The following is written by Joel Diaz (host of the podcast Youth Hacks and here is his personal website). When he told me his story based on hearing me speak and reading my book, my heart was taken back. This is so exciting! Go on with you bad self Joel! Much love brother.
“This journey began a few years ago when I was part of a college study group with two other students. There was Mary, a devout Catholic woman, Jennifer, an out and proud lesbian, and me, a youth pastor as a conservative mainline mega-church in Atlanta. Up until this group, I had never hung out, spoken to, worked with, or worshiped with an openly gay individual.
My church and family were very clear of what they thought of the GLBT community. Honestly I had never given it much thought. I just agreed that “they” didn’t belong in the church until they dealt with their “issue.” It seemed like a simple way to deal with the issue.
I had my stereotypes of the GLBT community. Gay men speak with a lisp, and lesbians are mostly butch. And don’t forget, GLBT people have a lot of anonymous sex with various partners. I truly believed these stereotypes among many others. That’s until I began to hang out with my study group.
Mary was upfront about her convictions about the GLBT community, but was very gracious about it. I was too afraid to really speak my mind, and was intimidated by Jennifer. What I learned during the year I spent in my study group has transformed me as a human being, and more importantly as a Christian.
Enter Andrew Marin of The Marin Foundation. It was the 2008 National Youth Workers’ Convention in Nashville, TN, and Andrew would be speaking at one of the general sessions. No one that was with me knew who this guy was, but we trusted that Youth Specialties would challenge us and they did. I remember Andrew introducing himself as the “biggest Bible banging homo-phobe.” I laughed and then thought, “wait, that’s me too.”
He continued his presentation, and then shared a Billy Graham quote that has transformed the way I minister to everyone. Andrew tells the story of Billy Graham leaving the white house during the Clinton scandal and being asked whether the President had sinned. Billy Graham’s answer was, “it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, it’s God’s job to judge, and it’s my job to love.” Wow! Andrew presented a lot of great information during my time in Nashville, but that one quote defined the convention for me.
In March of last year, Andrew Marin’s book Love Is an Orientation was published. I was looking forward to reading the book so that I could refresh myself on his talking points. Andrew’s thing is to “elevate” the conversation, and to rebuild the bridge between the GLBT community and the church. Now don’t make the assumption that you have to shift your theological stance in order to implement the principles he presents.
In the book, Andrew gives a history of the GLBT community, challenges the reader on how they perceive the GLBT community, looks at how the church has addressed the gay issue, and gives practical advice on how to answer the tough questions that will most certainly be asked. Andrew writes, “Christians look at a gay or lesbian person and see a potential behavioral change instead of a person longing to know the same Christ we seek.” This one sentence moved me from contemplation to action.
I decided to come out of my Christian closet. I began attending my local PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter in Albany, Georgia. Albany is a city of about 80,000 in rural southwest Georgia. Most GLBT individuals do not broadcast their identity for oblivious reasons, but I had been made aware of a few youth in our community.
One youth was a member of the ministry that I currently serve. They came out right before I came on staff, and the situation was handled as one would expect. This student was incredibly gifted in music, and played the keyboard in the youth worship band. They were called in, along with their mom and informed they would not be allowed to participate in the worship band until they dealt with the “issue.” The complicating factor was that the church organist was openly gay. Obliviously there was a double standard, and that crushed the student and the mother. They left our church after the meeting and have never returned.
Back to PFLAG. Before I attended my first meeting I left a message with the local chapter president to inform them of my intentions. I will never forget the call back. It was a woman on the other end, and I could physically feel the joy in her voice through the phone. Long story short, it turns out that the woman who organized the local PFLAG chapter is the mother of the youth that was formally in our youth group. It was an incredible moment of ministry.
I attended my first PFLAG meeting later that same month. The experience was overwhelming. It was one filled with joy but much sorrow as each person shared their story. The stories all sounded the same that night. Every single student in attendance shared how he or she was involved in church, and as soon as they even just questioned their sexual orientation they were asked to leave. Some shared the stories of parents and pastors telling them that they were going to hell because they had chosen to be gay. It was very tough, but no other story broke my heart as much as Grace’s story.
Grace was a girl who was very active in her youth group. She was a committed Christian, but she realized in her early teens that she was attracted to girls. She felt as if she was in a community she could trust, and had a good relationship with the leadership. Grace finally decided to reveal her secret to one of the leaders. You can probably guess the rest of the story. She wept from the depths of her soul as she looked at me and said, “I just want to go to church, sing worship songs, and hear a lesson.” How ironic that a person by the name of Grace was shown no grace by those who call themselves Christians.
I have continued to attend the PFLAG meetings. Why? Because this is a group of people who have been broken by the church. In their deepest time of need they were turned away. These are our brothers and sisters “longing to know the same Christ we seek.”