Queer /kwir/ adjective
differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal
strange, odd, peculiar
This past weekend I traveled to the Gay Christian Network Conference in Houston. Attendees there ranged from Christians who identify as LGBTQ, to family members who love and support them, to equality activists from all walks of life, to straight friends and allies and faith leaders like myself seeking to learn from and walk alongside the gay community.
It was my second time attending this gathering, and even more than during my initial world-rocking experience I found myself humbled and challenged and lifted in ways that defy adequate description; ways I haven’t experienced in my two decades as a local church pastor.
As with so many of our most meaningful moments words fail, but I am burdened to find some because those words are our beginning, a way of orienting ourselves around one another and communicating the gorgeous greater-than-words truths of this life.
As I reflected on the weekend on my plane ride back home, what struck me over and over about this weekend was its startling normalcy; how in so many ways it looked and felt so very ordinary, and yet this is not to imply that it was at all unexceptional.
Quite the contrary, it was glorious.
Over those four days I witnessed a nondescript hotel conference center being supernaturally transformed in real-time. Its meeting rooms became sacred spaces, their institutional carpet holy ground upon which tread fragile, flawed, bruised, beautiful sinner-saints, all stumbling, crawling, and dancing their way in faith together—and I was simply one of them.
Across food court tables, during parkside walks, in packed worship spaces, and through late night hotel lobby sofa conversations we showed our scars and shared our stories. We listened to each other’s angry psalms, tended to one another’s wounds, and celebrated the once-in-history, God-breathed miracles we each are.
We sang songs, we prayed together, we talked about our families, we laughed explosively, we wrestled with theology, and we did it all fully believing in the other’s inherent value and goodness without exception or condition. That is what happens when the Spirit is truly present.
This weekend was far more than a Christian conference made of general sessions and workshops and swag bags. This was the Church; as real and meaningful and joyful and messy and merciful as it will ever be experienced, and that is the real story here, the one so many Christians outside need to see and hear and embrace, for their sake and for the sake of the Church itself.
Followers of Jesus who consider themselves non-LGBT affirming need to be brave enough to come and sit in a space like this long enough to be cleansed of the persistent, damaging, seductive lie that they are morally superior or closer to God or somehow entitled to be gatekeepers of the faith for anyone else.
As a straight Christian, when you are finally freed of the crushing weight of your own subtle but real inflated sense of worth, and when you begin to have an inkling of the privilege you have been unknowingly sequestered in, you can rightly embrace the worth of everyone else and you can begin to move toward something more just and righteous and equal (which not coincidentally will reflect Christ most accurately).
When you can fully see the God in the eyes of every person you meet, you get a little closer to that great, elusive truth that sets you free.
I imagine the greatest misconceptions many straight Christians have regarding the queer community are about place and posture. They believe because they have historically been treated with greater respect and given more power, that these things are deserved or that they are of God; that to engage with gay believers that they are somehow ministering down to them, but that would be a tragic error.
The straight Church doesn’t need to tolerate or pacify or throw scraps to the Christian LGBTQ community, it needs the LGBTQ community, for the same reason it needs all those seeking and walking in faith regardless of their gender or skin color or sexual orientation—because these folks are breathing sanctuaries of the Spirit of God and because without them any version of the Church is still inferior and incomplete.
Until the queer Christian community is received fully and welcomed and included without caveat or restraint by the institutional Church, it will continue to be less grace-filled, less rich in its complexity, and less in the image of Christ than it should be.
This weekend I saw The Church being the very best of its diverse self, and the fact that it so rarely looks like that in most local faith communities around the world means we are not yet where we need to be, in matters of sexuality and race and gender equality. As a straight, white man, I am committed to learning and listening, and to participating in this work in whatever way I am able.
In life there is a truth you come to know; an experience of it that once you do, you cannot be argued out of or coerced into giving up, and over the past few days I was reminded once again of that truth:
The Church I want to be a part of; that one perseveres and grows and gives God glory, will be different, it will be odd, it will be peculiar.
And it will be queer.