Late last week, I had the great pleasure of joining a wonderful group of people just outside of D.C. From January 3-6, 2008, I attended the 4th annual GCN Conference (Gay Christian Network).
I’ve probably been a “member” of GCN’s online forums for 2 or 3 years now. Initially, I approached the community with caution, as I was still mostly “ex-gay” in my approach towards sexuality, but I wanted to see what was out there in other realms of thought.
Yes, that essentially means that I started off as a lurker. And frankly, I’ve been a lurker ever since. Though, at some point along the way, *I* began to open my mind to the idea that mayhaps God was OK with homosexuality. That he was – in fact – the author of ALL loving relationships.
Growing up the good, little, conservative Evangelical made that a tough sell. A VERY tough sell. A little over two years ago, after going through a bout of suicidal ideation over this mess of my un-straightness (despite begging, crying, pleading, praying, and counseling to “change”), I realized it was probably time to begin looking at this issue a bit differently. After all, this “struggle” simply wasn’t worth my life – at least that’s what I presumed a loving God would be saying to me.
Not too long onto this new path of my journey, I began to fall for a very sweet guy. And God really used this to show me a lot about myself, and about my self-worth. As I grew more comfortable in my own skin, I also grew comfortable with others who had skin similar to my own. I got a bit more involved in GCN. I started reading more, posting more, private messaging a few people that I found interesting. You know, that sort of thing.
This of course only lasted about 3 months. I mean, let’s face it, I think most of my posting days expired when I got booted from LHY (and I’m STILL the number #1 poster there, even though they booted me a couple years ago! Yay for meaningless records! ).
But I have gotten to know a number of really quality guys from there. Like my friend Bryan, for example. I don’t know what specifically encouraged me to private message him. I think he was new to the process of coming out, and had a lot of questions, and I kinda figured I could lend him a hand in thinking through some things. At the time, I was wading through whether or not to choose a Side A (i.e., OK with gay sex in the context of a relationship) or Side B (i.e., lifelong gay celibacy) path.
Bryan and I started messaging, and we had some good discussion going, but like most things, it got swallowed up by busy schedules. We started writing again a few weeks later, and he had comfortably settled into the Side A milieu! I couldn’t believe it! Here I was, asking these deep questions, and suffering in agony hoping to alight upon some great answer for FOUR YEARS, and friggin’ Bryan figures it out in a MONTH! What the hell?!!
Steve, Bryan, and I
But I guess that’s the thing about GCN. It’s a really great community to work your shit out. And Bryan had intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate people to help him along. Perhaps I would have saved myself some torture had I utilized them more!
Anyway, I slipped back into lurking mode after a few months of decent activity, popping up infrequently to talk to some interesting person who happenend to catch my eye. Like “Chicago boy” for example. I read Michael’s profile last February, and noticed he was a fan of Brian McLaren’s. It didn’t take long for us to get into some really deep, interesting conversations about life, spirituality, sexuality, etc.
We became really good friends . . . he’s someone who I cherish to this day. And it’s guys like Bryan and Michael that have kept me on the fringe of GCN, and who encouraged me to try out this GCN Conference.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that excited about it. The only titillation was the opportunity to meet in person a couple of guys that I had up to that point only talked to online, or on the phone, or seen briefly during weekend trips (yeah, it was Chicago )
After being in Exodus for well over 3 years, I had had my fair share of conferences replete with spiritual propaganda. (Not that I care to fully bash Exodus – I duly admit that the God of love, comfort, and compassion met me at those conferences . . . ever plodding me along to a deeper, less fearful, more wholesome understanding of myself.) I didn’t care to go to yet another conference whose centrality was spiritual propaganda, except on the opposite end of the Exodus theological spectrum. (Coincidentally, the Beyond Ex-Gay Conference I attended last summer felt a lot like that to me, which is why I was never completely comfortable there. But then, that may have had a bit more to do with my own comfort (or discomfort, rather) with myself, rather than any agenda on their part? Or perhaps it was both their propaganda AND my residual self-loathing that made the experience not-quite-fulfilling to me? Who knows!)
So yeah, all that to say that I showed up at this conference with no expectations. I figured I would just go, meet some new people, have a good time, and chalk it up to another life experience.
But . . . BUT!. . . I wasn’t counting on the God factor. It’s rather odd that I would show up to a meeting for gay CHRISTIANS, and not really give any forethought to God . . . but hey, that’s me sometimes: oblivious.
My first few hours at the conference, I was really kind of thinking “OK, let’s just get through this, and get the weekend over with.” But it wasn’t long before I was re-aquainting myself with old friends like Ling, and meeting some fascinating people like Steve, and Avery, and Dennis, and . . . well, the list gets pretty long from here!
Steve and Dennis
The worship experience . . . I dunno. I don’t want to criticize. I can be a bit of a worship snob, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut. But I’ll just say it could have been better for me from a quality perspective (save for Michael’s rendition of “I Love the Lord” and “Total Praise”, where he tore up the solo! The kid can sing like a mofo!!!) But there was definitely something sweet about the worship . . . a sensing that God was indeed there.
The theme of the conference was “In Him We Live”. Probably a message that many of the attendees needed to hear, considering that many of us grew up in Church traditions that berated us and had us convinced that we lived anywhere BUT in the presence of God.
We had some awesome speakers, like Justin Lee (exec director of GCN), JR Finney – a black, gay pastor from Atlanta, Kelly Fryer – a lesbian Lutheran, and Jay Bakker – a pastor, and son of the (infamous) Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. And all of their messages were on point. Very encouraging, inestimably inspiring, and extremely enlightening.
I think I was perhaps most struck by Jay’s message. Because, here’s a guy who’s completely straight. He gains nothing . . . NOTHING! . . . from speaking out about God’s OK-ness with gay people. As a matter of fact, he’s lost a helluva lot for speaking that message. And so, to hear him (and other everstraights) testifying to what they’ve heard God speak about this, and to have those messages align with what some of us gay Christians have been saying, well . . . it just gives a bit more credence to what the Spirit is doing. I mean, regardless of how good my theological arguments are, regardless of how bent my heart is to hearing the voice of God, my critics will always say “you came to that conclusion because you WANT to be gay, and give into your vile lust!” But this cannot be said for the Jay Bakkers and Peggy Campolos of the world.
But again, this was merely the tip of the iceburg. For it was the message that God spoke to my heart that made the hugest impact. There were random times throughout the conference, where I would get hints of God’s overwhelming love for this community – and specificially, for me. And those moments resulted in spontaneous tears.
But it was the Communion that really got me. After connecting with Christ in that meal, I returned to my seat, to hear God beckoning me: “Darren, are you going to stop fighting me? Are you going to just accept the fact that I accept you? That I’ve blessed you? That I’m OK with who you are and where you are? Will you just BE in my grace?”
This was huge for me. Really, really huge. I mean, this is a message I’ve been getting for months now. But one I’ve been resisting. Because I honestly have a hard time believing that God would bless me pursuing a relationship with a guy. I have soooo much unecessary, unwarranted Christian guilt regarding my sexuality. And my brain cannot comprehend how God could be OK with me being with another man – regardless of how loving and committed that relationship is. And yet, God has been saying over and over again “You’re OK”.
I broke down, and simply sobbed. It was a deeper level of acceptance for me. An acceptance that I am a sincere, loving follower of Jesus Christ, and a GAY one to boot! I am indeed a gay Christian, and I do, in fact, believe that God blesses gay, committed relationships – and more specifically, He is pleased by the love I have for the bestest guy in the whole world!
This is the only thing I COULD believe that would be consistent with the unconditionally, loving God I’ve come to know. And I really am grateul to the GCN community for their substantial part in helping me to find me, and to find grace in God.