A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to witness a public conversation between Justin Lee, author of “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate” and founder of Q Christian Fellowship (originally called the Gay Christian Network) and Preston Sprinkle, a conservative Christian writer and speaker who focuses on ministry to LGBTQ+ people.
This event was hosted by Spark Church and moderated by one of its pastors, Kevin Neuner. My friend Anthony ‘Tony’ J. Gapastione‘s nonprofit, BraveMaker, was a co-sponsor as well.
Justin is a “Side A” gay Christian who believes, as I do, that God can and does bless LGBTQ+ identities and relationships. Preston is a “Side B” straight Christian who believes that the only appropriate place for sexual expression is in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman.
There were hundreds of people in the theater that evening who came to listen and learn, and I’m really glad I was there. Although I disagree vehemently with Preston’s theology, and I believe it does serious damage to LGBTQ+ people, I acknowledge the well-intentioned sincerity which which he holds it. I know that he deeply believes that his perspective is true, and he is doing his best to honor God and love others in his work. I said something like that in a tweet a few weeks before this event, and it was encouraging to me that they chose to project it on the screen during the introduction. I always want to be gracious in the way I engage, and I always want to acknowledge the humanity and the good intentions even in my opponents.
I actually had a good talk with Preston afterwards, and I was able to look him in the eye and tell him, again, how toxic and harmful his teaching and practice is… while also acknowledging his heart for God and his deep desire to help people. Both are true. I can’t deny either one. I know our conversation was a highlight for me, and I know he feels the same way, because he said so in a comment a few days later.
Many of my progressive and queer friends question the value of events like this. I can’t blame them. The fact is, queer kids are still killing themselves because of the way traditional, non-affirming Christians have treated them. LGBTQ+ people are still hiding in their Christian closets, and many of us have to walk away from decades of fruitful ministry when we choose to be honest about our lives. Queer people are still shamed and ridiculed, still bullied and assaulted, still stereotyped and discriminated against. This is unacceptable, and it has to change.
But I believe that these kinds of conversions, these intentionally gracious and generous methods are – slowly, yes, but surely – helping to turn the tide in the evangelical church. My gut tells me that many of the Christians in that audience that night were looking for reasons to be affirming. So many of my Christian friends WANT to be affirming of LGBTQ+ people and relationships, and they are genuinely hoping for a way forward. These kinds of conversations help people move forward. This approach yields real results over time.
Not too long ago I got the following message in my FB inbox: “I have to say I struggle with some of your decisions and honestly am not sure what to do with them. But I am thankful for your honesty and ability to talk about your life decisions because I have very little experience with them. It helps me very much to read your posts.”
I won’t reveal her identity, but this was written by a very conservative older woman. She is a deeply good, loving person, devout in her Christian faith. She simply has not been exposed to LGBTQ+ people beyond the stereotypes that her fundamentalist Christian faith community has taught her. Seeing my life unfold on social media and watching the way I interact with people is helping her grow and learn.
In my website bio, I say “As a gay Christian, Matt is passionate about the intersection of sexuality and spirituality, and he works to create safe, sacred space for people exploring these identities.” This is my call. It’s not for everyone, but I know that God has called me to it. And it’s not that I’m any better than anyone else. It’s just the way I’m wired… My life experiences and my God-given personality somehow allow me to be comfortable and effective in these spaces. I pray that God will continue to use me in these ways.
If you’re interested, spend some time watching the Justin Lee/Preston Sprinkle event on YouTube. If you click the link, you’ll get to see my question at the end. I asked Preston to help me understand WHY God would call loving same-sex relationships sinful. I think this is a significant weakness in the traditional/conservative understanding of human sexuality, and I was not satisfied with Preston’s answer. Are you? I’d love to talk about it… Conservatives and progressives, affirming and non-affirming, queers and straights… Your comments and questions are so very welcome. I’d love to hear from you, and I’ll do my best to answer and interact with you. Much love. ❤️