When faith, hope and love is all you got

I don’t cry often. But today the corner of my eye is filled with tears. I cry, because it is so unfair and wrong, and not as it should be. But this is the reality. Here at the last day of the conference for Christian lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) people in St. Petersburg.

It's the fourth in a series of East European fora, previously held in Moscow, Kiev and St. Petersburg. I just led a worship service with five other priests from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Switzerland and Canada. Here, all church traditions are standing side by side; we are equal. The liturgy around the Eucharistic meal was a mixture of English and Protestant, Russian
and Orthodox. There is chaos and it is liberating. Together we form a real community. For many participants, it is the first time they can be open about being Christian and gay. I am surrounded by people who really risk a lot to be who they are. By allowing themselves to love, and to avoid having to choose between faith and love.

It is not the first time I meet LGBT-people in Eastern Europe. Since 2007 I've been several times in Moldova, Ukraine, Russia and Latvia. Many things separate us, but I'm home. I am with my people. And they are not doing well. The fact that I am an
ordained minister and married to a man is in this context almost absurd. But it has not always been like this. In fact, during the last 20 years we have claimed our rights, and got them. Thanks to people who have fought and risked harassment
and danger, we have come so far. Thanks to people who have told the stories of who they are. Those who will do the job in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are the ones I'm with now. And they are so few, and Russia so great. How can this become a reality? I think for myself. But I do not say anything.

Yesterday, the conference hotel was evacuated because of a bomb threat. An extremist group had called the police and said that they had placed a bomb in the hotel because of us. A strange experience, as only a few weeks earlier, my office in
the government building in Oslo was destroyed because of a bomb. Such bomb threats are something these people have to deal with all the time. Consequently, many avoid cooperation with them because they’re labeled a high risk group. But I
believe they will never silence us. Silence us to not be ourselves and fight for what we believe.

I have gone a long way since I started stydying theology in 2008 with a fairly conservatie approachI believed that homosexuality was a sin, and there was a clear distinction between Christian and Non-Christians: those on the inside and outside of the Church. Today everything is different. From thinking that those who are persecuted for their faith were in a unique position, I today have no problems thinking that those who are persecuted for their love are in the same situation. Love, faith and identity are linked tightly together and cannot be separated.

I'm glad I have come to this realization. But how can we get everyone else to see this? How can we get the world's leaders, priests and bishops, parents and siblings to understand? How do we get LGBTs themselves to see this? The people I'm together with here in St. Petersburg believe in God and have lots of love to give. In recent years I have also seen hope emerge. They are about to rise up. They have faith in and hope that they too will one day have their rights and be
able to be themselves. This gives them courage. The belief that they should not have to fear harassment by police and authorities provides them with a fighting spirit. They will contend that no one should have to hide who they are.

As I said, it is not often I cry. But along with these wonderful people I have shed some tears. I am part of something great and am grateful for it. At the same time, I have another home to go to - the home and the life they long for. I can leave the
worries and oppression, but they must stay behind. However, we are a people without borders, a people who are willing to fight for and with each other.

Written by Rev. Gard Realf Sandaker-Nielsen, senior communications adviser in the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, and a board member of the LGBT Network in the Norwegian Labor Party. Former president of The Norwegian Organization for LGBT Christians, Åpen Kirkegruppe, and a board member of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups.