Photo courtesy of Fairlight Hubbard and Amy M Phillips of EYE
The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists and Robin Lunn, it's a really intriguing paradigm to consider that -- one which I actually enjoy. People think all of a sudden that when you say the word "Baptist," they get a very distinct view of what they think they're going to get when they meet a Baptist. They're going to be homophobic… especially right now, in our current climate, you're going to get a lot of conversation about what God wants the country to look like, how He wants you to vote, how He wants you to spend your money as a Christian and, certainly, how He wants you to build a family and what that looks like, in terms of sexual orientation, which does not include any conversation of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people. It's really fun for me to be able to go and have access to those kind of environments that really challenge that. Yet, at the same time, I think one of the things that I learned in response to that is, how important people's traditions are, in which they have come to approach their faith, and what language they use that helps them continue to be comfortable. Meaning -- the example I would have -- it spun my head off, the first time that I met people that were saying, "Yes. We're Southern Baptists and we're going to an open and affirming church." I'm like, "What? It's not possible." It's the same way that I felt that that section of faith might look at me and go, "It's not possible for you to be a Christian and gay." And it's not fair for me to look and say, "What? How can you be a Baptist, a Southern Baptist and open and affirming." So you kind of have to go. You have to meet people. You have to talk with them. You have to figure out the lay of the land.
Through all that, I am realizing that’s a very important thing, especially in terms of the LGBT issues and today. I think a lot of times, we encourage people to just move on. If there's a tradition that's not including you in your conversation, we think it's really easy to just move on. If the Southern Baptists don't like you, then get out and go somewhere else. But if you spent your whole life there and your family is there, and that's your tradition and that's your language and your culture, it's like saying if you're American, you don't like what's going on in the American political scene right now, “well then, get out and go to Korea. It doesn't work that simply. And to try and hard-wire someone's native language is -- or you rewire someone's native language, it's not necessarily helpful. It's not necessarily accurate to their growth process either. So I definitely learned through experiences like that to be in there has some sacred respect, the varying traditions, at which people approach their faith.
I know that when you came out, you had the big Larry King interview, and Christianity today did a big piece about it. I was curious to know, having had time since then, are there questions that they asked that you would answer differently now?
You know, that's a good question. I don't -- I feel like I've been very fortunate at this point, and I can't really claim any personal victory in it. But I think I've been pretty lucky to feel like there's nothing that I would take back. There are moments that I'm just going, "Oh, I could have said that better. I didn't quite know how to articulate the experience that I was having for other people." But I'm not sure that I would say that I would change any answers. I think some of my answers have evolved. in terms of not just having my own experience but meeting other people that are having similar experiences to myself, has broadened some of the answers that I might give today. And I think even helped… but I'm getting to a more narrow point actually, in just being able to just pound the same point over and over and over again, which is that, regardless of your sexual orientation, your faith and your spiritual experiences are valuable and they matter. And no matter who you are, what tradition you come from, the perspective and experience that you've had are important to being proclaimed not just for yourself, but are important for other people to be able to share about the differences in how you've experienced that faith.
If I can slip into a religious-based language for a second, and say that if God, in fact, is greater that we can possibly imagine, then perhaps, the experiences that we will see in any one given individual will be extremely diverse, extremely broad-ranging. I can only probably represent so much of who and God what might be and what He does and how He acts in my own life. But by meeting another person and by continuing to expand our knowledge of diverse people and diverse experiences and having the courage to be able to tell that story ourselves and having the courage to listen to other people when they're sharing that experience becomes a really profound experienc. And so, I think that's the thing - out of all the Q&A that I've had to do over the last couple of years about it, is that I don't think there's any one answer or any one correct answer to anything that anyone asks. But I think I've been really grateful to see an evolution. I have been really grateful for each question that allows me to actually meet some new person or to consider perspective of what do I agree or disagree, and just really think about the other people that are involved in this process; because I think that is a part of me that gets really frustrated because you go through experiences like that. I think often, what happens…[is that] those who're coming from a more conservative angle, and then trying to understand where I'm at, as a lesbian, they're only seeing me as a lesbian. Well, [they ask me to] justify it… that's to me like saying, "Well, justify yourself, Jennifer. You're from Kansas and I am from Tennessee, and I don't understand how you could possibly be the way you are."