A Guest Post by Jennifer Kane
Jennifer Kane recently attended the Gay Christian Network Conference, and was kind enough to share a reflection here on Where She Is.
Stories inspire. As Janet Litherland writes, “Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story.” Stories are powerful for many reasons, but in my own experience, what can be so inspiring about stories is how much they remind us of the ways our human experiences can connect. The Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference this past weekend in Pittsburgh, PA, was a way for me to connect my own story to the stories of others.
I first learned about GCN when I read Justin Lee’s book Torn about five years ago. What prompted me to read the book were stories. When I was in college, a group of alumni came back to the school to talk about what it had been like to be at a Christian college and identify as LGBTQ. Their stories broke my heart. Many used words such as “fear,” “shame,” and “isolation.” In that moment, I realized something I think I always knew from my upbringing in a more conservative, evangelical church: the way the church and religious communities discuss sexuality can often leave people in the margins. Reading Torn helped me understand just one of those journeys.
Fast forward to a year later and my younger brother read Torn. It helped him understand what a story of being an LGBTQ Christian could look like. It also felt like he was reading his own story. Shortly after, my brother came out as gay. I am so thankful to GCN because at times when my brother has lacked a welcoming and affirming religious community, GCN has been there. And I am so thankful Lee’s story could give my brother the courage to speak the truth of who he is. Stories, indeed, inspire.
My experience of the GCN conference was of incredibly honest and poignant stories. On the first night of the conference, Jane Clementi shared the story of her son Tyler and what led to the events of his suicide. Her story resonated deeply with my own because it captured so well the journey a family can take when a son comes out. And she bravely spoke of how the church has often told a story of hate that leads to bullying, instead of sharing a story of love. The other three keynotes continued to build beautifully on the theme of stories and highlighted this year’s conference theme of “Stories Inspire.” Rt. Bishop Gene Robinson told his story through describing snapshots of his life. Dr. Rev. Paula Williams used the story of a boat to describe her story as a transwoman in the church. And Ling Lam helped me look at the story of Jacob and Esau in a whole new way. He described it as a story of a son so badly wanting to belong that he needed to disguise his true self. This message certainly struck a chord in a room full of Christians who have often heard, either intentionally or indirectly, that they must hide who they truly are.
Over and over, similar stories came up as people spoke. In one-on-one conversations, I kept hearing how people felt their story did not belong in their churches. Or I heard their story of reconciling their faith and their sexuality by joining welcoming and affirming churches. The stories reminded me of a similar theme of reconciliation in my own story. I identify as an ally, so I would be the first to say that my experience with the church and sexuality differs in crucial ways from those I interacted with at GCN. However, a common theme I felt was the idea of reconciliation and how I have needed to reconcile my identities of being a Christian and a feminist. I have always felt that gender injustice is a part of our society and I have struggled deeply when I have seen ways the church has prevented women from being fully embraced and supported by the church. In some communities, my passion for gender equality and Christianity has been fully embraced, but in others, I have also experienced questions like “How can you be a feminist and a Christian?” Similarly, many of the new friends I made at GCN spoke of how people have asked them to choose. They heard statements like “Be a Christian or be gay. You can’t be both.” This conference, though, kept saying people can be both. In fact, be all that you are. And the church is a beautiful and inspiring space when the full tapestry of people is accepted and loved. LGBTQ and ally. All abilities. All races. All genders. All classes. All the inspiring stories.
Many of the stories of the conference were new. But as I reflected on my conference experience as a whole, I was aware that, though the stories felt new, they also reminded me of the most inspiring story I have ever heard. The story of God becoming human and dwelling among us and then suffering and dying so we could be made new and be made whole. Of a God who calls us to love beyond all social classifications or personal prejudice. At the Gay Christian Network conference, I made new friends, listened to brave and compelling stories, but most of all, I got to live into the story of the Gospel. A most inspiring story.
Index of 2017 GCN Conference Content on Christian Feminism Today
Introduction to the #GCNConf Series
Introduction to GCN WomenConnect Featured Speaker Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D.
Interview with Rev. Janet Edwards, Part 1
Interview with Rev. Janet Edwards, Part 2
Interview with Rev. Jan Edwards, Part 3
Reflection by Jennifer Kane — “A Most Inspiring Story”
Reflection by Elyse Kitrakis — “The Inspiration to Move Forward”
© 2017 by Jennifer Kane and Christian Feminism Today