I am sad that Eli and I never got to plan this event together. But I am excited beyond words that Receiving with Thanksgiving, the LGBTQ Christian group on the Penn State campus that Eli helped found, will be sponsoring not just a single event but a whole series of speakers and performances throughout the 2016-17 academic year. I've learned through the experience of our own walk with Eli that actually listening to LGBTQ Christian people tell the story of their own personal journey - their testimony - is truly powerful and transformative. Each of our speakers has a personal story to tell as well as an important message to bring us.
And what a speaker line-up it is! When we started planning this series, we were invited to dream big (like Eli again); so we wrote down a list of the four best speakers we could think of for this project, our "dream team". Well... they all said yes! It is an amazing team. I won't spoil the suspense by giving away the whole list just yet, but the first speaker, on November 13th, is Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network (GCN) and author of the wonderful book Torn which would be my #1 recommendation for any Christian wanting to learn more about life as an LGBTQ person of faith. Justin is a wonderful speaker, calm, clear and kind; a peacemaker in a landscape too often dominated by images of battle and conflict. His focus, and that of GCN, is on equipping churches to embrace their LGBTQ members and neighbors as beloved children of God, and on helping Christians to live up to their calling as instruments of grace and defenders of the outcast. (GCN is not an advocacy group for same-sex marriage, and in fact it embraces members who hold opposite views on whether same-sex unions can be blessed by God.)
Dear reader, if you live in the State College area, I'd like to challenge you: Mark November 13th in your diary (Justin's talk will be at 4 p.m.) and plan to hear what Justin has to say. Especially if you've been feeling that twinge of spiritual discomfort that indicates you need to to some more thinking and praying in this area. And especially, especially if you're a pastor (I know some pastors read this). Some folk in your congregation, who deeply need to hear this message, are probably going to want your "permission" before they attend. Be bold! Give that permission by telling your people about Justin's talk, from the pulpit if you like. Maybe tell them you'll be going too!
And remember, there are several more excellent speakers and events to come in the spring. Although the speaker series doesn't have an official title yet, my imagination has already given it one: "Are You Receiving Me?" Both in the sense "are you hearing me" and "are you welcoming me", I think that LGBTQ people are asking the churches this question. Our speakers will help Christians give a wholehearted "Yes" in reply.
Photo source: Wikipedia. Creative Commons License.