As I continue to share about a three day conference I attended in April of 2010, more stories come to my mind of God’s abundant grace and how He has impacted so many people who were there. (You can read the first part here.)
Another Curious Meeting
Standing in the lobby of the hotel, where the conference was being held, I saw my two new friends from last night. As I walked up to them they were talking with an older man and introduced me, “John, this is our pastor, the one who has accepted the challenge of discipling us.” I entered the conversation with them for a few minutes and the two guys excused themselves. Another lady was standing with us and I was introduced to “Rene”.
Rene was someone I noticed in all of the main sessions. She seemed to always stand on the periphery of the room. She was very tall and from my observation seemed to be a transsexual. As the pastor introduced us he began to talk about Rene. He told me that his church had tried an outreach ministry to the transsexual community around them but had not had much success. He continued to share with me that transsexuals are often emotionally immature and challenging due to their emotional development of 8 or 9 years of age.
I turned to Rene and said, “How do you feel about this discussion “about” you taking place?” Rene took off and ran with her story. She said she agreed about the emotional immaturity issues. She then said, “John, transsexuals don’t often want to be on center stage. It is a challenge for me to get this attention.” Then, what she said next was astonishing to hear!
She Considered Her Walk With God
“I consider my life in Christ to be like that of a “war horse”. A war horse is trained to obey its master completely, even if the rider takes it into a brick wall. I see my walk with God like that. It’s uncomfortable to be talked about or to be brought into the front line of a conversation. But, my pastor asked me to start a fellowship for transsexuals. I knew the need was there, wasn’t comfortable taking that kind of leadership role, but I wanted to be obedient to the calling. So, I began the group on Sunday afternoons.”
The pastor then stepped in and affirmed that the group was going well and that the ministry he wasn’t able to get off the ground, was working underneath the leadership of Rene’s shepherding heart and care for these people. We talked a little bit more than went to our next session.
I was completely shocked and amazed at what I had just heard. In my former association with “ex-gay” ministry, I would have quickly assessed this as completely wrong for Rene to be living as she is, doing what she is doing, and following God into what she believed He had led her into. We would have questioned her motives, challenged her clothing, and certainly would have never found her qualified for any Christian ministry leadership.
But this day was different for me. I had laid my opinions aside for this conference. I wanted to take a neutral position so that I could hear the stories, experience the atmosphere, and hopefully listen to God’s heart. I could not deny that Rene loved God, loved others, and desired more than anything to serve the Savior with her very being. She wasn’t a renegade, or rebellious. Quite the contrary, she was living a self sacrificial life for the good of others.
God Searched and He Found Rene
As I walked away I found myself saying “and who else is willing, who else could God find that would love these people?” This experience certainly blew more of my preconceived ideas about someone being “holy enough” to find a place in the service of our Lord. I have often said, “if God can’t use imperfect people, He can’t use any of us”. However, my introduction to “Rene” took my own words to a deeper place of reality. I am incredibly thankful for Rene, her heart, her sacrifice, and her dedication to give back to Jesus from a thankful heart of what He has already given her.
I kept processing my experience with my roommate Gary. He was a great listener and quite gracious with my wordy processing of the weekend. He listened intently and would often share his own reflections back with me.
What is a Straight Ally?
On Saturday they had a panel of what was called “straight allies”. I knew that the presence of these four men at this event was huge, groundbreaking and, in many ways, unprecedented. One has to consider that, just their mere appearance at this type of event could be a big risk for them, as there’s just not that many that call themselves “straight allies” in the Christian community right now. But, maybe even more significant, these men chose to, not only attend this conference….they chose to be an integral part by participating in this panel.
The men who participated were Chuck Smith Jr. (son of Chuck Smith Sr, the father of the “Jesus Movement” and the founder of the huge network of Calvary Chapel churches around the globe) was on the end. Sitting next to Chuck Smith Jr was Andrew Marin (author of “Love is An Orientation”).
Then there was Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker). And, next to Jay was Mark Tidd (Evangelical pastor of Denver’s Highland Church). As the panel talked, each one shared their stories of meeting men and women in the gay community who loved God and wanted to serve Him. They shared how meeting these gay folks had challenged their own theologies regarding the “gay issue”, their historical views of homosexuality, and how they had seen the scriptures differently since they began to look into themselves in light of what they were experiencing.
I really related to these men. When I moved away from 22 years of conservative Ex-gay ministry and got alone with God myself, it seemed He was shaking loose some of the things I had always thought and had been taught. I was challenged by these men on the panel and their seeming care and love for the people here at this conference.
Not All Friendly Reactions
I could sense that some people here were avoiding contact with me. Todd had warned me that I would not be well received here by some of those in attendance. I think he was right. But at the same time, others lovingly accepted my presence.
Meeting With My New Friend
One afternoon, a man walked in that I had previously only met on the phone. Michael Bussee introduced himself to me. Michael was one of the co-founders of Exodus Int’l, the world’s largest ex-gay organization. (Michael is now a very outspoken advocate for gay-affirming community). We immediately embraced each other with a warm hug. We decided to find a quiet place where we could talk. As we sat down it was like we had known each other for many, many years. We talked, shared, and seemed to understand each other. We were confronted by a conference worker that informed us that this room had a designated purpose and that we should find another place to talk. I didn’t want our conversation to end as I was really enjoying our conversation and connection. Michael didn’t have a lot of time as he had other engagements he was committed to so we said our goodbyes.
Leadership Panel-Annual Ministry Revue
Saturday there was a meeting of the leaders and affiliate organizations which Todd graciously invited me to attend. Each one gave a report of the year of ministry. As I listened I heard one after the other share about the opportunities they had to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ. One stood out to me because of something that caused my mind to do some shifting. This lady talked about how thankful they were to have their church gathering in the local gay community center. At first I thought “of course, they are gay.” But then I realized they were excited because of the opportunity to reach into the local gay community with a message of salvation and hope.
Six Hours of Bible Exploration
One workshop impacted me greatly. It was taught by Joseph Pearson. An older man who was highly intelligent, well studied, and passionate about his message. He was teaching on what he saw in the scriptures concerning the subject of homosexuality. I am not going into the teachings or my specific reaction in this writing, and will save that for another time. But I will say this. In twenty five years, I have been unwilling to even read anything that was contrary to my understanding of what the scriptures said about homosexuality. What’s to question? In my mind when I went into this workshop, homosexuality is sin and that’s it. I believed the bible to be very clear and absolutely unquestionable on this subject.
When the workshop was finished, I was willing to accept that there is a great controversy over this issue. Men who are learned, intelligent, well studied on Scripture and well educated on culture, context, language, and application disagree on this subject.
I certainly left with many further questions on my mind. I wasn’t sorry I went to the workshop and actually, it led me to do some deeper study myself upon my return home.
Afterwards I talked with Joseph personally. He told me of his relationship with his partner of 30 years. He said, “John, many times we encountered difficulties that could have caused us to separate. But in 30 years of being together, we decided to stick it out, work it through and we have been faithful to each other through all of these years.” As I walked away, once again, I was very interested in what I just heard.
As I prepared to end my time with this conference I began to do some evaluation of the entire experience. I heard people throughout the weekend that were excited about Jesus. Over and over I listened to testimonies, celebration with enthusiasm about how God was so gracious, kind, and loving. It was very clear to me that many of those attending were so close to Jesus that they were passionate about sharing Him with others. This was surprising to me. I expected something very different.
I have to admit that there have been many conferences I had attended before that were not as focused on Jesus and the gospel. I have to admit that I haven’t seen this priority at many conferences I had attended through my own Christian history.
As I entered the conference just a couple of days earlier, I expected to find a bunch of gay people who were focused on their homosexuality, and certainly not centered on Jesus. I was surprised to find there was literally no sense of seduction or sensuality from anyone that I met or experienced.
This weekend conference was centered on worship, learning, and sharing in their faith in Christ. Other than the fact there were some same sex couples there, most were single adults coming together with a common goal in their faith. That was to know Jesus more and to experience more of Him in a corporate setting.
Back Home – Time to Think
I came home with a lot to think about. About a month later, Todd asked me to join their conference call with the affiliates. He asked me to share my observations with them from the conference. I agreed to join them and the call occurred. At the end, he asked one lady to pray for our time together and for me.
As she prayed, I have never felt so loved, understood, and accepted by a time of prayer. Her words soaked through my skin, into the soul of my being. Afterwards I asked Todd who that was. He told me and I realized something that really impacted me.
When I was at the conference I noticed a lady who seemed to me to be one of those people that some may not readily understand due to an outward appearance. I profiled her by her appearance. Through her prayer for me, I was deeply humbled by her sense of the Lord and ability to connect to my heart.