GCN Conference 2012: An Open Letter
An Open Letter about Philip Yancey
From GCN's Executive Director, Justin Lee
Since we announced that bestselling Christian author Philip Yancey would be addressing the GCN conference in 2012, questions have been flying, online and offline. "Is Philip Yancey pro-gay?" some have asked. "What are his views on homosexuality?" "Why would he agree to speak to this conference?" "Why would GCN invite him in the first place?"
Some have criticized me for extending the invitation, thinking an evangelical author like Philip is surely far too conservative to speak to a group like ours. Others have strongly condemned him for accepting the invitation, saying he's condoning sin. Some have even called for other Christians to disassociate with him.
So I'd like to set the record straight on exactly what this conference is about and why we invited him.
When I was a teenager, I discovered to my horror that I was attracted to guys instead of girls. I was a deeply committed Christian growing up Southern Baptist, and I was firmly opposed to homosexuality in any form. Nevertheless, when I turned to my pastor, church, and Christian friends for prayer and support, they all turned their backs on me, condemning me for my temptations even though I hadn't acted on them.
GCN began when I met other Christians who were in the same boat. All of us were struggling to figure out how to live holy lives with our same-sex attractions, and all of us had felt the church's rejection. Some of us ultimately decided to commit ourselves to lifelong celibacy, while others of us decided to pursue monogamous relationships. In spite of our theological disagreements with one another, we all wanted to serve Christ, and we all longed for a Christian community that would hear our stories.
The annual GCN conference is a place for Christians to hear those stories and worship and pray together—gay and straight, women and men, some believing in gay marriage and some believing that gay people are called to celibacy. Our organization does not advocate for any viewpoint on gay marriage, gay rights, or any similar issue; our goal is simply to let people know that Jesus loves them and to provide a safe and compassionate space for the church to work through some of these difficult issues.
I invited Philip Yancey because I respect him as a Christian. I've always been impressed at how well he balances our need to live moral, holy lives as Christians with our need to have grace toward those who do things we disapprove of. I did not invite him because of any views he might or might not hold on gays; I invited him because this is a group of people who desperately need to hear not only that God loves them, but that other Christians do, too.
I have no idea what Philip's views are on gay relationships, same-sex marriage, or anything of the sort. He's never told me. Honestly, it wouldn't affect my decision either way. That's not the point.
Last year, we had a keynote delivered by Baptist minister and author Tony Campolo. Dr. Campolo believes that gay relationships are sinful, and he said so during his keynote address. He also received a standing ovation at the end—from an audience including some people in the very relationships he had just condemned. Why? Did they think he was supporting their decisions? Not at all. They applauded him because he was one of the very few Christians who would dare to reach out to them in love and say, "Even though I don't agree with you, I love you. I hear your stories of pain, and I want to count you as my friends." That message was powerful. It changed lives.
I don't know what Philip Yancey will say in a few weeks when he addresses our audience. We've asked him only to say whatever God puts on his heart. I do know that his audience will be diverse: gay couples in monogamous relationshps; same-sex-attracted Christians wrestling with the loneliness of celibacy; Christian parents struggling with how to respond to their gay children. One woman I know will be attending with a heavy heart, carrying the memories of her gay daughter, who committed suicide years ago after feeling her mother's rejection.
As those people, with all their theological disagreements, come together to seek God's heart, I can think of no one better equipped to speak to them than a man who has gained a reputation both as solidly evangelical and filled with grace toward others. And even though I'm sure he knew people would misconstrue it, I am so grateful that he had the courage to reach out to us in love. It is, I believe, exactly what Jesus would do.
The Gay Christian Network