Every once in a while, I get invited to speak to a church or faith-based organization, only to have that invitation retracted later. Sometimes the cancellation happens for reasons I wholeheartedly endorse. (‘Our event was delayed by COVID…’) Sometimes, the reasons are so outrageous I just have to laugh. (‘We didn’t actually realize you were gay.’) But the most vexing and heart-breaking disinvitations, in my experience, come from the well-meaning people who really genuinely thought they wanted me there, until they realized that my presence would cause more ruckus than they planned on.
‘I know it’s important for us to have this conversation about human sexuality,’ my erstwhile inviters tell me. ‘And we think you’d have helpful things to share with us. But it turns out we need to do more preparation before we have someone like you show up. We’re not quite ready to have this conversation with you.’
Lest I seem to be criticizing or picking on anyone here, let me make a few qualifying observations.
First: if you’re reading this as someone who once had a conversation like this with me, rest assured that I’m not writing about you in particular. (To be honest, with all due respect, I’ve probably forgotten your name by now.) I’ve had this conversation, or some version of it, way more times than I’d like to admit.
Second: I recognize that healthy faith communities need to operate out of trust and shared authority and mutual submission. And I recognize that meaningful and lasting change often happens slowly, inch by inch, driven by people who patiently and persistently challenge the system from within.
Third: honestly, if someone realizes that the environment they’ve invited me into is actually a hostile one, a big part of me is relieved to be uninvited. I’m rather conflict-avoidant, after all; I’m just as happy to duck out of the fistfight before it begins.
Still, despite these caveats, I grieve when people disinvite me from speaking on the grounds that they’re not yet ready to have this conversation. The grief isn’t personal (another free evening on the calendar is a win in my book!), nearly so much as it is corporate. What I want to tell them in reply – what I’m only occasionally bold enough to say aloud in the moment our conversation occurs – is this:
‘Please do what it takes, probably much faster and more bravely than you’d like, to prepare yourselves for this conversation. Because if you keep waiting until you’re ready, you will never be ready.’
If you’re waiting to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people who love Jesus until you’re sure that the ensuing conversation will be safe and predictable and keep everyone happy, you’ll never acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people who love Jesus.
If you’re waiting to talk about hard theological questions related to human sexuality and gender identity, in hopes that you’ll stumble into a ‘right season’ during which these questions are guaranteed to be well received with wisdom and nuance, that season will probably never arrive.
If you’re waiting to hear from a celibate gay person until your whole community already believes that celibate gay people can follow Jesus, you’ll never finish waiting.
And in the meantime, while you’re waiting, you’ll miss the sexual and gender minority folks who are already in your midst.
While you’re waiting, you’ll miss the sexual and gender minority folks who are already in your midst.
You’ll miss the teenager who has experienced gender dysphoria since they were four years old but never dared to tell anyone because they’ve heard how their church talks about transgender people.
You’ll miss the mother of three who only realized after marrying her husband that she wasn’t attracted to him or to any man, who’s now wrestling with her faith in Jesus and her beliefs about sexual ethics.
You’ll miss the college student who stumbles into a campus Christian fellowship meeting as if by accident, trying to figure out whether this Jesus he’s heard about can possibly love a gay guy like him.
If you’re not ready to have a conversation with me, how do you expect to offer the good news of the gospel to people like them? If you can’t handle a gay guy who’s celibate, what will you say to LGBTQ folks who aren’t celibate? If you’re not ready to hear from someone who agrees with your historic biblical sexual ethic, how will you ever build a relationship with someone who disagrees?
To be clear: this isn’t about me. There are (thank goodness) much better speakers and writers and thinkers and Jesus-lovers in the world than I! Maybe you need to invite someone else to speak into these questions instead. Maybe you need to start a dialogue with a small group of leaders, then work your way out to the rest of your community from there. Any time a faith community finds a better way to have these important conversations, a way that doesn’t involve me, I’m delighted to hear it.
But in all the times I’ve been disinvited from a place because they weren’t ‘ready’ for me, I’ve never (as far as I can remember) subsequently been invited back. And on the rare occasions I’ve checked in a year or two later to see if they pursued the conversation without me, my findings have been grim.
You have only two choices: do it before you feel ready, or never do it at all.
If you’re not ready to start a conversation about faith and sexuality in a way that honors LGBTQ people, I’m starting to think you have only two choices: do it before you feel ready, or never do it at all.
I’ve seen a lot of faith communities boldly choose the former. And I’ve seen far too many choose the latter.
Which will you be?
This post was originally published on the blog of the Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender.