Looking Back at the Forum’s Annual Conference 2018
Last May, we (Frans, 24, and Matthijs, 26) visited the Forum’s annual conference for the first time. Just after coming home from the conference, this is what Matthijs wrote on Facebook:
“Tired but very inspired by the annual conference of the European Forum for LGBT Christian Groups that took place near Rome the last couple of days. This group of people truly feels like family on so many levels. Somehow, I feel like I found a long lost piece of myself. Thank you to all these sweet and brave soul mates of mine, I love you for real.”
Now, a few months after the conference took place, we cannot describe this feeling much better. Even though regular life has buried our emotions to a certain extent, we can say that the Forum’s conference impacted our lives on a deep level.
Matthijs: “I loved being at the conference in Rome, because it was a great way for me to meet people like myself: LGBTI+ people with a Christian background, from all over Europe. It made me feel like I used to when I went to church as a kid: embedded in a community, belonging to each other. In the last few years, I have met a lot of queer people with Christian backgrounds, who were usually around my age and gender. At the conference, all age groups were represented within one time and space—united in all their diversity.
I think it is very enriching to speak to queer people, who are older than me: these people often have a wealth of experience of dealing with ‘being different from everybody else’—experience picked up in ages when being queer was a lot less accepted than it is nowadays. Also, these people often have passed through life stages that, for me, are only just beginning. For example: at the conference, I have talked to a gay father of a gay son, who proudly told me that he got to introduce his son to ‘the gay world’—for example: to the specifics of gay dating. I jokingly replied, ‘If only I had a gay father, so I wouldn’t have had to discover everything for myself!’
Disclaimer: this does not mean that I am looking for a daddy.”
Frans: “I am always looking for a daddy, though.
Kidding aside—I completely agree with Matthijs. The Forum community that Matthijs compares to the church of his youth actually came pretty close to how I personally define church. Throughout the conference, a lot of interactions, workshops, discussions, and conversations revolved around the question of how queer people can emancipate and truly belong to their churches. In these cases, the word ‘church’ refers to institutionalized churches.
But if the church is indeed the body of Christ, then I am curious to see where he moved his body when he spent his days on this earth. Jesus was not sitting in the temple, among the Pharisees and other powerful religious leaders, waiting for some saints to come to him. He did quite the opposite, I would say. Jesus was always on his way, moving within society’s margins. He was out there, having a meaningful conversation with a Samaritan woman, he was having dinner with a tax collector, who was hated by everyone, he was telling his followers that a Samaritan passer-by, a foreigner that was looked down upon, was potentially a better neighbour than a Levite or a priest. I find this a particularly fascinating example for all churches, because I believe it shows that a church is not a group of people that centres around the privileged and the powerful but rather a group of people that moves among the powerless and puts those, who are marginalized by society, in the centre.”
Matthijs: “Indeed, why do we as queer people need to keep adjusting ourselves to the structure that the Church assigns to us if we are the church?”
Frans: “Right now, I feel like we are put into a position where even we see ourselves as outsiders, who should be grateful whenever we are accepted by churches, whenever we are ‘allowed’ to contribute. It gives cisgender, straight people the role of ‘the normal ones’ and turns us into ‘the others’. Again: we do not ‘add flavour and diversity’ to the church, we are the church. To me, the Forum was already a church in itself, and one that I am happy to be a part of.”
Matthijs: “At the conference, a few undercurrents disturbed the feelings of belonging, of family that I applauded earlier. To be clear, I love many things about the Roman Catholic Church, and I deeply appreciate the Italian team’s excellent organizing efforts. Also, I understand that a conference near the Pope’s summer residence has a Roman Catholic style and flavour. However, in this conference I felt estranged by a Roman Catholic hegemony that seemed to pervade everything to such an extent that non–Roman-Catholic sounds could hardly be heard. The youth conference was not justifiably called ‘ecumenical’, neither was the public conference ‘Towards the Youth Synod’. In this context, this also needs to be mentioned: a workshop about chastity is, the way I see it, not only non-ecumenical, it is an invasion of oppressing theology into an environment that is supposed to be a safe space.”
Frans: “It was quite unclear to me, as well as to others I spoke with, how we were supposed to interpret this workshop that was part of the Youth Pre-Conference. Was it meant to be informative, to teach us more about chastity as a theological concept? Or were we expected to actually consider the concept of chastity as a serious way of living our sexual lives? Was the Forum telling us that chastity is the only sexual path for a Christian queer person? Why were we discussing this topic to begin with?
I personally believe that sexual morals should never be generalized and imposed to an entire group of people since sexuality is experienced differently by everyone. In the workshop, rape was mentioned in one and the same breath as masturbation, fornication, and pornography, which I found particularly disturbing since rape has nothing to do with sexuality in the first place (it is a form of violence, not of sex). Why not discuss themes like online dating, consent, monogamy and non-monogamy, insecurities, body image, stereotypes, or sexual health and safety?
Luckily, the bus rides and late-at-night conversations gave us plenty of opportunities to have those discussions as well. That is one of the things that I loved about the Forum: a sincere conversation was always around the corner. It was quite clear that this was a group of open-minded, interesting people that would easily open up to each other.”
So we remain very hopeful for the future of the Forum. Through the fellowship between us, all of us being queer people with a Christian background, we can build bridges across our remaining divides whether they are theological, cultural, gender- or age-related in nature.
We would like to thank the Menno Mulder fund, especially Arie Borgdorff, for making our journey possible in the first place. We do notice the Forum’s hope for the future and for our generation, we deeply appreciate all the work that has been done by previous Forum generations thus far, and we are aware of the responsibility that we carry. We will not easily forget this beautiful, loving group of people, the warmth of the bonfire where we sang and prayed, the beautiful walk we made on the Via Appia Antica, including the lovely conversations we had there, the joy of the Rainbow Choir and the overall sense of community. We would not have missed this conference for the world!