As many of you probably already have heard, Seattle’s evangelical Mars Hill church has just set up shop in SE Portland. The story broke via the Portland Mercury last week and ignited a controversy which has been covered in the media (both local and national) ever since.
When anything notable that’s LGBT-related happens in this town I generally expect to get calls from newsrooms wanting official statements from Q Center about said goings-on. That’s part of our role as an organization, actually; to speak out and offer up a voice from the queer community. As Q Center‘s Public Relations Manager, this time-sensitive-race-to-press stuff lands on my desk – generally all at once and without warning. This was certainly the case this past week. At 4pm Thursday Fox News descended upon my office with TV cameras. The Oregonian and Just Out had both interviewed me about the church just before they arrived as well.
Here’s where this whole thing gets tricky:
I’m a gay man who was raised in an anti-gay fundamentalist Christian church/cult. My father was a preacher. I came out when I was 14 in Nebraska (Pre-“Will & Grace”, mind you) and, well…it wasn’t pretty. My time in the church was incredibly painful, second only to the pain of leaving the church & rejecting my family, my friends…everything I had ever known. Suddenly Fox News has a TV camera in my face asking me how I feel when I hear that the co-founder of the Mars Hill church has described gayness as a cancer. You can imagine what first comes to mind, but this line of work that I’m in is complicated.
I know that ultimately what comes out of my mouth in these initial unplanned moments matters much more than any of the well thought out words I will think to say in the days following…so I try my best to speak from the heart and stay focused on the issue at hand instead of my past experience or perceptions. I’m not gonna lie, though- This particular issue is hard to stay objective about…impossible, maybe…so I decided not to.
Instead of fighting to stay removed I dove headfirst into my personal experience. I thought about how different my relationship with my family, the church and the world is these days compared to when I was coming out as a teenager and I thought about how it was that we got from there to here. In the years since coming out I have been able to change the hearts and minds of the people in my life. The once conservative views alive in my family are no longer anywhere to be found. We live in a profoundly free, new world together; a world full of love and celebration of our differences. It’s really quite beautiful. Had you told me this would be the case with my loved ones when I was 14 and miserable I would have laughed in your face at the impossibility of it all.
When I think about how this change in our lives came to be there are many variables. The common factor is me, however. In getting to know me, in seeing what it means to be a gay person through my life, my parents and these anti-gay people around them have changed their minds. It has taken years…but eventually is so much better than never. There are educational opportunities in front of my face all the time. Sometimes I am the teacher, but I am ALWAYS the student. When I heard Mars Hill Pastor Tim Smith speak in this video (click HERE to watch) I knew this was one of those times. I invited them to come take a tour of Q Center and chat and they took me up on the offer.
This afternoon MH Pastor Tim Smith arrived at Q Center with his colleague and we (along with Q Center Executive Director Barbara McCullough-Jones and Q Center Operations Manager Paul Fukui) spent nearly 2 hours together, chatting first about our similarities to find common ground and then about our differences and what that means for the local LGBT community here in Portland now that they have arrived. It was a very respectful, civil afternoon. We spoke about what all we do at Q Center, about youth suicide, bullying, queer families, the local political landscape and the state of the LGBT community here in Portland and worldwide. They spoke, we listened. We spoke, they listened. We had “ah-ha!” moments, they had “ah-ha!” moments. It was really that simple. No screaming. No fighting. Just talking. I believe we all left today’s meeting with a better understanding of one another’s perspective and with a resolve to take this dialogue to the next level.
In discussing what that would look like initially, we have decided to gather a dozen people – 6 from the LGBT community and 6 from the Mars Hill/Evangelical Christian community – to meet and dive deeper into these discussions over the course of a period of time yet to be determined. This will be an opportunity for the hard questions to be asked, answered, cried about, talked over, etc in a safe space, with the end goal being that both sides walk away with a better understanding of the other. There is so much fear on both sides of this particular coin…and we often are most afraid of the unknown. My hope is that we can replace the fear with knowledge, swap out the misinformation with education. I have seen this happen in my immediate family and believe wholeheartedly that it can happen in the larger human family as well. We are all just people, after all.
Today was a victory for courage, compassion and kindness; for being heard and for listening to. I’ll keep you all posted as this develops. I have high hopes that something really good comes out of this bridge we started building today.
In the end, love wins. Always. You’ll see.