Next weekend a group of OneWheaton board members and current Wheaton students will attend the Gay Christian Network conference in Chicago. You are invited to join us! Nate Krogh, class of 2008 and current Director of Operations at the GCN told me (your editor, Katie Campbell) a bit about his story, GCN, and what to expect at the upcoming conference.
Can you tell me a little about your story and your connection to Wheaton and GCN?
I went to Wheaton for a number of reasons, one of them being a last ditch effort to immerse myself in a Christian environment to become straight. I came out to my parents in high school, went through therapy, and didn’t speak about it afterward. I was hoping that being at Wheaton would “flip the right switch.” During my Sophomore year, Soulforce’s Equality Riders came to campus. That year was also when I was in an extremely unhealthy secret relationship with another student. All the secretiveness, and seeing how Wheaton leadership treated the soon-to-be guests (i.e., “The gays are coming!!!”) sent me into a deep depression. I came out to my family for a second time in the Fall of 2007 and withdrew from Wheaton later that semester.
It was rough. That’s how I found GCN. Interestingly enough, GCN’s website is not blocked on Wheaton’s network and I used it as a place for prayer support. […] Our brand situates us pretty nicely: if you Google “gay” and “Christian,” we’re at the top of the list so a lot of people find us because of that. Suffice it to say, GCN provided the support I needed when I needed it. I soon became a volunteer and was eventually an employee. I’ve been working for GCN for over 5 years now and am really excited our conference is in Chicago this year.
Besides this big yearly conference, what are the other facets of GCN?
Our online community is a large part of the organization. With over 25,000 members worldwide, it serves as a space for many who don’t have anywhere else to go. We have groups online and offline to serve regions, denominational preferences, life situations (e.g., mixed-orientation marriages), and so much else. Our annual conference is every January, and we also have several retreats happening throughout the year for some of our small groups. We’ve been doing a lot of visits with campuses lately which has been great. Justin Lee was recently at Gordon College, he’ll be at Pepperdine for a second time in the spring.
Structurally, I’m curious what you’ve seen to be effective on college campuses as far as affecting change. Have you seen that come more from the students or from the administration reacting to pressure from alums? At OneWheaton we’re always having a discussion about how change happens. We’ve tried various strategies.
I don’t think you’re going to like my complicated answer (laughs). I’ve actually seen a lot of strategies playing certain roles in effecting long-term change. I’ve seen a lot of positive things come from working with students. A lot of the feedback from a lot of our college events has been from straight college students being amazed that somebody who is part of that “scary” LGBT community is also dedicated to their religious beliefs and that they’re not all that different from people they know. [They tell us] how much seeing that opens their eyes and gets them wanting to do things themselves on their campuses.
We’ve met with administrators and had heart-to-heart discussions with them about the unique struggles they go through with change and how extremely different it is for administrators versus students. […] One administrator […] at a conservative Christian school in the Midwest is using our documentary Through My Eyes as mandatory training for all of their counseling and residential life staff. And one of the main reasons this dean gave for using it is that it’s 25 Christian youths sharing their stories of growing up LGBT in the Church. No narratives, no “this is what you’re supposed to believe at the end of this” statement. It speaks to how powerful the stories are. It also equips people to be compassionate and understanding.
So I think that in OneWheaton’s case, the best… I don’t know if advice is the right word, but I think trying not to be everything to everyone and just picking one thing, maybe two things to focus on and going with that. […] Because there are so many extremely important things to do. Lifetimes… it would take lifetimes and an amount of funding and paperwork I couldn’t even imagine to get all of it accomplished. So I think focusing on one things or two things and really doing them well is an important thing to consider. […] There is power and success in moderation.
I’m going to pass that along to our group. How has working for GCN changed how you approach the faith and sexuality discussion?
As someone who came from a very black-and-white world growing up (and at Wheaton as well), I’ve definitely become much more of a person who kind of lives in the gray. I’d be the last person to tell somebody that they have to come out or not. And I would try to be one of the first to help them get whatever support they needed. […] I try to be extremely understanding. It’s a difficult road to walk because […] around the faith/sexuality discussion, even just the sexuality discussion, people tend to operate on the extremes. It’s much easier to operate in the extremes. I have to reign myself in (laughs) especially when reading things on Facebook for example, or reading the comments section on news articles or whatnot. But I think that the middle road is what brings a lot of healing and help to a lot of people. And the restoration of relationships and reconciliation. I think those are very important things.
I want to ask you a couple questions about the conference itself. This is our first year participating as OneWheaton. What prompts people to come to the conference and what do they usually hope to get out of it?
[…] For the past several years, I’ve helped lead some of our first-time attendee workshops at the conference and that’s one of the questions I usually ask people to answer. A lot of people come because they either have dealt with this faith/sexuality dialogue themselves, or they have a friend or family member who has, or they’re just passionate about it. […]
There are people who are college students who aren’t out to their family or friends yet who just want to be in a place where they can be themselves. We have people who are in their 60s and 70s where this is the one time of the year where they can feel that they’re being their authentic self in a religious setting. There are people who come saying “I’ve been married to my husband for the past 25 years and I haven’t had the heart to tell him that I’m a lesbian.” We have parents coming saying, “Our kid came out to us and we didn’t react very well and we don’t want to lose our son or daughter.” So they’re just coming to try to find some help.
We have pastors and ministry leaders coming, trying to build up their resources for this type of discussion. It really depends. I think the end goal for a lot of people coming to the conference is fellowship and giving additional resources and support. It’s going to look different depending on who you talk to. I’m not sure if you’ve seen any of our Facebook updates or Twitter updates lately, but we’re more than likely going to have over 700 people at our conference this year which is over 200 more than we had last year. So we keep growing. It’s good but its also terrifying and exciting, all at the same time.
It sounds like there is a huge need for it. For people to bring those really big burdens with them… it sounds like a huge responsibility.
Is there anything else you want to pass along to Wheaton alums who may stumble across our blog?
I would definitely encourage people to come to the conference if they’re interested. Pass on the word to any students they think might need that type of support. We do offer day passes. We can even offer reduced student rates to people who are short on cash. We want people to find support and find community. I have no idea what the Metro prices are right now but we are smack dab in the middle of downtown right on the river so even if somebody wanted to come down for just Saturday, they’re more than welcome.
For more information on GCN or their upcoming conference, visit their website.