Post submitted by Justin Davis, Religion and Faith Program Assistant
Ten years ago I wouldn't have been surprised to be attending a Southern Baptist Convention conference on the Gospel and LGBT people. I was a young Christian at the world's largest Baptist college, and deeply involved in my local evangelical Christian Church. It was only a few months earlier that I had finally confessed to myself that I, in the language of that time, "struggled with same-sex attraction."
I wanted to live my life fully, authentically, and faithfully, but at the time, I didn't know that was possible because I was attracted to men. My school, my church, and the Exodus International-affiliated ministry I attended all confirmed that one could not be both gay and a Christian. And so for several years, I towed the line, watching friends and acquaintances become casualties of this culture war, all the while realizing that my feelings had not changed.
The years spent trying to “change” took a toll on my faith. While I never felt alienated from God, I did feel rejected by my fellow Christians and my church community. I withdrew to a place of isolation. Community and belonging are important to all people, and I just didn't feel like I belonged. I eventually found others like myself, Christians who had found themselves alienated from their communities of faith for a variety of reasons. In those years and with those friends, I began a journey of love and acceptance that eventually led to me coming out four years ago as a gay man.
To my great surprise, I found love, acceptance, and affirmation from my friends, family and even my Baptist church. Thus, it is with great wonder and irony that I find myself at Opryland among my Southern Baptist brethren as an openly-LGBT Christian and advocate for LGBT rights with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program.
These past three days have been a coming home of sorts. My time here has been difficult, however, because so much of this conference has served to reiterate that one cannot be LGBT and live authentically as a Christian. Of course, I and many others in attendance disagree, but that is very much why we feel it is important to be here. We have reached a point where the SBC needs to address its relationship with the LGBT community.
Throughout this conference, speakers like Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Jim Daly of Focus on the Family have spoken at length and with regret about their mistreatment of the gays and lesbians. At the same time, I see little affirmation of transgender identities and often outright dismissal. As an LGBT Christian who has experienced harm at the hands of these so-called spiritual leaders over the years -- and continues to see many LGBT people harmed by their words -- I understand that there is great skepticism about any real change.
But as a Baptist, I do hope for a shift. I want to believe in what I sense is possible -- the start of something different than what we've been hearing for the last 30 years. And for this, I am cautiously hopeful.
I'm cautious because this is a work in progress – while I never felt the need to be closeted in this space, there were still moments when I found myself reliving the pain of old wounds. Stlil I am hopeful because the past few days have been filled with conversations that I believe can lead us to focus on what we can achieve together, despite our differences. In Monday's opening session, for example, Dr. Moore addressed the audience and said, "gay and lesbian homelessness is an issue that the Christian church ought to care about.”