AE Co-Chair, Sigrun Wagner reflects on a successful weekend away….
Last weekend saw the first joint retreat of the Evangelical Fellowship of Lesbian and Gay Christians (EFLGC) and Courage at Belsey Bridge Conference Centre on the Norfolk/Suffolk border
The topic was “Set Apart: Why God Needs Gay Christians in the 21st Century Church” and the speaker was Justin Lee, from North Carolina in the States, founder and director of the Gay Christian Network (GCN).
Although a joint retreat had been discussed for a number of years, just 10-15 years ago, a joint EF/Courage conference would have been unthinkable due to the very different stance the two organisations had taken on homosexuality.
In the early 1990s, Courage ran a succession of discipleship programmes with a view to helping people ‘come out’ of homosexuality. However, practical experience proved this to be a counter-productive approach. Through years of pastoral experience, they listened to the Holy Spirit afresh and pursued further scriptural study on the issues. The result was change of heart, recognising that God supports and blesses sincere committed relationships between gay people. As a result, Courage slowly moved to an accepting and affirming view.
Justin Lee’s talks were gospel-centred, inspirational, entertaining and very relevant. A particular highlight was the talk, which started on the so-called clobber verses (at which point some audience members silently sighed and thought “oh no, not again”) and then put these verses into context: instead of focusing on the defensive attitude LGBT Christians tend to take towards the clobber verses, Justin focused on the positive aspects of what Jesus and Paul have to say on the subject of relationships (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Romans 13):Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbour. Love is the fulfilment of the law.
It was very encouraging to hear a biblically based affirmation of loving, faithful committed LGBT relationships, which not only do not harm their neighbours, but rather contribute positively to society by their demonstration of love and grace.
For some LGBT Christians it is all too easy to lick their wounds but Justin encouraged his listeners to be positive and confident about what they can contribute to church in the 21st century, sharing their experience and opening up an understanding in the church of what it means to be gay and Christian and they can offer to the church.
It is interesting to note the perspective GCN has decided to take on the issue. It makes the theological distinction between the so-called Side A and Side B – Side A standing for Christians who believe God fully affirms gay people and their relationships while Side B Christians take an accepting stance on LGBT people and a celibate view on relationships. This connects well with the accepting and affirming stance Accepting Evangelicals takes in its welcome.
The sessions always started with worship, and culminated in a Communion Service on Sunday after the last talk. The service was held in the chapel of the conference centre and the sound of 60+ men and 20+ women filled the room and was very moving. The fellowship that characterises these weekends is something very special and the diversity of old and young participants, gay and (a handful of) straight, the general mix of people makes this a safe space.
The film “Through my Eyes”, made by GCN was shown and is recommended viewing (purchasable on the GCN website). Saturday night featured Courage/EF has got talent, which witnessed a great range of gifts, starting and ending with renditions of Amazing Grace – fitting for a weekend such as this.
The venue and food were a great choice and the weekend ended with a session of feedback and sharing which demonstrated the fruit that can be wonderfully recognised in the faith and lives of LGBT people.
Recordings from the talks can be obtained by contacting Courage.