Reflections on My Journey as a Gay Christian
-- guest post by Dave Farmer --
October 1, 2013
My Chains Are Gone. I’ve been set free. My God my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood his mercy reigns. Unending love. Amazing grace. These words have been in my mind multiple times daily since the worship team started practicing a rendition of “Amazing Grace” (and other songs) in preparation for the Friday night service during The Reformation Project Conference (TRP). If you’ve never heard this treatment of “Amazing Grace,” listen to Chris Tomlin’s version here, so you can experience the powerful message for yourself.
God puts you on mysterious journeys at different times in your life. Sometimes you don’t realize it until you come close to the end of that journey. You see my brothers and sisters, I have been on a 40 year journey. I’ve been on a quest to reconcile for myself the question of whether it is possible to be gay and Christian and escape the condemnation that traditionalists vehemently spew forth in their messages on a daily basis. The promise of the unconditional love of our God and justice that ultimately prevails were never good enough to satisfy fully my fears. I needed to deeply understand the biblical texts on matters relating to homosexuality, but I never figured out how to gain that knowledge in a way that I believed would be balanced. God had a plan, however, and sent me on a journey so that I could come to my own conclusion. His plan included finding The Reformation Project. The mission of TRP is to train LGBT Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity through deep study of the Bible and the historical and cultural context of passages referring to same sex activity. On September 21, 2013, I finally reached the end of that journey and the chains of fear that have troubled me for most of my life are now gone. Yes, I declare unequivocally that I am a gay Christian, and am right in the eyes of God.
TRP was the last leg of the journey God placed me on in early 2009. (See my July post for a broad overview.) In future posts, I will share with you the “roller coaster ride” I experienced this summer during the intensive preparation for the TRP conference. Now, however, I want to share the experience of the conference itself and the new path God has put before me. To tell this story, I have to mention some of my fellow conference participants. Everyone in the group is very special so I would like to bring attention to them all, but space will not permit. I will focus on other participants in future posts.
After an exhaustive, 13-week preparation course that included more than 1,400 pages of reading to understand the cultural and historical context of biblical writings, 50 hand-selected participants gathered at the Asbury United Methodist Church in suburban Kansas City on September 18. We had dedicated our summer to research, reading and discussions (via an online bulletin board). The minute we started in June, we formed a family unit that will forever be connected. There was electricity in the air when we first met each other in person that first evening. To start, we kind of felt awkward. We already knew each other. We knew about our families. Some of us had faced job loss during the summer just because of being part of TRP. Coming together that evening we suddenly morphed from images on computer screens into actual people. At first it felt kind of strange but we didn’t hesitate to shrug off the awkwardness. Looking back, the electricity in the air was undoubtedly God joining us together so we could make the most out of our short time together. I write this because His presence was very strong every minute of our time together.
We started each day with a 20-30 minute worship service, and each service became more powerful than the one the day before. Fourteen of the other TRP participants and I had volunteered to be on the worship committee. Everyone had a special gift to offer for our worship services, but we needed a leader. Matthew Vines asked Amy Tincher to take on that role and plans started to develop before the conference. It was clear that she was truly led by God in her mission to pull us together in worship. (See her story here.) I am amazed and inspired how everything came together. After all, the TRP participants came from 14 different denominations, so we had at least that number of different preferences for worship. Yet through our use of Facebook, Amy helped us create magical worship experiences.
As part of the worship committee, my contribution was a reading on our first day. I also was allowed to make any comments I wanted to share with everyone. Amy asked me to read Isaiah 1:18 (Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.) As I considered what I would say, I remembered several of the participants had expressed their sadness over being anti-LGBT at one point in their lives. I identified with their pain and believed they should let go of their shame and embrace the healing they deserved; after all, they were certainly loved by the people in the room. After reading I John 4:16(b)-21, which concludes with “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also,” I shared my hope that those that were formerly anti-LGBT would forgive themselves and receive the healing they needed. The message from I John still sticks in my mind, and the thought recurs to me that it will be hard at times to love those that hate me because of my association with TRP and standing up for God’s truth. I pray that God will give me strength to never feel hatred or act in a hateful way no matter what is hurled at me, and that I remember to love my brother and sister.
The worship team used lunch time and other breaks to practice for the Friday night service that was open to the public. I again had a reading/speaking role and most everyone else had instrumental or singing roles, so practice time became a period when I could enjoy the beautiful voices sing praises to God and meditate upon what I was experiencing. As everyone practiced, each song was a worship experience for me. I was amazed at how I could be sitting there in among Christians from 14 different denominations and feel such a unified connection to God…with people I had just physically met! I constantly felt tingly all over and overcome with emotions because of the awesome experience of being surrounded by so many LGBT and straight Christians that were on fire for God that had come together through TRP to bring truth to those in pain. Some of my brothers and sisters had not been allowed to participate in worship services for years, so we all were overwhelmed several times during our practice sessions.
During practice, I also developed a close relationship with Melody Stoner. Melody is deaf, and she tirelessly helped me learn to sign the chorus of the rendition of Amazing Grace mentioned above. I felt like such a klutz, but I so wanted to honor her by learning this short chorus. The entire worship team learned how to sign the chorus which we (kind of) did in unison. (I really am in this picture…look close and you can see my eye.) Melody’s Christianity and love for others radiates from within when you are in her presence (see her story here).
Come Friday night, the evening started with Jane Clementi telling her story. She shared the loss of her son Tyler, who committed suicide three years ago. The anniversary of Tyler’s death coincided with the departure day of our conference. Jane is a beautiful testimony to the love of Christ. My heart broke when I first heard the news of Tyler’s suicide three years ago. My heart broke when I learned that she was going to be part of TRP, and my heart broke when I finally met her on our first night at the conference. It broke a fourth time during her story. We have such a need to bring healing to the church and our country so that the suicides will come to an end. Jane and her family have started the Tyler Clementi Foundation that works to prevent teen suicide. Please take a moment to learn more about what Jane and her family is doing here.
After Jane’s keynote, the worship service began, and once again the air was full of electricity. God’s spirit was definitely there and among us all. I’ve never been part of such a powerful, interdenominational, overwhelming, spiritual worship service in my life. There was incredible singing, readings, meditational music and prayers that touched every person in the room. My reading focused on the commandments to love God and thy brother (from Mark 12). Struggling with the realization that I will be tempted to hate those who hate me and that we will be faced with adversity, I bridged to I Corinthians 13 so we would all know what love looks like, and I asked everyone to remember those verses when we are faced with that seemingly rational temptation. Making the connections between Scriptures to deliver messages is not what I would consider my usual talent, but I felt it was a gift to me during the conference. I’ve been changed by the worship experiences during TRP, the preparation during the summer as well as the lectures and other elements of the TRP conference. Based on what I experienced, I am concerned about any Christian that does not believe that someone can be LGBT and Christian. God most certainly was among us from the moment we arrived until the moment we left.
I want to mention one final person, and that is Aaron Crowley. I learned a lot from this Pentecostal brother of mine. Aaron has a checkered past (see his story here). He is a true testimony to the power of Christ to turn one’s life around and he is at work for God. I don’t understand much about the Pentecostal denomination, but I do know that finding evidence of the Spirit is important to Aaron. During our final open mic session (where we could say anything on our mind), Aaron apologized for questioning whether the Spirit was present among some of his brothers and sisters, because he was surprised and humbled to see the Spirit operating in people from so many other denominations. This was an important and closing message for me, because it is so easy to question the faith of others when their worship customs and beliefs may be significantly different from your own. Thanks Aaron for pouring out your heart on this, and thanks for sharing your gifts with us. I truly saw and felt the Spirit in you and everyone during the TRP conference.
Since the conference, I read an interesting comment by Tony and Peggy Campolo. “The mind, like a parachute, works best when it is open. Christians should always be open to learn those new things God wants to teach them. God is still speaking. Jesus made that clear to his disciples when he told them that he had more truths for them to apprehend, but that he did not consider them able to handle them, given their present existential situation (see John 16:12).” I now know that I started this mysterious leg of my 40-year journey early in 2009. I now know that I wasn’t ready for this journey, and for my newfound truth, until this time in my life. And, I now know I have a role in helping others rightly divide the word of truth, and in being a catalyst to bring healing in the church. This is my new journey. I thank God for my newfound family that will forever be a part of my life. I thank God for the support my RBC family has given me. And I thank God that my chains are gone…amazing grace has set me free! I look forward to some of you joining me on this journey that will help others find new truths.
David Farmer lives in Springfield, Virginia, where he is a marketing communications professional. He holds a BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from George Mason University and a MBA in International Business from George Washington University. David and Ron, his life partner of 21 years, attend Ravensworth Baptist Church in Annandale, Virginia. Jesus and the church hold a powerful centering influence in David’s life, helping him get through life’s challenges, both great and small. Mark 12:31 holds special importance to David because he believes that, if the world truly focused on Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, the conservative church would accept gay Christians.