This originally appeared at Medium
by Deb Cuny
Weirdos or Miracles? Musings at an LGBTQ Christian Conference
Conversion therapy is any attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Practices range from “praying the gay away” to licensed therapists using cognitive behavioral therapy to try to “fix” a queer person. To learn more please visit: #BornPerfect Campaign.
I recently spoke at the Q Christian Fellowship Conference on behalf of the #BornPerfect Campaign to End Conversion Therapy. Formerly named The Gay Christian Network, Q Christian Fellowship is an LGBTQ Christian organization that started 17 years ago with just 40 people at its first conference.
This year the conference overflowed with 1200 unapologetic queer believers.
Arriving on the first day, I was fully prepared to judge people hard because of my own internalized homophobia that tries to convince me that a person who is queer and Christian, is a weirdo.
Mind you, I am both queer and Christian.
Gearing up to enter this den of weirdos, I began to pick up my pen to write people off when an 85 year old woman called me over to chat. She and her niece travelled from Michigan to attend the conference. Her niece’s gay son committed suicide after his fundamentalist family wouldn’t accept him. I tried to validate how hard it must be to attend this event. She looked at me without pause and said, “Oh, it isn’t hard for me. I always knew God loved him. It was the rest of my family and church who didn’t get it.” Putting the pen back down, I knew right then that this wasn’t a den. No, it was a sanctuary where people like me can go to release a bit more self-judgment and feel safe enough to claim our God-given place at The Table.
Judgement’s voice faded into a whisper as the conference got on its way. There was so much beauty. For one, Q Christian Fellowship Conference screamed inclusivity, bridge building and reconciliation — much like the Gospel. I had never seen a group so respectfully embrace a kaleidoscope of differences — in or outside of the church. The spectrum of identities included married queer couples, people who were celibate, and gay people living in heterosexual marriages — all based on scriptural interpretation. I met teenagers and people in their 80s, evangelicals and mainstream protestants, republicans and democrats. Then there was Deaf Rainbow of Faith, an organization that supports a sizable group of queer deaf Christians.
A historically (mostly) white event, the organizers tried to welcome more ethnicities and cultures this year acknowledging intersectionality and systemic injustice, with much work still to be done.
As an Episcopalian who believes God created diversity as a beautiful and intentional part of life, I was thrilled to be in an environment that prioritizes it over uniformity. There was room for all of us even when we disagreed. It made me realize that we, the weirdo queer Christians, might just have a thing or two to teach the church. Or as keynote speaker Julie Rodgers eloquently proclaimed,
“If you feel shame about your sexuality or gender identity, or you believe you lost the opportunity to share in God’s redemptive work once you came out, you are wrong. God knew you were not straight or cis when God wired you with the unique gifts and passions that you bring to the world, and God will minister to people through you — not in spite of your sexual orientation or gender identity, but because of it. Walk in your calling.”
The conference was intentionally set up as a safe container that reflects God’s compassion for all of our pain.
I talked to a teenager who expressed an intense fear that her parents would never accept her. She recently came out to her father who is a pastor. We spent hours talking about pain caused by the church. She told me how she had lost her faith when she lost her sense of unconditional love from her dad.
She was hoping to find both again at the conference.
Another woman shared that due to the current administration, she might have to return to her country, which would mean saying goodbye to her partner and returning to a community that believes she is an abomination.
Throughout the conference, moments of joy balanced the sorrow and rose up from the ashes of heartache. On open mic night, a young person told the audience how a week before the conference, she informed her therapist that she had a plan to take her life. The therapist asked her to attend the Q Christian Fellowship Conference before committing suicide. She agreed. When she arrived at the conference, a group of people her age invited her to hang out with them. She described how she had never met other people like her, and how she no longer wanted to commit suicide. I imagined Christ in this moment whispering in her ear,
“See, I am particularly fond of you.”
Then there was a man in his 50s who, after speaking about his church’s rejection, got down on one knee to propose to his boyfriend.
(He said yes.)
And lest I forget the MamaBears! There were moms at the conference charged with giving out “free hugs” to those who needed a parent to love them. I learned that MamaBears are a part of FreedHearts.org, an organization that ministers to over 4,000 mamas trying to figure out how to love their LGBTQ kids.
My mom just joined.
Like others, my own pain and joy led me to the conference. I shared that as a conversion therapy survivor, I am a miracle. I am a miracle because my parents went from supporting ex-gay ministries to renouncing conversion therapy practices altogether. Now they talk with Christian parents who are struggling to accept their LGBTQ children. I am a miracle because in spite of being hurt by spiritual leaders, I am starting to make the vital distinction between God (Love) from the church (Imperfect) and because of it, my faith in God is stronger than ever.
It hurts me to know that so many others don’t share this miracle. Hearing about multiple stories of suicide; watching a young man collapse when his friend’s name was read at the conference’s vigil honoring those who died because of hate crimes, especially trans women of color; and witnessing tears shed as other people’s parents apologized for how they treated their child, all demonstrate just how deep this wound still goes.
A person, after all, is 8 times more likely to attempt suicide when their family and church rejects them. A friend of mine, Preston, who is a conversion therapy survivor, recently took his own life because the pain was too great.
I speak on behalf of the #BornPerfect Campaign because I want people to know that miracles can happen. I want parents to understand that when my folks started to love me more like Christ (unconditionally), the more I have healed and reclaimed my faith.
Love is always the answer, never control and judgment.
Ultimately, I share my story because it is a Story of Resurrection. While a big part of my journey is about my sexuality, resurrection goes well beyond sexuality and gender identity. Gay, straight, weirdo, or otherwise, God really does love every single one of us. My prayer is that by sharing my own challenging faith journey, more people will feel less alone and know that God hasn’t deserted them either. Healing is possible.
Relationship with God is possible.
Yes, there are harmful theologies and churches, but there are also healing theologies and welcoming faith communities that reflect the unconditional love of Christ. I know this because I belong to St. Alban’s Episcopal Church where I feel loved as Christ’s Beloved.
Talking to young people, listening to testimonials of restorative faith, and meeting those MamaBears, made for a very profound conference — one consisting of people who suffer but also people who are (proud) weirdos and (joyful) miracles all trying to answer our call to love God and love neighbor — all neighbors — in a world that so desperately needs it.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38–39
Deb Cuny is the spokesperson for #BornPerfect Campaign to End Conversion Therapy and a Restorative Justice Facilitator in Oakland.