Innovative Love Coalition: #GodOurAlly

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Let's talk about Innovative Love Coalition and why this project is so important for the Christian church. 

Music has always been one of the most significant ways that I connect with God, and I know I am not alone. From a very young age I was singing and leading worship in church. I grew up with Christian radio in the car and lots of gospel and Christian music playing in our home all the time. I remember buying my first record, Amy Grant's "Age to Age" when I was only 12 years old. My family went to concerts, we sang together in the car... Music surrounded me as a child and teenager. And the words nourished me, gave me hope when I felt hopeless. 

"I have found a place where I can hide. It's safe inside Your arms of love." 

All through high school and into college I listened to and sang this music. 2nd Chapter of Acts, Bebe and Cece Winans, Sandi Patti, First Call, Leslie Phillips, Kathy Troccoli, Kim Hill, Clay Crosse, dc Talk, Adam Again, 77s, Kirk Franklin, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Rich Mullins, Margaret Becker, Russ Taff, Avalon, Point of Grace, Anointed… I LOVED Christian and gospel music. I was in a college singing group that performed all over the country. I sang in my college choir. I graduated with a music education degree, and as soon as I could, I was leading worship in churches, first as a volunteer and then as a staff member.

In 2000, I got my first job in full-time worship ministry. I was immersed in early-2000s worship music, and I LOVED it. Vineyard, deliriou5?, Paul Baloche, Darrell Evans ("Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Yes, Lord"), Matt Redman, Darlene Zschech and Hillsong (Remember hearing "Shout to the Lord" for the first time?). I led worship for three different worship services every single Sunday. 

When I came out of the closet for the first time and dove headfirst into "ex-gay therapy, back in 2002, I found comfort in Christian music. All these songs about finding strength in Christ, songs about overcoming temptation, songs about forgiveness and freedom, songs about fresh starts. It was like they were singing to me and for me and with me.

“Hold me, light of the world. Love me, say you love me, and I will be free.”

Fast forward to 2017. I was newly out of the closet. I was unstable in so many ways… financially, things were rough. I didn’t have a full-time job yet. I didn’t feel comfortable, or even very safe, in my housing situation. Many of my close relationships were fraying, and I was being looked at as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by people who used to trust and support me. My first dating relationshi with a man had ended, leaving me feeling lonely and hurt. I was exhausted from my multiple jobs and the many miles I had to drive every week in order to just pay my bills every month. If I ever needed comfort and encouragement, it was during those difficult times. But when I turned to the music that had always been there for me, when I listened to Christian and gospel music, I didn’t find the comfort I was seeking. 

“He brought me through hard trials
He brought me through tribulations
Never let a day go by and not realize
Had not been for the Lord who was on my side
Back was against the wall
He looked out for me
He heard my cry and rescued me
Never let a day go by and not realize we are blessed…”

Even though these words, at face value, were comforting and encouraging, I had nagging doubts… I didn’t know if they were really *for* me anymore. Most evangelicals would tell me that as long as I was “living in unrepentant sin,” that comfort from God was not something I could enjoy. I know that some people were praying for me to “hit rock bottom,” to be so miserable that I would have no choice but to “turn back to Jesus,” repent of my flagrant sin, and “come back home” to my former conservative faith and understanding of sexuality. They certainly were not praying for my comfort.

Even though I knew deep down that God was with me, that I didn’t need to “turn back to Jesus” because I had never left him, I still struggled to find comfort in words that were most likely not written with me in mind. It was lonely and difficult. I felt like my faith, and especially the music of my faith, had lost its ability to bring me hope and peace.

In the years since I came out, I have been introduced to songs written by and for progressive/queer people in the church, and I am always grateful for them. I loved singing "For Everyone Born" at MCC San Francisco. More recently, I have appreciated the beautiful, inclusive words of The Many and the drop-dead gorgeous “God Is” by The Outer Banks. To know that these songs were written for ME by siblings in Christ who fully affirm the goodness and beauty of my identity and my relationships makes them so meaningful when I hear and sing them.

I feel the same way about the brand-new single from Innovative Love Coalition. Written by Lauren Evans, Christine Smit, Aaron Aiken, Kevin GarciaJess Grace Garcia and Gattison, the words and music are like a warm embrace from our loving God:

”Just when I thought I was forgotten
You came and called me by name
You’ve shown me I’m never forsaken
I’m awakened to Your love for me

My protector, my helper
Friend and my King
My defender, my treasure
You’re my safety
All are welcome in Your arms
Because love is who You are
Nothing can take You away

I adore You, for all that You are
I adore You, I pour out my heart
You adore me just as I am
You are God, You are God our ally

When the voices are rising against me
It’s your name I can call on
When they say I’m not in Your family
It’s Your love that calls me home.”

This is music that expresses beautifully the way that so many of us feel in our day-to-day lives. Whether you’re LGBTQ+ or straight, it’s so comforting to know that even when everyone else turns their backs, we have an ally… a friend that sticks closer than a brother. The One who has always stood with the marginalized, always leaves the ninety-nine to find the one who is lost. GOD is our ally.

I’m so excited to help get the word out about this project. I’ve been singing “God Our Ally” ever since I got a sneak preview of it last week, and I’m planning to lead it at The Quest in May. Will you join me in helping bring this project to life? Visit the Kickstarter site to read all the details and give what you can. And please, if this project is exciting to you, share this post or share the Kickstarter link on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Thank you for reading, and may you feel the powerful love of our good God embracing you tonight and always. ❤️

#OnceGay: Thoughts on Bethel Church's New "Ex-Gay" Campaign

Changed Is Possible


Yesterday Bethel Church in Redding rolled out a shiny, newly-revamped campaign featuring beautiful pictures, glowing testimonials, happy people and even a hashtag, #OnceGay. While I appreciate their sincere desire to honor God and to help people walk in freedom, I just have to point out that this is nothing but the same old "ex-gay" nonsense. A cursory look at the stories and the resource section reveals the same archaic, pseudo-scientific teachings and practices that have been debunked time and again by all credible medical and psychological experts, as well as - increasingly, thank God - Christian and other religious leaders. 

As I wrote about "ex-lesbian" Jackie Hill Perry back in November, people can choose to disassociate themselves from LGBTQ+ -affirming communities. People can certainly choose not to engage in romantic or sexual relationships with people of the same sex. People can choose not to "label" themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. I know, because I - and thousands of other victims of this toxic theology - did all those things. 

I avoided gay publications and spaces and arts. I denied myself any significant relationships with other gay men. I called myself a "child of God who struggles with same sex attraction." But friends, can we just be honest? No matter what I did, no matter what I said about myself, I was always, always gay. 

It's amazing how we can use language to deceive ourselves and other people. Jesus calls us into abundant life, and that abundance begins with authenticity. How can I love God or others if I don't love myself? How can I accept the extravagant love of God or share it with others if I can't even tell the truth about myself? 

These ministries thrive on half-truths. Their stories often talk about their miserable, drug-addicted, promiscuous, hopeless, abusive lives. And the thing is, I'm not denying their stories. I know these things happened and still happen in LGBTQ+ communities and relationships. Just like they do in straight communities and relationships. What do they have to say about people like me and millions of others whose "gay agenda" is simply to live our lives? To be healthy and whole? My "gay lifestyle" doesn't look anything like the horror stories they tell. 

I hate to be a pessimist, but I've seen all this before. My heart breaks for these #OnceGay people. For the vast majority of them, it’s only a matter of time before they realize #OnceGayAlwaysGay. I pray that they won't do too much damage to themselves or others in the meantime. 

Two final thoughts: 

First of all, as a gay man, I can sometimes be guilty of bi erasure... I want to acknowledge that some of these "ex-gay" people may very well be bi- or pansexual and just choosing to live in traditional, heterosexual relationships. I acknowledge that these people may very well be happy and healthy in those relationships. 

Finally, I'm so grateful to be surrounded by progressive, inclusive Christian community. I can be honest about my gay identity and live authentically - and still be passionately pursuing my relationship with God through Jesus. I'm excited about my spiritual community at The Questand at the Journey Center. And I continue to be so excited about the new community forming around Innovative Love Coalition. Progressive, queer, Jesus-loving creatives making beautiful worship music together for the good of the church and the world. Stay tuned for so much more. 

❤️🧡💛💚💙

You Are Good

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Today has been a good day. The kind of day when you feel like you're coming home, when you're reminded of who you are and who you can be. The kind of day when God seems more real and more present than usual. 

I’m stepping out into some big, risky, God-inspired dreams. And doors are opening. And I’m making some very healthy, very “it’s about time” decisions for myself. And it all feels very right and good. All is well, my friends.

It's funny to me. So many of my dear conservative friends are so convinced that I'm deceived and far from God. In their understanding of God and the Bible and reality, a gay man like me cannot be a "real" Christian. But I find that God is more real to me today than he ever was when I was trying to get it all right, trying to make myself fit into the straight, conservative evangelical mold.

Tonight my kids were over, and we played board games and had Chinese food, and after they left, I literally raised my hands up into the air and spun around, and a song of praise came to my mind and to my lips... I hadn't thought of this song in many, many years. But there it was. "You are good. You are holy."

My spontaneous outbreak of praise and worship sent me looking for the song and the words, and when I found them, I couldn't help but share them. 

I wrote this song for a sermon series at We Are PCC back in, I don't know... 2004 maybe? It was about the attributes of God. God is good, holy, faithful, wise, sovereign, just, and loving. I attempted to fit all of that into a singable worship song for the congregation. Did I succeed? I don't know, but God brought it back to my mind after fifteen years tonight. I hope it means something to you, even if it's just nostalgia for the good old days of Sunday At 6. ❤️

I'm on piano and vocals. No idea who else was playing that night. If you remember, let me know! 

YOU ARE GOOD

You are good, you are holy
Your faithfulness endures forevermore
You are wise, you are sovereign
Your justice and your love reign over all

If we could only see you as you long to be seen
If we could truly know you as you are
Everything would be renewed
Our lives, our homes, our world
Help us, Lord, reveal to us your heart

Support the Journey Center

Journey Center

Hey friends, I'm so grateful to be serving on the board of The Journey Center. We are a spiritual oasis where ALL are welcome to encounter the Holy and be renewed. Although we are unabashedly Christ-centered, we are open to people of all faiths or no faith at all, and LGBTQ+ people like me are welcome members of the family. When the Journey Center says “All are welcome,” we really mean it. We trust the Spirit to guide, and we have no agenda to impose on anyone’s spiritual path.

I'm praying and dreaming about ways I can offer contemplative spiritual experiences to our community. If you have ideas or thoughts, please feel free to comment or slide into my DMs.

As a small nonprofit organization, we rely heavily on financial contributions from people who believe in our mission, and we are coming up on our largest fundraiser of the year, The Human Race 2019. I'll be walking in the race this year along with the other board members and members of our community. Our Journey Center goal is $15K, and I am hoping to raise $1,000 of that goal myself. It's a rather audacious goal, but I can't help but see God at work in my life and in the Journey Center community. It's changing my life, and I want to help change others. 

Please consider a donation. Your gift will help us continue to serve Sonoma County's beautifully diverse community of spiritual seekers.

Healthy and Helpful Dialogue

Justin and Preston

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to witness a public conversation between Justin Lee, author of "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate" and founder of Q Christian Fellowship (originally called the Gay Christian Network) and Preston Sprinkle, a conservative Christian writer and speaker who focuses on ministry to LGBTQ+ people. 

This event was hosted by Spark Church and moderated by one of its pastors, Kevin Neuner. My friend Anthony 'Tony' J. Gapastione's nonprofit, BraveMaker, was a co-sponsor as well. 

Justin is a "Side A" gay Christian who believes, as I do, that God can and does bless LGBTQ+ identities and relationships. Preston is a "Side B" straight Christian who believes that the only appropriate place for sexual expression is in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman. 

There were hundreds of people in the theater that evening who came to listen and learn, and I'm really glad I was there. Although I disagree vehemently with Preston's theology, and I believe it does serious damage to LGBTQ+ people, I acknowledge the well-intentioned sincerity which which he holds it. I know that he deeply believes that his perspective is true, and he is doing his best to honor God and love others in his work. I said something like that in a tweet a few weeks before this event, and it was encouraging to me that they chose to project it on the screen during the introduction. I always want to be gracious in the way I engage, and I always want to acknowledge the humanity and the good intentions even in my opponents.

I actually had a good talk with Preston afterwards, and I was able to look him in the eye and tell him, again, how toxic and harmful his teaching and practice is... while also acknowledging his heart for God and his deep desire to help people. Both are true. I can't deny either one. I know our conversation was a highlight for me, and I know he feels the same way, because he said so in a comment a few days later.

Many of my progressive and queer friends question the value of events like this. I can't blame them. The fact is, queer kids are still killing themselves because of the way traditional, non-affirming Christians have treated them. LGBTQ+ people are still hiding in their Christian closets, and many of us have to walk away from decades of fruitful ministry when we choose to be honest about our lives. Queer people are still shamed and ridiculed, still bullied and assaulted, still stereotyped and discriminated against. This is unacceptable, and it has to change.

But I believe that these kinds of conversions, these intentionally gracious and generous methods are - slowly, yes, but surely - helping to turn the tide in the evangelical church. My gut tells me that many of the Christians in that audience that night were looking for reasons to be affirming. So many of my Christian friends WANT to be affirming of LGBTQ+ people and relationships, and they are genuinely hoping for a way forward. These kinds of conversations help people move forward. This approach yields real results over time.

Not too long ago I got the following message in my FB inbox: "I have to say I struggle with some of your decisions and honestly am not sure what to do with them. But I am thankful for your honesty and ability to talk about your life decisions because I have very little experience with them. It helps me very much to read your posts."

I won't reveal her identity, but this was written by a very conservative older woman. She is a deeply good, loving person, devout in her Christian faith. She simply has not been exposed to LGBTQ+ people beyond the stereotypes that her fundamentalist Christian faith community has taught her. Seeing my life unfold on social media and watching the way I interact with people is helping her grow and learn.

In my website bio, I say "As a gay Christian, Matt is passionate about the intersection of sexuality and spirituality, and he works to create safe, sacred space for people exploring these identities." This is my call. It's not for everyone, but I know that God has called me to it. And it's not that I'm any better than anyone else. It's just the way I'm wired... My life experiences and my God-given personality somehow allow me to be comfortable and effective in these spaces. I pray that God will continue to use me in these ways.

If you're interested, spend some time watching the Justin Lee/Preston Sprinkle event on YouTube. If you click the link, you'll get to see my question at the end. I asked Preston to help me understand WHY God would call loving same-sex relationships sinful. I think this is a significant weakness in the traditional/conservative understanding of human sexuality, and I was not satisfied with Preston's answer. Are you? I'd love to talk about it... Conservatives and progressives, affirming and non-affirming, queers and straights... Your comments and questions are so very welcome. I'd love to hear from you, and I'll do my best to answer and interact with you. Much love. ❤️

Joining the Board of Santa Rosa's Journey Center

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For over a decade, the Journey Center has been welcoming all who seek a spiritual path toward healing and wholeness. Although we are unabashedly Christ-centered, we are open to people of all faiths or no faith at all. When the Journey Center says “All are welcome,” we really mean it. We trust the Spirit to guide, and we have no agenda to impose on anyone’s spiritual path.

A few weeks ago, I graduated from our Spiritual Director Formation Program, and now I’m honored to announce that I’ve joined the board of directors! 

In October 2017, I wrote: “For the last eight months, I’ve found myself in this beautiful place every two weeks. Through an incredibly difficult season of life, the Journey Center has been a refuge for me. No matter what I’m going through, from financial insecurities to a new full-time job, from moving into a new home to having my heart broken, from feeling God’s presence to wondering whether God is even real, through all the doubts and fears and celebrations… Even when I’ve wondered whether I had the time, energy or desire to pursue this program, I’m ALWAYS grateful to be here. It always feels like home. For four hours I put my phone on airplane mode and tune out the world around me. I see and hear and feel the presence of God. I focus on the things that matter most to me. And I am completely authentic and vulnerable with people who are safe and loving. The people who journey with me have become dear to me. Week after week, I’m surrounded by the most amazing assortment of spiritual pilgrims. We come from many backgrounds and perspectives, but we hold sacred space for one another to encounter the Divine. It’s a holy and powerful thing. One thing I know: Whoever God is, s/he meets me here in this space, incarnated in the beautiful people who travel this road with me.”

As I look back over the last couple years, I see the hand of God lovingly guiding me to this place in time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve and lead in this way. And I’m so happy I get to spend more time with quality people like Jo JourneyDan BeachMindy BraunJulie Miller, Ann Hall and Robin T Orton

God is good. All will be well.

I Believed Him

I believed him. Because when victims of targeted violence come forward, we should believe them.

I believed him. Because the number of anti-LGBT criminal offenses reported to the FBI—and the number of reported hate crimes overall—continues to rise. And because most reported hate crimes are racially motivated. 

Mostly I believed him because the precious gay Black men in my life have told me their own stories of discrimination and violence, how they live with the terrible burden of intersectionality, not fully accepted in either the Black community or the queer community. I believed him because I love them, and they were scared and sad and overwhelmed that night. 

Now it looks like Jussie Smollett lied, a tragic, stupid, self-centered act that will have serious repercussions for actual victims of hate crimes. It makes me sick and angry.

When the story first broke, nearly a month ago now, I wrote: “We've come a long way, but there's still so very far to go. How long, oh Lord? THIS is why I’m doing all I can to speak out against bigotry and ignorance and hatred and to live a life of love. THIS is why I live my gay Christian life out and proud. THIS is why we need our allies now more than ever to speak out against this kind of violence AND to affirm the value, dignity and goodness of LGBTQ+ people and our lives and loves. THIS is why we must unapologetically affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.”

I still mean every word.

I speak out on behalf of James Craig Anderson, a 47-year-old Black gay man who was murdered in 2011 in Jackson, Mississippi, severely beaten and run over by a truck. 

I speak out on behalf of Mark Carson, a 32-year-old Black gay man killed by a homophobic stranger, shot in the face in New York City’s West Village, just a short walk from the historic Stonewall Inn, because he “look[ed] like a gay wrestler.”

I speak out on behalf of August Provost, a 29-year-old Black gay man who in 2009 was shot five times and then burned in a fire that was set to destroy the evidence. He had complained of being harassed about his sexuality in the days before his death.

We cannot let Jussie Smollett’s alleged lies deter us from the crucial work of advocating for victims and fighting for the civil rights of Black and LGBTQ people. To quote Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: “The great work continues.” And to quote the words of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Philippians: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”