGBTQ+ lives but who were standing in the gap of love. But I also remember how deeply, deeply some people didn't want me there.
This was one of a few extreme situations I seemed to find myself in the center of around LGBTQ+ people in faith spaces. And then ther's the others: the hush hush of 'we don't talk about that here,' 'come as you are,' 'love the sinner, hate the sin.' I fumbled in the dark until I decided to turn the light on myself and walk out of the church doors. I knew my Bible better than anyone I knew who hadn't attended seminary. I read Revelation when I was seven years old. And I said goodbye to the Church and I stopped praying to the God of people who didn't want me.
After I transferred from my hostile Baptist college where I studied religious studies, Christian education, and youth ministry, I earned my social work degrees and worked with LGBTQ+ youth, foster families, adults, and adults with HIV. I did advocacy and activism so that people, no matter who they were, would always have a space. I had been pushed out of so many spaces, and I was going to prevent that in any way I could - including fighting for nondiscrimination ordinances in employment, housing, and public accomodations.
The world still squeezed us out. I lost two trans youth to suicide when I was working with them. Today, laws across the country are being signed that attack trans children athletes and refuse them medical care. So much of this uses the church as justification. But now we know, fewer than half of adults belong to a religious congregation. We can do better, and I know a lot of churches don't know where to start.
Whether you are just considering opening your doors to LGBTQ+ people, or whether you are doing everything you know to do and just want to make sure you're on the right path, we will meet you where you are and offer deep, nonjudgmental relationship where we will study, grow, and do outreach with your congregation. This is a relationship that will feel nurturing, and it's deeper than nonprofits, even denominational ones, have the capacity to go with you.
I am ever drawn to the Mysterious love of God, and am in seminary, a decision I made when I first felt called at age 11. Over 20 years from that time, I am getting my MA in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary. I'm focusing on Christian Theology and LGBT Studies. I'm not seeking ordination; I believe my ministry is to the Church institutionally. If I had not been part of the LGBTQ+ community, I most likely would be serving a congregation today.
This is why Project Extravagant Welcome (PEW) exists. The church is often the place where people learn to hate or be ambivalent towards LGBTQ+ people, it's the place where so many of us have been harmed, and it's the place where all of that can change. Together, we can open those doors and grow your ministry at the same time.
If you're interested, compete this form, and we will get back to you!
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