In his keynote address at the annual gathering of the Gay Christian Network ( GCN )an organization he founded in 2001Justin Lee lamented that many Christians in this country are willing to keep themselves isolated in "bubbles," detached from mainstream society.
"Growing up, I kind of wanted to be like Ned Flanders on The Simpsons," said Lee, GCN's executive director. "Or at least I would have if I had been allowed to watch The Simpsons."
Lee was speaking Jan. 12 as GCN wrapped its 2014 conference, entitled "Live It Out," held Jan. 9-12 at the Westin River North, 320 N. Dearborn St.
Ned Flanders was a caricature of the American Christian as squeaky-clean, pure and living in self-imposed isolation from life's harsher realities, Lee said. "But there's not a single Ned Flanders in the bible. Jesus was not squeaky-clean. … Jesus was not about building a wall between the clean and unclean. He was about knocking it downthat is grace.
"God does not call us into conformity … God creates diversity and delights in it," he added.
Lee said that many Christians have relinquished the public voice of their religion to individuals and communities who mainly stand against others, refuse to see nuances, and link scripture to their own fears and prejudices. "That's what Westboro Baptist Church does. They speak out so strongly but they show no grace or love, and grace and love is what we're supposed to be showing."
GCN, which is headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., is comprised of several regional networks as well as an online community of about 20,000 people, according to Lee. About 700 people attended the GCN gathering, which is held in a different city every year. This was the first time it was in Chicago.
"We got some teasing about being here in January," Lee admitted.
"We get mostly gay Christians, and some straight Christians who are interested in learning about LGBT issues," he added. One couple told him their child had just come out to them New Year's Eve. "They somehow found out about us and got here."
Among those also appearing at the conference were singer Derek Webb and author and blogger Rachel Held Evans.
For more information on GCN, visit www.gaychristian.net .