Well, it is my pleasure to welcome the three of you to the show, and also the very first time we are attempting four people on one podcast, so God go with all four of us. Thanks for coming.
Michael: Thank you.
B.T.: Thanks, Jen.
Jen: Here’s what’s going to happen. We’ve got a million things to talk about, but I wonder, really quickly, if each of you can take a minute, identify yourself so people can learn your voices, and then tell us a little bit about you. Tell us what your work is and where you are and what your family looks like and what’s your deal and what’s your story. Is that fine? Okay, how about Matthew, you go first.
Matthew: Okay, my name is Matthew Vines. I live in Dallas currently, but I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, in a conservative Presbyterian church. I came to terms with being gay when I was a sophomore in college, and that was a pretty significant upending of my life, because there was really no precedent for being able to accept or understand or support that in my family or church. But my love for Jesus is the number-one thing for me, and it always has been. And ever since coming out, I’ve been dedicated to my love for the Bible. I love the Bible, I love God, I love the church. So I just went back, studying the biblical text, and really working to engage my parents and people in our church, and ever since then, long story short, that’s what I’ve been doing. I wrote a book that came out several years ago now, called God and the Gay Christian. It’s about why I think Christians can fully affirm scripture and fully affirm same-sex relationships. And I run an organization called The Reformation Project, we work to help shift churches from non-affirming to affirming in a way that’s really rooted in our shared love for God, the Bible, and the church.
Jen: That’s so great. Listeners, by way of information, Matthew came to Austin New Church, our church here, as a part of a conversation series as we were transitioning our church to an affirming space. And then afterwards, we went out to dinner, and I sat next to Matthew, and like a complete weirdo, I took my fork and I reached right over to his plate and took something off of it. Now you know that if you and I go to dinner, I will eat your food even if I barely know you. Thank you for still being my friend after that really weird behavior.
Matthew: You know, I was honored.
Jen: Yes, I know that’s a lie. Okay, how about you, Michael?
Michael: Totally. So hello everyone, my name’s Michael Vazquez. My current post is here at The Human Rights Campaign as the Religion and Faith Director for the Foundation. Before coming to The Human Rights Campaign, I was the founder and co-director of Brave Commons, which is a nonprofit that works with LGBTQ students at Christian colleges and universities around the country, helping them navigate discrimination on campus and advocate for policy change and really shift the conversation about equity on campus.
Jen: That’s great.
Michael: Then right before that, not too long before that, I was on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in a non-affirming space, going through a couple of different forms of conversion therapy myself, trying to pray the gay away.
Jen: I’m sorry.
Michael: Thank you. Yeah, that was really something that began really early on, because when I first came out, I was ten. I was being bullied in school, and came home and told my dad, and my family panicked. I didn’t expect my dad to respond the way he did, because I was ten. I just assumed you tell your family things and things go well. My family being very Catholic, they responded to that moment by calling my very Baptist family in Puerto Rico and getting them to pray for me.
Jen: Bless you. It’s like international prayer might make you straight. “Right, let’s pull up the Puerto Ricans.”
Michael: “Yeah, the rosary won’t work, but maybe some Baptist prayer.”
Jen: Sure, sure.
Michael: It really planted a seed of confusion as a deeply spiritual person. Where do I find myself in the story of my faith but also in the affirmation of my sexuality? And the turning point for me, that I find very significant even for the conversation we’re having today, is and remains the events in Ferguson during the uprising after the assassination of Michael Brown by the State, and seeing how the evangelical world—particularly the evangelical world that found itself at the center, right? They were trying to have conversations about justice, but seeing those folks move further right and more conservative and digging their heels in around LGBTQ people while refusing to engage with Black Lives Matter signaled to me, as a person of color of both African and indigenous descent, that this is not my home, and I was never really welcome here to begin with. And so that instigated my exit.
Jen: Wow, thank you for saying all that. Ferguson was a really important turning point for me, too. That marked a real delineation between what I thought there was and what there was. I appreciate you bringing that to memory and how injustice everywhere affects everyone, that we’re not all siloed off in injustice. Thank you for saying that and thank you for being here.
Our third guest today is a long time friend of mine and the podcast. So now this is really unprecedented territory, B.T., because this is the first and only third appearance from a guest on the For The Love Podcast. You’re the sole person in this zip code. For the listeners today, can you introduce yourself yet again, please, to my audience?
B.T.: Sure, Jen. I’m happy to have that honor. What an honor.
My name is B.T. Harman. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, son of the south. I grew up in a small town in Alabama. My dad was a Southern Baptist pastor growing up, and I was gay. I lived a closeted life for many years. I came to faith in high school, and attempted to, I guess, pray the gay away myself, lots of tears and Bible studies and laying on of hands and those sorts of things. I lived a single, celibate lifestyle for many years, deep into my twenties, and eventually had a little bit of a come apart, and began to question some of my theology at that point. I eventually came to be affirming, to believe that God can and does bless same-sex relationships.
2016, a couple years ago, I came out with a podcast and blog called Blue Babies Pink, which was just my attempt at stepping friends and family through the journey I’d been on of living this quiet, desperate, closeted life. It was well received, and super grateful for all the people that I’ve connected with through that.
In 2018, I got married. I married a man whose name was Brett. My name was Brett Trapp. I met a man named Brett Harman, and it’s very confusing. So I took his name, and we live a really peaceful and very boring married life in Atlanta.
Jen: With a cat.
B.T.: Named Walnut.
Jen: There’s the cat. Yep.
B.T.: Professionally, I do consulting work, and also do podcasting and speaking. So yeah, I have my hand in several things, but also, I also have a parent support group for Christian parents of LGBT kids.
Jen: Thanks, you guys. I’ve already explained to my listeners why we are having this particular episode, and what I’m hoping to bring to my community, and what we’re hoping to learn from you. And I have also explained that the three of you have lived in this world in such a way that has been incredibly instructive to me. I have learned so much, not just from your words, but also from your postures. And it’s meaningful to me that you still value the church and that you still value faith community. And sometimes this all gets real muddy, and understandably so, so I just find you very reliable and trustworthy guides today.
So I want to start here. You guys and I have talked about this, but it’s a weird time right now in our culture. Dialogue is in peril, conversation is fraught, it’s fragmented, it’s sliced together in social media, it lives behind screens. It isn’t what it used to be. In some ways, that’s not all bad. But we no longer experience dialogue around ideas, ideologies, in the way that we once did.
And so some of this has made it really hard. I think one of the sacrifices of the social media venue of conversation is that it just seems very, very challenging to include nuance in things that are nuanced.
I wonder if we can just set the table with a term that we can use to go in and out, and you guys can help me define it. The nice thing to me about social media is that we have this really interesting access to people in power—be that in leadership at church, in government, in civic conversation. Whatever you want, however you want to do it, the gap is closed. And so it does make it easier in some ways to ask hard questions.
Let me ask you this: what would you say the difference is, particularly in the social media culture, between checking someone in power and canceling someone? And does that matter to this conversation? I would just like to hear your thoughts on this. We’ll reverse it this time. B.T., do you have any thoughts on that?
B.T.: Yeah, I’ve got lots and lots of thoughts. I really draw distinction between canceling someone and muting someone. For some reason, even the terminology canceling, it’s only a couple years we’ve been saying this, and for me it feels sort of intentionally vindictive. It feels very public, almost like you know, this showy way of making this pronouncement of, “I hereby cancel whoever…”
Jen: Kind of performative.
B.T.: Yeah, performative. So I don’t know that that’s super healthy for dialogue, but muting I think is great. I mute people all the time in digital spaces.
B.T.: I mute them in my personal life. If people are overtly, chronically toxic. If they’re sending all this negative energy to my life, I have no problem muting them. So I think that’s fine.
I really view the whole concept of checking power—for me it’s about seeking to help somebody grow. I mean, in the last couple years, I’ve posted several insensitive things. One time, it was something that sounded very ableist, something one time that was insensitive towards the transgender community. I was thankful to have people check me on that.
Jen: Yeah, me too.
B.T.: But they did it in a kind and thoughtful way that showed, “Hey, this person isn’t out to get me, they’re actually trying to help me.” And as someone who has a very small amount of influence out there, I am so grateful for that.
So I think the knee-jerk [reaction of] canceling stuff is unhealthy, I think it should be rare, but someone checking power in a helpful way is wonderful.
Jen: That’s a great perspective. You guys want to add in?
Michael: Yeah, I find some of those things you said really helpful in terms of framing.
I do want to name a couple of things, though. I think we have different groups, right, that are engaging in these social media debacles and dialogues and debates. And sometimes it descends into utter chaos, and I’ve seen it, right, I’ve experienced it. There are moments where folks are just performing, where someone has come out and genuinely apologize for something that they were ignorant of, right? They’re like, “I had no idea, and I want to change. I want to be better,” and folks still lean in, still try to attack them more and drag out the vitriol. I don’t want to dismiss it, that’s a reality.
However, at the same time—and I say this very gracefully, or I’m attempting to say this very gracefully—this conversation is dominated by three cis men and a cis woman, three white people and only one person of color, right? All four of us with intense access to privilege and power, that really colors the way that we talk about cancel culture.
Cancel culture is something that is, I would argue, is primarily used as a way to establish boundaries and to protect others, right? It’s a signal to other folks in the community, like, “Hey, I went to this church and this pastor that everyone is celebrating actually was really abusive,” right? Like you said earlier, Jen, we have access to people in power in ways that we didn’t before Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. But especially Twitter, we have access to people in power, and that is a tool for organizers to be able to point out and say, “Actually, no. The experience or the story—or at least part of the story—of this person that’s not being told is this story of abuse, or this story of betrayal, or this story of pain,” and we need to hold onto that deeply.
I’m with Matthew, what Matthew was saying earlier in his introduction about being someone deeply in love with scripture. And something I love about the Bible more than anything, something I love about Jesus in particular, is the devotion to truth, right? That the truth is that which daily liberates. The truth sets us free, and so we hold onto that, right? I think often the issue with navigating cancel culture is people are afraid of the truth coming to light, those in power not wanting truth. There are ways to avoid being toxic and performative and all of those things, but the deep value in cancel culture is that act of Jesus of truth-telling.
Jen: That’s great. I love that. That feels really important to hang onto, to remember what is underneath it. It’s not just a construct outside of real life and real people.
Anything to add to that, Matthew?
Matthew: No, I mean, I think that both B.T. and Michael have illuminated the good and the bad side. Everything is kind of both/and when it comes to these conversations.
Jen: That’s the hard thing, yes.
Matthew: I myself have experienced how a place like Twitter can be amazingly and beautifully democratic in terms of creating that ability to have a voice that you weren’t able to have before, but I’ve also seen how it can even— sometimes I’ve stepped back and thought, Wow, this is actually messing with my mind a little bit in terms of it’s making me less gracious and it’s making me see people as less human in a sense. Because everything is a screen, it’s so easy to write someone off permanently in a way that you would never do if you were actually in lived community with them.
For me, I think the ugly side, the underbelly, of cancel culture is embodied in or illustrated by The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, where his picture of hell is everybody just getting in arguments with other people, and then moving their houses further and further away from other people, because they’re getting in arguments with everybody else. And by the end, everybody lives hundreds of miles away from everyone else. It’s a deeply isolating experience.
And that is something we have to navigate, too, where we’re all imperfect people in need of grace, and so I think especially coming at things from a Christian standpoint, there’s got to be that balance between having legitimate space to share concerns, frustrations, and things like that, and still coming from a posture of genuine love and respecting the other person’s dignity and not just saying, “Oh, we’re going to call people trash now, because we disagree with them, and social media lets us say those things and get incentivized for it and rewarded., because 200 people like my comment calling this other person trash.”
I think we’ve got to also step back and say there’s a line between making an important point or criticism and saying something that is just not consistent with how Jesus calls us to think and talk about other people.
Jen: So let me ask you guys this, because I want to ask you this question and I want to put it on two different levels. The first level is going to be with the people in our life: our families and our neighbors and the people that we go to church with. And then the second category—and I’m going to save that conversation, because I wonder if these two are different and I’d like to hear your wisdom on that—the second category’s going to be leaders in the faith: faith leaders, church leaders, wherever they kind of live in that ecosystem. I’m going to put them separately.
Let’s talk about the first category first. You have lived experiences with this that we need to hear, listen to, and learn from. So when somebody in your life does not align with you—specifically someone in the Christian faith who is not affirming, they’re not affirming of either same-sex relationships period, or their inclusion in church leadership. Obviously, they’re spiritual authority. I want to know, because this to me feels like hard, murky, challenging work. What do you do? How do you even hold space for that person to evolve—if at all? Because where I get hung up here is I think about the James Baldwin quote that is so famous when he said, “We can disagree and still love each other until your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” That applies here. That applies to the lives of the LGBTQ community and their rightful role in the church of Jesus.
I just would love to hear you speak into this conundrum. Is there room to evolve, or is this so nuanced that even in there we need some categories? Let’s see, Michael you want to jump in? Was that a confusing question?
Michael: No, no.
Michael: It is all the things you said about it, right? It’s a complex question, it’s a difficult question. I love that quote from James Baldwin. I think it is the safe place that I would prefer for most folk to live in, right? To feel that they are able to establish that kind of boundary and to say, “We can disagree on what kind of tacos we enjoy, or we can disagree on what kind of worship music we enjoy. We can disagree on—as a student of theology, with a focus on homiletics, I am in debates all the time with people about which kind of preaching is better. All of those things. I can have those debates for the rest of my life and still get a drink with someone after.
Michael: That’s great. When it comes to my humanity, and when it comes to my dignity, those things are not up for discussion. However, I also feel a personal responsibility, like I said earlier, as a person of privilege, right? And I’m still saying that as a queer person of color, that came from a family that was impoverished—all of those intersecting marginalizations, I still have a lot of privilege. I’m graduating from an elite university. I work at a great organization in Washington D.C. I live in a cute neighborhood. There’s a Whole Foods two blocks from my house, SoulCycle’s up the street. I’m doing fine. I’m doing great. And so living with access to this kind of power and privilege and these resources, I have a personal responsibility to dialogue with folks who disagree with my humanity and my dignity and that of my community in hopes of changing the conversation.
But ultimately, we all have freedom of conscience. You’re allowed to believe what you want to believe. My priority is to ensure that your belief does not infringe on my ability to be free. To quote another favorite theologian and black mystic, Howard Thurman says that, “Common ground can be established between two different people if and only if my freedom does not infringe on your ability to be free.”
Jen: That’s good.
Michael: And so when people within the church are advancing theology that dehumanizes and abuses and proliferates violence against the transgender community, we no longer have common ground. There’s no longer room for cute, fluffy conversation. I will dialogue, will take time in hopes of shifting someone. But my priority at that point is to say, “Enough is enough, and we’re drawing a line here.”
And so when those kinds of folks, whether it’s on social media, right, or in real life, we have a responsibility as people with privilege to stand in the gap on behalf of those who don’t have the same kind of access that we do.
Jen: That’s great.
Michael: I think if someone like James Baldwin or someone like Howard Thurman, Pauli Murray, or Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera, if these folks with significantly less privilege than I currently have were able to lead and stand in the gap, then how dare I not?
Jen: That’s great.
Michael: Does that make sense?
Jen: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so great. B.T, thoughts?
B.T.: Yeah, my first thought on this particular question—do we allow people to evolve, do we hold space for them—I think it’s very contextual and seasonal. What I mean by that is listen, if you’re just now coming out and you’re coming out of a religiously abusive situation, you’ve got trauma you need to deal with, and the answer is no. We do not expect you to hold space and have thoughtful dialogue with people who have been partaking in that.
Jen: Yeah, that’s a great point.
B.T.: I would start there to say for a lot of people, this is not a great solution. And I have total empathy and grace for that.
Jen: Yep, me too.
B.T.: I do think once you’ve had time to get yourself in a healthier head space, and you’ve got community, and you’re supported—which is where I try to live my life—then I do want to try to be engaging with folks like that. I created a little rubric for myself a couple years ago around this particular question, and it’s very, very simple. I break it down into three categories: thoughts, words, and actions. My rule is if your words and your actions towards me in my space are hateful, toxic, bigoted, or divisive, I reserve absolute right to cancel you personally.
B.T.: I’m not going to make a big deal about it, but I have the right to push your voice out of my life. And I will do that in a hot minute with zero shame.
Jen: That’s great.
B.T.: However, on your thoughts: if in your mind you believe that homosexuality is sinful, that I will eventually spend an eternity in hell, if those are just thoughts that you have, I’m actually okay with that, because what is going on in your mind is not really my business. I might not like it, I might want you to change. But I think a recipe for a lot of anxiety is trying to change things that we cannot change, and I have a theory that ten to twenty percent of people that are in this conversation are never going to change.
B.T.: They’re going to go to their grave believing that homosexuality is wrong. I hate that. I hate that so much, but it is a reality that I’ve chosen to accept. And so I’m going to distance myself from people that are toxic in those ways, but I’m not going to expend my emotional energy trying to twist arms, change or argue them out of that position, because I’ve just found it to be too exhausting. Everybody’s different, that’s the system I’ve created for myself, and usually it works.
Jen: I see Michael raising his hand.
Michael: Yeah, I want to push back a little bit on that as generously as possible.
B.T.: Go for it.
Michael: There are some incredibly sweet people that will proliferate harm in the sweetest way, right? Where they will never look hateful or bigoted or toxic, right? My time at InterVarsity, my supervisor—one of the sweetest, most bubbly dudes you will ever meet. Kind guy, right? Sweet guy, super friendly. And that made it very difficult for me to find an exit, because it seemed like he was in my court. It seemed like I could have healthy dialogue and conversation and even disagree, to some extent. Mind you, yeah, I was still on staff, he was still my supervisor, right? But Christians often do this thing where they make you feel—I’m kind of removing myself from this picture because I don’t like to function in this way—“Oh, but we’re all family. Even if we work for each other, we’re family, we’re all family in Christ. There’s no Jew or Greek any more. We’re all one people”—until it comes down from a doctrine issue, right? “Then I have to cut you off from opportunities. I have to not promote you, or I have to put you in a performance improvement plan, because you’re asking different questions and I don’t feel comfortable with that.”
Those kinds of folks, they’re not being hateful, they’re not being violent, they’re not being vicious. They’re not tweeting horrible things at me, but they are still being hurtful in different ways. There has to be a way to push those people also, the sweet ones who will see the angry folks online and be like, “Oh, I hear you. I see you. And I’m not going to give you an answer on where I actually stand theologically. I’m not going to shift theologically. I’m not actually going to engage in conversation, but I see you, I support you, I love you.” It’s the, “Let’s couch this in a pastoral conversation about your pain and your trauma and where you’re at and not in a genuine and truthful conversation about how the beliefs that you have perpetuate our…” Does that make sense?
Jen: Totally. I’m hearing you so loud and clear. What do you think, Matthew?
Matthew: Well, I think here, we’re kind of getting into something that I think you mentioned in the question, Jen, about the difference between engaging somebody who’s just kind of in a similar position to you, somebody sitting in the pew next to you at church, versus somebody in a leadership position, and there definitely are differences in how we go about engaging that. But even if you just think about a non-affirming Christian sitting in the pew next to you on Sunday, how I would go about engaging that person depends so much on the context. Well, is it an affirming church? Do I feel like most people in this community are supportive of me? If so, I’m going to feel a lot more comfortable being able to engage that person, because I don’t feel like their opinion or anything that they might say that might be hurtful is going to then have this really wide ripple effect or be reflective of what’s coming from the pulpit as well.
But if it’s a church where I feel like there is zero support, zero openness across the board, it’s a lot more painful and probably less beneficial for me to invest my time in having some in-depth conversation with that person if I don’t really feel like there’s even that much openness from that person. In general, I really do try to, I think there is a lot of value in staying in a relationship when it is possible, but it is not always possible.
Jen: Yeah, you’re right.
Matthew: That’s a very case by case thing. But I also really do try—if it’s not possible anymore to remain in relationship with somebody—to not end things in a bitter way, but just try to recognize, Okay, I don’t think I’m going to be able keep doing this anymore, but still love you, still want the best for you. But I’m just going to have to kind of go in a different direction in terms of how I’m investing my energy.
I do think even when people are believing things that are pretty harmful to us, we are called to love everyone—our neighbors and our enemies.
Jen: That’s so terrible.
Matthew: I know it is.
Jen: So terrible.
Matthew: Personally, how I understand people’s motives really shapes my experience of them. I will have people in my life who actually have the exact same position on something, but I do believe that their motive is coming from a much better place. And so it doesn’t mean that that absolves any of the problems when they come from their position, but honestly in general, I probably just like them more than somebody who I don’t feel like…
Jen: I get it.
Matthew: …their motives are coming from a good place. And so that’s why it’s really hard to just have some formulaic answer of, “Here’s how I respond. Here’s how I would engage this.” It’s very context and individual specific.
Jen: I see my reflection in that.
Matthew: I do think everything still has to be rooted in the teachings of Jesus and how are we seeking to love others as we have been loved by God and as we wish to be loved.
Jen: It’s so interesting for me to listen to you guys talk. And so as I steer this over toward leadership, I have to just be fair and say I am framing this up through my personal experience. I don’t have any other way to do it. Even six years ago, I was not affirming. I had not even examined it. It was an unexamined position that I was handed once upon a time, and it lived on its own shelf. I mean, six years ago, you guys. At that point, I was in leadership. I was out there doing the thing. I had a Twitter account for crying out loud, and so I wrote something even then that was so to your exact point, Matthew. It was very nice. It was almost adorable.
Matthew: I remember that.
Jen: Yeah, it was so harmful to the LGBTQ community and everybody who loves them, and so I don’t know why, I can’t explain why, and I think maybe to your point, Matthew, maybe it’s because I was just likable? But some other faith leaders who were firmly in the affirming camp, they held a door open for me even then, and I don’t know why, because I think they sensed in me, “She’s on the spectrum.” I definitely dropped some of those bread crumbs and—well, I don’t know. I can’t speak for them. I honestly don’t know why.
But all I can tell you is the fact that I got to remain in relationship with some fellow leaders who were way further along than I was on this—it was absolutely monumental to my own journey to evolving, to reexamining scripture and interpretation, and then coming all the way over. And that’s the only experience I have that’s personal, and I am 100% ready and willing to be challenged on this.
So this is what I want to bring to you next, because I actually think it’s gotten a little harder in six years. Something about six years ago wasn’t quite as, what’s the word? Everything is a little bit more intense now, and the runway is shortened on virtually every conversation now. The rope is shorter.
But is it possible or wise to hold space for people in leadership—specifically, spiritual leadership—because as we all know, they are leading people. People are listening to them. They have LGBTQ kids in their communities and parents and siblings and everybody else, and it matters. It matters. It matters a lot.
And so what do we do here? Is this the same answer that you just gave, or is it different? Is this contextual? Is it paying attention to what we are sensing in their journey? Is it direct? Is it public? What does this look like? What is the responsibility here? Then a side question: is your responsibility as members of the community different than mine as just an ally? Do I have a different role here than you have?
So I just loaded that. I don’t really know how you’re going to pick that apart. Do your best with everything, the word salad that I just gave you. Okay, we’ll just start back at the top. B.T.?
B.T.: Yeah, I think for me, a great schema here is the ideal versus the real. I don’t know where I heard that. Somebody else made that up. Ideally, Jen, I want every faith leader to be affirming, celebrating LGBT people yesterday.
B.T.: That is what I want. I desperately want that. My inbox right now—I can’t speak for Michael and Matthew or you—but I would suspect your inbox is filled with messages from people, from LGBT people suffering, who have been shunned by the church, kicked out of their home by their parents. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I come across many of these stories a day. I live under the sadness of that. And I know that that’s perpetuated within church pews and within churches, so I desperately want the ideal scenario to be real, which is that these people get their acts together, realize the harm that they’re causing, and realize that this is a good and holy thing.
In reality, I don’t think that’s going to happen tomorrow. I can’t reach through Twitter and twist people’s arms into believing a certain way, so I just take the position of, I want to hold space for them. I think fundamentally, either you believe people don’t ever change and they’re going to forever be a toxic negative cretinous person, or you have to have hope that they can and will change, and that’s the belief that I have. And so I do think there’s value in holding space for these leaders. I do think there’s a time to speak truth to power, but you’re a great example, Jen. Somebody held space for you, and we’ve got to think that the next Jen Hatmaker is out there and that the Holy Spirit’s working on them.
Jen: I find this so complicated. I can literally argue three different things right now, and they’re all competing. What do you think, Michael?
Michael: Yeah, it’s absolutely complicated, right? I’m in the same boat. I can think of legitimate arguments, compelling arguments, for any number of options.
I think, first, this is the reason why we need good allies, right? Why we need non-LGBTQ people to stand in the gap, right? I think we all, at some point in our life, could thank the late Rachel Held Evans for leading in that way and holding space for those conversations. She set an incredible example of what it looked like to hold space for folks who are not yet there but trying to.
I don’t like the expectation that LGBTQ people should be the ones to be perfect in engagement.
Jen: That’s great.
Michael: My struggle is you have a deeply wounded, deeply attacked community.
Jen: That’s a good point.
Michael: And so we are hurting as a community, and then we see someone say something stupid on Twitter, and then we get angry, and then the response typically—again, this is in my experience of what I’ve seen—is, “Oh, well there they go again. The mobs. This is why we can’t get anything good done. If everyone would just calm down and give XYZ human being, Pastor Bob down in Kansas, give him a moment, he might get there if you were just nice to him for a second.” I’m like, “Well, there have been too many Pastor Bobs…”
Michael: “…hurting us for too long, and now we’re expected to be the nice ones,” right? And so I’m going to lean more on, no, I’m not going to blame hurting individuals for speaking out from that place of hurt. I want everybody healthy, but if we can’t get access to healthcare and adequate mental health to process the trauma we were put through because you’re preventing us from accessing that, then I can’t be like, “Well, baby, you need to go to therapy.” No. I wish you could get access, and that’s what we’re fighting for, for that reason why. Yeah, it might not be good to call people trash, but “you brood of vipers” is probably just as much calling someone trash in the words of Jesus, right? There are some pretty nasty words used for religious authorities that use their power to inflict harm against marginalized populations, and so I think there is, in fact, room for that.
I want to hold the door open for the religious leader that shows up in the dead of night. We all know that story, right? Shows up in the dead of night and asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I want to hold that door open and then tell them the truth. “This is what you must do.” But I think we want to hold people’s hands instead of holding them to the truth.
Jen: That’s good.
Jen: Yeah, that’s so good. I’m just nodding my head off here. What do you think, Matthew?
Matthew: I feel like I see things from a number of different perspectives. And since I really do hear and agree with so much of what Michael just shared in terms of why it’s not the role of leaders—especially non-affirming faith leaders—if they are feeling like they’re getting attacked on Twitter, well, they may just need to talk about it with their own counselor, their spouse. But don’t go whine about it publicly, because even if people maybe said things that weren’t loving, I think we’re always just called to look to ourselves, right? Where we’ve fallen short and how can we do better? Not just always pointing out, “Well, this person said this mean thing about me and so now I’m just going to focus on that and ignore the whole content of what they were actually saying, because they said something unfair or uncalled for in the process.” So I do think that that’s really important.
I think there’s another aspect to this, as I think through part of how I think people are frustrated around when non-affirming churches are unclear about their stance, and I’ve experienced two different types of unclear, non-affirming churches. There’s one type of unclear, non-affirming church that is just intentionally deceptive, and the reason they are unclear is because they know it would hurt the bottom line, it would hurt the image, their brand, and all these things for people to know what their position is. And so they just try to be vague about it. The leadership is not trying, they’re not really making a big effort to change beliefs and hearts and minds and the culture in the church.
Matthew: In that case, I mean, I find that incredibly frustrating.
There’s another type, though, of unclear, non-affirming church that is unclear because it is really in process, and there are things that are changing. And you talk to the leadership, and they’re really trying and they’re really doing their best. Some of the leaders might actually be affirming, and they’re trying to bring along as many people as possible in their congregation in the process. And so I look at those as very different things.
Now, it doesn’t mean that there can’t still be problems in the second type of situation. There absolutely can be, because a lack of clarity can produce problems of all sorts. But I still think that’s a very different situation than a church that is just intentionally deceiving people kind of for self-protection and self-gain versus a church that is in a messy middle place…
Matthew: …of trying to bring people along. We actually have a program that we started last year with The Reformation Project called Pastors in Process, and it’s specifically for pastors of non-affirming churches who are wanting to take the next steps toward becoming more inclusive of LGBTQ Christians. In some cases, these pastors are themselves affirming. In some cases, they’re not necessarily all the way to affirming, but they are kind of in movement and in process.
Matthew: What I want for them—if this was actually going to be most effective, then yes, I’d say “Great, just all go out tomorrow and say you’re affirming.” But I know that realistically what would happen in a lot of those cases is that would not actually bring as many people along, and that sometimes it does take a process for somebody in a leadership position, and if they are more deliberative and intentional in their process, yes, if it takes longer, sometimes they could bring along eighty percent of the church instead of forty percent. To me, I’m like, “Well, that matters for an LGBTQ kid growing up in one of those families that you helped to bring along.” But their family would’ve just left and gone to a more conservative church if you had done this process differently.
Now it’s a really tricky balance and I don’t think there’s…
Matthew: …just one black and white answer to how to do that, but I do have a lot of sympathy for how this can be complex for people in leadership positions, trying to balance, “How do I bring as many people along as possible while also trying to not just be complacent about the problems of the status quo?”
Jen: I’m curious, because all three of you have access to faith leaders in really interesting ways. You’ve got a lot of authority in each of your lives. What are you seeing right now? What are you seeing? I’d love to hear both prongs. What are you seeing in terms of regulars? Just regular people who—I know what I see, so I’m curious to see if we’re, if we have the same observations—are examining this theology? What are you noticing? And then I’d also like to hear what you’re noticing on church leaders, pastors, faith leaders on this exact same thing, what are you seeing in that community? Because I find some hope embedded in this question. I’m just going to go ahead and lead the witness and see if you see the same or not. What are your observations right now with how the church culture is moving here?
I pick B.T. Okay.
B.T.: Well, I would love to hear Michael and Matthew’s thoughts here, because I think they’re probably in dialogue with more faith leaders than I.
I have one sort of macro thought here, which is the one piece that really no one wants to talk about with this question—economics. We have seen some churches come out as affirming, and they have faced incredible backlash beyond just earning the ire of their congregates. You know, people stop giving, and some of these churches have closed down, and that’s the reality. There’s this famous Upton Sinclair quote that I kind of correlate with this: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
B.T.: I think you’ve got a lot of pastors out there—and this is not a popular thing to say, but I think it’s true—who I think have done ministry, they know that the prescribed methods for people in their congregation who are same-sex attracted or transgender don’t work. They’ve probably come to a conclusion where they are affirming, but they don’t want to get fired.
Jen: Yeah, it’s real.
B.T.: They’ve got three kids at home, they’ve got mouths to feed.
Jen: That’s real.
B.T.: That’s real. You know, I can understand that in some ways, so I think we’re waiting on some courageous people to really step out, and they’re going to have to take some bullets. And some already have.
Jen: That’s good. Guys?
Michael: I would absolutely affirm what B.T. just said, and just lean into that some more, right? I think when I read scripture and I read the call of prophets and apostles and pastors, the call to ministry demands sacrifice, right? Jen, when I was at InterVarsity, I read a couple of your books that talked about that. Like, what does it look like to surrender these things that we have fallen so deeply in love with: our creature comforts, our access to power? These things, those are instigating conversations for me in my own process. It’s how I knew secretly you were in process because I was reading between the lines there.
Jen: Right. If you had eyes to see and ears to hear, it was not a mystery.
Michael: “Let the reader understand.” And I did, I did.
I think there is a crisis of leadership in the church where folks lack the courage to just stand up and say, “Amen, you are right, and I am wrong.”
Jen: That’s right, that’s right. You’re right.
Michael: “With ashes on my head and sackcloth around my back, I will repent for my failure here.”
Michael: I think that, to what Matthew was saying a little earlier, sure, I get that there are folks who are in process. There’s a lack of clarity about where this church stands, because they’re in process or having these conversations. When they get attacked online, own it. I want to see them say, “You are right. We are not yet there. We acknowledge the pain that we’re causing…”
Jen: That’s good.
Michael: “…and that other churches have caused and that we are in process and we’re having these internal conversations.” Most people, I would argue, would just pause there and be like, “All right. Well, I will…” We had that dialogue, named the thing that needed to be named. There are some people that need to be willing to let everything go.
Again, the gospel of Mark records a rich young man showing up to Jesus and saying, “Teacher, rabbi, what must I do?” And Jesus says, “Sell all of your things. Give the money to the poor, and then come and follow me,” and the church doesn’t like to hear those words, right? The church likes to say, “Come and give me all of your money,” right?
Jen: Right, right.
Michael: “I need your tithes, I need your offerings. I need some extra. We need a new roof, we need a new place.”
Jen: Well, and also from the queer community, they will definitely take your tithe but will not put you in leadership, right?
Michael: Amen. You want my money but you don’t want my personhood. You don’t want my dignity. You don’t want my humanity. I want people to fall on their sword in the name of Jesus. Jesus did it, right?
Jen: He did.
Michael: Jesus was crucified for the life that He lived, for His opposition to oppression. Would these pastors also do the same and stand up? That’s the courage that I’m longing for. I see and I hear these beautiful things in conversations in private with pastors…
Michael: …all the time, telling me where they’re at, the conversations they’re having, their fears about moving forward, and I just want to say, “The water’s right there, Peter. Just step on out. In the name of Jesus, just walk and see what happens.”
Jen: Ugh, same.
Michael: People are afraid.
Jen: Same. Man, and when it happens, it’s so full of life and movement and joy, because what I notice is that—I realize this is probably condescending to call people “regulars.” I can’t find another name. Just when regulars are paying attention, and a leader falls on his or her sword, it gets so many regulars who are in process. So many, so many.
B.T., you said a minute ago you think there’s probably—I may get your numbers wrong—fifteen or twenty percent maybe that you think will probably never ever change their mind? That is still a lot left. Eighty, eighty-five percent of people…
Jen: …who have a lot of possibilities in front of them, who are willing to examine a theology when they are regularly seeing the death and pain that it causes. And so when one leader falls on his or her sword, 10,000 people come behind them. It’s powerful, it matters, and it’s important. And that is exactly why I’m happy to have you guys on today, because leaders right now matter in this conversation.
Do you have anything you want to add to that, Matthew, because you have a very generous posture in general, way more than me. I tell you this all the time. There are places where you have a lot of graciousness and I’m like, “Nope, I’m mad. They’re dead. I’m never speaking to them again,” and I don’t know how you do it, but you are blessed with a really generous nature. I’m curious about your thoughts here.
Matthew: Yeah, I think that when it comes to average Christians who are in process in their theology, and people in leadership, and pastors who are in process, I think there’s often a mixture of motives for people. I think certainly what B.T. was saying—for some people, they just don’t want to give up their salary. They know they’re going to lose their job. They don’t want to do it. That’s real. That is a very real thing, and there can definitely be a number of selfish motives embedded in the mix.
When I think about an average Christian who is not affirming, I think there can be a range of reasons behind that. Some that I think are more sympathetic, and some sort of less sympathetic, so part of that can just be outright ignorance, can even be prejudiced or even animus or hatred.
Also there’s really not much I can do about some of the heart elements there, but for some people what is holding them back is that they love the Bible, and they just haven’t seen how those pieces can be put together in a way that is going to allow them to continue to believe in the authority of scripture and change their position on this. So I understand that. I have a lot of sympathy for that. And that’s part of the reason why I love to engage Christians and help to address those concerns for people, because once you address people’s more sympathetic and legitimate concerns, it does then kind of pull back the veil a little bit, and then it helps people to realize, Okay, I guess really the only thing that’s holding me back is something that isn’t actually that defensible anymore because it’s more of a personal prejudice. So if the reason is more understandable, or defensible isn’t really as strong of a reason anymore, it can help people see things differently.
Likewise, when it comes to leaders and pastors in particular, yes, there can absolutely be the selfish motives, but I also think there can be a fear of losing things that are not selfish. I have seen a lot of pastors with a fear of losing—because for so many people this conversation, for a lot of reasons I don’t even fully understand, can be so explosive in terms of the impact that it has: the amount of alienation that it leads to, the disillusionment, the intensity of the rejection. For a lot of people, either when they come out or even just when they become affirming, they can feel so thrown about in the wind and so rejected by people that it can, for a lot of people, lead to kind of an exit from the faith for them—an exit from the church or an exit from the faith or both. And I have tons of sympathy for the reasons that happens, but that can create a very understandable fear in pastors that, “If our church becomes affirming, but we don’t do it with a strong enough theological foundation, or we don’t do it with the way that it’s bringing along enough people, we could lose the thing that is most important, which is the passionate love for Jesus at the governing core of everything that we do, that passionate drive for discipleship.”
And so that’s part of the reason, too. I think that that is an understandable concern. Now, if your concern is selfish, there’s not that much I can do about that. But if your concern is about those other things, you want to make sure that Jesus remains at the very center and core of your church, that is something we can work together on.
Matthew: That’s something that I want to partner with people on and really help with. “Let’s build that path. Let’s help show how churches can shift on this conversation in a way that they are still a vibrant, unapologetically passionate Christian church that loves the Bible and also loves and fully affirms LGBTQ people.” That is possible.
That’s why I always try to untangle those mixture of motives, so I can focus on the ones that I can do something about.
Jen: I am so happy you said that. That was 100% the shoe that needed to drop.
I understood the loss and risk, and I was willing to pay that. But for me, I needed to know that I was being faithful and obedient, and I needed to know that I could still love the Bible and my church could still be real Jesus-y. To me, examining the theology and discovering so many interesting hermeneutics around it, and what was available out there, I just never had seen it because I’d never looked. It is possible. It’s more than possible. And oh, it’s so vibrant. Oh my gosh, I feel like I was just drinking through a really crappy straw until we got to this point, and now it’s big, amazing gulps. Everything about our life and our church is flourishing, flourishing, because of this. This is not a path toward ruin. It is the path toward life abundant, and that’s the truth.
Jen: Two more questions, and then I’m going to let you go, because you were so dear to give me your time today. Here’s the first one. In your opinion, how can we straight allies be more effective? How can we serve our LGBTQ siblings better—and specifically, tell me, because I’ve made errors in this, and I am pretty sure I’m going to make more, and I would love to be taught. And something you said earlier, B.T., I am so grateful for how many times people have come to me and said, “This is problematic, what you just said. This tweet, this is what I think you meant, this is how it reads.” Thank goodness for this. This has been my best teacher. So what would you ask of allies right now, in our culture, to be the best siblings we can be to you?
B.T.: I would say, Jen, I view this as sort of a micro approach and a macro approach.
Let’s say on the micro level, make a list of all the LGBTQ people in your life. Maybe it’s one person, maybe it’s half a dozen, maybe it’s the Gay-Straight Alliance down at the local high school, but check on them. Invite them over for dinner, actually enter into relationship. If we just had tens of thousands of people of faith doing this, this would be a fantastic start.
Jen: Oh, that’s good.
B.T.: On a macro level, I think of you driving through a neighborhood and you see the sign that says “drive like your kids live here.” Have you seen those before?
B.T.: That’s their way of asking you to slow down by forcing you to be empathetic. And so I would just challenge people to dig deep. If you don’t know someone or have a loved one that is LGBTQ, go within your soul and imagine that it was you experiencing some of these moments of oppression. I always say, LGBTQ people are—it’s debatable—statistically three, five, seven percent of the population at most. There aren’t that many of us, so we can advocate for ourselves, but we need that other ninety-five percent. We need people out there to be bold and to speak up and to advocate. My friend Darrell Ford, he’s an African American pastor here in Atlanta. He said, “Brett, one of the main ways you love your neighbor is in how you vote.”
Jen: That’s great.
B.T.: I would say that as well, let your politics come in line with treating people the way Jesus would treat them.
Jen: That’s so good. I love it. Michael?
Matthew: That’s a word, that’s a word.
Jen: It’s a word. It’s a word.
Michael: This could be a multi-part series.
Jen: It sure could.
Michael: We could really break this down. I think it’s important to name that we’re not talking just our straight allies, but also our cis gender allies, right, so all of us. Even as a…
Jen: That’s great. Yeah. Thanks for saying that.
Michael: …gay man, how am I advocating for my transgender and non-binary siblings? That’s just critical and often missed in this conversation, right, particularly in faith, because people of faith are often like, “Uh, maybe I can have a conversation about gay and lesbian folks…”
Jen: That’s true. So true.
Michael: …and full stop. That’s about as far as they can go. Not even, “How do we love, support, affirm and include bi folks?” Folks aren’t even there yet, right? It’s important for those of us in this work to make sure we are, as cis people, advocating for our siblings who are transgender or who are non-binary.
Something I would love to see, if I had the immediate thing that was coming to my mind, is particularly in these spaces when I think of a lot of the conferences we end up at or retreats we end up at or just spaces we feel like, “Oh, it’s allies. We feel like we’re with our people, right?” I often observe allies just feeling like, “Yeah, now I’m part of you. I’m part of the crowd. And let’s all run away together. Let’s create our silo somewhere, let’s disengage, and keep bringing people over here.”
I want to see allies step into the arena proudly, boldly, to stare into the face of the things that we are being assaulted with instead of trying to run away from it. Because I get it, right? There are cis and straight folks who are leaving some of these toxic or abusive or non affirming churches, and they have also been hurt, because oftentimes, these churches that are non-affirming and are toxic in some way are not just anti-LGBT, but they’re anti-women, right?
Michael: Anti-black, there’s all sorts of other things happening. I’m not going to name names, but we’ve heard plenty of stories to know that’s just the surface. There are allies who leave those spaces feeling equally hurt, but I still feel like those allies have a greater responsibility to enter back into the arena and say, “Now that I’ve brushed the dirt off, and I’ve gotten some healing, I have the structures that I need to protect myself, I’m going to go back in and do the work.” It’s very easy to kind of run away and “Let’s go on a camping trip. Let’s run off to Wakanda together and not engage.”
Michael: Instead, can we stay in the fight? That I think is critical.
Jen: Yeah. That’s good. Matthew?
Matthew: Well, Jen, I think you’re probably the most problematic person I know, so I think you just may be beyond repair.
Jen: It’s fair.
Matthew: No, obviously I love you, and I think you’ve had a fantastic—kidding, it’s not fair at all—I think you’ve had a wonderful impact, especially since 2016, in being a voice in this conversation, and so I’m really grateful for that.
And in terms of what people can do in general, I think it’s really good—I think as Michael said, we all are allies to somebody—or at least should be allies to someone, right? We all have our areas where we have advantages other people don’t have. And so as Christians, that should be calling us to think about how can we be using those advantages and those privileges to be benefiting the people that don’t have them? But it can also easily turn into a mindset of, I just get to help you now. While there’s certainly times when I think we all need to be helped, I think there’s a lot of value to in thinking about things from the standpoint of, Well, what people, and this conversation may be LGBTQ, but it could be lots of other conversations around race, gender, and class. What people in this community do I really look to as mentors? Not just friends, but as mentors and people who can really provide some accountability for me in the context of relationship? Because there is never going to be a single LGBTQ perspective, right?
Matthew: On most issues of the day, unless it’s something really black and white, in general there’s going to be some diversity of opinion. And so I think being able to have mentors in your life who you have those deep relationships with, where you know that there’s room for mutuality and honesty for them to be able to point out areas where they maybe see possibilities for growth, improvement, change. But it’s not just that, it’s also just a relationship with that person. I do think that can be incredibly helpful, just to make sure that we have that mindset of, It’s not just us helping people, but us learning from them as well.
Jen: 100%. You have been that to me so many times, and I’m so thankful. Last thing, last question.
Michael: Can I add something really quick?
Michael: To what Matthew just said, Matthew’s right in saying there’s never going to be a singular LGBTQ belief or thought. We’re not a monolith, right? Our theological perspectives are incredibly diverse. I would love to see allies not run to the folks who are most palatable, those who feel like, “I can insert you into my church and no one would really know unless you said something. Your theology hasn’t really shifted significantly from our theology from the exception that you are now affirming.” But that there are folks with much more dynamic and interesting and intricate views that go far beyond, and possibly even deeper, than a lot of the belief systems from where we come from. And that’s not a value judgment, that’s simply to say can we not just go and take the politically expedient gay person and put them and say, “Now we’re affirming.” Are we willing to have the whole breadth of the conversation insofar it’s possible?
Jen: Great question.
Michael: Brought in, because…
Michael: …those are the stories that are missing, right? What about the other folk, whose theologies are maybe a little complex and different? Those stories are valuable, those are important, and I need allies to lift up those names.
Jen: That’s good. Thank you for saying that Michael. Thank you for including that. I think that’s important to hear. I think that’s important to remember.
Here’s the last thing, and just see if you have a short word, guys. I have a lot of listeners out of the queer community, and I have a lot of their moms, I have a lot of their sisters, I have a lot of their daughters, and their aunts, and their classmates. And so I wonder if you just could give them—the queer community that’s listening today—anything you want to say. Any little message that you’d like to leave them with, something that you want them to hear from you today, I would love to end on that note. How about B.T.?
B.T.: Yeah, there’s lots of terrible things out there, but there’s a lot of good things as well. I’ve been saying, and I think being LGBTQ in America right now is not without its struggles, but at the same time, I think it’s one of the best times to be LGBTQ. The fact that you can live your life out and about—not everywhere, but in some places—I think is positive. So there’s a long way to go, a lot of things to improve on, but I would just say avoid the despair of the age. Be insanely hopeful that things will get better, and then all of us work together to see that come through.
Jen: Good. Watching you build your beautiful life has been the greatest thing. Michael?
Michael: Yeah, I’ll be really brief. I think it’s important to just continue to reaffirm that all LGBTQ people are created in the wondrous and beautiful image of God.
Jen: That’s good.
Michael: And that we walk in that power as a result of it, that we are loved by God, thus we have dignity. That we are loved by God, thus we are beautiful and honorable. That should be enough, I hope, to get us through all of the horrors that we are seeing, and get to that beautiful place that we know is possible.
Jen: Amen to that. Okay, Matthew, it looks like you have the final word.
Matthew: Okay, well that was pretty similar to what I was thinking.
Jen: That’s fine. We can hear it more than once.
Matthew: My new message would just be that Jesus loves you, and Jesus loves your LGBTQ child, and us going through all the traumas and challenges and rejection, at the end of the day, Jesus still loves us and we can still love Jesus just as passionately as we always have.
Jen: Yes, you can. And you do and you are and you will and you are building a beautiful church, and you are leading and teaching the rest of us, and it means so much to me, it means so much to my community, and you three do, too. You mean so much to me.
Thank you for just exactly who you are, first, but also the work you have and continue to bring to bear on this earth and in our culture and in this time. It makes me grin to think one day you will know the scope of what your work has meant. You will not know it now, but one day it thrills me that you will see the fruit of your work, and it will be amazing, and it already is. I want to thank you for being good friends. I want to thank you for being good leaders and teachers and good men and for all that you had to say today. And I want my listeners to know that I’ll link to everything. All their everything. All the things that they have, you’ll have a link for it, all their social accounts. Follow them immediately, that needs to be your next step as soon as this podcast is over, to continue to kind of put yourself under their leadership. Guys, thank you for coming on today.
Matthew: Thank you so much, Jen.
Michael: Thanks, Jen.
Jen: Okay, guys.
B.T.: Appreciate ya.
Jen: I hope that meant as much to you as it meant to me. There is no substitute for learning from someone else’s lived experience. That’s been one of my greatest lessons in the last decade, is that when it comes to a group that have had a completely different experience than I have, and have been isolated from power and privilege and marginalized in some way, that my number-one job is to pull up a seat to their table and shut my mouth and listen and learn. And so much magic happens around that table.
I hope today was a table that a lot of us were able to pulsate up to and just listened quietly and learn. And I’m grateful to these three for coming on and sharing their wisdom and their experience with us. What a great way to wrap it up, you guys. Next week, we start a brand new series. You may remember last fall, I did a live podcast tour where we recorded live in the room, with so many amazing guests. And I promised you that I was going to bring those to you. And now I’m going to. So you’ll get it all: the laughter, the energy in the room with my guests. We’re kind of all over the place. This series is going to run the gamut from really serious conversations, and one episode, it’s just absolutely slapstick comedy from beginning to end. So it’s all fun. You’re going to enjoy it all.
And I can’t wait to bring you the live podcast to our series that starts next week. Next week. Don’t miss it. Come right on back to the show. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to the podcast. Do it. Thank you for subscribing. Ah, we have so many amazing subscribers, review it and and rate it for us. And on behalf of Laura, my producer and her entire team, and of course, Amanda and I, we are so grateful for you, listeners. So grateful. We just love, love, love creating this space for you.
Okay, see you next week, guys.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!