Jessica Chilous is a follower of Jesus, wife, and joyful mother of five in Nashville, TN. She is a member of a local missional community committed to loving gay people in her city, and she recently attended Revoice 2019. Check out her reflections as a straight married Christian woman.
As the final worship service concluded with the Doxology, all of the emotions I'd been holding in from the past four days of fellowship, learning, and intense conversations burst forth as a river of tears. A wave of pain radiated over my soul, knowing that these beautiful, gifted souls would leave this place of refuge, this place where they are truly FULLY known and FULLY loved, and go back into a world where they may be loved, but are not fully accepted. All I could think about as we departed for home was about how I get to go back to my "normal" life—my straight, married, family life—with nothing to hide, no sense of shame or guilt placed upon my head and existence, no lack of resources or conferences for someone like me. This grieved me deeply—hearing the experiences of this truly strong and amazing group of people, gathered together under the banner of Christ, simply seeking to make themselves visible and recognized and now realizing that they would go home to a very different life experience than me.
Originally, I wanted to attend Revoice to learn correct terminology and proper handling of such sensitive subject matter for the LGBTQ people in my life, especially after attending the Coming Out & Gay Pride event hosted by EQUIP last fall. I was apprehensive initially, feeling that this conference wasn’t for me, but with Amber’s persistence (EQUIP’s Volunteer Engagement Director) and my husband’s diligent planning, I was able to attend as part of a cohort of 20 people from Nashville working alongside EQUIP. I can truthfully say, however, that I learned so much more during my time at Revoice. Mostly from the testimonies of the attendees, hearing their stories, struggles, and daily battles. Hearing how their families and churches respond/ed to them and their truth. Hearing the deep levels of pain and questions on if Jesus even loves them, even sees them, if they are worthy to be loved.
I came out of Revoice burdened for the climate the church has created for the LGBTQ community, reflecting on my own "education" about LGBTQ people from my childhood as a black, Southern Baptist. How my gay brothers and sisters of color have the extra work of them not even being acknowledged at all, or written off in a whole different way. How many times I'd heard derogatory terms or heard people in my own family say they didn’t want a gay child, and how this is acceptable conversation. I came out of this conference wanting to teach those around me to see the humanity of this minority, and see the passion, gifts, and blessings they possess for the glory of the Kingdom. I found myself apologizing often for the hostility the Church has created toward these precious souls, and how I want to change that.
I spoke to so many beautiful people and felt their peace, their vulnerability, their love in this very special space created for them. I'm thankful for every hug (there were so many!), every kind word, every tear, every testimony. And grateful to have been allowed access to this sacred time.
I close with something I wrote in my personal journal that sums up my experience and hopes for the people of Revoice and the LGBTQ community in general:
"Going back home to my family and regular routines tomorrow, full—yet completely emptied. The burden of straight Christian privilege is one I've not known until now, was never spoken about or revealed to me. I've experienced so much in these past few days, and I can't imagine how my LGBTQ brothers and sisters are feeling today, how this has been such a spring of living water for them. I wish they could feel this refreshment every day—but the reality is that they may not, not even in their church homes. How have we allowed the Church to be a place of discomfort for ANYONE? How have we allowed the beautifully inclusive idea of "come as you are" to come with conditions? I pray that through conferences like this one, that voices easily silenced come to the mic, set their place at the table, and make themselves known. And I pray that people that have been conditioned to believe that the words "gay" and "Christian" can not coexist will have their eyes, and more importantly their hearts, opened..."
I feel optimistic that these words will come to fruition through the work of EQUIP, in providing education, compassionate response, and resources for Pastoral Leadership, parents, and for those experiencing same-sex attraction. I hope to see more churches partner with EQUIP and, in turn, be better informed about how to connect to and support the LGBTQ people that may occupy the seats in their gatherings. I am thankful for the testimonies I have heard and seen so far from churches EQUIP has worked with, and I pray that many more will also be open to the hard work of reconciliation between sexual minorities and the Church.
Banner photo credit: Gregg Webb. Used with the permission of Revoice.