On Tuesday, August 29, 2017 a group of conservative Christian leaders released what they called The Nashville Statement, an attempt on their part to give public witness “to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture” – essentially declaring that it is impossible for anyone in the LGBTQAI+ to be a Christian. Critical response was rapid, as Christian leaders from a variety of communities condemned the document for its theological and Scriptural basis. This week’s author, Troy Medlin, however, frames his response as both a critique of the evangelical Christianity that formed him, as well as a life line to those who – like himself – struggled with their sexuality while being part of churches that would likely stigmatize them if they came forward. Read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
A few weeks ago, Southern Baptist and other Evangelical leaders, the president of my alma mater among them, composed and signed something called the Nashville Statement – the main message of this manifesto is basically that one cannot be both openly LGBTQ and Christian.
When I heard about it, I felt called to respond, but not by arguing hermeneutics or theology. I felt called to simply share my story as someone who has been impacted by some of the signers of the statement, is an openly gay seminarian, and who feels called to follow Jesus into the ministry.
It was among the Southern Baptists where I received my first formation – where I learned so many of the hymns that I still love, learned to love Scripture, where I fell in love again and again with the God revealed in Jesus, and this good news of grace that felt like fresh water to my weary soul. It was in this southern baptist church where I met dear saints who had traveled this journey of faith for much longer than I had and who inspired me to live a life of faithfulness, following Jesus no matter the cost.
It was these siblings in Christ who also encouraged me as I preached my first sermons.
I began preaching when I was 19, with no formal education, just a call and a passion. And, the people in this congregation affirmed my calling in such a beautiful way. They would encourage me to keep preaching and keep exploring this call to ministry and became dear to me.
Eventually I applied to Moody Bible Institute to continue to pursue this call to ministry. I spent the first part of my time at Moody commuting and continuing to preach and serve every now and then at my home church. But it was also at Moody, thanks to a good friend who shared part of his story with me, that I began to come to terms with something else that was just as true for me as this call to ministry, but that I hadn’t expressed before.
I was able to say for the first time that I was gay…
In that moment I knew that whatever was going to happen in my life it was going to be informed by this – that I was gay – and that moment felt holy, sacred, faithful. I felt free and liberated.
Shortly after that I began to experience some dissonance, for though on one hand I had been held and loved and accepted by God for who I was, on the other hand I was in a school where I could not be completely myself – where I had to be selective about who I shared this part of my story with. I had to deny these feelings that felt so intrinsic to me and so God given, that I wanted to spend my life in a covenantal, self giving, and committed relationship with another man and the fact that I felt convinced that I could in relationship with another man still image Christ and his church.
I had to wrestle with this conflict, between this peace I felt that I was blessed by God and the fact that, theologically, I was surrounded by people who had confirmed my calling to ministry and had taught me so much about what it means to be faithful – and yet who viewed my sexual orientation as a “struggle” that I had to deny and suppress
I had to wrestle with the fact that the Southern Baptist Church that had affirmed my calling, and had seen my gifts, who had let me preach, who had learned from my Bible studies, who I had prayed fervently with and for; these same people just would not understand.
They just did not have categories for who I was. It was simply confusing for them that someone who was so much like them, who shared so many of their values, and who had shared their same faith who also happened to be gay.
Moreover, I began to feel further isolated and on the margins as I slowly came to terms with my sexuality. I slowly began questioning some of my inherited theology around sexuality and other aspects of my faith. I tried to make sense of what was causing my cognitive dissonance. Despite the struggles I experienced throughout Bible College there were two things I just could not shake:
I was gay
And, I still felt called to be a pastor.
The further I searched, prayed about, and discerned my sexuality, the more and more I felt confident that I was supposed to be a pastor – even when I thought it impossible.
There was this tension between what the Spirit was calling me to, and the communities who had given me so much – but I did not have the language to understand all I was experiencing.
As I was about to graduate college….as sort of a last attempt to remain in this inherited community, I attended a few sessions of a very mild type of reparative therapy known as healing prayer. It was here that I realized I was going to have to come out. I was going to have to live openly and honestly, and that denying my sexuality and denying myself intimate relationships with other men was not what God had called me to.
It was through something that was supposed to change my sexuality that God confirmed to me, that faithfulness was found in bringing all of myself to God.
And, so I began to come out to family and friends slowly and carefully, sharing that truth with those I loved and who loved me, and who had seen this calling to be a pastor grow inside of me.
And, in the process of coming out I tried one last time to shake this calling I had to be a pastor. Still maybe not fully believing that I could be openly gay and a pastor. I even applied for other jobs and thought that maybe it would be easier for me to not be a pastor, that is, not to work in the church.
The problem with that was there was always that still small voice, reminding me that I had been called; that God had made me to be a pastor. God had called me, with all of my story, in this body and everything that means…. to be a minister of the gospel.
So, I came to seminary to further explore this call to ministry and to find a community where I could be fully myself and fully discern this call I had felt for the past 10 years.
The more I was honest about who I was, the more I embraced all of my story, even as I began dating another man, something happened:
I began to fall deeper in love with Jesus than I had in long time
My prayer life began to flourish again
My relationship with Scripture came to life.
My relationship with God was reborn.
And I felt more alive than ever when I was preaching.
This narrative is my response to the Nashville Statement and those who signed it – my story and how God’s faithfulness has proved itself in my life over and over again.
So to the supporters of the Nashville Statement, I say this: listen to my story. Listen to those like mine, look at our fruit, because Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.”
Let me, then, finish by talking directly to anyone who may be wrestling with his/her/their sexuality and are affiliated with Southern Baptist churches or other conservative spaces.
As a seminarian, a now-church intern, and as someone who still gets to preach, let me be one to tell you the deepest truth in the universe:
You are loved.
To my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer siblings:
You are loved.
The God who made everything, made you.
God made you in all of your uniqueness.
No statement, no one person, no church, no denomination can take this truth away from you or change what is most true about you.
And finally – we need you, the church needs you.
For as the apostle Paul says, “…In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor statements, or churches, or pastors, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I am here as proof that it all belongs, it gets so much better, and God is more faithful and more loving than we could ever imagine.
Troy has a bachelor’s degree from Moody Bible Institute and is an ecumenical seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He is also currently serving as a ministry intern at Urban Village Church in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. He is a progressive evangelical who is passionate about helping people ask new questions and creating space for transformation. He believes that intentional encounters with people who are different have the power to change us and set us free. Troy currently lives in Hyde Park and enjoys eating breakfast at diners, politics, liturgy, 80’s classic rock and talking endlessly about how much he loves his hometown of Sandwich, Illinois.