This week, Women’s Chapel has invited an accomplished and unique speaker to their table. Not only is Sally Gary an Abilene Christian University graduate, but she is also the author of the memoir “Loves God, Likes Girls.” She is also the founder and executive director of CenterPeace, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing LGBTQ+ individuals a space to belong within the body of Christ.
CenterPeace has been working with churches, families and individuals to create connection and understanding, operating with the belief that God’s love extends to all people, and this includes those who identify as LGBTQ+. With principle at their core, CenterPeace (under Gary’s leadership) focuses on equipping, educating and building community between families/churches and LGBTQ+ individuals through conferences and other resources, with their E3 conference occurring this weekend. In light of this, Gary took the time to share about CenterPeace’s vision and mission as well as what she will be addressing in Women’s Chapel.
When you share the mission of CenterPeace with churches, what kind of reaction do you get?
For the last 15 years that we’ve been in existence, we’ve had a lot of positive responses from churches. … Is there more work to do? Yes, certainly. There are churches that are still fearful of this conversation [about LGBTQ+ presence in the church], don’t even realize a need to have it. So as long as that fear exists and people are excluded, we need to keep having this conversation.
Do you feel like exclusion is the biggest way the church is failing the LGBTQ+ community?
Yeah, and that involves so many things. At the extreme, rejection that comes from misunderstanding. I don’t want to dis my brothers and sisters because I realize that it’s a lot of misunderstanding. They’ve bought into myths about LGBT people and there’s a lot of hurt among the LGBTQ+ Christians that I know because of that rejection. … It’s exclusion but it’s also a message of being less than. It’s a message of not being loved by God, which is a flat out lie and one that has done such harm to the message of Christ. That breaks my heart. Especially for our kids growing up in churches today that don’t understand why we have such a problem with LGBT people.
Has education led to growth in the church’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ+ community?
I think we have grown in our understanding of God and the nature of God, which is all-loving, never turning people away. I think that is a lot of growth that many people have come to, to include LGBT people, but we’re not all there yet.
What’s the biggest misconception that people hold about CenterPeace?
People with very traditional views have believed that CenterPeace is a place where LGBT people come and ‘be fixed,’ that there would be change in sexual orientation but that’s not what we’ve ever been about. On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of LGBT activist groups have perceived CenterPeace to be less supportive of LGBT people just because we believe in kindness and staying with the church to help people understand.
How do you handle being between both ends of that spectrum?
A lot of conversation, a lot of prayer, a lot of asking God for words, for a heart for people at both ends of the spectrum. CenterPeace welcomes LGBT people who are in relationships with someone of the same sex, but we also welcome people who are committed to a life of celibacy. We welcome parents who cannot deal with their child being gay because I believe that relationship building is key to our understanding each other better and to getting along.
What’s the biggest impact that you’ve seen CenterPeace make?
I think we’ve impacted [others] in three different ways. I think we’ve impacted LGBT folks who felt like they did not have a place as a Christ follower. And that’s probably the most important thing that we’ve done. We’ve helped church leaders understand what it means to be gay, to be transgender, to be lesbian. We’ve helped a lot of parents hang on to their kids and love their kids well and affirm their children.
What do you plan to speak about at Women’s Chapel?
I’m going to share a little bit of my story, of growing up and having attended a Christian university myself as someone who is gay. And then I’ll move into how we can support our LGBT siblings on campus at a Christian university.
For more questions and resources, check out CenterPeace’s website.