Tuesday, January 08, 2008

111. Visiting Cornelius

One of my roommates at the conference was a gay, married (to a woman) Lutheran minister who has only recently begun his journey of trying to reconcile his faith and his sexuality. When he was telling me a bit of his story he made this comment, “I guess I’m at this conference to visit Cornelius.” I couldn’t help but laugh when he said that, simply because I don’t think he could have given a more concise explanation if he’d been trying.

Do you remember that story in Acts where Peter goes to visit Cornelius? Even before he goes to see Cornelius, God shakes up his world view by telling him to “not call anything impure that God has made clean”. And then he gets there, sees the evidence of the Spirit in the lives of these Gentiles and has to acknowledge that God has called them too, that they are as worthy of being called Christians as anyone else.

Now I have to admit that I didn’t go with any such agenda in mind. I didn’t have an agenda really, at least nothing solid. I knew I wanted to be there, but if you had asked me to articulate why I would have probably been quite vague. But I did visit with Cornelius (although if I use this metaphor, I suppose I have to say that I am Cornelius too… or at least one of his Gentile guests.) And I know that I felt the presence of God. Part of me is cringing at using this charismatic terminology, but I can’t think of another way to say it. God was there, the evidence of the Spirit in the lives of all of these gay Christians was undisputable. It was really powerful. There were moments during the worship where I would suddenly remember where I was, and I would suddenly feel so full – I didn’t know what to do. Except cry, I guess, cause I did that a fair bit. I am just so glad I went.

I honestly don’t really know what all to say about it, there is just so much, and it’s all kind of melded together into one sort of euphoric moment in my head, so it’s even kind of hard to give details. Perhaps I should have kept a sort of log like Eric did. I can hardly tell one day from another in my head.

But you probably want some details. One thing I can tell you is that I’m so glad I got there early… like really early. The conference started officially at 5 PM (although that turned out to be just the registration time) and my flight got into D.C. at 8:30 in the morning – with travel time from the airport I got to the hotel around 10. At first it was kind of horrible. I was alone in the hotel, I couldn’t check in because I didn’t know what room I was in (I only knew my roommates first name and last initial), so I just had to hang around the lobby. I could see people were already there for the conference, and I screwed up my courage to introduce myself to them, but then the introvert in me would assert itself and I would go off and sit alone in a chair somewhere. But that ended up paying off. They were holding a banquet for local churches and gay organizations – and it was invitation only, but because I was there early and sitting all by myself, and some people were unable to make it, they asked me if I wanted to join, so I did – hey, a free lunch and a chance to meet people. And I also got to hear Justin (the leader of the Gay Christian Network) speak, and to see clips of a movie he’s been working on… that was pretty powerful.

And then when the banquet let out, I went over to the registration table and asked if they needed help… so I met some people there, just helping out… and then registration began and the awesome started. Because I was behind the registration table, I literally met everybody! Even if only for a moment. And the genius of it was that everyone felt like they’d met me, so that people kind of felt like they knew me already when things began… which is good because I’m kind of shy. (Not that anyone who was there may have noticed this). People often approached me, which was rather perfect. I immediately felt part of things. Of course, there were a few awkward moments, because people sort of assumed that I knew details of what was going on. Oh, and being on that team meant that during the first session I ended up handing some stuff out, and being the complete dork that I am, I tripped and stumbled half way down the length of the auditorium and nearly landed in RJ Helton’s lap. It would have been pretty embarrassing no matter whose lap I almost landed in, but well… RJ was the celebrity guest, and I remember watching him on the first season of American Idol. Not my proudest moment, that.

One of the things that struck me over the weekend was how necessary GCN and other like-minded ministries are. There just aren’t a lot of places for evangelical gay Christians to go. I watched as one wonderful young man shook uncontrollably as he registered, afraid to wear his nametag, even if it only had his first name on it. And I watched the joy grow on his face as the weekend wore on and he realized that this was a safe place for him (unlike the conservative evangelical university he attends). And I listened to person after person tell their stories about how they have been kicked out of their church fellowships for coming out, or how they hide in the closet in their daily lives, no one in the church knowing the truth. It’s so sad and so wrong.

The other thing that I couldn’t help but notice over the weekend was the disproportionate number of men there who had once been youth leaders or worship leaders at their church. And while I can’t really speak to their youth leading abilities, only because I there’s not really a chance for that sort of skill to be in evidence on a weekend like this, I can say from worshipping under their leadership that the church has lost a lot of gifted people by excluding them. These guys (they were all guys) have (in my opinion) been gifted by God to lead people into His presence, and then told by the church that they are disqualified from doing just that. RJ Helton actually spoke (and wept) about this the last night, how he had been convinced that God could no longer use him. It’s sad, and it’s wrong.

Another thought that kept occurring to me was that I really wished some of my friends from home were there to see it – my straight Christian friends. I want them to see these people, to recognize their (our) existence, to feel the presence of God in the worship, to hear the stories. I cried almost every time anyone straight made themselves known, just to know that they heard us, and that they cared enough to be there.

When I got home, my friend picked me up from the airport, and as I was telling her about the weekend she asked “So, what can we do? We non-gay Christians… how can we make it better?” I didn’t have an answer, really, other than realize that we exist. The church pretends that we don’t, and when we stand up and say we are here, they insist that we are not really a part of them. And so many people believe them. I remember that conversation I had with that girl in Korea where she said that since she was gay and couldn't change that fact, she couldn’t be a Christian, and no matter what I said to her, she believed that. She had been convinced. So sad, and so wrong.

Anyway, there are my day after reflections. I’m sure I’ll have more as the days go by.


titration said...

Wow that going to meet cornelious thing is good! Wow I so dig how you write. This you know of course but...

Romans6 said...

Hi, Jenny! This is Matt, from GCN (as in Cities & Knights of Catan). I don't usually read blogs, but after I met you, I knew I wanted to get to know you better. I'm SO glad you came, and I share your sentiments almost word for word. I do wish there were a way for us to share the work of the Spirit with the people in the "mainstream" church who would deny that such a thing could happen. I'm reminded, though, that God didn't call the entire Jerusalem church to go visit Cornelius; He called Peter. And the whole community wasn't transformed overnight- it took a lot of time and a lot of prayer and a lot of reconciliation on both ends for transformation to happen. I think you and I and the rest of our gay Christian brethren are a part of that transformation, and it thrills me. Your fellow pilgrim, -Matt

P.S. It was Eugene who trounced...

Eric said...

This is one of my favorite posts of yours, JJ! It hit me in several ways and i'm inspired by your words.

Bless you, my friend!

JJ said...


To be fair, the Cornelius thing was not my idea, that totally came from my roommate.

And Matt!

So excited to see you here! And you make a very good point. It is frustrating being in the inbetween though...


Blessings to you too. Thanks. :-)