Something wonderful is happening in the Evangelical church in this country. Yes, you read that correctly. If you are a subscriber to TIME magazine, you might have seen their edition featuring young, Evangelical pastors of larger churches coming out in support of LGBT people at significant personal cost to them and to their churches. Before you start to snicker and say under your breath that it is about time they made this shift, I need to tell you about four of them.
We call them the “Eastlake Church guys.” Pastors Ryan Meeks and George Mekhail visited a class that I was teaching at Auburn Seminary in New York a few months ago. They and their wives were in New York to host a fundraiser for clean water in poverty-stricken areas of the world and meet with a reporter from TIME magazine to talk about why they believed that they needed to publicly come out in support of LGBT people. We went to grab dessert that night, and I had the great privilege of hearing their story.
Ryan explained that the evangelical church in general has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on LGBT inclusion. For Ryan, George and their families, this was increasingly hard to swallow. In fact, they were convinced that it was a sin. Some months before, they had a woman who had been on their staff team for many years finally tearfully tell them that she was a lesbian. By revealing this about herself, she was terrified of being fired. Ryan broke down saying, “Here was a woman who had never heard me say anything negative or exclusive about LGBT people, who had worked on our staff team for years and knew my heart, and she believed that by telling me who she was, I would reject her,” Ryan said. “That destroyed me.” He realized in that moment that his silence on this topic actually felt like an affirmation of the exclusion and hatred that the evangelical church has become known for.
He and his wife talked with George and his wife. They prayed together, wrestled together and finally, bravely, took a stand together. They were going to be an evangelical church that publically welcomed LGBT people.
The only trouble is … this would divide their growing church. They hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t. But the cost of remaining silent was too high.
When they told me about their journey, and laid out what was to come once they made this announcement, they had no idea that I was gay. They were two families courageously and vulnerably trying to do the right thing for a group of people that they had come to see as brothers and sisters in Christ. That they didn’t know how close this was for me made the conversation even more remarkable. I now rank it among the most sacred conversations of my life.
I want to ask you to pray for people like Ryan and George and their families and their church. They are heroes in an age when we need more prophetic courage for the sake of the Gospel. I will always count it as a great privilege to have shared in that conversation, in a moment of their great vulnerability, and befriend people who don’t just preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but walk the path down which it leads them.
Be brave, my friends. The world needs a more just and generous Christianity. If you have any questions about that journey, call Ryan and George.
Sparking Ministry Conversations
In what ways is your church being brave in the face of bigotry, exclusion and hatred? What more can you do to create a more just and generous world? The United Church of Christ prides itself on being the denomination of “firsts.” What is the next “first” for your church?
The Rev. Cameron Trimble is Executive Director of the UCC's Center for Progressive Renewal. Cameron is convinced that our future is in cultivating the highest quality of soul-filled ordained and lay leadership