Prayer and Worship at the Birthplace of the Modern Gay Rights Movement

Sometimes I can’t believe the places I find myself. God keeps opening doors that I never would have even imagined walking through.

This afternoon I spent time at the Ralston White Retreat Center with my new friends CJLeahSylvia and the legendary Marsha Stevens-Pino.

Kathy V. Baldock joined us via video and spent some time sharing her research about this site and the pivotal retreat that took place there back in 1964. It was the birthplace of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual, and in many ways it launched the modern gay rights movement. It’s a fascinating story. She talked for maybe 25 minutes, but I could have listened all day. Thankfully she is working hard to get all of these stories into her new book, Forging a Sacred Weapon. I’m so excited to read it. 

After we learned from Kathy, Marsha played some songs, and we spent some time in fervent prayer together. It was something I hadn’t done in a long time, praying together with people like that. It was a beautiful collision of worlds. Progressive, queer Christians praying like Pentecostals. We prayed for our world, for our churches, for the hearts of our families and friends. We prayed for a spiritual awakening in our nation, that people would experience the presence and the power of the risen Christ, that love would triumph over hatred and oppression.

Somebody was praying in tongues, y’all. This was serious business. God is alive and well. And God never ceases to amaze me.

Meeting Marsha Stevens

I grew up listening to this song. It was basically a standard in my family and in the churches in which I grew up. And the more I learn about its writer, the more excited I get to meet her and experience her ministry this afternoon. 

"For Those Tears I Died" was written 50 years ago this Sunday, June 23, a mere five days before the Stonewall riots began. As my friend CJ Barker puts it: "I’m so eager for people and congregations newer to lgbtq+ ministry and full inclusion to learn about the heritage we all have in people like her, and to experience her ministry. And this Pride month, what with the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and all, seems like a particularly auspicious time to do it!

The fact that Contemporary Christian music, and modern worship, were both more or less invented by hippie kids at Calvary Chapel in that summer of 1969, and that that happened at a bible study led by one gay teen (Lonnie Frisbee) with the worship led by another (Marsha Stevens), and that all that occurred literally just days before Stonewall... well that seems both spiritually and historically significant to me."

According to the LGBT Religious Archives Network, "Marsha's song 'For Those Tears I Died' was one of the most well-known Christian folk songs of the 1970s and was published in numerous evangelical hymnals and songbooks.

Marsha married Russ Stevens and together with Children of the Day recorded six albums and toured continually over the next few years. Marsha and Russ divorced after seven years of marriage and Marsha took the bold step of coming out as a lesbian. Marsha was immediately ostracized and routinely condemned by the contemporary Christian music subculture. The magazine Christian Century wrote in 1999 that Stevens became "conservative Christianity's worst nightmare--a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, God-fearing lesbian Christian."

Thank God for Marsha and her continued testimony. In 2019, we #FaithfullyLGBT folks continue to advocate for full inclusion in the church, and we are making great headway. In some ways, in our evangelical circles, we are pioneers, but the work we do, the progress we make in our circles, is only possible because of the brave lives and work of those who went before us. We wouldn't have Innovative Love Coalition or The Christian Closet or Q Christian Fellowship or  The Reformation Project or Mission Friends 4 Inclusion without the true pioneers like Marsha Stevens-Pino.

"Every gay person must come out..."

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June is always an important month for LGBTQ+ people, a chance for us to celebrate the beauty and diversity of our community and to fight against oppression and injustice in all areas of our lives. 

It's also a time for queer people to come out, to speak our truth into the world. In just this last week, I have borne witness to the public coming out stories of three internet friends: Jordan OostenbrinkMelissa Lee and Grant Jenkins. I'm so proud of each of you for bravely telling your truth... 

For me, June is a time to learn about our LGBTQ+ elders... The brave people who went ahead of us, paving the way for the incredible freedoms that we enjoy today. We still have a long way to go, but things are so much better and getting better all the time. And we have people like Cleve Jones and Troy Perry and Jane A Spahr and Annie Steinberg-Behrman and Jim Mitulski and of course the late, great Harvey Milk to thank for that.

I love this portrait of Harvey, painted by my friend Jun Yang. And as I contemplate the power and beauty of coming out, I reflect on Harvey's words:

"Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell your neighbors. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. And once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better." 

Happy #Pride, y'all.❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

One Spot Left

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Last night I spent a couple of hours with six men from all over the United States and Canada. Such a diversity of age, family, career, faith backgrounds, financial situations and life experiences. The one thing they all shared in common? They are all gay men who, for one reason or another, chose to marry women. 

This was my story too, and even though I haven't "arrived" yet into some perfect life on the other side, I have had three years of finding my way, connecting with literally hundreds of men like us, and helping people to find their way, whatever that "next step" is. I am so grateful to be able to provide safe space for them to process their lives in community with other men who understand like no one else can. 

When I was in that same space, one of my friends and mentors - Chris Hyde, a gay, formerly married pastor just like me - gave me some important language. One day he asked how I was doing, and I replied that I was "treading water." He said that treading water is a good skill to have, that it would save my life if I found myself in over my head. But that I couldn't tread water forever... and that if I tried, I would eventually become exhausted and drown. He helped me to see that at some point I was going to need to set out toward shore... whether it was the shore of deciding to stay in my marriage and somehow make it work as an authentically gay man, or the shore of moving forward with some kind of a plan to end my marriage. 

I knew, deep down, that he was right. That was one of the many moments that gave me the courage and resolve to move beyond the "stuck" place I had been living in for such a long time. 

Everyone is different. Everyone has a different path to walk. I pray that these six weeks together will help these men find some clarity, peace and resolve. 

Our second group starts a month from now, Thursday night, July 18. We have one spot left. If you know a man in this situation who could use this kind of support, please pass it along. And if you're a praying person, would you join me in praying for these precious men and their wives and families? I often remind people in this situation that once they reach this place, there is no perfect or pain-free solution. Every choice brings loss and pain while simultaneously bringing the possibility of joy and peace. 

And join me in working together toward a world where LGBTQ+ identities and relationships are recognized as normal and healthy, so that these kinds of painful situations become less and less common. ❤️

#UnchangedLGBTQ

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I'm delighted to be featured as part of Q Christian Fellowship's #UnchangedLGBTQ series this week. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to publicly thank four people who made such a difference in my life. So much love to you, Justin Lee, Fred Harrell, Annie Steinberg-Behrman and Candice Czubernat. I will continue to speak out and do all I can to fight back against the damage done by non-affirming theology. Queer friends... You are BEAUTIFUL, just the way you are. Happy #Pride

Meeting Cleve Jones

What a beautiful man. Cleve Jones co-founded The San Francisco AIDS Foundation and came up with the idea for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. He is a pioneer for LGBTQ+ people and an absolute hero to me.

In the final chapter of his autobiography, When We Rise, he writes, “It is easy to be overwhelmed by the challenges that face us. It is easy to be cynical. It is easy to despair.

“That is when I remember that the movement saved my life. Twice.

“First in 1971, as a frightened teenager, when I learned of the gay liberation movement and flushed down the pills I had hoarded to end my life. Then again in 1994, when I was dying of AIDS, the movement stormed the Food and Drug Administration, confronted the pharmaceutical industry’s greed, and exposed the shameful lack of government response. The movement saved my life and gave it purpose and connected me to other people who also sought love and purpose in their lives.”

I realize that among evangelical Christians, the idea of LGBTQ+ inclusion is still new. We are still trying to win the hearts and minds of our friends and families. We are still fighting for our seat at the table, and sometimes this work can feel difficult and lonely. 

But we must remember that we are not alone, that we in fact stand on the shoulders of countless people who have given their lives to this work of inclusion and justice. All the good that is happening in #FaithfullyLGBTcircles, from Q Christian Fellowship to The Reformation Project to New Abbey to The Christian Closet is the direct result of the work of our LGBTQ+ elders. We simply would not be where we are today if it were not for their tireless work and passionate devotion to this cause. 

Thank God for Cleve Jones and all who have gone before us and paved the way for our freedom. Amen.

When We're Closest To God

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Throwback to little Matt enjoying the swimming pool. I wasn’t thinking about whether I was too fat or whether it looked gay to hold my hands in a particular way. I was in the moment, enjoying the water and the sunshine and the love of my family. Maybe this is when we’re closest to God.

I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of these verses from Matthew 18: “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me."

May we learn to let go of our complicated adult lives with all of their stress and anxiety - even if only for moments at a time - and remember that we are loved, we are enough, and all will be well.

I Have Thoughts About the "Freedom March"

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Perhaps you've seen this image around Facebook in the last couple of days. 200 EX-LGBT MEN, WOMEN RALLY TO SHOW FREEDOM THEY'VE FOUND IN FOLLOWING JESUS, the headline eagerly proclaims. I've seen this article shared on the The Evangelical Covenant Church page a lot recently as proof that "people can change" if we just surrender to Jesus. Sweet, well-intentioned friends of mine have shared it with me in the hopes that I will "find freedom" myself. But as happy as those "ex-gay" people look, I don't think their "freedom" is as real as they would like you to believe it is. In fact, I used to be "ex-gay" myself. I have thoughts.

Let's talk about it.

I remember the days when I would have enthusiastically jumped into that picture and proclaimed myself "ex-gay" too. I was convinced that God was healing me, taking away my "same-sex attraction" and helping me to "find my identity in Christ." From 2002 to maybe 2009, I was convinced that to identify as gay or to be in a same-sex romantic or sexual relationship was sinful, and I went to great lengths to try to conform myself to that understanding of reality, unfortunately doing a lot of harm to myself and others in the process. 

I have written a lot about these new attempts at conversion therapy. They really are the same old thing, wrapped up in shiny new graphics and packaging. Here are my thoughts about Bethel Church, Redding's #OnceGay campaign: https://matthew-nightingale-public.squarespace.com/…/oncega…

And here are my thoughts about "ex-lesbian" rapper Jackie Hill Perry and her book, "Gay Girl, Good God": https://matthew-nightingale-public.squarespace.com/…/jackie…

Honesty is so important to me and to all Christian people. I have some concerns about the veracity of this article, if I'm honest. I watched a lot of the livestream video, and I have a hard time believing 200 people were there. Even in this group photo, there are only maybe 50 people, and that's being generous. For most of the video, there are only like 20 people even visible. My friend Michael Bussee, one of the founders of Exodus International, recently posted - about this very rally - "It should be noted that not all of these people were necessarily LGBTQ people who had claimed to 'change.' Some were probably friends of theirs or people who attend their church. When the first Exodus conference was held in 1976, it was reported that '66 former homosexuals' attended. True we had that many people attend, but most of them were straight people from Melodyland who supported our ministry. In fact, only about 15 people at the first conference identified as 'ex-gay'. The other people were just there to observe and cheer us on." I think 200 is a generous estimate of the crowd size, and I think the number of people claiming to be "ex-gay" was probably closer to fifty.

And again, language is an issue. One can identify as "ex-gay," but I really do wonder whether that means that they no longer feel romantic/sexual attraction to the same sex, or simply that they have chosen to deny/ignore that attraction and call themselves by a new name. As a former "ex-gay" man myself, I can testify that even in my most convinced times, I still felt powerful romantic and physical attraction to men. I just denied it.

Look at the language in the article itself:

"They proclaimed the freedom they've found in abandoning homosexual and transgender practices."

"Colon explained that the true meaning of deliverance and freedom is being able to look at temptation in the eye and say, 'I don’t want you, I want Jesus.'”

"'That’s how you know you are free,' he added. 'Our identity is not in our sexuality; it is in Jesus Christ.'"

Not one word about real change of orientation. It's all about language and behavior. OF COURSE you can say you're "ex-gay." OF COURSE you can choose not to be in romantic or sexual relationships with same-sex partners. This, my friends, does not mean you're not gay anymore. 

I could go on and on, but I'll end it there. I believe that God loves AND accepts me as a gay man. My identity AND my relationships are holy and good. And I will continue to preach this message of love and inclusion as long as God allows. 

If anyone reads this and needs to explore the relationship between their Christian faith and their LGBTQ+ sexual orientation or gender identity, I invite you to check out my website at mattnightingale.com or visit The Christian Closet here on Facebook or at thechristiancloset.com. ❤️



Some Thoughts About Romans 1

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Conservative, non-affirming Christians often cite Romans 1 when condemning gay Christians like me… I posted this as a response on Facebook this afternoon, but I thought maybe it should be shared more widely.

We Christian gays are VERY VERY aware of Romans 1. We have actually answered your questions about it many times. You can Google it. I will just say for me, as a former Covenant pastor who is well-versed in Biblical interpretation, I came to the point where I realized that Romans 1 isn't about me at all. Verses 21-27 are particularly fascinating to me. People often cite them to "prove" that my orientation and identity are sinful. But interestingly, I have *always* been a devoutly spiritual Christian. I realized I was gay when I was 10 years old, but I was always, always seeking God, always reverent and fervent in my pursuit of God. I was that sensitive little boy who prayed and shared his faith. I was at the altar often, giving as much of myself to God as I could... When I read Paul's description, it just doesn't sound like me or any of my beloved LGBTQ+ Christian friends... Here, let me quote it for you again, and you can picture me as a little 10 year old boy, on my knees at the front of the church giving my heart to Jesus again... I'll put my name in so it's easier for you.

“For although Matt knew God, he neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but his thinking became futile and his foolish heart was darkened. Although he claimed to be wise, he became a fool and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

(I'll stop there for a minute. I really have no recollection of "not glorifying God or giving thanks to him." I DO remember lots of God-glorifying and lots of prayers of thanksgiving. Oh, and I REALLY cannot remember the times I worshipped images of birds, animals and reptiles... Hmmm... Continuing.)

”Therefore God gave Matt over in the sinful desires of his heart to sexual impurity for the degrading of his body with others. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

(Again, just pausing to say I honestly do not remember this whole sexual immorality/idolatry thing happening in my young life... But anyway, here comes the big clobber verse. Let's read it together with my name in there...)

“Because of this,” (Because Matt was idolatrous, rebellious and sexually immoral? At 10?) “God gave Matt over to shameful lusts... Even women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way Matt also abandoned natural relations with women and was inflamed with lust for other men. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."

I don't know, guys. This just doesn't sound like me or my gay Christian friends. I mean, if you look at my life - EVEN NOW as an out and proud gay man - I am *still* thanking and glorifying God with every opportunity. In my work with The Quest, The Journey Center and The Christian Closet, I very specifically work to help queer people (and everyone else) connect with God!

What are your thoughts about this whole Romans 1 argument? Does this description of rebellious, idolatrous, sexually immoral people sound like your LGBTQ+ Christian friends? Discuss.

Innovative Love Coalition: #GodOurAlly

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Let's talk about Innovative Love Coalition and why this project is so important for the Christian church. 

Music has always been one of the most significant ways that I connect with God, and I know I am not alone. From a very young age I was singing and leading worship in church. I grew up with Christian radio in the car and lots of gospel and Christian music playing in our home all the time. I remember buying my first record, Amy Grant's "Age to Age" when I was only 12 years old. My family went to concerts, we sang together in the car... Music surrounded me as a child and teenager. And the words nourished me, gave me hope when I felt hopeless. 

"I have found a place where I can hide. It's safe inside Your arms of love." 

All through high school and into college I listened to and sang this music. 2nd Chapter of Acts, Bebe and Cece Winans, Sandi Patti, First Call, Leslie Phillips, Kathy Troccoli, Kim Hill, Clay Crosse, dc Talk, Adam Again, 77s, Kirk Franklin, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Rich Mullins, Margaret Becker, Russ Taff, Avalon, Point of Grace, Anointed… I LOVED Christian and gospel music. I was in a college singing group that performed all over the country. I sang in my college choir. I graduated with a music education degree, and as soon as I could, I was leading worship in churches, first as a volunteer and then as a staff member.

In 2000, I got my first job in full-time worship ministry. I was immersed in early-2000s worship music, and I LOVED it. Vineyard, deliriou5?, Paul Baloche, Darrell Evans ("Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Yes, Lord"), Matt Redman, Darlene Zschech and Hillsong (Remember hearing "Shout to the Lord" for the first time?). I led worship for three different worship services every single Sunday. 

When I came out of the closet for the first time and dove headfirst into "ex-gay therapy, back in 2002, I found comfort in Christian music. All these songs about finding strength in Christ, songs about overcoming temptation, songs about forgiveness and freedom, songs about fresh starts. It was like they were singing to me and for me and with me.

“Hold me, light of the world. Love me, say you love me, and I will be free.”

Fast forward to 2017. I was newly out of the closet. I was unstable in so many ways… financially, things were rough. I didn’t have a full-time job yet. I didn’t feel comfortable, or even very safe, in my housing situation. Many of my close relationships were fraying, and I was being looked at as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by people who used to trust and support me. My first dating relationshi with a man had ended, leaving me feeling lonely and hurt. I was exhausted from my multiple jobs and the many miles I had to drive every week in order to just pay my bills every month. If I ever needed comfort and encouragement, it was during those difficult times. But when I turned to the music that had always been there for me, when I listened to Christian and gospel music, I didn’t find the comfort I was seeking. 

“He brought me through hard trials
He brought me through tribulations
Never let a day go by and not realize
Had not been for the Lord who was on my side
Back was against the wall
He looked out for me
He heard my cry and rescued me
Never let a day go by and not realize we are blessed…”

Even though these words, at face value, were comforting and encouraging, I had nagging doubts… I didn’t know if they were really *for* me anymore. Most evangelicals would tell me that as long as I was “living in unrepentant sin,” that comfort from God was not something I could enjoy. I know that some people were praying for me to “hit rock bottom,” to be so miserable that I would have no choice but to “turn back to Jesus,” repent of my flagrant sin, and “come back home” to my former conservative faith and understanding of sexuality. They certainly were not praying for my comfort.

Even though I knew deep down that God was with me, that I didn’t need to “turn back to Jesus” because I had never left him, I still struggled to find comfort in words that were most likely not written with me in mind. It was lonely and difficult. I felt like my faith, and especially the music of my faith, had lost its ability to bring me hope and peace.

In the years since I came out, I have been introduced to songs written by and for progressive/queer people in the church, and I am always grateful for them. I loved singing "For Everyone Born" at MCC San Francisco. More recently, I have appreciated the beautiful, inclusive words of The Many and the drop-dead gorgeous “God Is” by The Outer Banks. To know that these songs were written for ME by siblings in Christ who fully affirm the goodness and beauty of my identity and my relationships makes them so meaningful when I hear and sing them.

I feel the same way about the brand-new single from Innovative Love Coalition. Written by Lauren Evans, Christine Smit, Aaron Aiken, Kevin GarciaJess Grace Garcia and Gattison, the words and music are like a warm embrace from our loving God:

”Just when I thought I was forgotten
You came and called me by name
You’ve shown me I’m never forsaken
I’m awakened to Your love for me

My protector, my helper
Friend and my King
My defender, my treasure
You’re my safety
All are welcome in Your arms
Because love is who You are
Nothing can take You away

I adore You, for all that You are
I adore You, I pour out my heart
You adore me just as I am
You are God, You are God our ally

When the voices are rising against me
It’s your name I can call on
When they say I’m not in Your family
It’s Your love that calls me home.”

This is music that expresses beautifully the way that so many of us feel in our day-to-day lives. Whether you’re LGBTQ+ or straight, it’s so comforting to know that even when everyone else turns their backs, we have an ally… a friend that sticks closer than a brother. The One who has always stood with the marginalized, always leaves the ninety-nine to find the one who is lost. GOD is our ally.

I’m so excited to help get the word out about this project. I’ve been singing “God Our Ally” ever since I got a sneak preview of it last week, and I’m planning to lead it at The Quest in May. Will you join me in helping bring this project to life? Visit the Kickstarter site to read all the details and give what you can. And please, if this project is exciting to you, share this post or share the Kickstarter link on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Thank you for reading, and may you feel the powerful love of our good God embracing you tonight and always. ❤️