“We don’t even need to talk about why being gay is wrong, right?” our youth pastor asked the 10th grade guys Sunday School class.
The classed nodded in agreement.
My friend, Tom Langford, added, “And it’s not a choice. There is no gay gene.”
The conversation moved swiftly on to another topic. I remember nothing else about that day, or even that year, other than those forty five seconds when smiling, well-intentioned guys in khakis and polo shirts unknowingly condemned me to hell.
Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, MD, an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, was one of the central pillars of my life. I was there multiple times a week, many of my good friends were from church, and my teachers and pastors there continue to influence my spiritual life today. And yet, if I am honest, there is and always has been a divide between me and that community. I am and have always been an outsider, intentionally and unintentionally excluded.
Four years later, I was sure that I was gay and no longer convinced it was so clearly wrong; I came out while attending the University of Southern California. We had multiple LGBT organizations, free counseling and support groups, a dedicated floor in one of the dorms, and trained RAs–many openly LGBT–in every building. It was the ideal place for me to come out and I had designed it that way. Unlike other queer people I’ve since met, I purposefully avoided Christian colleges and universities knowing that they would be unsafe for me. Still, at my secular school, all of the Christians organizations I had access to were staunchly anti-gay. It was safer to be a Christian without support in gay circles than gay without support in Christian circles. So while I had figured myself out, I still didn’t quite know what that meant for the Christian faith which had been so important to me for my entire life.
An unexpected series of circumstances and connections brought me to Soulforce’s 2007 Equality Ride and it was during our training that I read Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers. Out of every piece of affirming theology I had read up until that point, this was the first piece that I found compelling and which I believed. Rogers, a former moderator for the PC(USA) General Assembly exploded everything I thought about homosexuality,the Bible, Christianity, and justice. Though I was raised in an EPC church and Rogers was from the PC(USA), his words were healing balm from a family member on my bruised soul.
Not only that, he laid out specific recommendations for the Presbyterian Church–my denomination!–to take in order to right the wrongs of Christianity-fueled homophobia and transphobia. It is not merely that homosexuality is allowable, justice for queer people is fueled by the Gospel.
In the years since my participation with the Equality Ride and reading Jack Roger’s book, my faith has soared to new heights. I remember back to my days at Fourth Presbyterian Church grasping for faith and I realize that I was thinking as a child. Now that I am grown, I have put childish things aside. Jack Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, was a catalyst for me to embrace my own faith and understand it in a bold, new way.
Today, I attend Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Marble is the oldest Protestant church in North America and the founding member of the Reformed Church in America, a denomination which, like the Presbyterian Church (USA), still does not treat LGBT people as equals. My faith, and passion for justice, has been kindled at Marble, mostly by my pastor David Lewicki, who is ordained in the PC(USA) church. I recognize now that the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the Christ we worship, the early Church, and Christians throughout the ages have been voices for an ever-widdening circle of inclusion and acceptance and of justice for the oppressed. We are convinced that the circle must include queer, trans, and gay people.
I would not be where I am today if it were not for the inspiration of Jack Rogers, the guidance of David Lewicki, and countless other saints and sheroes. I do not know where I would be, but I am almost certain that I would not be a Christian. It is also under Rev. Lewicki that I have returned to many traditional aspects of Christian teaching: prayer, ritual, original sin, repentance, action, and the importance of church communities.
And so I look with expectation to the upcoming General Assembly in Minneapolis. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a remarkable opportunity before her. She can join with voices throughout the ages who have struggled for justice, she can boldly speak the truth even if it is unpopular or costly, she can be a light for the world, and she can save the lives of untold young people who are sitting in their churches and classrooms wondering “Is there something wrong with me?”
The beautiful, and miraculous, part of this process is though it seems costly and unpopular to boldly proclaim “God loves and honors LGBTQ people just as they are,” it is essential to the Gospel, and the Gospel never takes risks that it contain sustain. The fruits of affirming theology testify to its rightness–a return to faith, a healing of relationships, and a vibrance and resurgence in church life. This is what awaits the Presbyterian Church (USA) when it fully includes queer and transgender people in all aspects of the church.
I look forward to the day when the PC(USA) embraces queer people as full and honored members and leaders. I am thankful that Soulforce will be present to speak truth to power and–for those who choose–to pray without ceasing along with the many Presbyterian pastors, elders, lay leaders, members, organizations, and members-in-exile and pastors-in-exile.
If you can get to Minneapolis, be a part of this important action. If you cannot attend in person, there are more ways to participate: send us a story or a prayer, invite friends, spread the word, talk to your friends, get even more involved with your church if you attend one, contribute financially, pray, buy a copy of Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality for a friend, or your library, or your church library.
Brian Gerald Murphy is a filmmaker, media designer, and social activist. Brian participated in the 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride and went on to co-found Sanctuary Collective. He recently re-joined the Soulforce team as webmaster & web developer. You can connect with him on Twitter or his personal blog, Work In Progress.