A conference for gay Christians proved a success earlier this month with attendance higher than anticipated and not a single protester.
Nearly 400 people gathered at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel in Nashville on Jan. 7 for the 8th Annual Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference.
During the four-day event, the number of attendees far exceeded the anticipated 300 guests. A poor economy and a winter storm forced those planning the conference to plan for a low number of guests. However, Nashville (and God) had other things in mind.
“The January article in Out and About Newspaper contributed in turning this 300 person event into a 400 person event,” said Nate Crough, office manager for GCN.
Many conference organizers including GCN Executive Director Justin Lee were more than pleased with crowd turnout at the event.
“I have no doubt that God will be changing lives this weekend,” Lee said as he addressed the crowd during the opening session Thursday night. “We are overwhelmed at the response to this conference. God knows our concerns, our joys and our fears. He knows our tragedies, and I fully believe He has brought us here for His purpose. And that is to make us into the people He wants us to be.”
Nashville-based Chris Williamson was the worship leader throughout the weekend. “Having led worship at a variety of venues, it is very evident that the Holy Spirit is here residing in this group of people. I wish the rest of the world could see that we truly love the Lord and that He loves us.”
Throughout the course of the convention, one idea was very evident: this is a group of people committed to God and committed to expressing that love through a church. No longer are gay Christians willing to take a back seat and be “tolerated.”
Their worship of God is just as valid as those in the straight community. Their desire to serve God is just as strong as those in the straight community. And these individuals are committed to loving Him no matter what the church or society may tell them.
On Friday morning, Dr. Tony Campolo delivered a passionate message about homosexuality and the church. Christians all over the world look to the words of Jesus for guidance in daily activity. Dr. Campolo noted that it is equally important to note what Jesus said about homosexual people – nothing.
Saturday morning, Mary Lou Wellner, who is most well known for her interview in the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, recounted the tragic loss of her lesbian daughter to suicide. Having grown up in the church, Wellner took on the attitude of many evangelical churches toward homosexuality in that it is an “abomination” before God.
However, through their loss, Wellner and her husband have turned tragedy and misunderstanding into triumph by ministering to thousands of GLBT individuals and encouraging them in their relationships with Christ. Her presentation was followed by a spontaneous standing ovation.
Tana Kjos who serves on GCN’s Board of Directors knows about the importance of not only continuing an outstanding conference but of keeping her finger on the pulse of what is happening with the Web site as a whole.
“So many things are happening outside of the 14,000 people who regularly network on this site," Kjos said. "Retreats and local associations are starting where individuals in specific areas can meet on a regular basis. Additionally, GCN is becoming a bridge between the established church and the gay community by developing workshops and materials specifically geared for the straight church community.”
Kathy Baldock, a straight woman, who has been attending the conference for five years will be working with these workshops.
“I was the first straight person to attend a GCN Conference," she said. "I will be spearheading an outreach program to the straight community because I care about incorporating the gay community equally within the church. This is a group of people I have a great deal of compassion for.”
The 2010 GCN Conference was not only a national event. It was an international event attracting individuals from as far away as New Zealand and Australia. “Kiril” from Sydney said, “This is my second GCN conference and while beforehand I felt isolated and alone as a gay Christian, I don’t feel alone anymore. This conference and the website allow me to share in other’s stories and their struggles and most importantly, to see how Christ is working in their lives.”
Brendan from British Columbia noted, “This is my second conference and I wouldn’t have missed it. I came out to my family about a year ago and they were very supportive encouraging me to attend last year’s conference in California.”
One of the many highlights of the conference occurred Saturday night when Kori Ashton (lesbepure.com) performed a mini concert before headline act Derek Webb. Ashton’s voice was pure beyond expectation. As she stood before the crowd, Ashton spoke of growing up as a pastor’s kid, attending a private Christian school and Bible college. Unable to reconcile her faith and sexuality, Ashton went on to work side by side with Exodus International and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.
"However, God broke me free of that telling me I didn’t have to be that person," Ashton said. "I know in my heart who I am. And my heavenly Father would not create me like this just to confuse me the rest of my life."
The 2011 GCN Conference will be held in Denver. For additional information visit gaychristian.net.