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Wednesday 09 November 2016

Christianity and LGBTI allies

Posted in: Our Communities
By Sarah Murphy - 27th October 2016

Christianity and LGBTI life is often at odds ends, but this past Labour weekend in Auckland a conference was held aiming to provide a safe space for LGBTI Christians to share their experiences in the hopes of educating church leaders.

AWAKEN Conference organiser Craig Watson says “With four main sessions and six focused seminars, we went out to encourage those that hadn’t had a particularly good relationship with the church in the past and through stories and life experiences, expand the knowledge of straight Christian pastors and leaders, to be better equipped at supporting their LGBTI communities.”

“It was a fantastic weekend,” he says.

With seminars covering coming out, what to do when you wish to remain in the church, navigating LGBTI relationships, gender and sexuality diversity, sexuality and the bible and how to provide practical help and support to LGBTI people.

The conference hosted both national and international guest speakers and Watson with USA Gay Christian Network’s Justin Lee kicking off the conference “reminding everyone that they were created in and by love and have a special purpose to fulfil.”

“He discussed the labels that sometimes we are given and while they are sometimes helpful, it is often necessary to move past a label and become a unique individual that isn’t defined by a label,” says Watson.

“Amanda Pilbrow then continued the theme and encouraged the guest to be who they were and be proud of themselves. She also held a panel discussion on how to pastorally care for the LGBTI community and invited a spiritual director, Baptist youth pastor and gay community worker to discuss what they found to be effective. The Q&A part of this relieved that there is a lot of hurt and frustration between the LGBTI people and the churches slow progression and silence on the matter.”

Watson then ended the conference offering a challenge to LGBTI Christians to stay connected in their churches, supporting their pastors and leaders. He expressed the need for intergeneration unity, where the younger generation who are full of passion and energy need to take advice and direction from the older generation who have great history and knowledge.

With 95 guests attending AWAKEN, Watson says that feedback has been positive with people finding all session incredibly helpful.

Recognising the need for such discussions nationwide, this Auckland based Labour Weekend conference is only the beginning and having proven its success, organisers are looking to run conferences annually around the country.

“While churches are making progress to make a way forward and include LGBTI people, there is still a long way to go!” says Watson. “People in churches who are LGBTI or are allies, need to come together and support one another, challenging their churches to make public statements about where they stand on the topic.

“Gender diversity is something that churches are not equipped to understand and they need to engage with people and ‘have coffees’ with the transgender community to fully understand them and how they can support them.

“From the conference, it was clear that throughout NZ, people in the Christian faith who support the LGBT+ community need a place to seek resources and network with others who share their views. From the Awaken Conference, the organisers have launched Diverse Church NZ, a Facebook page and group that will connect Christian who are LGBT+ or allies of the community together so that united, we can support each other and those younger people who are struggling to ‘come out’.”

Sarah Murphy - 27th October 2016

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