The Only “Truth in Love” is to Allow People to Be Who They Were Meant to Be
My adult life has been lived at an interesting intersection of conflict and passion.
My passion for community, volunteerism, storytelling, and education has taken me on some wild rides. Because of my work, I get the unique opportunity to visit many communities around the world and witness first-hand how their own passions for civic engagement bring them together for the common good. When hands bind together for social justice and positive change, the ripple effects can go far beyond one small idea that started it all. I leave these communities knowing that some of my work may have been part of the initial spark that ignited the flame, but, ultimately, it’s the communities that fuel their own fires into something bright and beautiful. I’m often just happy to witness it and be a small part of their coming together.
The conflict is that my work lends itself well to the missions of churches and people of faith, and fans of my work often fall into that category. That, in and of itself, is not a conflict. I’ve loved the work I’ve done with many churches and faith-based institutions. The conflict often happens when folks learn that I’m gay. While I’ve had many faith communities support me and show nothing but love and full acceptance, I’ve had others who’ve refused to work with me. Last year, I was uninvited as a speaker at a major university because of concern that my “message may conflict with the views of attendees.”
It would be a lie to say it doesn’t hurt a little when these things happen because in those moments I realize it will never matter how much good I do in the world, how many models I put out there to help folks, or how much my message could turn someone’s life around—everything I’ve done and will ever do is discounted by some because I was born different than a majority of the population.
But I have thick skin. I have a loving husband of 15 years. I have a successful career. I have many people who support me, including my family. All of these combined keep me empowered. I’m lucky. I truly am because, despite how far we’ve moved the dial on LGBTQ rights and protections, nearly 2 million teens are thrown into the streets each year by their own families for being themselves. These kids make up 40% of the overall homeless population.¹ And sadly, 45% of them end up selling their bodies for sex just to survive—those who do survive. LGBTQ teens who come from families who reject them, or feel that they can be changed, are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their straight counterparts.²
Overall, religion is cited as the number one reason for all of the statistics above.³
I always think about what I can do to help these kids understand that their lives have value and that there is nothing wrong with who they are and who they love. And if they believe in a higher power, God loves them and fully accepts them regardless if they’re LGBTQ, black, white, brown, or every color in between.
Given my platform, I do often share who I am to give hope to others who hear my message. I’ve fasted around Thanksgiving in solidarity for those LGBTQ kids who have nowhere to go and no meal to consume. But I know there is more I should and could be doing.
So much to my delight, I found a conference called Truth in Love that is taking place this weekend in my hometown. Organized by the Greater Grace Church, among others, the conference is being publicized as a place to open up dialogue between people of faith and the LGBTQ community. On the surface, it seems so right on—but deep down, between the lines, the true intent speaks volumes.
In her letter to the Star Press, organizer Jeannine Lee Lake points out that the conference has three main goals:
1) To discuss Biblical scriptures relating to homosexuality;
2) To discuss the past, present and future responses to LBGTQ issues in the church, and;
3) To provide spiritual support for those who desire a traditional heterosexual Christian lifestyle.
Yes, please re-read goal number three. To me it says, “We’ll pray away the gay.”
She goes on to say, “Many Christians like myself do not consider gay behavior as part of God’s ongoing plan for humanity; we believe God is able to deliver anyone from any behavior that is ungodly.”
Sure, Jeannine and other organizers may want to open up dialogue, but at the end of the day they view being gay as something wrong and curable by the grace of God. That’s some pretty scary stuff. In fact, the practice of conversion has been denounced and called ineffective and harmful by major medical and mental health organizations across the country, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, yet so many churches still prescribe the practice.
These practices can inflict harm that will last a lifetime.
Check out my friend Peter’s story. Peter was sent away to a conversion camp by his religious family when he was a teenager. Even though he is now happily married to a man and living a great life in Atlanta, the conversion therapy he had to endure has had lasting negative effects on his life. He questioned his own worth as an individual for some time, not because he’s gay but because of how he was made to feel by others.
I just can’t wrap my brain around how some still believe conversion will work, either through prayer, counseling, or a combination of both. Though Truth in Love claims to not be a conference that supports conversion, their goals say otherwise. Jeannine has indicated that all voices are welcome and that attendance is FREE. I really wish I could attend to have my voice heard, but previous commitments won’t allow me.
Many of you have indicated an interest in going. Please do so; we need our voices heard at this conference. But do so in a respectable way. If any understanding can be created across difference, it can only be done when we listen and act in a civil manner.
We will not always see eye-to-eye. But to find truth in love, we must learn to accept and allow people to be who they were meant to be. I hope someday we can have a true, open dialogue without fear or shame so no other kid gets thrown out or dies at the hand of “religion.”
²The Trevor Project: http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide