Updated: Oct 4
“What a beautiful name it is… What a wonderful name it is… What a powerful name it is… The name of Jesus.”
We sang this song in Sweden at the Jesus Älskar HBTQ (Jesus Loves LGBTQ+) Conference and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head ever since.
A couple of weeks ago Karen and I flew to Stockholm to be part of the very first Christian LGBTQ+ conference in Sweden. A hundred or so LGBTQ+ Christians, allies, family members, and pastors gathered to hear teaching from Justin Lee, Matthew Vines, and Karen Keen, pioneers in the larger evangelical sphere on faith and sexuality. I shared the ministry of CenterPeace and talked about ways we’re building spiritual community for LGBTQ+ people through online and in-person events. The most beautiful part of the conference was meeting the people who came, hearing their stories and their hearts for God, and realizing once again, we are all connected as the Body of Christ.
photo credit: Sebastian Strand
The Jesus Älskar HBTQ (Jesus Loves LGBTQ+) Conference was in many ways very similar to Christian LGBTQ+ gatherings we’ve had in the States. But this was a groundbreaking event for Sweden – for any Scandinavian country. As much as Sweden as a nation is socially progressive and the State church, which is Lutheran, is fully affirming, the Free Church – similar to evangelical churches in the States – holds traditional views of sexuality and marriage. For churches in Sweden, just as in the United States, reconciling faith and sexuality, full inclusion of LGBTQ+ Christians, and same-sex marriage are still divisive topics – if they’re even discussed at all.
As I’ve experienced at similar conferences in the States, I well up…
· at the courage of non-affirming pastors who come, wanting to love people, who are open to learning and willing to engage in dialogue – even in the face of criticism, rejection, and the very real risk of losing everything;
· at the tenacity of LGBTQ+ Christ-followers, who in the face of being rejected from the churches of their youth are still asking “Where can I go to church? Where can I find community to sustain and nurture my faith? Where can I be invited to serve alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ?
· at the boldness of one devoutly Christian family who organized this entire event.
Our host family’s story is the story of countless Christian families whom I’ve spoken with over the last nearly twenty years, including my own. A Christ-centered family holding traditional views of sexuality handed down by the church without much consideration until a child, a grandchild, a niece or nephew, or a cousin comes out.
Like so many parents all over the world, this mom and dad, Per-Olof and Nancy Eurell, found themselves at a crossroad when their son, Gabriel, came out. Do we hold onto what we’ve always been taught or do we explore the possibility that there might be more to consider?
Never wavering in their devotion to God and their belief in the authority of Scripture, they began to investigate. Their investigation brought this Swedish family all the way to the United States to attend a Reformation Project conference in 2019 and again in 2021 – a rather expensive venture, considering international flights for the whole family! But when it comes to discovering the truth, we’ll pay any price. The conference provided biblical teaching and meaningful worship, which despite being halfway around the world, felt like home. There they met other parents, other families who were on the same path, giving them the peace they were seeking.
And most of all, they learned that people who love God, who love the Bible, who love the church, can be fully supportive of same-sex marriage and full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people within the church.
It would’ve been enough for this family to find peace. To come back home and go about their lives of quiet service. But they didn’t do that.
They went home and started speaking up publicly for other LGBTQ+ Christians and their families in Sweden.
They started hosting a group for parents of LGBTQ+ individuals.
And they determined to host this conference.
Just one family.
What would happen if just one family in your part of the world started speaking up? Started being a champion for LGBTQ+ people in your faith community? Started a group – a safe place for asking the hard questions and studying Scripture together? What if being a champion meant having just one conversation at a time with someone who identifies as LGBTQ+? Or maybe it’s a conversation with a pastor or church leader over breakfast or lunch or coffee asking what they’ve studied to come to their perspective on faith and sexuality?
Well, it’s sure to cause a ruckus. There’s no getting around it. Wherever you are in the world.
It caused a ruckus for the family in Sweden. They had all kinds of hurtful things said to them. The father who had been a sought-after preacher had invitations to preach rescinded. Their relationships with friends and with their church family suffered. And I’m sure it hurt in countless ways we’ll never hear.
Making a way for LGBTQ+ people to experience Jesus – to go deeper with him, to fully encounter his love, to be nurtured and moved to live in the world as his ambassador – is costly these days. But it’s nothing new. Jesus told us it would be costly to follow him.
Come, take up your cross and follow me, he said.
Whatever the cost is for you to be a champion for LGBTQ+ people, he’s worth it.
What a wonderful, beautiful, powerful name it is…the name of Jesus.
If you speak Swedish, click on the picture to listen to the podcast documentary of Per-Olof and Gabriel sharing their story!