This brilliant chart is from Kristen Myers, based on the original here.
Every year, the Gay Christian Network puts together a big conference of Christians who care about LGBT people. This year’s theme is "Live It Out," and guess who’s going to be there!
Author/blogger Rachel Held Evans will be keynoting.
So will Rev. Dr. Christine Wiley, pastor at the first black Baptist congregation in DC to call an equal husband/wife pastoral team.
And Rob and Linda Robertson, whose powerful story “Just Because He Breathes,” about their gay son, was a viral hit on Huffington Post this year.
Did I mention the concert by popular singer/songwriter Derek Webb, formerly of Caedmon’s Call?
That doesn’t even count more music by Bobby Jo Valentine, a women’s retreat featuring Rev. Audrey Connor, workshops by a bunch of amazing people, powerful worship, fellowship opportunities, and more. Oh, and I’ll be there also.
This year will be our biggest conference yet, January 9-12, 2014, in Chicago. The current online registration rate ends December 15, so if you think you, your family, your church, and/or your friends might like to go and meet all these awesome people, head to the GCN conference website now to register!
areweintokyoyet asked: Hey Justin. A friend and were discussing Torn recently and we was noting that nowhere in your book did it mention whether or not you yourself are in a committed relationship (although obviously you are Side A and support that.) He thought that you probably were but didn't want to share that as it might alienate some of your readers who would automatically dismiss you as a gay man having gay sex. Care to comment?
Thanks for the question! I’m actually still single, but you’re right that I do want to get married someday. :)
Still, the organization that I run has people on both sides (“A” and “B”), and I have a number of readers on both sides as well, so I try to write in a way that is accessible whether you agree or disagree with me on that point.
knocked-right-in-spice asked: In your "9 ways your church can better support singles" post, you said "handicapped." That term is actually outdated and offensive to disabled people. It originated in the early 1900's when disabled people were forced to be beggars and have their "hand in their cap"to beg for money. The word "disabled" is very much accepted by the disability community. Really appreciate what you do with GCN! :)
You’re absolutely right; “disabled” is the most widely accepted term, so thanks for pointing out my mistake! I’ve corrected the post.
Incidentally, the “hand in cap” (or “cap in hand”) begging story is an urban legend, but the mere fact that many people believe it should be enough to keep folks from using the word in a way that might unintentionally offend people. (There are also other reasons why many people prefer the term “disabled,” of course.)
While people with disabilities (as well as African Americans, LGBT people, little people, and other groups) may not all agree on the terms they prefer to use for themselves, it’s important to make an effort to use the language a particular person prefers when speaking to that person and the language that the majority of the community prefers when speaking of the community as a whole. In this case, the best term is “people with disabilities” (which also puts the person before the disability).
I love my readers! You guys keep me constantly learning. :)
In my last post, I said that many churches are really bad at supporting single people. This was a shocking revelation to no one—well, no one single, anyway.
Because when you’re a single person in a church full of couples and families…
…after a while, you begin to feel…
…a bit superfluous.
And it’s a real problem in churches across America. I’ve heard from so many singles who have told me they think their churches have no place for them.
This is ironic, because the Bible spends a lot of time talking about the need for God’s people to focus specifically on caring for the widows and orphans among them.
Why those groups? Well, they were the people who didn’t have the support of an immediate family structure. They had unique financial needs, of course, but they also had unique emotional needs. When you preach a sermon full of references to us as husbands, wives, and kids, the widows and the orphans are the ones you’ve left out. They’re not someone’s husband or wife or child. In a very real way, they’re on their own.
This is the reality for singles of all ages in your church: The 40-something who hasn’t found the right person yet. The 70-something whose spouse has just died. The 50-something still reeling from a nasty divorce. The 20-something who is gay and facing a life of self-imposed (God-imposed? church-imposed?) celibacy.
Some people are single by choice; others by circumstance. Whatever the case, being single in our culture can be lonely, and church can feel especially so.
The challenges we singles face go beyond financial considerations and how to abstain from sex. In a church culture that emphasizes the family unit above almost all else, where is our identity? How do we spend our time as we age and so many of our peers are busy with their families? And what do we make of the fact that even our Christian communities sometimes treat us with condescension or suspicion for being single?
These are much bigger questions than we can address in one blog post, but for now, here are 9 ways your church can begin ministering better to single people.
1. Include singles in your church leadership. Not only does this send a powerful message; it also helps ensure that someone sensitive to the needs of singles will be part of the decision-making process.
2. Talk openly about singles—in sermons, in staff meetings, in church literature, everywhere you do ministry. When you do, think about how what you say and do affects different groups of singles, from the celibate gay man to the widow. Don’t let “singles” be code for “young people.”
3. Go out of your way to get to know the singles in your congregation—old and young. Have dinner with them. Get to know them as people, not just as singles, then ask about their experiences and get their feedback on how your church can better minister to them. I bet they’ve got some great ideas, but you might have to take some time before they’re comfortable opening up.
4. Have a singles ministry at your church that is not focused on marriage. Some of us may never marry, and all of us could use a ministry that focuses on where we are right now, not just where we might be in the future. It’s great to have classes for people preparing for marriage, but that’s not a singles ministry. Remember: We’re whole right now. We don’t want to be seen as the not-yet-marrieds or the used-to-be-marrieds.
5. Give singles the opportunity to lead the singles ministry. Many pastors think they’re avoiding potential problems by having married folks lead the singles ministry, but honestly, that feels so condescending. It also gives the distinct impression that we’re all just supposed to be on a journey toward marriage, at which point we’ll be taken more seriously.
6. Look for every opportunity to create community among the singles in your church—as well as between singles and non-singles. Even nuns and monks, dedicated to celibacy for God, still live in community together. People need community, and it can’t be limited to Sunday mornings. Offer regular social opportunities for singles of all ages, and don’t let them be perceived as matchmaking events.
7. Be particularly cognizant of the times many people gather with their families—holidays, important life moments, illness, etc. Create opportunities for your church to be their family in those times. You know all that love, support, companionship, and stability you get from having a spouse and children? We need those things, too. Think about how your church can fill those gaps.
8. Reach out to singles with special needs. For instance, singles who are elderly, disabled, or without a car may have difficulty making it to your church—not only for Sunday worship, but for social events as well. Make a point of reaching out to them and offering them rides.
9. Offer singles lots of opportunities to get plugged in. When you have opportunities for volunteering or leadership, don’t just post something in the bulletin; go out of your way to reach out to people personally and let them know how much you’d appreciate their time and talents. Even if they say no, they’ll be honored that you thought of them and asked.
Those are a few of my ideas; I also suggest taking a look at this excellent article by Leigh Kramer, who has many more great points.
What suggestions do you have? Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let’s keep this conversation going!
For more on this topic, see my previous post: Singles—why are churches so bad at dealing with them?
Being single is weird. Sometimes it’s like:
But other times, it can be… well… discouraging.
When you’re single and feeling lonely, some things only make matters worse.
You know, like…
- Facebook status updates about your friends’ new relationships.
- Love songs on the radio.
- Romantic comedies.
- Romantic subplots in movies that aren’t romantic comedies but manage to remind you of your singleness anyway.
- Friends’ Facebook profile photos that include their significant others.
But wait, there’s more…
- Relatives who want to know if you’ve met anyone yet.
- Parents who want to know when they can expect grandchildren.
- Being home alone when your friends are out on dates.
- Falling for someone who is unavailable, uninterested, or otherwise not an option for you.
- Not falling for anyone and wondering if you’re too picky.
- Falling for everyone and wondering why no one reciprocates.
- Facebook. Did I mention Facebook?
Being single in a relationship-obsessed culture can be a challenge. But as bad as all of those situations can be, in my own personal experience, one of the most frustrating places to be when you’re single is church—especially in American Protestant churches.
Yeah, I said it.
As a single guy, sometimes I hate going to church.
(Just imagine he’s in a pew and you’ve got it.)
Right now, some of you are saying to yourselves, “Oh, now, it’s not really all that bad in churches, is it?” If you’re saying that, well, there’s a good chance you’re not single. Because every time I mention this around single people—especially single Protestants who have made it past their 20s—I always get the same response: wide eyes, vigorous nodding, and comments like, “OH MY GOSH YES.”
See, American Protestant churches are great at supporting families. If you want to know how to be a better, more godly husband, wife, parent, or child, we’ve got you covered. We’ve got books. We’ve got classes. We’ve got sermons. We’ve got small groups. Here, have a special edition Bible.
But too often, we don’t seem to know what to do with single people other than somehow shove them into that frame.
It’s not that churches don’t know they have single people. The trouble is, many churches think about singleness only as a young person’s issue. And what do single teenagers need? Lots of advice on controlling their sex drives until marriage, apparently. But single adults need a lot more than that.
Single adults aren’t just coping with singleness for a few more years; some of us are facing the possibility of a lifetime alone. We want to know how to deal with our need for companionship. We wrestle with loneliness and depression. We crave a community of people who won’t be too busy for us because of kids and family obligations. We worry about what will happen to us in illness, old age, or dementia without a spouse and children to care for us. And yes, we have questions about appropriately handling our sexual desires as Christians, but for most of us, that’s far from the toughest thing about being single.
All of these are things our churches could help us with. Instead, though, many of us attend week after week only to hear sermons about families and spouses and parents, coupled with lots of well-intentioned questions about when we’re going to find someone and settle down.
No one means for this to happen, of course.
Some of it is the fault of a culture in which churches are reluctant to hire single people as pastors. When the church’s top leaders are all married, they’re often just not as aware of the unique needs of the single people in their congregations. Their sermon illustrations are all about married life because that’s the life they know. They’re certainly not trying to exclude anyone.
But all of this leads to silly situations like a church “singles ministry” that’s led by a guy who married right out of college and has no idea what it’s like to be alone at 45. These ministries typically focus on young folks and build their curriculums around preparing these singles for marriage and offering mingling opportunities to help them get there faster. Rather than a focus on the unique needs of singles as singles, the focus is on helping singles stop being single.
Which is weird. Because Jesus was single. Paul was single. Many of the church’s early leaders were single. But somehow, single people aren’t treated as very valued in these churches. Our own churches don’t really know what to do with us.
Do you relate? What do you wish your church would do differently? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and next time, I’ll share what I think needs to be done.
Click here for the follow up: 9 ways your church can better support singles.
Last week, I had the privilege of speaking, alongside my friend Ron, at Gordon College, a Christian school in Massachusetts. We were there to talk about faith and sexual orientation as part of “Sexuality Week,” a week of presentations addressing issues from rape culture to LGBT dialogue.
But one of the most powerful things I heard there wasn’t about sexual orientation. It was about sexual abuse.
On Friday night, several Gordon students shared their own stories and challenges. One of those was Aaron Hicks, a young singer/songwriter, who has given me permission to share with you something deeply personal he shared that night.
Through tears, Aaron stood at the mike and publicly opened up about something many of his peers hadn’t known: He had been molested over a period of years by a trusted youth leader, a master manipulator with multiple victims.
Not only had Aaron had to deal with the abuse and resulting feelings of shame and betrayal, but once he confessed the truth, he had to spend three more months with his abuser, pretending nothing was wrong while the investigation continued—before facing him repeatedly in the courtroom during the ongoing trial.
Aaron’s gifts as a songwriter allowed him to pour some of his anger and pain into music, and this tragic but beautiful song has been haunting me ever since.
If you like it, you can buy Aaron’s music on iTunes.
You know why I post stuff like this? Because in many churches, we’re afraid to talk about sex except for in its ideal form (loving, mutually selfless, in the context of a marriage, etc.) and we allow people like Aaron to feel like they’re alone.
No, Aaron, you’re not alone. There are a lot of Aarons out there—feeling hurt, feeling shame, feeling nothing. Feeling like nothing. And we, the church, can’t let them suffer in silence. We need to feel something. We need to do something. We must work to prevent abuse in any way possible. But when it does happen, we must also work to remove the stigma abuse victims so often face, and to make sure our churches are safe spaces to talk about the reality of our lives.
Because I want to be part of the kind of church where people like Aaron share their stories—where all of us share our messy, complicated stories—and where we as a body of believers say, “This is why God put us here: To hear you, and support you, and walk down this painful road with you. Because God loves you, and we love you. And we’re all in this together.”
Part 6 in my series of questions Christians ask about gay people.
I talk to a lot of Christians about LGBT issues, and I always encourage them to ask the questions they’ve been afraid to ask. One of the most common is this one:
"Why do gay people make their sexuality the core of their identity?"
Um, we don’t. At least, most of us don’t.
In my experience, it’s usually other people who make the biggest deal out of our sexuality.
One of the reasons many gay people prefer to be called “gay” rather than “homosexual” is that the term “homosexual” seems to focus unnecessarily on our sexuality, as if being gay were all about sex. (This is exactly why some anti-gay groups like to use that term so much, which just makes us dislike it all the more.)
As a gay man, I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality. But I keep getting this question anyway from people who insist that if I describe myself as gay, my identity must be in my sexuality—and not in Christ.
So let’s clear up three myths on this subject.
Myth #1: If your identity is in Christ, you shouldn’t describe yourself with any other label.
"You shouldn’t call yourself gay," a friend once said to me. "You should just say that you’re a Christian, and nothing else. I don’t call myself a straight Christian, or a white Christian, or a male Christian…"
But wait a second—if I asked that same friend “Are you straight?” or “Are you white?” or “Are you male?”, he would surely say “yes.” We all use many different adjectives to describe ourselves, and that doesn’t mean our identities aren’t still in Christ. People are complex.
I do agree with him on one point, though: There’s no such thing as a gaychristian, some scary, one-word mythical being distinct from regular Christians.
I’m not a gaychristian. I’m a Christian who also happens to be gay.
Myth #2: If your identity is in Christ, you shouldn’t talk about the things that make you different.
So what about my friend’s other point? He doesn’t go out of his way to call himself a “male Christian” or a “white Christian,” so why do I need to bring up the fact that I’m gay?
I know where he’s coming from. As a white guy in America, I hardly ever think about my race. It almost never comes up in conversation. But if I walk into a crowded room and I’m the only white person there, I suddenly become very aware of my race. Similarly, I don’t think much about being male—until I find myself in a group where everyone else is female.
When you’re in the minority, you think and talk about the things that make you different. That’s not a bad thing; it’s actually really great for the broader Body of Christ, because it lets other Christians hear new perspectives.
It also gives you a chance to connect with others in the same boat, which is important. I can’t imagine anyone telling a Christian women’s group that their identities aren’t in Christ because they talk about their gender.
Myth #3: If there’s any example of gay people obsessing over their sexuality, that means all gay people do, all the time.
I know, everyone’s got a counterexample:
"I’ve seen the way gay people act in pride parades! Gay people are all about sex!"
"I have a gay friend who talks about sex nonstop! Gay people are all about sex!"
But it’s never that simple, and gay people, like straight people, are very different from one another. It’s easy to stereotype a whole group based on one person or event, but as I wrote before, hypersexualized pride parade images don’t represent the average gay person’s life any more than Mardi Gras represents the average straight person’s life.
Gay people’s lives are multifaceted, just like straight people’s. I’m a Christian. An American. A writer. A speaker. A Southerner. An evangelical. I go grocery shopping, watch TV, read the Bible, chat with my siblings, play games with my friends, listen to music. I’m human, and a sexual being, no more and no less than my straight Christian friends. My life is interesting, and it’s boring. Most of it has nothing to do with being gay, and even the gay stuff has very little to do with my sexuality.
I’m all of these things… and my identity is still in Christ.
(By the way, it’s National Coming Out Day! Why do I need to come out as gay at all? I covered that here.)
For more in this “questions from Christians” series, click here.
I’ve just received word that Hachette Book Group (the parent company of Jericho Books, my publisher) is vastly expanding its English-language ebook presence.
Some of you have been telling me that the electronic version of my book hasn’t been available in your part of the world, which is as frustrating to me as it is to you. Well, that’s finally changing! If it’s not available now, it likely will be in the coming weeks, so keep checking.
Depending on your country, the book may be called Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate or Unconditional: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate. If you can’t find it under one title, check the other.
And don’t forget, it’s also available in print or audiobook, read by me!