This past week I was in Atlanta for the Unconditional Conference for over 500 parents of LGBTQ children, hosted by a ministry called Embracing the Journey. Embracing the Journey is a ministry started by Greg and Lynn McDonald, who are parents of a gay son. Knowing the need for other parents to have a safe place to land after a child first comes out, they have worked tirelessly to create a Christian community for parents through online support groups and other resources. Their Unconditional Conference, hosted by their church in Atlanta—North Point Community Church—was the first of its kind.
While there are other ministries who host conferences and offer special tracks or workshops for parents (such as CenterPeace or The Reformation Project), this conference was the very first gathering that was solely for Christian parents of LGBTQ children. Because the Unconditional Conference was parent-led—by a mom and dad who are first and foremost committed to following Jesus—this was truly one of the most powerful events I’ve ever attended. And because their church rallied around them, lending not only their prayerful support, but their facility and a host of volunteers, this conference was incredibly meaningful.
From the beginning, parents were reassured that the purpose of this conference was not to change their theology, but to build bridges—bridges of hope and reconciliation, of connection and relationship, between parents and children, parents and their churches, parents and God. Helping their children stay connected to God was at the center of every conversation, every presentation, every act of worship. This is precisely what CenterPeace has been committed to for over the last 17 years. Our ministry with parents of LGBTQ folk offers retreats and other supportive resources. But having an entire conference hosted by two actual parents is especially powerful.
My own mom and dad needed a conference like this.
A place full of other parents with children like theirs—children whom they know didn’t choose their sexuality.
A place full of Christians trying to sort out the myths they’d grown up with and the truths that they know about their children.
A place where they don’t feel quite so alone in their quest for understanding.
Thirty years ago, my parents were the same people I saw sitting around me at the Unconditional Conference. But thirty years ago, ministry like this didn’t exist, so when I came out to them, they didn’t feel safe in sharing with anyone at their church, save a couple of closest friends. That was back in the 1990s. And yet I heard that same story repeated at this conference—still—in 2023. And for as many parents who attended this conference, I know so many more parents still in the closet themselves, isolated, thinking this is only happening to them.
They’re the men and women who are sitting next to you in the pew every Sunday,
hosting baby showers for everyone else’s children,
coordinating your Vacation Bible School, and
bringing food when a member of your family dies.
Yet they couldn’t even begin to imagine themselves at a conference like this.
All the more reason to celebrate the people who take on this work, and the churches and leaders who put themselves on the line when hosting events like this.
“On the line?” you may ask. What could be so risky about simply hosting a conference to offer support and encouragement to Christian parents of LGBTQ children? Why would doing so put a church and the leadership on the frontlines of having to defend such an act of hospitality? How could an event that is so ultimately Christ-centered be seen as anything but good?
Well, some folks saw this conference as anything but good and railed against North Point and lead pastor, Andy Stanley, for months leading up to the event. Just Google ‘Andy Stanley’ and you’ll find all sorts of negativity, from people whom I doubt have ever sat down with the man and discussed this with him. I’d much rather point you to his teaching over time – teaching that will point you toward Jesus. You can listen to those sermons here. This past Sunday Pastor Andy addressed the controversy with members of his congregation in a message that wasn’t livestreamed, but the recording is said to be available later this week.
To simply be willing to enter this conversation in the public domain –
To acknowledge there’s far more to this conversation than some are willing to admit –
To provide a loving, non-judgmental venue in which to discover and explore together –
To encourage discernment as a community, even when we may differ in our views –
Well, that is a gift. A costly gift. Risking reputation and safety and status and yes, potentially livelihood and security of family. All these things are at risk for our Christian siblings who stand with us.
All we can offer is our gratitude. A simple ‘thank you’ that is deeply felt, and widely appreciated.
To the Andy Stanleys out there. To the North Points. And to all who will stand with us,
I say sincerely, ‘thank you.’