The community that makes up the body of Christ is diverse by divine design. Its richest and truest reflection of the kingdom of God is a diverse multitude manifested in race, culture, age, socio-economic background, sexuality, gender identity, worship style and personal expression. It’s an unparalleled beauty and it is absent from so many of our churches.
I have spent the last eleven years of my life as a follower of Christ. I’ve attended numerous churches in my personal life. As a community organizer I have been witness to worship services of nearly every denomination within the Christian faith. On rare occasions I’ve seen glimpses of the kind of beauty I am describing but last month I saw it in its fullness for the first time.
I am one of the 50 straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians committed to reform who participated in the inaugural conference of The Reformation Project (TRP) in Kansas City, Kansas. The reform we are seeking? A paradigm shift in the church that will lead to a truer teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. A teaching that is faithful to the letter AND spirit of Scripture.
In the months leading up to the conference and during the conference itself, I was inundated with a wealth of information regarding the theology surrounding the issue of homosexuality. I am indebted to TRP and Matthew Vines for the academic knowledge I now have when discussing homosexuality and the Church. That is no small gift but the greatest blessing is the family I now carry with me and the time we spent in worship together.
Western churches reflect so little of the diverse body we are called to be. We are divided by many things and are suffering under our self-imposed segregation. We’ve just come accept our fate as the walking wounded; constantly lashing out at one another. Or worse, living with a total lack of acknowledgement of the other’s existence.
The friday evening of our conference we came together in the church sanctuary for a night of worship and I witnessed something I had never seen before. A true celebration of the diversity of God’s people. We ranged in ages from 19 years old to 57 years old. We were Black, White, Asian, Latino, Yup’ik Eskimo (Alaska Native) and more. We were straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and genderqueer. We were Catholic and Protestant. Charismatic, Pentecostal and Evangelical. We had traveled from all over the United States and some from as far as Canada, London and Korea.
It could have been a night where we suppressed our diversity for the sake of comfortability. We could have permitted one dominant voice to dictate our style of worship and keep us at a shallow level of diversity. But we didn’t.
Our night was filled with foot-stomping, tongues-speaking, trombone-playing, hand-waving, hymn-singing, tear-filled, and laughter-rich diversity. Everyone was faced with a challenging alternative to their understanding of what it is to WORSHIP. It was an incredible blend of the foreign and the familiar and I was overwhelmed to stand in the midst of it. So much so that it has taken me a month to find the words. How is a person supposed to adequately describe witnessing the Kingdom of God in its fullness?
The 50 of us have been bonded together in a way that the months and miles will not be able to alter. I’ve already seen the fruit of it. We talk. Every day. Small messages of encouragement. Requests for prayer. Endless words of affirmation and love.
Leading up to and since the conference, we have all faced the darkness. People are experiencing unemployment, heartbreaking rejection from friends and family, consequences from church leadership, marital burdens and more. We are also facing the onslaught of need from others. TRP reformers are speaking at churches, conferences and on radio programs, counseling LGBT+ Christians, writing for major media outlets and living in the tension that is being Christian and LGBT+/ally.
The rewards of this experience are innumerable but so are the challenges. Sometimes it is the very real darkness of loss and rejection. Sometimes it is simply the intimidating darkness of the unknown. It takes faith and bravery to dive off the cliff towards justice when we don’t know what awaits us during the fall. For all of that darkness and all of that unknown, we now have one constant truth. We aren’t in it alone. We have a beautiful, diverse family taking that dive with us.