Opinion: “Caring Well” conference doesn’t tell the whole story


Photo courtesy Calvin.edu

On Nov. 11, Prince Conference Center will host the “Caring Well Conference” on the campus of Calvin College. This conference, a product of Hole in my Heart Ministries, will address the question, “Since we believe a biblical sexual ethic is true (one man + one woman for life), how can we care well for and about LGBT+ people? How can we be invitational, loving, and caring — without changing theology?”

The conference’s mission statement and aims for the daylong event are in some respects commendable. The very name, “Caring Well,” is not used flippantly. The site immediately clarifies that “This is not orientation-change or reparative therapy” and “The focus will be on same-sex attraction, but we will also discuss gender and heterosexual sexuality.”

It appears that the organizers, speakers and attendees of this conference believe that they are providing the most loving, Bible-based solutions for those unsure of how to involve LGBT+ people in Christian communities.

It also appears that they agree with one of the most egregious claims of the infamous Nashville Statement. Article X of the Nashville Statement reads: “We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” While Caring Well does not use the same outdated and harsh language, its website invites “Jesus-followers: Anyone who is willing to considerately engage a loving, historical, Christian sexual ethic.”

Two pieces of this statement need to be addressed. First is the use of “Christian sexual ethic” — found also in the conference’s missional question, “biblical sexual ethic” — as limited only to Caring Well’s definition, “one man + one woman for life.” Repeatedly terming this understanding as “Christian” and “biblical” fails to acknowledge that a different sexual ethic, one that affirms the sexuality and relationships of LGBT+ Christians, can and has been constructed from a grounded, orthodox commitment to scripture and to the history of the church. This LGBT+-affirming, biblical, Christian sexual ethic has been articulated in books and scholarly work from James Brownson, Matthew Vines, David Gushee, Megan DeFranza and others — and the language of Caring Well refuses to recognize it.

The second piece to address is in the grammatical structure of the sentence. Caring Well uses a colon to define “Jesus-followers” as limited to those “willing to considerately engage a loving, historical, Christian sexual ethic.” It is unclear what qualifies as “considerable engagement,” so we can hope this definition is not used to the exclusionary degree that it is applied in the Nashville Statement, wherein those who affirm LGBT+ people constitute “an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

However, if Caring Well does in fact view LGBT+-affirming Christians as “Jesus-followers,” it isn’t obvious in the roster of speakers. Out of sixteen presenters and panelists, no platform is given to a person who represents an LGBT+-affirming theology.

This is the problem with Caring Well: for all its talk about loving and caring for LGBT+ people, it allows no space to question whether non-affirming theology itself perpetuates harm. Caring Well refuses to hear the testimony from many LGBT+ Christians who say that even the most well-intentioned non-affirming theology is, on its own, detrimental to our faith, our joy and our inclusion in the church.

In order to counter this one-sided message from Caring Well, a group of LGBT+ students and our allies among students, faculty, staff and community members will be present at the Caring Well conference, offering ourselves as a resource for dialogue and an example of the healthy, fulfilling, Jesus-following life that Christians with an LGBT+-affirming theology can lead. We lift up a more complete story for those attending the conference; we demonstrate that “without changing theology” is not in fact a cornerstone of caring well, but the first stone to overturn when pursuing a truly “invitational, loving, and caring” relationship with LGBT+ people in Christian spaces.

Our presence at Caring Well will be as much a witness as it is a challenge to conference-goers: Instead of simply talking about us, we present an opportunity to talk to us.

We hope to see you there.