(RNS) There’s an odd phenomenon of cutting-edge evangelical organizations and publications being progressive in some areas and conservative in others. Millennial evangelicals are discussing feminism and egalitarian relationships as well as proclaiming that #BlackLivesMatter. The latter, a more recent trend, is meant to move evangelicals to a more focused, gospel-driven racial justice narrative.
This skinny jean, coffee-fueled evangelicalism may seem more open to the modern world, but it may simply be window dressing. These conversations come to a complete halt on LGBT issues.
Take Gabe Lyons’ Q conferences, which concluded a Denver meeting last month. The gathering brings together a commendable number of evangelical “culture-makers,” many of whom are white and have graduate school degrees. It’s marketed as having difficult, even controversial, conversations across ideological lines — and for the most part, that’s true. Q Denver featured interfaith conversations with Muslims and Christians, arguments for and against the legalization of marijuana, debates on the ethics of physician-assisted suicide.
It’s because Q does have conversations across large ideological, and even theological, divides that it’s curious how it interacts with LGBT issues.
At Q Denver, there were several opportunities for attendees to engage LGBT issues. Psychologist Mark Yarhouse and Melinda Selmys talked about transgender identities. Yarhouse, a professor at Regent University, is known in evangelical circles for providing a clinical perspective on transgender identities. His own views are informed by a traditional interpretation of Scripture.
While Yarhouse is quite nuanced, and respectful on transgender identities, his psychological advice for this community was to take the least invasive measures to reconcile conflicting gender identities.
Selmys, on the other hand, struggles with gender dysphoria that makes her feel uncomfortable as a woman. Still, she uses female pronouns and hasn’t medically intervened to aid her gender dysphoria.
While Selmys’ story is an important one, it is a single narrative that doesn’t reflect the majority of transgender communities’ battle with gender dysphoria. Most transgender individuals cannot live without medical intervention. In sharing her story to this audience — whose overall understanding of trans identities is fairly elementary — attendees didn’t engage a story that reflects a more common transgender narrative.
Another opportunity was a chance to engage on sexuality with evangelical speaker and writer Preston Sprinkle. Sprinkle invited two gay individuals to speak about their experience. Both of these individuals believe lifelong celibacy is the appropriate route for LGBT people.
In his latest youth book on sexuality, Sprinkle even makes the egregious claim that a woman is lesbian because of her molestation as a child — an archaic and false assertion.
At last year’s Q Boston, my friend Matthew Vines was invited to speak on sexuality. Notably, Lyons introduced him saying Q, as an organization, did not endorse Vines’ position. This is something Lyons hasn’t done for other controversial topics.
There’s a clear lack of diversity in how Q ideas engages LGBT issues. No LGBT people of color were given the opportunity to speak about our experiences, for example.
Q, at the very least, engages LGBT issues. As I’ve written before, Relevant magazine is mum on all things LGBT.
My issue with both Q and Relevant is that they market themselves as having difficult conversations when, on the LGBT issues, they aren’t. In avoiding the subject, they evade their audience.
Unlike past generations, millennials are far more progressive on LGBT issues: 74 percent of millennials support same-sex marriage. Yes, millennials are leaving the church over LGBT issues. If millennial organizations want to actually cater to millennial audiences, and not kowtow to funders from older generations, they have to start doing better on this issue.
(Eliel Cruz is executive director of Faith in America, which works to end harmful religious teachings about LGBT people)