There was a bit of a kerfuffle at the Manhattan campus of the global megachurch Hillsong recently. Apparently, people were concerned about the presence of two openly gay men leading the congregation in song who also happened to be engaged to one another.
The names of the two men, Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, might be familiar to regular viewers of the long-running CBS reality show “Survivor.” They were known on the show’s 2014 season as the “Broadway Boyfriends.” Both Josh and Reed have indeed starred in several productions on Broadway.
Jonathan Merritt from Religion News Service reported about Hillsong’s senior pastor’s reactions to criticism from a conservative Christian website.
According to the article: “The post triggered statements from Hillsong’s senior pastor, Brian Houston, reaffirming the church’s belief that ‘marriage is between a man and a woman,’ and stating that neither man is serving in a leadership role any longer. But Houston also said that Hillsong wants gay couples like them to feel welcome.”
Now, here’s where the story gets interesting. Josh and Reed decided to stay.
“We’re grateful for Pastor Carl, and we feel God has called us to be at Hillsong. He wants us to be a part of the church, knowing what we believe,” Reed told Merritt. “This is our home church, and we are not leaving. It’s important for us to be there dialoguing about this.”
It’s a decision that all of us who are both openly LGBT and practicing Christians face on a regular basis—whether or not to continue being a part of a community in which we are often not welcome. For those of us who are part of non-affirming denominations and congregations, this is an especially difficult decision.
While conservatives will continue to debate the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country (including the state of Kentucky), most American Christians are ready for a different conversation. Indeed, it is time for us to move beyond political discussion surrounding marriage equality to a vigorous dialogue about full inclusion of LGBT men and women in the church.
That dialogue can’t happen if a majority of Christians believe we all left the church completely, moved from a non-affirming denomination to an affirming one, or set aside our sexual and gender identities to make everyone comfortable.
It’s true that it can be difficult to understand why those of us who are in non-affirming denominations, such as Roman Catholicism or many evangelical traditions, wouldn’t just pack up and head across town to a church that would be more welcoming.
It’s just not that simple.
While there would be much gained in finding greater acceptance and a spirit of welcome in denominations that are more affirming, for many of us—like Josh and Reed—leaving our spiritual homes would also mean losing a great deal.
For LGBT Christians who grew up in non-affirming places, other churches do not represent the communities in which we were baptized, where we grew from being children into the angst of adolescence and adulthood.
It wasn’t in the schools of other denominations where we first learned about the gospel and its deep connection to justice or where we had meaningful spiritual experiences that shaped our lives.
Speaking for myself, it was in the Catholic Church where I was formed, and it remains my home today. Just like any family home, it is far from perfect and I don’t always feel loved or respected—or even welcomed.
But my faith is not mine to leave or give up.
It was given to me; it was a gift—a gift, not only from the Creator, but also from my parents, grandparents and all of my ancestors. Like me, and like all of us, they faced hardship, abuse, doubt, alienation and pain.
Yet they remained.
They remained and passed the tradition and rich history on to me.
In many areas of this country, the only religious message delivered about the LGBT community is one of hate, exclusion and misconceptions. One way for us to change that conversation is for LGBT Christians in more affirming denominations and congregations to enter the conversation with greater boldness and regularity.
However, it is also important for those of us who remain in non-affirming churches to join the conversation from our own perspective, asking our fellow LGBT Christians for encouragement, understanding and support along the way.
We’re in this together. There is no greater gift we can give God and the generations of Christians that will follow us than to honor the gifts of creation we embody and boldly stand as we are.
Eric S. Fought is an activist, writer and commentator on issues related to the convergence of politics and faith in American culture. He is a Master of Divinity candidate at Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota and a lay pastoral leader in the Roman Catholic tradition.