Daniel is a senior at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. He is a Ruling Elder at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, NM, and an Inquirer under the care of the Presbytery of Santa Fe.
How has your personal journey to working for LGBT inclusion strengthened or challenged your faith?
It has forced me to own my faith in a certain way. It has led me further along the way in which my faith is my own, not just my parents’ or my pastors’.
When I was 18 and came to terms with being gay, a lot of questions came that I had not addressed before, that I never thought I would have to address. Part of the process of accepting my sexuality meant I had to face my Christianity and God. The questions I was forced to answer put me on a path to answers I am really glad I am on.
I volunteered for That All May Freely Serve at the General Assembly a few years ago. I experienced there what I believe is the nature of Christian community. I was able to see the larger church. At first, I was overwhelmed by all the people there, but I came to celebrate the fact that we were all there, united in Christ and in our life as Presbyterians. Being around so many of my fellow Presbyterians, many of whom disagreed with the work for inclusion we were doing, allowed me to think in new ways about what it is to be Presbyterian.
We are all in Christ together. What it means to love one another was placed in a new context for me.
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
The prayerful activity that helps me in life is community. In trying times, I will call a friend and ask them to come pray with me. The experience of being in prayer with people I love and who love me really sustains me.
What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
When I was 17, one of our pastors announced that he was going to Ft. Benning, GA to witness against the School of the Americas and risking arrest by engaging in an act of civil disobedience. It was significant because I saw his courage, but I also saw the way our congregation handled this. I was on the session and we did the very Presbyterian thing of talking a lot about it, especially the possibility of our pastor spending two months in federal prison. We moved forward with real love for each other and our pastor that made for a great conversation. For the first time, I saw a Christian I knew personally take a strong stand for justice that had real consequences.
He did end up spending time in prison. Even now, several years later and after he has accepted another call and we have called a new pastor, you would hear a variety of differing opinions if you asked members of our congregation about that time in our life together. But you would still hear the love and respect for one another and for Christ that must be at the core of any Christian community.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
I have been blessed with many.
My dear friend Paul is one of the first people I met at Hendrix. We met in the first week of school and quickly became close, in part because we attended weekly chapel services together. He’s also one of the first people I talked to about my sexuality. I didn’t know how he would respond, but I knew I wanted to talk to him.
I called him when I was struggling. He paused for only a second before saying, “I love you. I don’t know what you are telling me means for you but I know I love you and God loves you and we will always love you.”
The first and only thought he had was, “I love you.” This is really being Christ-like.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
On some level the question is hard to answer. To my mind, the principle of inclusion is so deeply embedded in the Bible that any attempt to pull out specific “foundations” seems like a daunting task.
In the whole trajectory of the Gospel, inclusion is the default position. God loves God’s creation and our mandate is to be open to creation and to love it. Love is the wholeness. God created the world and is pleased with the world. Christ came to remind us to love ourselves and God’s good world.
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
St. Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”
I would rather speak by my actions than by my words. I want to show others respectful love so that we can live in community together.
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
It starts with recognition of the fact that the people with whom we disagree are also God’s good creation and my work is to love them. In every part of the church we talk about this. I think we would do well to take a step back and examine our lives to make sure we are living the love Jesus expects of us.
The fact that God is pleased with creation is also, of course, the foundation for my advocacy for LGBT inclusion.