I was inspired by attending this weekend's Level Ground Festival, which uses art to create space for dialogue on faith, gender and sexuality.
Most of the people organizing and attending the conference Feb. 24-27 in Pasadena, CA seemed to be millennials with evangelical roots. Their youthful energy and optimism gave me confidence that they are changing the church so that LGBT people will always be welcome.
I arrived at the Level Ground Festival with my life partner Audrey
I went to a reading by Deborah Jian Lee, author of “Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism.” It is on my list of the Top 25 LGBTQ Christian books of 2015. She reported how evangelicalism is evolving due to diverse younger members, especially openly LGBT people, women in leadership, and more people of color.
The main example she discussed at the festival was Biola Queer Underground, a student group at a conservative Christian university in southern California. They took risks to open up dialogue on a campus where students could be expelled for “homosexual acts.”
Lee, an award-winning journalist who teaches at Cornell College, also told her own journey of growing up Chinese American in a non-religious home in a mostly white Chicago suburb. She found her “first true belonging at a Chinese immigrant church…. They taught me Jesus’ message was for everyone, no exceptions.” But anti-LGBT messages from various churches eventually turned her into a “refugee from evangelicalism” and led her to try to “make amends” for the damage done by Christian bigotry.
Kittredge Cherry and Deborah Jian Lee
Deborah and I first “met” on Facebook last year when I put her book on my list of the year’s Top 25 LGBTQ Christian books. We are both journalists who write about religion, love Jesus and are interested in Asia, so we had a lot in common. It was a joy to meet face to face.
"Rescuing Jesus" panel
Her reading was followed by discussion led by a diverse panel of experts, including journalist Christian Brown. He blogs on faith, sexuality and race at The Dispatch.
Kittredge Cherry and Christian Brown
Level Ground Executive Director Samantha Curley is another Facebook friend whom I got to meet in person for the first time at the festival. She co-founded Level Ground three years ago with Chelsea McInturff. I was impressed by the diversity and positive spirit of the conference through their leadership.
Executive Director Samantha Curley, right, with Kittredge Cherry and Audrey
Hundreds of people attended the festival in Pasadena, not far from to my home in Los Angeles.
This was the first time I attended an event sponsored by Level Ground. But it won’t be the last.
I love the Level Ground motto: “A safe space for dialogue through art.”
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Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts