By Crystal Proxmire
“Gay Christian? Yes!” That’s the messaging drivers on U.S. 131 near Burton Street in Grand Rapids will get now through the end of April thanks to a new campaign dedicated to bridging the gap between religion and sexuality.
Gays in Faith Together (GIFT) held a press conference April 3 at Westminster Presbyterian Church to announce the sign’s unveiling. GIFT’s website http://gaysinfaithtogether.org, lists churches that are LGBT welcoming and affirming, and it has resources like blogs and videos to help Christians facilitate discussions about the idea that God’s love and acceptance applies to all.
Theresa D. McClellan, faith advocacy coordinator for the Gay Christian? Yes! campaign is excited about the sign. “The billboard is located on northbound U.S. 131 just south of the Burton Street exit. As you are entering the city there is a slight curve on the highway and then you see the question ‘Gay Christian?’ in white letters on a black background. The answer is right next to it, a big beautiful rainbow ‘Yes’ angel with outstretched arms,” she said. “This unveiling has been a great success because we are opening minds, starting conversations and providing resources for people who thought they were out there on their own.”
McClellan said that prior to the billboard going up there were 30 local churches that were gay-affirming and welcoming, but now the group is receiving calls from more congregations that want to be added. The group verifies additions with the church’s priest, pastor or minister before putting them on the list.
“There is a misconception that churches that are welcoming are somehow ‘gay churches’,” said Davin Risk, who serves on GIFT’s marketing committee. “The important thing is affirming churches aren’t seeking members, it’s about embracing all God’s children regardless of who they are. Services aren’t gay-centered or anything like that. They’re just normal Christian services, in a church where everyone feels loved.”
Risk has been attending Genesis United Methodist for over two years. “I felt loved as soon as I walked in,” he said. “So many other churches and religious organizations are missing out on gifts from the LGBT community. I was given the opportunity to use my spiritual gifts in my congregation. I can serve on worship ministries and I get to sing in the choir. They’re opportunities that I wasn’t exactly denied access to, but let’s say that I didn’t feel I could participate in. But again, it’s not about the negative or placing blame. It’s about letting people know where they can go without having to wonder if they will feel loved. …My whole thing with this campaign is this: come as you are, God can use even you.”
Psychologist Matthew Clark, who owns The Clark Institute in Grand Rapids, is also part of the campaign. “I work with a lot of adults and teenagers who feel ostracized, rejected, and all alone because of their sexuality and Christianity,” Clark said. “They believe that their family and church will reject them if they come out as being LGBT or many of them have been told by their families or church leaders that their “lifestyle” or “urges” are wrong and sinful. Many of my patients have internalized homophobia and shame for being gay and Christian.
“I believe that Christians have been misinformed. The Seven Passages that appear to speak against homosexuality really have nothing to do with being homosexual or LGBT. Both the verses in the Old Testament and in the New Testament refer to in-hospitality, men on men rape, pedophilia, and temple orgies. Not about gay and lesbian relationships as we have today.”
“Also we should keep in mind that both the Old and New Testament have edicts and laws that most Christians no longer follow today. In the New Testament Paul wrote that women should not tie their hair, wear jewelry or speak in church. Most Christians do not follow that today.”
“I believe that the true message of the scripture is key to erasing homophobia and self-shame in the Christian community. I love the Gay Christian? Yes! Coalition and its message of Grace, Love, and Acceptance for the LGBT and Straight Community.”
Cara Oosterhouse, who serves on GIFT’s personnel committee, took part in the press conference and was featured on the local news. The effects of her work became clear the next day when someone at a store recognized her. “One of the cashiers …saw me there this morning and pulled me aside. He very quietly says to me ‘did I see you on the news last night?’ I smiled at him and said, ‘Yes that was me,’ and I told him a little about the work I have done to work on this campaign.
“He then told me the story of how he and his partner of 16 years simply quit going to the church they were members at after a Sunday sermon condemning the LGBT community. He said to me, I had no idea that there were places we could go around here to worship. You could see from the look in his eye and the tone of his voice that he was really touched by this.”
“Honestly, this man’s story and his willingness to share it with me make this campaign a success in my book.”
Gift’s Vision is “To be a beacon of hope that reveals God’s love for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Find out more at http://gaysinfaithtogether.org and http://GayChristianYes.org