After a few nights of sleeping in my own bed, hot showers in my own shower, and several big cups of coffee, I know that I need to write out my thoughts and feelings from last week at Revoice Conference 2019.
First off, let me just say WOW!!
It has been a while since I have been THIS blown away by a conference! It wasn’t perfect, but then again, what 2-year-old conference is? It wasn’t the logistics, or the graphics, or even the worship that grabbed my heart. What blew me away, was the people, and the overall sense of connection that permeated itself all throughout the entire conference. I am not sure that my words will do it justice, but I will attempt my best.
Before we begin, I would like to preface by saying, that for simplicity sake, I will use the terms “gay”, “LGBT+” and “queer” interchangeably. So, for my lovely readers that are LGBT+, I ask for your forgiveness in my broad use of the terms in this post. I have a multi-cultural audience in mind, and would like my lovely non-LGBT+ readers to be able to understand as well.
First and foremost, for those of you who have never heard of Revoice Conference, let’s discuss what it is about, and how I ended up attending this year.
Revoice is a conference that started last year, in 2018 for LGBT+ Christians who believe in the traditional values of marriage within the confines of one man and one woman. This belief system and those that follow it, are referred to as “Side B” within the Christian LGBT+ world. Side B is pretty much a minority within a minority, and Revoice does a great job at providing a safe place for them and their families to come and receive the love and community that they may not have the opportunity to feel within their own churches or families. This conference is also a place where church and ministry leaders are able to learn and begin to understand the LGBT+ world just a little bit better, in order to properly love a group of people who have been marginalized by the church.
There is a much better description on the Revoice website, but that is my very brief explanation.
How I ended up at Revoice this year was through one of my best friends, Josh Proctor. (Shameless plug: He has an AMAZING podcast called “The Life on Side B” (also found on Spotify and Apple), where he does a great job trying to explain what it is like living as a Side B Christian.) I have known Josh long enough to have gotten a front row seat of his process of finding Side B for his own personal journey. So, when he found out about the first Revoice last year, he had invited me to go with him, but unfortunately, I was unable to. Instead, I promised to attend this year’s conference.
Which is how this random, straight, semi-conservative Christian girl found herself at a queer conference for 5 days, surrounded by 600 LGBT+ Christians (along with family members and church leaders), and staying in an Airbnb (or “Sidebnb” as we called it) with 9 Side B men.
Stepping into last week, I wasn’t completely sure of what to expect.
Honestly, I was fearful. I was the outsider coming in. I didn’t have their shared life experience. I had never struggled with my sexuality in drastic ways like they had. I was the oddball of this group, thinking that people would just be able to “smell” my straightness, and would keep me at an arm’s length.
I guess in some ways, you could say that I got the smallest, most microscopic look into what most LGBT+ people feel with their own families and faith communities.
Would I be accepted?
Would people want to connect with me?
Would I be allowed to hear their stories, and do life with them for a few, short days, or possibly longer?
Would they want to interact with me, knowing that I will never completely understand the struggles that they deal with on a daily basis?
Would any of them even want to be my friend, or continue being my friend when all of this was over?
However, what happened almost immediately upon arriving, was not what I was prepared for.
They graciously and lovingly took me under their wings and allowed me a slice of understanding that was just incredibly special. They loved me, they included me, and they generously shared their own personal experiences with me.
As a young woman who has grown up in the church, and who has worked vocationally for a couple of churches before, I honestly do not remember the last time that I felt so much overwhelming love from a group of people before in my life (even within much of my own “Christian” extended family).
Humans are created for community and belonging, and when people don’t receive either of those, there is a sense of desperation to be recognized and to be accepted exactly as they are. As I watched friends embrace each other, their hunger for recognition and acceptance was tangible, even if they had never met in person.
The extremity of this hunger filled me with remorse more than anything. On one side, it filled my heart to watch so many people who have been persecuted, often by their own families and churches, find love and understanding among their fellow Side B queer comrades. However, even a few days after the conference has ended, I am still brought to tears with the sorrow that I feel for the way the LGBT+ world has been treated, mainly by the church.
The church is SUPPOSED to be the safest place for us to process the deepest and/or darkest parts of who we are, in order to unearth the light in us that draws our hearts to God. Yet, so often, the church is the most dangerous place for us to reveal those deepest parts of ourselves.
The average age that a person can finally admit to themselves that they fall somewhere on the LGBT+ spectrum is 13 or 14 years old. Yet, the average age that same person will work up enough courage to confide in someone, anyone, is 21. There is a 7 to 8 year gap where the person is living in a constant state of fear and they do not tell a single soul. This eats away at them, often times leaving them with a sense of self-loathing, and believing the lies about being irredeemable that their churches and families have told them. To many others, it leads them to take their own lives, because this “dirty” secret has eaten away at them so much that they no longer feel worthy of living.
The church has played a huge part in this fear, making LGBT+ people feel unsafe and unwelcome. I am filled with a desire to apologize to every single member of the LGBT+ world for any part that the church has played in making them feel like an irredeemable “thing” instead of the beautiful Child of God that they are. It also makes me want to apologize for my own ignorance and avoidance of the topic in previous years, purely because it was uncomfortable to talk about.
This is 2019. It is time to start talking about the things that the church has done wrong, and begin finding ways to fix it, going back to the foundations of our faith set by Jesus Christ himself 2,000 years ago.
I’m pretty sure that I will be processing Revoice Conference for a while yet to come, but one of the big things that I have walked away with, is a new image of “community”. I have already hinted at this one, but this image of community is a special one. Like every family, there are quirks and personality differences to work out, but the best way that I can find to describe Revoice for a lot of people, is to call it a Family Reunion.
After having a few days to process, the other big thing that I have taken away from Revoice is a way to put my thoughts and feelings into words. My thoughts and feelings have not changed much, except perhaps in their intensity. Rather, I feel as though my convictions have been given a voice, and a better vocabulary to use.
I made the decision to go with a posture of learning and receiving, and in return, I was rewarded with a small glimpse into a world that I formerly knew very little about. I was ministered to and encouraged in ways that I was not expecting. I made some incredible friendships that I honestly hope and pray will continue to grow and enrich my life in beautiful ways.
There are many great qualities that queer people bring to the table, and I think it’s important to discuss them. Here are a few things that I firmly believe that Christians could learn from the LGBT+ world.
Christians could learn a thing or 5,000 about belonging and acceptance.
Acceptance does not mean that you have to agree or affirm someone else’s lifestyle. However, just as much as you long to be accepted exactly as you are, so they hunger for belonging in the same way.
Christians could learn something about suffering for Jesus.
As I stated at the beginning, this conference is mainly for Side B LGBT+ Christians. This means that for those that are LGBT+ and have not been able to bring themselves to enter into a marriage with a person of the opposite sex, they have chosen to become celibate.
This does not mean that their single lives are any less than that of a married person, because they have found other ways to find community and purpose. However, they still have moments of loneliness. They are so committed to Jesus, that they have sacrificed their own physical, and sexual desires in pursuit of their relationship to Him. The life of a single person brings about a different kind of reliance on God, that married people don’t understand, or may not remember dealing with.
It is important to be reminded of the sacrifices that are made when we choose to follow God with our whole hearts. LGBT+ Christians are perfect examples of this.
Christians could learn about loving people despite their differences.
I cannot tell you how many different church denominations, or cultural backgrounds that I faced in the people that I spoke with at this conference. I interacted with Catholics and Protestants, Liberals and Conservatives, Feminine and Masculine (within both genders), and yet there was a mutual respect for each other.
They had a common background, that held them together despite their differences and opinions. They had all found themselves to be broken, hurting people, who had found life and hope in Jesus Christ. Their love for Jesus alone, is what holds them together.
If I have any regrets, it is that I did not have MORE time with the people that I interacted with, especially the guys that I was rooming with throughout the conference. There were a few that just had different schedules or people they wanted to hang out with, and I wish that I could have sat with them just a little longer and gotten to know them better. …But, I kind of have a sneaky suspicion that this is only the beginning of these friendships (or at the very least, I hope this is the case).
As much work as we have cut out for us moving forward, I was filled with a sense of hope for the future. I saw countless church pastors and ministry leaders at Revoice last week. They may have felt extremely uncomfortable, but I give them mad props for even attending and trying their hardest to learn and understand, so that they can better love the LGBT+ members of their congregations. It may only be a very small fractional representation of all of the church leaders in the United States, but it is a start.
Even a large tsunami can be created by the smallest shifting of the earth beneath the ocean. It may not be noticeable at first, but just give it enough time and momentum. Soon enough, that massive wave will come crashing down with mighty force, tearing down the wrong and injustice that human hands created, and level a clean slate for God to build things back up in the way that he intended for them to be.
The small handful of pastors that I saw at Revoice are part of the small shifting that is happening. That doesn’t mean that there are not still many uphill battles to face, but this is only the beginning.
Coming out of Revoice, I know that there is at least one straight, semi-conservative christian girl, that found herself in a house full of Side B men for five days, who has decided not to let them face those uphill battles alone anymore.
I will don my own armor, and I will climb those mountains and fight right there, alongside them.
I refuse to be just another “Christian” who is afraid to get herself “messy” because she doesn’t want to get involved in someone else’s “mess”. I refuse to allow the church to continue harming the LGBT+ community, or anyone else who is “different” from them. I know that I have a lot to learn, and I know that there might be times when I make mistakes and speak out of ignorance (heaven knows I already do that enough as it is). The point is that I will continue to do my best to understand and be a safe place for those who are hurting and need to be heard.
So, to my LGBT+ brothers and sisters in Christ, I will stand behind you when you need someone to watch your back.
I will stand beside you when you need to know that someone, anyone, is on your side.
I will stand in front of you, protecting you when you need it.
And I will stand under you when you need to know that you are supported and loved.
I may be one person, but I am one more person that you can count on being in your corner when you need me there.
And perhaps, just perhaps… we have all been placed here, in this era, in this nation, in these communities for such a time as this.
To learn more about Revoice, go to www.revoice.us.
To listen to Josh’s awesome podcast go to http://lifeonsideb.podbean.com.