David and I have been friends since 2002 when I first took my role with the ministry. Right away, we appreciated each other. We “got” each other. Back then, David and I were both driven – to serve God, to see the ministry grow, and to connect with people at the intersection of faith, gender, and sexuality. There’s a lot of water under the bridge between then and now. I sent David an email today just to check in – there’d been a lot of exciting things happening. David was nominated in his community for his advocacy in the LGBTQ+ community, he and the Niagara GS group had a booth at their local Pride, and his home congregation became certified as an affirming church! Wow. The email response I got from him, literally made me cry with joy. It was so full of life and hope! He said, “Yes. We have come a long way. My heart is so full of gratitude to Jim, to you, to all my chosen family and especially to God. Amen! Who could have imagined! I am so filled with hope, more than I ever dreamed was possible or would come my way.” He shared with me the words he spoke in his church in celebration of them becoming affirming, and I asked if he’d be willing to share them with you. In this Pride month, I couldn’t be more grateful to celebrate with David and rejoice in God’s faithful love!
I never thought this day would happen. A day where I would be speaking in church in a Sunday morning service as a gay Christian.
I never thought this day would happen. A day where I would be able to walk into a church in a Sunday morning service with my partner Jim.
I never thought this day would happen. A day when I would be part of a church during a Sunday morning service where each person, no matter their age, race, belief, culture, ability, income level, family configuration, gender, gender identity or sexual identity, would know they are welcome, included, loved and celebrated to participate in all aspects of life and ministry.
I never thought this day would happen. A day when I would enter a church and see it decorated with a Pride flag and every color of the rainbow butterflies.
I never thought this day would happen. A day when I would see a church celebrate receiving a Pride Award for their involvement in the LGBTQ+ community.
I never thought this day would happen. Because the day I dared to believe all this was possible was the day I was shamed, erased and shunned by a church I had attended, worshiped and served in for almost 20 years. Contrary to what may have been expected, their actions pushed me into God’s warm embrace rather than away.
I did stay away from the church for a time and wandered aimlessly but the Spirit never let go of me. Much like the day of Pentecost the Spirit blew gently into my heart and mind, lighting a small fire, encouraging me to step out into the world knowing I was not alone.
There is a community of LGBTQ+ Christians, known as Generous Space, where I discovered I was not alone, where I received much affirmation as an image bearer of God and as a beloved child of God, valued, wanted and cherished. That’s what it means to be an affirming community of faith.
An affirming community of faith is a safe place where you can learn what it is to know and follow Jesus, where you are welcome no matter what you believe, no matter your interpretation of Scripture, or your theology, no matter how energetic, or not, your faith, no matter how wild your questions, no matter if you have a lot of doubt.
An affirming community of faith is where I am seen as fully human, equal to everyone else, capable of living into my faith with or without a spouse and/or children, complete in my personhood living as I have been created, full access to heaven, worthy of the sacraments of the church, free to worship with my whole self.
What’s the difference between a welcoming and an affirming church? Equality.
50 years ago I realized I was attracted to other boys. I also realized it was unsafe within my family, my church and in the community at large to be homosexual, the only word I knew then. I was taught to be homosexual meant I would go to hell and burn for eternity. So in order to accepted and loved by God, family, the church and the community, I got married, had children and lived on the outside what appeared to be a straight life while buried deep inside was the real, authentic gay me.
50 years ago a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community took place following a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York on June 28, 1969. These demonstrations referred to as the Stonewall Riots, Stonewall Uprising or the Stonewall Rebellion are widely accepted as the catapult of the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights and equality in the United States and around the world.
50 years later, the fight continues. There are lesbians being beaten on public buses. There are trans people being murdered. There are trans people of colour committing suicide, the highest rates in any group of people. There are still those who use the Bible and Christianity to preach against being LGBTQ+. There are those who are trying to narrow down the range of allowable sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. There are LGBTQ+ people of every age being kicked out of families, church and communities, shamed, rejected, shunned and erased. There are LGBTQ+ children and teens being sent to conversion therapy to forcefully make them straight and “pray the gay away.”
All of this is contrary to the love of Jesus and the broad circle of people gathered around him – people from various marginal groups, subsistence-level fisherfolk and loan sharks, political activists and prostitutes. All drawn to the teachings and community of Jesus from the margins of society, people disempowered by the rules and norms of the day, and in many ways that is still the drawing power of Jesus. Many of us are drawn to Christ, not just because it’s the family tradition or because it seems a sensible thing to do, but because we recognize the way that in Christ, our hurts and our brokenness are held and transformed in love. In Christ, I never have to pretend I am someone I am not.
That’s why today we celebrate being an Affirm United community of faith. To publicly, intentional and explicitly make it known…
…you can speak in church as a LGBTQ+ Christian.
…you can walk into church with your LGBTQ+ partner.
…you can be part of church no matter your age, race, belief, culture, ability, income level, family configuration, gender, gender identity or sexual identity and know you are welcome, included, loved and celebrated to participate in all aspects of life and ministry.
…you can enter a church and see it decorated with a Pride flag and every color of the rainbow butterflies.
…you can see a church celebrate receiving a Pride Award for their involvement in the LGBTQ+ community.
To be an affirming community of faith, we publicly, intentionally and explicitly welcome the richness and joyous diversity of sexualities that God has placed within humanity. By taking on the designation of being an Affirming Ministry, let us commit ourselves to keep learning and growing so that we can authentically say to the community around us, “All of you are welcome” and “All of you IS welcome.” Every bit of who God has created you to be, is welcome here.
I would like to close with a recent personal experience.
For the last 17 or 18 years, I have met with a friend early every Friday morning at Timmie’s for breakfast before going to work. We have journeyed together through much grief, pain and loss as well as much happiness and joy. While we have some beliefs and theologies in common, we definitely have our differences especially when it comes to me being gay.
He recently asked me why I call myself gay and speak from that perspective. With some pause for thought, I responded, “When you and others inside and outside the church stop labeling me as gay and as the only characteristic by which I am defined. When being gay isn’t used as an excuse to harm me and exclude me. When I am known simply as another human being, equal to every other person in every way, created in and the bearer of the image of God. That’s when I will stop calling myself gay.”
On this Pride Sunday in this Pride Month and the days and months yet to come, when we really engage what it means for us to be an Affirming Ministry, may Christ’s heart of love and inclusion be known.