A little less than a year ago, I gave a speech at a church in Kansas about the Bible and homosexuality and posted the video of it on YouTube. Two years earlier, I had left Harvard and set out on a quest to confront homophobia in my conservative Wichita church and find acceptance there as a gay Christian.
I failed — at least at first. Despite my best efforts and the support of my family and some of our friends, our broader church community proved unreceptive to my message. Months of grueling, emotionally draining conversations with church leaders and members produced next to nothing in terms of progress. So eventually I left, dejected and depressed, but also determined to make change.
Several months later, I found a church in town that was brave enough to offer me a public platform to speak about the issue. In the year since I gave my speech and posted it online, my life has changed in unlikely and amazing ways. The video has been seen nearly 500,000 times now, and I have received thousands of deeply moving messages about the impact that it has had on those who have watched it. The New York Times featured it on the front page of their Style section last fall, and next year, Random House will publish a book that I am writing to help my argument reach an even larger audience.
I am so excited about what the future holds, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone whose support has helped bring things to this point. Certainly, I am worlds apart from the shattered soul who sat crying in the parking lot of a church that raised and then rejected him less than two years ago. I have forgiven them, but I haven’t forgotten that pain. My inbox serves as a daily reminder of the countless people who are still struggling, and who still feel voiceless and powerless in the face of overwhelming opposition.
That is why this month I am launching The Reformation Project. It is a nonprofit organization designed to connect, train and empower LGBT Christians and their allies to change their churches on this issue from within. This fall, we will host our first leadership conference for 50 straight, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians who are committed to reform. From Sept. 18 to 21 at Asbury United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kan., we will put them through a Bible boot camp. There, we will equip them with the tools and training they need to go back to their communities and make lasting changes to beliefs and interpretations that marginalize LGBT people. Once they go back, we will continue to offer them personal, financial and organizational support for months and years to come. That way, we can ensure that even those with the biggest and most daunting of goals will have the means to accomplish them.
Crucially, the aspiring reformers whom we train will not be seeking to change their churches by asking anyone to ignore or look past the Bible. As I explained in my video last year, the Bible is not anti-gay. It never addresses the issues of same-sex orientation or loving same-sex relationships, and the few verses that some cite to support homophobia have nothing to do with LGBT people. Careful, persistent arguments about those passages have the power to change every Christian church worldwide, no matter how conservative its theology. The mission of The Reformation Project is to train a new generation of Christians to streamline that process and accelerate the demise of homophobia in the church.
After we build our leadership training model with 50 reformers this year, we will start to expand aggressively. As soon as we raise the money to do so, we will open a headquarters here in Wichita. We will host more conferences, both in the U.S. and abroad. I have already heard from gay Christians as far away as Japan, Namibia and Brazil who want to run conferences there, and I can’t wait to support them in those efforts.
Here in America, we will partner with churches and pastors to develop vocal and visible allies in as many churches as possible. We will launch regional offices in places where LGBT people have the least support, and we will work to reform the churches there from within. Soon, gay kids in Jackson, Miss., and Kingston, Jamaica, won’t just have to hear on YouTube that it gets better; they will have the personal support of outspoken, influential Christian allies in their communities who can ensure that it does.
Homophobia is on life support. Now we have the chance to end it once and for all — from the ground up, from the Bible Belt out. It is up to your enthusiasm to make that happen. So please step up and join me in this vital project of reformation.
If you’re 18 or older, live in the U.S. or Canada and agree with the statement of faith on our website, then apply to join our inaugural class of reformers in Kansas City this fall. No matter who you are, sign up for our newsletter and encourage your friends and family to do the same.