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Can You Be Queer and Christian?

Inside the movement of LGBTQ Christian activists, who are challenging America’s most conservative religious ideologies

Illustration: Jessica Siao

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Brittany Barron’s faith was invincible.

When evangelical megachurch Fellowship Monrovia hired her in 2013, the young preacher took comfort in the fact that God’s plan was working. And why wouldn’t it be? God had watched over Barron her entire life and was present for every moment of her happy, religious childhood in Colorado. God was there for her education as well, when she attended California’s Azusa Pacific University, one of the nation’s top evangelical colleges. And now, God had led the 27-year-old to Fellowship Monrovia, where she could fulfill her dream of entering the ministry. As a woman of color, Barron was impressed by the church’s racial diversity, another sign of the Lord’s grace within her life. Not only was God’s plan working, it had shaped every facet of Barron’s existence. Nothing could shake that foundation.

Until something did.

During her first year at Fellowship Monrovia, Barron received a Facebook message from a woman named Sami Cromelin. Cromelin was interested in volunteering at the church, and Barron welcomed her into the fold. Cromelin’s electric presence impressed church leaders, and they quickly hired her to join Fellowship Monrovia’s rapidly expanding staff. Barron and Cromelin grew close. They shared a love for God, a sparkling sense of humor, and an undeniable chemistry. Soon, the two women realized their connection was more than platonic workplace synergy — they were falling in love.

In the eyes of the church, that was a sin. Still, they carried on in secret.

“I was miserable,” Barron recalls now. “We went on a three-year cycle of saying, ‘Okay, we’re just best friends. Okay, now I love you. Okay, let’s leave everything. Okay, maybe God doesn’t want us to do this. Maybe God doesn’t care. Maybe I don’t care. Maybe you don’t care.’ It was exhausting and got darker as the years went on.”

Finally, in 2016, Cromelin quit her job and broke up with Barron, desperate to free herself from the toxic repression of the church. Barron stayed closeted and continued to work at Fellowship Monrovia, too terrified to leave the only world she’d ever known. “It wasn’t just my job at stake—it was my whole life,” Barron tells me. “It was like: How do I give up my whole life for Sami and not resent Sami? And how do I give up Sami for my whole life and not resent my whole life?”

A few months later, Barron snapped. She denounced the church’s stance on LGBTQ issues during a staff meeting, quitting on the spot. Barron got back together with Cromelin, and the two began the painful process of reconciling their spirituality and sexuality. In an attempt to heal the hurt she felt, Barron wrote a blog post, publicly coming out of the closet. Soon, she was flooded with messages from other LGBTQ evangelical Christians who were dealing with the shame inflicted by their own repressive, conservative churches. Barron was heartened to discover a community of LGBTQ evangelicals struggling to find their place within Christianity.

One of the messages she received was from Cory Marquez, an ex-megachurch pastor who had experienced a similarly traumatic break from his own conservative congregation. Though Marquez was straight, he too objected to the evangelical church’s oppressive mandates on sexuality, race, class, and gender. Barron and Marquez began meeting regularly, bonding over their painful histories. Eventually, Marquez asked Barron if she would like to preach at New Abbey, a “post-evangelical” church he’d founded for progressive Christians. She delivered a sermon at New Abbey that Sunday and became co-pastor shortly thereafter.

“I grew up thinking God was in a very specific place, and gay people were outside of that place,” Barron says. “Then you leave and find out God is everywhere you thought God was not.”

From its outset, New Abbey has been “affirming” — a term that refers to churches that support LGBTQ relationships and endorse same-sex marriage — but with Barron in leadership, the church’s LGBTQ membership quickly expanded. Today, 30 percent of New Abbey’s congregation is LGBTQ. Most of these queer Christians come from conservative religious backgrounds and see New Abbey as a safe space in which they can heal from past theological oppression.

Throughout American history, evangelicals and the LGBTQ community have been at odds. From the evangelical perspective, the core of the issue lies in six Bible verses that the church has interpreted as condemning homosexuality. This very small collection of words has driven a massive rift through our country; in addition to leading a spiritual crusade against LGBTQ rights, evangelicals have spearheaded a legal one. Evangelicals are currently the dominant religious force in the GOP, conservative Christian leaders have gained unprecedented access to Trump’s White House, and, as evidenced by the anti-LGBTQ Nashville Statement, the fight against LGBTQ civil rights is at the forefront of the Christian right’s political agenda. The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple for religious reasons, gay-rights opponent Tony Perkins has been named to the U.S. Religious Freedom Panel, and many fear the Obama-era Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage could be stripped away under the conservative religious agenda of the current administration.

But there is hope. What is happening at New Abbey on a microlevel is an example of a macro trend among a new generation of evangelicals who are questioning the anti-LGBTQ dogma of their religion. According to a 2017 study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 34 percent of evangelicals support gay marriage. Though this number is far from a majority, it does represent a promising 13 percent decrease in evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage since 2013. As American culture moves toward an increasingly progressive view of what is morally acceptable, evangelicals cling to our nation’s morally conservative past, destroying their own base in the process. In 2006, 23 percent of Americans considered themselves evangelical Christians, a figure that has dropped to 17 percent today. And though 26 percent of senior citizens identify as evangelical Protestant, only 8 percent of young people do. Of those younger evangelicals who stay with the church, 53 percent support same-sex marriage.

As a result of this generational shift, a dialogue has begun within evangelical circles about LGBTQ acceptance. Leading the charge is a burgeoning movement of LGBTQ Christian activists intent on changing the hearts of evangelicals across the country. This brave and diverse group refuses to accept the shame offered to them by a conservative, religious establishment, demanding dignity instead.

They are asking this essential question: Can you be queer and Christian?

On March 20, 2012, a college student named Matthew Vines posted a video to YouTube titled “The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality.” This video, and the ensuing dialogue, would prove to be a watershed moment for LGBTQ evangelical Christians.

Vines grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where he and his family attended a conservative evangelical church. Vines didn’t even know what a gay person was until middle school, and it wouldn’t be until his sophomore year at Harvard that he would come into his own sexuality.

Vines told his parents that he was gay over Christmas break of that year. They were devastated. Vines’ father was deeply concerned with the Bible’s six “clobber passages” used by evangelicals to condemn the LGBTQ community. He loved his son, but how could he go against the Bible? And here, Vines encountered the same quintessential problem every gay evangelical Christian must eventually face: In an evangelical context, where the Bible is the ultimate authority, one needed a biblical argument for LGBTQ acceptance.

No such argument existed. So Matthew Vines created one.

Vines took a leave of absence from Harvard the following semester and began drafting a Bible-based argument for LGBTQ acceptance. He and his family pored over all the literature they could find, from scripture to conversion therapy guides to pro-LGBTQ scholarship from more progressive denominations of Christianity. In addition to the social imperative of his work, Vines was motivated by a deeply personal one — the love of his family was at stake.

“After about six months, my parents changed their minds and became affirming and supportive,” Vines recalls. “That formative experience helped me to both be hopeful about the possibility of creating change and also to not assume that every Christian who is against same-sex relationships is a hateful bigot. Once I navigated that process with my parents, I wanted to replicate it on a broader level.”

He started with his own small-town church. Though his yearlong campaign was ultimately unsuccessful in changing the leadership’s position, Vines succeeded in a larger sense: He learned how to effectively communicate with conservative evangelicals. “There are very particular ways of interpreting the Bible that you learn in an evangelical church,” Vines tells me. “There were some resources on this issue, but not resources oriented toward conservative Christians. My goal was to create a resource that a child, coming out to their father, could use. I wanted to make things easier for people coming along after me.”

In March 2012, Vines delivered a lecture based on his work and posted a video of the event on YouTube titled “The Gay Debate.” It quickly went viral. The speech — which currently has more than 1 million views — is a combination of personal storytelling and rock-solid biblical scholarship that diffuses the anti-LGBTQ interpretation of these six notorious verses.

Vines begins his lecture with a recontextualization of the Old Testament “clobber passages.” In Genesis 19, God sends a pair of male angels to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities overrun by sinners. In an act of intimidation, a group of men from Sodom threaten to rape the angels. Vines argues that the text condemns “gang rape of men by men,” which was “a common tactic of humiliation and aggression in warfare…in ancient times. It had nothing to do with sexual orientation or attraction.” The idea that Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality was not the original interpretation of the text, but rather one that developed in the Middle Ages.

There are more explicit arguments against same-sex intercourse between two men in Leviticus verses 18:22 and 20:13, which read in part, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” But Vines reminds us that Leviticus is part of the Old Testament, and “much of the New Testament deals with the issue of the place of the Old Law in the emerging Christian church. As gentiles were being included for the first time into what was formerly an exclusively Jewish faith, there arose ferocious debates among the early Jewish Christians about whether gentile converts should have to follow the Law.” The debate is resolved in Acts 15, when church leaders decided the Old Testament Law would not apply to gentile believers. This is why, for example, Christians don’t follow a kosher dietary code. Vines posits that for this reason, there is no need to cling to the Old Laws of Leviticus regarding sex between two men.

But what about passages from the New Testament that contain explicit mandates for Christian life? Paul, when describing the sins of those abandoning God for false idolatry in Romans 1:26–27, says in part, “Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” Vines argues that the use of the word “natural” in this text implies that these individuals are heterosexual, and therefore choosing same-sex desire would, in fact, be unnatural for heterosexuals. But what about homosexuals? Vines says that if we interpret the text literally, the passage takes on a totally different meaning: “If applied to gay people, Paul’s argument here should actually work in the other direction: If the point of this passage is to rebuke those who have spurned their true nature…then just as those who are naturally heterosexual should not be with those of the same sex, so, too, those who have a natural orientation toward the same sex should not be with those of the opposite sex.”

With the other two New Testament verses, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Vines takes issue with contemporary translations of the Bible that include the word “homosexual” — a term that didn’t exist until the early 19th century. By further grounding his arguments with additional biblical scholarship and historical context from ancient Christian writers, Vines skillfully defangs all six “clobber passages.”

Vines’ radical speech struck a chord among evangelicals. “My video got so many responses and rebuttals from evangelical pastors, theologians, etc.,” Vines recalls. “Even though the responses from many people were negative, I was actually encouraged by them. Because having responses at all is progress over being ignored. I’d created a dialogue.” The New York Times profiled Vines in September 2012; two weeks later, he had a book deal for God and the Gay Christian. In 2013, Vines founded a nonprofit called the Reformation Project, which promotes “inclusion of LGBTQ people by reforming church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

There were, of course, activists who preceded Vines in doing vital work at the intersection of the evangelical church and the LGBTQ community. In 1993, ex-evangelical pastor Mel White founded the nation’s largest LGBTQ congregation at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas. In 2001, activist Justin Lee founded the Gay Christian Network, an online community that has grown into one of the largest LGBTQ Christian organizations in America. (It has since been rebranded as the Q Christian Fellowship.) But activists like these were often forced outside the evangelical frame by an establishment that didn’t want to engage the LGBTQ community. Vines’ work helped push this conversation inside evangelical circles. “LGBTQ Christians increasingly have more of a public voice,” Vines says. “Moving from being completely silent to acknowledging the existence of the conversation — that’s progress. ”

The number of voices in this discussion has grown exponentially in recent years, representing a diverse swath of LGBTQ Christian activists with intersectional concerns: from transgender Christian activist and YouTuber Austen Hartke, to scholars like David Gushee and James V. Brownson, to Matthias Roberts (host of LGBTQ Christian podcast Queerology), to straight allies like Christian author Rachel Held Evans and TV personality Jen Hatmaker, to gay Christian musicians like Vicky Beeching, B. Slade, and Trey Pearson, to transqueer Latinx scholar/activist/theologian Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, to #FaithfullyLGBT founder Eliel Cruz, to LGBTQ Christian organizations like Grafted, Believe Out Loud, Be Free Stories, Compass L.A., Mama Bears to the Rescue, Convergence, Queer Theology, Generous Space Ministries, and many more.

Many nonaffirming evangelical churches — which wish to appeal to this younger, increasingly progressive generation — have eschewed conversion therapy, quietly adopting a less conspicuous yet equally insidious policy for their LGBTQ members: mandatory celibacy. This has led to the emergence of a subculture of celibate LGBTQ evangelicals within the larger movement.

Through online communities like Spiritual Friendship and conferences like ReVoice, these celibate LGBTQ Christians — often referred to as “Side B” Christians, a term that serves as an antonym to “Side A” LGBTQ Christians, who don’t believe queer sex is a sin — are advocating for visibility of their own. Most Side A Christians I’ve spoken to express compassion for their Side B counterparts and are quick to draw a distinction between the institutions that impose damaging policies and the LGBTQ individuals who adopt them under the threat of eternal damnation.

“Many [LGBTQ evangelicals] believe that lifelong celibacy is their only faithful option. I have empathy for that,” Vines says. “It’s wrong to force celibacy on others — there are too many stories of death and trauma that stem from mandatory celibacy — but if you’re at a place in your personal faith journey where you can’t feel at peace about being in a relationship, that’s not going to be positive for you either.”

Though the wounds inflicted upon LGBTQ individuals by the evangelical church are infinitely varied, the systems that led to these spiritual injuries are always the same and oppress an array of marginalized groups. “It’s important to not only ask people to rethink their views on sexual orientation, but also racism, misogyny, transphobia, ableism, and classism,” Vines says. “If you change your view on one of these things in a conservative, predominantly white church, that’s going to radically alter how you view the community.”

“We’re on the front lines of a shift,” Vines continues. “I want to live in a world where no one experiences any pain or terror upon realizing that they’re gay, bisexual, trans, or pansexual. That requires us to reach even those little churches in rural Texas. I do think it’s possible to reach all those churches, eventually.”

But how to reach those churches? At the beginning of our current decade, this was a riddle few had solved. Though an affirming stance was increasingly the norm among more progressive denominations of Christianity, virtually no evangelical church on earth was affirming.

In 2012, Vineyard Church Ann Arbor, led by straight pastor Ken Wilson, became one of the earliest to attempt the switch. Wilson’s congregation was a “church plant” of the Association of Vineyard Churches, one of the largest evangelical denominations in the world, with more than 2,400 churches in 90-plus countries. Wilson had maintained the nonaffirming evangelical stance since founding his church in 1975. But that shifted in 2005, when a transgender woman came to Wilson seeking spiritual advice after pastors at her previous church told her that she needed to start living as a man again. Wilson was horrified that any pastor would suggest such a hateful thing and had a change of heart on LGBTQ issues. “I said, ‘Don’t do what those other pastors are saying. My job as a pastor isn’t to tell you what gender you are.’” Wilson recalls. “I told her, ‘If you find a partner and want to be married, I’ll do the wedding.’”

From that moment, Wilson began a years-long process of slowly changing the minds of leadership within his church. In 2012, his staff finally decided to adopt an affirming stance. With no other affirming evangelical congregation to point to as a model for success, Wilson operated in a terrifying vacuum. “The anxiety was psychological torture,” Wilson tells me. “Knowing that you’re on a path that could jeopardize your standing in your beloved tribe.”

Some vehemently objected to the pastor’s decision, but Wilson made slow progress with his congregants as the months went on. Trouble began in 2013, when Wilson made a presentation about LGBTQ rights to the national board of the Association of Vineyard Churches. Wilson’s ideas were rejected, and he knew then that his position was in danger. Soon thereafter, Wilson’s book on the topic, A Letter to My Congregation, was released, and his co-pastor, Emily Swan, came out as a lesbian. Finally, in 2014, the national board cracked down on Wilson, forbidding him from conducting gay marriages and demanding he put an end to his co-pastor’s lesbian relationship.

Wilson refused to cooperate. In January 2015, he left the congregation he’d ministered for 40 years and, with Swan, founded a new church called Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor. That same year, the country saw an unprecedented wave of evangelical churches flipping their stance. Influential megachurches like Eastlake Community Church in Seattle, GracePointe Church in Nashville, Christ Church: Portland, and City Church of San Francisco all became affirming. Forefront Church in Brooklyn flipped in 2016, after pastor Jonathan Williams’ parent, Dr. Rev. Paula Williams, came out as a transgender woman. According to Church Clarity, a national database that scores churches based on whether they are LGBTQ affirming, an estimated 30 to 35 evangelical churches in the United States have become inclusive, and many more are in the midst of the discussion.

In January 2017, Pastor Michael Hidalgo’s Denver Community Church (DCC) became one of the most recent evangelical congregations to officially become affirming. Hidalgo, who is straight, cites Wilson’s book as one of the resources he used in his own process, though the landscape has changed significantly in just a few years. No longer are pastors doing this in a void — a quickly expanding network of evangelical congregations is having this conversation. Even still, Hidalgo — who’d secretly become affirming years before DCC made the switch — had trepidation regarding his decision. “All these unknowns were rolling through my head: Is everyone going to leave? Are people going to stop giving? How many staff members am I going to have to tell, ‘We can’t fund your position anymore?’”

These reservations are common among a growing number of evangelical pastors considering LGBTQ inclusivity. Even if a significant portion of a church’s population is affirming, the fear of alienating establishment evangelicals is real. While progressive millennials may increasingly fill the pews, older Christians often fill a church’s bank account. According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape study, wealthy evangelicals tend to be older: Only 17 percent of evangelicals who make $100,000 or more a year are millennials, with the remaining majority belonging to older generations. Not only do younger Christians make less, they also give less — only 63 percent donate 10 percent or more of their income to their church, compared to 83 percent of their older counterparts. To become affirming often means splitting the congregation and severing valuable financial ties with older, conservative donors, parent churches, or fundamentalist umbrella organizations.

Hidalgo’s church didn’t just survive the transition—it has thrived in its wake. Donations took a small dip but are steadily rising again. The 2,000-member congregation initially lost approximately 200 members, but Hidalgo has seen its population rebound within the year. “Inclusion begets inclusion. When you say yes to one group that’s been marginalized by the church, many marginalized groups start showing up because they’re safe here,” Hidalgo asserts. “We’ve taken this leap and seen a bigger, beautiful, and more honest expression of who we are as people, as a church, and as humanity.”

Churches like DCC and the similarly successful Forefront Brooklyn have defied the idea that adopting an affirming stance will destroy a congregation. Because of this, Hidalgo says he fields “nonstop” calls about this issue from pastors across the country. “There is a whole generation of young people who love Jesus, haven’t given up on the church, and don’t see sexual orientation and faith as anything but complementary,” Hidalgo tells me. “We’re incredibly close to a tipping point.”

Through his work as interim executive director of the Q Christian Fellowship, queer activist and psychotherapist Isaac Archuleta has consulted with DCC, Forefront, and many others during their transitions. “There’s a swell now, because the pillars that have kept the conversation of sexuality and spirituality from the church are deconstructing, and LGBTQ people are gaining power, advocacy, and confidence as a community in those sacred spaces,” Archuleta tells me. “We’re saying, ‘I’m not an issue for the Christian church. I’m a part of the Christian church.’”

But can an affirming church still be considered “evangelical” if it defies what many consider the defining tenet of evangelicalism? Trans pastor, counselor, and activist Paula Williams is another major figure in the movement and founded the affirming Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colorado, this year. Though she holds on to certain styles of worship from her past, she — and many of her affirming peers — have adopted the term “post-evangelical” to describe their theology.

“There were a lot of [LGBTQ Christians and allies] who wanted to hang on to the biblical, Greek understanding of the term [evangelical], which is ‘good news.’ We believe we have the Good News of the Gospel that we carry with us and live out before the world,” Williams tells me. “But there’s been such an increased politicization of the evangelical community in the United States, with 81 percent voting for Trump within the last election. For that reason, I think the term has become poisoned.”

Hidalgo has also abandoned the term at DCC. He’s thrilled by his church’s transformation but wishes he had done one thing differently. “By not saying something as as soon as my heart changed, I added to the LGBTQ community’s wounds and furthered them from God and the church,” Hidalgo says. “My great regret is that I didn’t say something sooner.”

During his freshman year of college, Darin McKenna began attending services at Grace Midtown, a large “hipster evangelical” church located in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the course of five years, he became heavily involved in the church community. At the same time, McKenna was grappling with his bisexuality, a process made even more difficult by his church’s lack of clarity on policies regarding sexual orientation.

“Silence was their stance [on LGBTQ issues],” McKenna recalls. “It was avoided and ignored. For years, the pastors would say, ‘We’re still working this out. Be patient.’”

The church’s nonstance was ambiguous enough to give McKenna hope that he might eventually be accepted, yet vague enough that he feared he would be excommunicated if he came out as bisexual. McKenna decided to stay closeted, and, after five years of devoting his life to the church, Grace Midtown hired him to their pastoral team. With a promising career in ministry underway, McKenna was more reluctant than ever to reveal his secret. That changed when a gay church member came to McKenna seeking guidance about the church’s unclear stance on homosexuality.

“He said, ‘I can’t pretend I’m not gay.’” McKenna recalls. “I was like, ‘If God is as big as we say God is, I’m not worried about you. So be gay, date guys, and stay connected to this community.’ After he left, I started crying. I realized, ‘Oh, that was for me. I’m giving him permission that I won’t give myself.’”

McKenna entered a depressive spiral because of his inability to fully embrace his sexuality. He attempted to date a woman in the church, but the relationship quickly crumbled. Finally, Grace Midtown’s head pastor confronted McKenna, suspecting that deeper issues were behind his employee’s breakup. “Right after I broke up with my girlfriend, he asked me, ‘Where are you on this issue?’” McKenna says. “I told him I was affirming. He had a lot of sympathy, but a couple of months later he fired me.”

McKenna wasn’t the only one to suffer from the Grace Midtown’s unclear stance on LGBTQ issues. In response to a quickly growing LGBTQ population, queer Christian activist Kevin Garcia started two separate LGBTQ prayer groups during his membership at Grace Midtown. Both were dissolved by church leadership. After his second attempt, in the fall of 2017, Garcia was called into a meeting with the head pastor, where he was told the church had finally taken an official nonaffirming stance. He left Grace Midtown that day. “We forced their hand,” Garcia tells me. “Now queer people can choose whether or not they want to engage a space that’s openly nonaffirming, rather than being theologically catfished.”

Church Clarity launched last year with the mission of combating this toxic ambiguity. The organization oversees a rapidly growing online database, where churches are scored based on how clearly they communicate policies toward women in leadership and the LGBTQ community. The site was co-founded by George Mekhail, former pastor of Eastlake Community Church, and Sarah Ngu, a current deacon at Forefront Brooklyn. Mekhail and Ngu were both active players in their own evangelical churches’ decisions to become affirming and were inspired by their personal experiences to combat this issue on a larger scale.

“Now it’s harder to take for granted what a church’s policy is [on LGBTQ issues],” Ngu says. “Some churches will try to not be cast as bigoted by co-opting welcoming language without changing the substance [of their theology]. They realize hellfire and brimstone homophobia or transphobia isn’t great, so they tone it down. They don’t tell a gay person they’re going to hell. Instead, they give them a welcome card.”

The organization doesn’t pressure churches to become affirming; it simply asks that they clearly articulate their stance. “It’s been heartening to see a slow move toward churches finally being clear and self-reporting their policies,” Ngu says.

After his experience at Grace Midtown, McKenna moved to Los Angeles and found New Abbey. He was awestruck by the church’s progressive, “post-evangelical” theology and the ways in which it deconstructed the toxicity of the evangelical tradition. “I’ve found a community of people with similar experiences: some who are queer and following Jesus, some who were also in Christian ministries and kicked out,” McKenna says. “It’s amazing — I got healed in that space.”

“Your love is strong!”

A Christian rock band performs on a small stage in the back of the advertising firm that on Sundays functions as New Abbey’s makeshift sanctuary. Desks have been cleared from the chic, open-plan office, replaced by rows of about 200 folding chairs. Skylights flood the space with natural light. People greet one another as they file in, exchanging smiles and warm hugs.

“If you all would grab each other’s hands,” co-pastor Brittany Barron says as she takes the stage. “This is the part of the service where we remind each other of the importance of diversity. The moment you begin to see someone as ‘the other,’ the last stop on that train is violence and death. Every week, we say how important it is to be in a room of people who aren’t like you and see them as human, as people of God. That makes the world come together.”

“We are at a point with Christianity in America, where the church is dying,” Cory Marquez says later, joining Barron onstage. “The part of the church that continues to stay around is doubling down on its conservatism. That’s not matching up with real life in 2018. It’s time to let old ways die and be resurrected into a new paradigm, into a new reality where this story gets bigger than it ever was before.”

As I look around the room — a space filled with queer individuals, people of color, and humans from diverse array of backgrounds — I am filled with something that is in short supply in our country: hope. Hope that we are moving into a new paradigm. Hope that this small community, healing in diversity, can be an example to us all. Hope not just for this burgeoning movement, but for all marginalized groups persecuted by overlapping structures of oppression within evangelicalism. Hope for this new generation of Christians, who insist that the church can be a symbol of love instead of injustice.

Can you be queer and Christian? Despite what many evangelicals would like you to believe, the answer has always been yes. The ultimate irony of this entire debate is that queer Christians are simply fighting for the very concept upon which the entire Christian tradition was founded: love. I would argue that any person who attempts to shame someone else based on who they love — or the color of their skin, or their country of origin, or their gender — is not truly a Christian, but merely someone who has appropriated theology for ill. Faith without love is simply dogma, a tool to control and oppress people. This is not to say that Christians who subscribe to oppressive ideologies are all hateful bigots. On the contrary, I would argue that love is inherent in our very humanness. It’s hatred that is learned.

The LGBTQ Christian movement will be successful because it is powered by love. Make no mistake: The change will be slow, difficult, and painful. But it will happen. It’s already happening through the work of this pioneering generation of activists, who are making progress in the most repressive religious environments in America. It’s happening thanks to the growing number of voices driving this vital and intersectional movement. They are saying God is freedom, God is acceptance, God is justice.

They are saying: God is love.

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