I have to admit I was discouraged about missing the TEN (The Evangelical Network) conference a few weeks ago. People were flying in from out of state to attend and I am only a 90 minute drive from Irvine, yet it was impossible for me to go since I had to watch the kids while my husband was away for the weekend. It's not so much about missing that particular conference, but more about missing events like that in general. I rarely get out of the house except to attend church and the occasional mid-week fellowship meeting. That's just how it is when you have three relatively young kids and a husband who gets home late every night after a ninety-minute commute. The equation adds up to: not much of a life.
Meanwhile the landscape of gay Christian ministry has changed. It used to be that most gay Christians were disconnected and half-closeted and were only linked to one another through the Internet. Now those connections are being solidified into real communities through conferences like TEN and GCN and probably a few more cropping up that I'm not even aware of. As a result the issue of how gays and lesbians fit into the church is more visible than ever before. I heard that Urbana invited Andrew Marin to speak at one of their seminars. Urbana. I was blown away when I heard that. The presence of gay Christians in the church and the need for the church to be a credible witness to the secular gay community are actually creeping onto the radar screen of evangelical consciousness.
I'd like to be more involved with all that, but right now I have to accept the limitations that God has placed in my life. Christians like to use the metaphor of a "closed door." It means accepting that God has closed off one possible path and now you need to look for an "open door" to another opportunity. I guess I tend to view "closed doors" more as an opportunity to look around the room I feel stuck in and figure out what can be done within the confines of these four walls.
And maybe I am exactly where I need to be. The way I see it, two things need to change: 1) The church needs to become a compassionate, caring witness to the secular gay community. 2) Straight Christians need to stop marginalizing the gay Christians in their own churches and instead learn how to properly understand and minister to them. But the only path to making real progress in those two areas can be nothing short of a complete spiritual transformation at the very heart of the most conservative evangelical churches in our nation. The Bible-believing churches, the Republican hang-outs, the homeschooling hubs--yeah, those places.
In spite of the dysfunction, the screwed-up-ness, and the insufferable arrogance that often springs up from those circles, I have to admit that I still hold out a lot of hope for conservative, church-going people. In fact I'll admit even more. I think many of them are good people, maybe even some of the best people in our society. But with regard to this particular issue I think they abide under a dark shadow and have temporarily lost their way.
And I'm one of them--at least I fit more closely with this group than with any other I know. For one thing I'm obsessed with my Bible. Some people say I even teach the Bible well, but I'll never seek the pastorate because I don't believe in women's ordination (for myself, that is. If you want to get ordained as a woman, I'm not standing in your way). I'm still a registered Republican. I don't feel comfortable with the party anymore but I know I could never fit in with the Democrats, so I remain a nominal Republican and hope someday the party comes back to its senses. I homeschool. I'm not against public schools--in fact our oldest child has been attending a public school for the past two years. Yet at the same time I feel enough of that sense of being a "marginalized conservative" that I don't mind doing something risky like taking my children's education into my own hands.
I think, perhaps, I'm at this place in my life because that's where I'm supposed to be. Most of my conservative friends know I support gay rights and have gay friends and maintain a blog where I talk about "those things." Yet I'm sure they are relieved to see that I haven't--for example--pierced my nose. Or cut my hair short and dyed it purple. I don't send out mass emails inviting them to the local candlelight vigil. I don't suggest that we set up a panel discussion in our church to debate social issues. There's nothing wrong with those things if they're done in the right social context, but conservatives aren't comfortable with any of that stuff. Mention "candlelight vigils" and "panel discussions" to a conservative and they expect that next you'll be burning incense and talking about Mother God.
Conservative Christians "focus on their families" I guess. They work hard at their jobs, set up businesses, raise their kids, coach Little League, volunteer at the school, attend prayer meetings, go Christmas caroling. They will discuss the merits of breast-feeding versus formula. They will give advice on how to seed your lawn. They get excited about the classical education private school that's starting up in their neighborhood.
And I guess that's the sort of thing I've been busy with too. That and blogging. And thinking about bisexuality. And plotting how I might make the next GCN conference. But the point is, talking to conservative Christians about gay issues means first showing that you don't need to drive your faith or your values off a cliff in order to be open to these things. Maybe that's why I'm here in this "room" behind these walls and closed doors. Because the people I'm with are the ones I'm forming my closest relationships with. And I suppose it's no accident that I also love them, and believe in them.