2017 Leadership Development Cohort
The Reformation Project’s rigorous leadership development program gives LGBTQ Christians and allies the opportunity to:
- Spend three months studying the most important scholarly work and debates about the Bible and LGBTQ issues.
- Take the Bible training from our regional conference to the next level with coaching, practice, and intensive preparation.
- Enhance their effectiveness as a leader in their local community, and take new initiatives in organizing, networking, and training other Christians.
- Become friends with remarkable Christians who are passionate about changing the church, advancing LGBTQ inclusion, and showing God’s love to the world.
We assembled a class of reformers that is representative of the body of Christ as a whole. That includes diversity in age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, geography, nationality, ability, and denomination. What is most important, however, is that our leaders have an authentic passion for Jesus and for the cause of LGBTQ inclusion, and that they present a clear vision for the changes that they hope to make.
Meet Our 34 Reformers from 2017...
I am an advocate artist who spent his childhood on the island of Puerto Rico and have been living in the city of Chicago for over a decade. Christianity is a way of life that inherently and prophetically challenges the dominant culture in order to help people and their communities flourish. As an artist, I am interested in alternative forms of narrative presentations that drive movements and influence culture, and I feel that politics and religion are not the be-all and end-all for change. I feel called to minister with the young, unchurched, and dechurched folk who are looking for an entry point into community and faith, and I seek to accomplish this by creating spaces where people can find stillness and contemplation. I am passionate about community development, and I hope to study sociology in the Fall with the long-term goal of creating my own unique role within the church. I have been doing my part in shifting this Christian consciousness that enables racism, sexism (homophobia), and xenophobia in our country by studying inclusive theology with an intersectional approach. I've been studying how paradigms of dominance, Christian dogma, and many other factors have colluded to give us the Christianity we see today - the same Christianity that is influencing the American consciousness. This is a lot of homework - hard homework for someone who's never done graduate level work - but it is also necessary work! This cohort experience has made me realize how much damage we've done simply by lacking curiosity and not interrogating where our beliefs come from. My hope is to continue having conversations with folks in my community to spark the kind of curiosity necessary to begin resisting and changing our consciousness. I recently visited the Pulse nightclub where the deadliest mass shooting in US history carried out by a single gunman occurred. This deadly act was purposefully inflicted upon queer people of color by a self-radicalized American man who was taking out his anger at the US for their involvement in Syria and Iraq. This is a complex and intersectional story that requires an equally complex and intersectional approach, and I am learning how do that through this cohort. At the Pulse memorial, I read so much positive and loving rhetoric. "Love trumps hate". "Hugs, not hate". "Love always wins"... This rhetoric is necessary to help us keep going. It's helped me survive when I started coming out as a gay Christian. At this stage in my life, however, the rhetoric is not enough. It's not enough to just say "love". We need to understand why we "hate", and make the changes necessary to ensure these tragedies never happen again. Though this cohort, I have been learning how the Christian consciousness has been shaped by various forces within and without the Christian movement. I am learning to understand how it is we got to the Christianity that is complicit with the marginalization of people - women, LGBT, people of color - and I am discovering how I can carve a path forward to a reformed church! I would hope to use this as a signal to anyone who is curious about having conversations about LGBT inclusion in the church, and how we can work towards dismantling racism, sexism and xenophobia as we do this work. I personally want to continue expanding my own understanding of intersectionality, and recognize that this work is only possible through collaboration and diversity of voices.This is why I am dedicating my time and energy to participate in this leadership cohort. In April, we will all come together for a 3-day conference in Los Angeles centered on in-depth training on the Bible and LGBT issues, and community organizing.This is a major commitment I have taken on and I need your help. I need your support to see that the vision of this program is fully realized. My teammates and I are required to participate in fundraising efforts to cover the cost of this program. This includes transportation, program materials, meals and venue costs. Funds raised are pooled among all participants as TRP wants this to be a collaborative effort that ensures the cohort as a whole succeeds in reaching our goal of $50,000. I have set a personal goal of $1500. Will you help me reach that goal by donating my effort? Will you also commit to praying for myself and my teammates as we do this important work of advancing equality in the church? If you like, I'm available and willing to meet for lunch or coffee so I can tell you more about this work. I would love to share more about why this important to me.
Born and raised in NJ, Krissi and her husband have two grown children. She and her family helped to 'plant' a small, inclusive church and she has been an active Alpha course discussion leader for 15 years. Growing up and believing the phrase 'love the sinner, hate the sin' with regard to LGBT people no longer felt sufficient when a close friend’s Christian daughter came out and 'the gay issue' became much more personal. After much reading, study, discussion and prayer, her understanding of scriptural intent and views began to change. When her own son came out two years later, she was able to fully embrace him for who he is. The Reformation Project offers her a place to study and learn more deeply on this topic to become more broadly informed and articulate on affirming and non-affirming views and theology behind LGBT issues. Her vision is to create a safe space for other Christian parents of LGBT kids who are struggling with this issue as it becomes personal. It can be a lonely journey and is one she would like to help others think through and navigate.
My journey of understanding, accepting, and affirming my sexuality has been a complete rollercoaster. Before coming out, I had been studying, chewing on Scripture, and reading any theology book I could get my hands on that both challenged and affirmed my belief that same sex marriage could exist in the Church. Through this process, I came to the understanding that God did in fact love and affirm my sexuality. The Church can be an unwelcoming place to the LGBT community. I experienced this in college after being dismissed from leadership roles and church communities; the wounds still felt fresh years later. I had never been to a Gospel-centered church that felt like home; I was still living a double-life when it came to Christianity long after I shared with close friends that I was part of the LGBT community. God did not lose faith in me, albeit I began to lose my faith in God. God proved to me in the years that followed that nothing can separate me from the love that exists for me in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39) by pursuing me relentlessly. I had finally reached a point where I had nowhere left to turn, only to discover that God had never left my side. I began exploring the Gospel with a new vision and desperation to understand God on an intimate level. I have been on a restorative journey, learning about God’s love for all of God’s image-bearers, including myself. I am passionate and excited to learn about Biblical inclusion, as well as ways to strengthen the relationship between the non-affirming church and the gay Christian. The Reformation Project (TRP) is giving me an opportunity that, if you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have never believed possible. I believe that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). I am ready to lead the way to building bridges between the gay and Christian community, something that I think we can agree is necessary so that all of God’s children can hear the good news of the Gospel. I came out publicly for the first time in 2016 after the Pulse Nightclub shootings took the innocent lives of my gay brothers and sisters (and their allies). I was shocked, hurt, and afraid. I knew that I could no longer stay silent; I wanted to be a voice of hope for the LGBT community that had been told for so long that they were not welcome. I wanted to challenge the non-affirming Church to look at the Bible through a new lens, and I wanted to challenge the idea that LGBT Christians do not have a place in the Church. Thank you for your willingness to go on this journey with me!
Bethany grew up in a variety of evangelical denominations and has previously worked as a church worship leader and parachurch college ministry campus staff. She is a proud Ravenclaw who spends 75% of her life asking too many "why" questions, so she's very excited to learn more deeply as part of the cohort. After experiencing significant pain and loss from trying to participate in Christianity while queer, she is looking forward to learning more about what she can do to make Christianity (and the world) fully inclusive for LGBTQ people like herself. She uses she/her pronouns and identifies as bisexual. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, where she works in media and communications and lives with her partner and two dogs. Your support will allow her to participate in the Reformation Project's Leadership Development Cohort, where she's already had her mind blown and her heart grown. In the first weeks of the cohort, she's taken steps toward confronting her trauma from #intervarsitypurge, thought more richly about her biracial/hapa/white/Asian identity, studied theology deeply from all angles, participated thoughtfully in online discussions about readings, and met fellow cohort members who are making her feel like she has a tribe again. Your support goes toward program costs, especially for traveling to LA for the cohort's mini-conference in April. Thanks for doing what you can to make this amazing process possible!
Dear Jesus, please free me of this struggle with same-sex attraction, please take away these desires and replace them with yours. Please heal me and make me the man you want me to be. Every day of my life from the age of 12 to 26, I prayed those very words. I was something a Christian man wasn’t supposed to be and I was in constant agony. I was taught that gay people were outside of God’s will and that the expression of their love was unholy and they wouldn’t be going to heaven. I knew I was one of them and these words ate away at my faith. My sexuality stood in the way of my relationship for years because I believed people over God. I let the church tell me I had less value because I was attracted to men. I let them convince me I needed to change, so I went to reparative therapy multiple times, dated women and worked for the church all so I could be closer to God. The more I tried to change, the further away I felt from God. All that teaching had sealed the way I thought God saw me: unlovable and unworthy unless I was straight. My sexual orientation felt like a glass wall that was growing ever taller between me and God. It was like I could see Him on the other side screaming “I love you” but I couldn’t hear Him, so it wasn’t real. After doing pastoral training at my church and asking questions about homosexuality that mentors refused to engage with, leading me into deep depression, I finally spoke these words to myself: “If I have to keep living like this, trying to be something I’m not, then I don’t want to live anymore.” I couldn’t believe that was what God wanted, so I decided my only option for life was to leave my church. I said out loud that “God loves me as I am” and those in the church vomited hatred and disappointment at me so fierce I thought I would never heal. I tucked my faith away hoping that God would somehow stay with me as his church disowned me, and walked away in order to heal. Several years later I wrote a play called oblivion about my struggle to reconcile my faith and sexuality. When it started touring in churches, the response was unconditional love from those I thought I would never be able to trust again. They showed me a God that grieved with me for praying the wrong prayer for 14 years; a prayer He’d never answered because there was no need. My orientation was a part of the man I was meant to be. As oblivion toured, it gave me the opportunity to speak to more and more people concerned with these issues. I gained an appetite to learn more about LGBTQ inclusion in the church from a theology perspective so I could continue to have transformative conversations. I found Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian and realized not only was there much to learn, there was a means to do so through The Reformation Project. oblivion is only the beginning of my work as a beacon of hope to other LGBTQ people of faith. My current journey has led me to participate in the Reformation Project’s Leadership Development Cohort; a three month intensive study about the latest scholarship on LGBTQ+ inclusion and racial justice. The course has been helping me answer the deep questions I never had a chance to ask before I left my faith. It is equipping me to speak and be a resource for those struggling to understand how faith and sexuality work together. I'm raising funds to help offset the travel and accommodation cost of the final week of in-person training in LA, from April 5-8. If you believe in what I’m doing and would like to partner with me in this next step, please consider supporting me by making a donation below. I also appreciate any support, encouragement and prayer you'd like to send my way. No matter what your involvement in this part of my journey, thank you for being part of my story. Sincerely, JonathanBIOGRAPHYJonathan Brower is a born and raised bilingual Canadian who grew up in Calgary, Alberta and is now based out of St Catharines, Ontario. He is a playwright, producer, actor, director and musician. Jonathan pursues arts as a vehicle for education and activism. Initially called to full time ministry, Jonathan received pastoral training through Calvary Chapel and was involved in Youth With a Mission, Power to Change and Living Waters. After coming out in 2012, he returned to university to complete his degrees in Drama and Communications, eventually co-founding Third Street Theatre Society, dedicated to the positive reflection of queer culture, stories and voices on stage and in communities. His struggle accepting himself as a gay Christian led him to create oblivion, a play and open forum that expands the conversation about the challenge of reconciling faith and sexuality. oblivion tours as a resource for communities interested in becoming affirming.
Shari Cathcart is in her fifteenth year of teaching choir at Clarksville Public School in Clarksville, Arkansas. She's been blessed to teach many students over the years, making a positive contribution into their lives through the joy of music and the love of a choir family. Shari's students affectionately call her CaThor or Mama C. Shari is also the proud mother of a rambunctious and creative six-year-old boy, Joey. They enjoy swimming together, playing ukuleles, swords and laser tag, along with many other adventures guided by their imagination. When Shari isn't teaching or spending time with Joey, she can be found reading, kickboxing, watching Netflix, cooking, singing and playing the piano, saxophone or ukulele. She is a vegetarian and animal lover. Two dogs, one cat, one turtle and three fish keep their home bustling. Shari was privileged to grow up in a God-focused and loving home. She gave her life to Jesus at a very young age and was called into the ministry in her early teens. Shari has been an active worship leader and Bible teacher in a variety of Evangelical, Charismatic and Non-Denominational churches through the years. Coming from the perspective of a person who was asked to step down from church leadership when she came out to her pastors as a lesbian, Shari is passionate about advocating for the inclusion of LGBT Christians within the church.
Haley grew up in the Church and the Church has been an integral part of Haley’s life. She believes that as the people of God, the Church is to be a place of love for all—regardless of any descriptors that we place on people. She believes that the Church is to embody the love of Christ and is to show that love to everyone. She believes that God loves everyone holistically and that we are to follow in that example. Haley has a passion for bridging the gap between academic theology and pastoral ministry. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in History and Philosophy & Religion from Piedmont College in Demorest, GA (2013), a Masters of Divinity from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, GA (2016), and plans to begin her doctoral work in the near future. Haley and her partner serve on the staff of Reforming Church in St Petersburg, FL.
Alyssa Crowley is a queer Catholic-Christian woman born and raised in Southern California, and a recent graduate of UCLA with a major in Applied Linguistics and minors in Spanish and Anthropology. At UCLA Alyssa became very involved with her faith community there, serving as a Student Leader for the University Catholic Center on the Social Justice Committee, as well as the Co-chair of Cornerstone, the Catholic Center’s LGBT+ group. Alyssa is now living in Atlanta, Georgia as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Through JVC, Alyssa works for Catholic Charities in the adult education program teaching English Language classes. In the future Alyssa hopes to pursue graduate studies in linguistics to explore the relationship of language and identity, as well as to continue to work for LGBT inclusion within the Catholic Community. She is extremely excited to grow and learn with the Leadership Cohort!
Jeffry Faircloth lives in Houston, Texas where he is very involved in the LGBT community. Jeffry has sat on the board of directors for PFLAG Houston since 2012, serving as co-president between 2014 to 2016. He also serves on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's LGBTQ Advisory Board and on the Davidson HATCH Youth Services Committee, which oversees a program that provides a safe place for LGBT youth who are just coming out. A recent graduate of University of Houston, Jeffry plans to attend seminary for graduate school to study Biblical scholarship and theology. He believes in a world in which the lived experiences of as many human beings as possible are maximized to fullest capacity. In his personal time, Jeffry is a lover of The Wizard of Oz and all things Judy Garland and loves 80's music very much.
Erica Ferguson became inspired to join the Reformation Project through her background in collegiate athletics where she played basketball at William Jewell College. She finished as a Honorable Mention All-American and then continued her career in collegiate athletics. Ferguson served as a strength & conditioning coach, assistant women's basketball coach, and director of basketball operations in Missouri and Georgia. Cultivating her faith as a Christian, she saw the need to understand the cross section of faith, athletics, and sexuality. She witnessed in her own experiences, as well as in the student athletes she served, the struggle between these three identities. Ferguson hopes to help bridge the gaps, learn more about resources, and bring an understanding of faith to communities that are in need of support on this topic. She currently lives in Atlanta, GA where she is a member of Passion City Church and works corporately for Kale Me Crazy.
Thank you for visiting my fundraising page! I am participating in The Reformation Project because I believe in the possibility of full inclusion in the church for the LGBT community. The church should be welcoming for anyone seeking a relationship with God and for too long those in the LGBT community have been asked to sit on the sidelines. My passion is that one day the church will be seen as a safe place for everyone to walk out their faith without fear, isolation, rejection, or judgement. This project is an in-depth study of faith, sexuality, Scripture, history and more that will provide a strong foundation for leadership in this effort. My heart is to help build bridges between the LGBT community and the church. I long to have those difficult conversations regarding sexuality with church leaders with grace, humility, and an open heart.
Ashlynn Frandsen is a Bi-sexual, Native American mother in the San Francisco bay area who has earned long standing respect in the arts community. She has made her career path to shed light on those who are otherwise ignored, and she actively serves as a strong advocate for justice and equality among underrepresented and marginalized populations. Her tenacious personality, in combination with her focus and drive, make a marked difference in the world. Her goal is to help create a world wherein all people, especially children and including LGBTQ + inclusive, have a safe place to thrive. Ashlynn offers compassion and support to anyone who is down on their luck. Ashlyn is a recognized spiritual leader both within the Christian church and in Native American ceremonies. She often networks within multiple communities to provide resources for the homeless. Historically, Ashlynn recovered from drug addiction and survived homelessness thirteen years ago. Due to her personal triumph over these struggles, she is fueled by the belief in not forgetting where one originates from; and that reaching back to assist those who still suffer she commits a sacred act that in turn heals the entire community and uplifts us all.
Shen Heckel is a Los Angeles based theatre artist. He is what you would call a cradle to grave Catholic-Christian. He has served as an RCIA Catechist for the past six years at the University Catholic Center (UCC) at UCLA. He loves being that unexpected face welcoming people to the church. It's not too often you see a transman teaching the traditions and history of the Catholic faith. Before that, he was a student at UCLA's Theatre School and a member of the UCC's choir, Cornerstone (the LGBT+ inclusion group), Student Leadership Team, and Bible study group, all while also running a student theatre company on campus. Throughout his life Heckel has made theatre and church his safe haven. He hopes to someday bring back that safe feeling to all LGBT+ people of faith through his work in theatre. He is currently juggling freelance theatre work, playwriting, and directing. Heckel believes that being a member of the Cohort will help strengthen his voice for LGBT+ inclusion within the church and finally give him the right tools to create theatre that spreads this knowledge and promotes the inclusion of all God’s people.
Like those of us in the Church today, Methodism’s founder John Wesley was no stranger to intense disagreement over different interpretations of Scripture. He knew that there was plenty of room for faithful disagreement regarding what the Bible says in various passages. However, he noted, the canon of Scripture affirms that God is love and God’s love is over all God’s works. “Whatever it mean besides…” he concluded, “No scripture can mean that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works.” I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Wesley on this. This year, I am one of 38 individuals who have been selected to participate in the Leadership Development Cohort run by The Reformation Project (TRP). TRP is an organization that has become close to my heart. They are working toward making the global Christian church inclusive of LGBT people and have been experiencing groundbreaking success on a national level. As a member of their Leadership Development Cohort, I am participating in a 3 month program that is the equivalent of taking a semester-long graduate course. I will be learning with and from folks from several Christian traditions all over the world to follow Wesley’s example, engaging in tough conversations about Scripture and Church tradition with love and respect toward all involved. The goal is to make me a more informed, articulate, and effective witness in discussions with other Christians about LGBT issues no matter what views they hold on the topic. In April, we will all come together for a 3-day conference in Los Angeles centered on in-depth training on the Bible and LGBT issues, and community organizing. This is a major commitment I have taken on and I need your help. My teammates and I are working together in fundraising to cover the cost of this program. This includes transportation, program materials, meals and venue costs. Funds raised are pooled among all participants in this collaborative effort that ensures the cohort as a whole succeeds in reaching our goal of $50,000. This goal will help equip people of faith throughout the world to be thoughtful, faithful leaders in ongoing discussions about the role of LGBTQ folks in the Church in ways that honor God’s invitation to show the world a witness of love, even in the midst of disagreements. I have set a personal goal of $2500. ill you help me reach that goal by donatingto my effort? Will you also commit to praying for myself and my teammates as we do this important work of advancing equality in the church?
Sarah Hurliman is a coffee drinker, book lover, and Midwesterner. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her dog, Henry. Sarah has been part of many different churches and denominations, attended two Christian colleges, and worked in church and parachurch ministries. Almost all of the communities she has been part of have experienced divisions over LGBTQ inclusion. Over time, Sarah has grown passionate about affirming and including LGBTQ individuals in the life of the church. She is excited to be part of the 2017 cohort, to grow in her advocacy for marginalized groups, and to deepen her understanding of intersectional social justice.
If you know me you probably know that I love my LGBTQ friends, and I love church! For almost 20 years now, one of my biggest passions has been to make the Christian church a more inclusive and welcoming place for LGBTQ people. I believe that God loves LGBTQ people just as they are, and I try to advocate for full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ folks in every Christian community that I am part of. However, I know that I have not always done this as succesfully as I could. By participating in the Leadership Cohort I am working to become a better ally for LGBTQ folks in the church. As a member of the Cohort, I am participating in a 3-month program that is the equivalent of taking a semester-long graduate course. The goal is to make me a more informed, articulate, and effective spokesperson for an LGBTQ-affirming theological position in discussions with other Christians about LGBTQ issues, no matter what views they hold on the topic. This is a major commitment I have taken on and I need your help! Rather than paying course fees, my teammates and I are required to participate in fundraising efforts to cover the cost of this program. This includes transportation, program materials, teaching, accommodation, and venue costs. Funds raised are pooled among all participants to reach a collective goal of $50,000. This ensures that the cohort is fully inclusive for all participants, regardless of their financial status. Anything that you can give will be so appreciated in helping us reach our goal. Thank you so much for your support!
From the time I was born until I was 24 years old, I spent at least 12 hours a week in church. Between Sunday school and morning worship to choir and youth group, I was raised in the church. The community, the language, the worship songs, the Wednesday night dinners...it was the air I breathed. My childhood church was a second home, a place of safety and welcome, and many of the church members felt like family. It was from this congregation that I learned the stories of Jesus and began to feel a call to follow Jesus and serve in Christian ministry. But there was always one part of my identity that I didn’t know what to do with when I walked through those church doors: my same-sex attraction. In middle and high school, I didn’t share what I was feeling with anyone and instead tried to bury, suppress, and “pray away the gay” for over 10 years. This caused devastating turmoil in my life, including great amounts of shame, anxiety, and depression. I was constantly haunted by the fear that my same-sex attraction would destroy my ability to experience an abundant life - a life of adventure, relationship, authenticity, and love. When I went to college, I sought out conversation around faith and sexuality in churches and campus ministries, longing to find glimmers of hope for my life and my future. But no matter where I turned the answers were the same: The Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin. Same-sex attraction is a result of the fall of humanity. Don't worry, having these attractions isn't sinful as long as you don't act on them. God has the ability to change your heart. Jesus experienced these same temptations, but he didn't give in. We will pray for God’s Spirit to give you the strength to persevere. Maybe God’s desire is for you to be celibate so you have more time to serve him. While these responses, in theory, seemed to address the "issue of homosexuality", they were rather unhelpful for any LGBTQ individual trying to figure out how to live their life on a daily basis. After 24 years of trying to reconcile my Christian faith and my lived experiences as a gay woman, these surface level answers left me with bigger theological questions: What was I to think about my LGBTQ friends who exhibited the fruits of the Spirit in their everyday lives? Did the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman cultures, in which the Bible was written, have the same understandings about sexual orientation that we have today? Was it possible for a monogamous, covenantal same-sex relationship to be honoring to God? If staying "closeted" and suppressing my same-sex desires was leading to severe mental illness and suicidal thoughts, was this really God's plan for my life? While I began to explore a diverse range of theologies relating to the Church and LGBTQ inclusion, I knew that I wouldn't be supported by many of my Christian friends. But I am deeply thankful for the “affirming” therapists and ministers that I was able to talk with about these questions. If it hadn’t been for these women and men in my life, I would have never known there were Christians and Christian faith traditions who were working to reconcile the real-life experiences of LGBTQ people and the Christian faith. While I am thankful that I have discovered this gospel message of liberation and acceptance, I know there are many Christians across the world who are in dire need of reformed theology around gender and sexuality. This is where my involvement with The Reformation Project begins! The Reformation Project is a Bible-based, Christian direct action organization that works to promote inclusion of LGBTQ people by reforming church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Reformation Project longs for the day when the global church fully affirms LGBTQ people. Currently there is little overlap between the LGBTQ community and the Christian Church due to the tremendous amount of pain and harm the Church has inflicted on this population. However, many Christian churches are now becoming "open and affirming" to the LGBTQ community thanks to shared life experiences with LGBTQ individuals and years of academic/theological work around Christianity, gender, and sexuality. Whereas most Christian leaders used to cite the 6 "clobber texts" to condemn any LGBTQ individual, new methods of Biblical interpretation seek to understand the underlying moral logic and historical context within these verses. Christian thinkers and theologians are also finding more and more value in theological sources such as experience, reason, and tradition alongside Scripture. Every year an increasing number of Christians are becoming "open and affirming" to LGBTQ individuals as they experience the movement of God's Spirit towards inclusion, justice, and equality for all. It should never be the case that one must leave a Christian community before they can ask questions related to their gender or sexual identity. As a member of the 2017 Leadership Cohort, I join The Reformation Project in their work and their prayers that one day the global church will fully affirm LGBTQ people. My heart breaks when I think about the children and youth who were created by God as gay, lesbian, or transgender, but find themselves in faith communities that label their gender or sexual identity as sinful. As a member of this cohort, I dedicate myself to the difficult, tedious, and abundantly worthwhile work of reforming Christian education on sexual orientation and gender identity. Just like any aspect of community organizing or Christian ministry, we cannot do this work alone. Currently the 2017 Leadership Cohort is working to raise enough money for our conference in April. Leading up to this conference, all cohort participants are spending 15 weeks studying theological works from both affirming and non-affirming biblical scholars, exploring the intersections of racial justice and racial identity within the LGBTQ movement, and learning about effective approaches to community organizing. At the cohort intensive in April, all 35 cohort participants will gather together to learn from The Reformation Project's staff and respected theologians like Dr. Jim Brownson and Dr. Cheryl Anderson, while networking with other cohort participants. When we return from the cohort this Spring, we will be equipped with resources and knowledge of affirming theology, intersectionality, and community organizing, ready to serve as effective advocates for LGBTQ inclusion in our churches and faith communities. Thank you in advance for any donation you are able to provide to this life-changing work. Whether you are supporting The Reformation Project with $5 or $50, you are joining the movement to make churches and faith communities inclusive and welcoming for all!
I am so glad that you are here! Thank you for joining me. Coming out in the Church was lonely and scary. I didn't know any LGBTQ people, and definitely no LGBTQ people of faith. I turned to the Internet for answers (millennial researcher, here), and The Reformation Project, along with countless other organizations, gave me such hope. Through articles, books, and videos, I became confident that the Bible was inclusive of LGBTQ people and their relationships. Even as I became affirming, and found myself liberated in the process, I was still afraid to engage in real discussion with my peers and Church leadership about LGBTQ inclusion. I never felt like I knew enough to have productive conversations. And yet, the time came when I could no longer stay silent. 2016 was a year of great pain for the LGBTQ community. It was clear that we still live in a society where we are unsafe, whether it be in the pews, at a club, in our homes, or in the bathroom. As I walked with the Episcopal Church in the Atlanta Pride parade, I saw surprise and elation on so many faces. There is much healing that needs to be done. I want to be another voice that says we are here, and God loves us. The Church must reform its teaching on the Bible and sexuality. I support the Reformation Project because its work is saving lives. I support the Reformation Project because I believe in its vision of a Church that liberates all oppressed groups, not just the LGBTQ community. I support the Reformation Project because I dream of the Beloved Community, of God's Kingdom, here on this Earth. I am excited and humbled for the opportunity to participate in creating this vision through the 2017 Leadership Development Cohort. Will you support me in this work?
Ceri Anne Lewis
As a Christian Transgender woman, coming to terms with my faith, was a huge struggle. As I began to learn God still had a place for me, I noticed all my new friends in the LGBT community, who had been cast out of their families and churches. My biggest fear when coming out was the response of my family and my church. It was through seeing others struggling, longing to be who they were created as, and yet loved and accepted in their faith, that I felt called to reach out and help others to understand, and to be accepted into the love that is God. This began my journey with the Reformation Project. Ceri Anne Lewis is a Christian Transgender Woman, and parent of two adult kids, Kevin and Kaitlin. Ceri (pronounced Carrie) lives in the Kansas City area, but was raised in Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota. As a Navy Veteran she has been stationed in Norfolk, VA, San Diego, CA, Pensacola, and Key West, FL. Ceri grew up in a family of Evangelical ministers. In the process of reconciling her faith with being transgender, she was called to help others struggling with the suffering the church has been causing LGBT people. She currently attends UMC Church of the Resurrection. Professionally, Ceri has worked in photography her whole life, beginning with newspapers, then Naval intelligence, studio, dance and theater. She’s been in the technical, photo science side of photography for the last 27 years. She has a long history working as a Scout, and Church youth leader, having led many youth missions to Mexico. Her passions include travel, music, motorcycles, and the outdoors.
Old friends, new friends, welcome! You could be on any corner of the internet right now watching cat videos, but you made it here. Thank you. Let's be honest, the Christian church has not exactly been a great place for LGBTQ people. For those of you who don't know, queer and Christian are both labels I claim. Both labels can be loaded, depending on where you're coming from, and I am honestly still trying to figure out how to lead a life of integration. I have many questions still, but one thing I do know is that the Christian church needs to be better about the way we engage with the LGBTQ community. Queer people of faith do exist! I happen to live in the queer x Christian intersection, and I intend to be a part of this movement to help the church suck less for the next generation of LGBTQ people. Here's what I've been up to. Since the beginning of January, I have been participating in the Leadership Development Cohort with an organization called The Reformation Project. They are "a Bible-based, Christian grassroots organization that works to promote inclusion of LGBT people by reforming church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. Our vision is of a global church that fully affirms LGBT people." Along with 38 other amazing humans, I have been spending most of my free time reading and writing about the history of sexuality, theological essays from many perspectives, how sexuality intersects with other identities, and what effective organizing looks like. It's like I'm taking a graduate level class! The goal of the program is to make me a more informed, articulate, and effective spokesperson for an LGBTQ-affirming theological position in discussions with other Christians about LGBTQ issues, no matter what views they hold on the topic. I've already been able to use some of what I've learned in conversations! In April, the group will come together for a 3-day conference in Los Angeles for further training and discussion. To say that I am excited would be an understatement. Now, this is where you come in. In order to make this conference happen, my fellow cohortians and I are required to participate in fundraising efforts to cover the cost. This includes transportation, programming, lodging, and venue costs. Our collective goal is $50,000, and the funds are pooled amongst all of us. I have set a personal goal of $2,000. Will you join me in this work? Whether it's $2 or $200, thank you in advance for considering!
Rika Lively is a recent college graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University. For five years she worked with the church in various ministries, including student, mission, music, college and adult ministries. She has led and trained international mission teams to the Bahamas and Haiti and has a heart for working with orphans and at-risk youth. After coming out as gay, she was asked to step down from leadership and lost her position in ministry. For a while, Rika thought her chance to serve in ministry was over and that she'd have to find a new passion. However, after learning about The Reformation Project and the work that it does, she realized God wasn't done with her or the Church's relationship with the LGBT community. That is why she is dedicating her time and energy to this leadership cohort - this opportunity will help her in seeing her vision of connecting LGBT members with the church. She believes God has a place for ministry for her and all other LGBT people. Until then, Rika has her eyes set on seminary, and is currently doing freelance graphic design and working at a local toy store. Rika spends time with her fiancé, Meaghan, listening to Hamilton, playing Nintendo games and playing with their dog, Hercules.
Sarah Lythe grew up in England, became a nurse, got married and had two children. Her husband’s job took them to Belgium and then the USA where they have lived for 19 years. As an alien resident, she was unable to work for several years so she volunteered for the Ambulance squad, becoming an EMT and began helping her husband lead the church they planted. They became citizens two years ago and her children both got married recently. Sarah is passionate about helping to create a church where all feel able to express who they are and creating community in their neighborhood. She loves to paleo bake, take care of her two dogs and has recently started CrossFit to stay in shape. Sarah would love to be able to support other Christian parents who have a LGBTQ child and that is why she is seeking to equip herself through the Leadership Development Cohort.
Logan Paiste is an undergraduate student at Penn State. This year, he is working at Penn State University Park’s LGBTQA Student Resource Center, where he serves as the Community Outreach intern. In addition, he is one of the founding members of Receiving with Thanksgiving, which is Penn State’s only LGBTQA-inclusive Christian organization. Logan sees himself as a bridge builder and a lifelong learner. He is enthusiastic about meeting people with different perspectives as well as facilitating cross-cultural dialogue and conflict resolution. For fun, Logan enjoys learning new languages, both ancient and modern. As of December 2016, he has received university credit for 10 different foreign languages! Additionally, Logan is an avid recycler and loves cooking and baking. Upon his graduation in December 2017, Logan plans to move to Los Angeles where he intends to pursue his Masters of Divinity while building his ministry of reconciliation and dialogue between Christians and the LGBTQ+ community.
Jenny has 25 years of experience in training and marketing. She recently completed her first book and her hope is that this book will change the partisan and theologically-charged conversation around LGBT families to be less combative and more redemptive. Her passion for serving the LGBT community began in the 70's when her biological father met his now husband. Watching her dads fight for equality and a voice in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as personally experiencing prejudice because her family looked different sparked Jenny's passion for advocating for other LGBT families like hers. She joins the Reformation Project 2017 LA Cohort to learn how to build bridges between the church and LGBT families in a manner that promotes true reconciliation, healing, and allows for the full inclusion of LGBT families into the life of every church community. Jenny served on the board of One Million Kids, whose mission is to engage, educate, and empower LGBT youth and children of LGBT parents with a voice around equality. She is a member of Family Equality Council’s “Outspoken Generation” and was a speaker at the national Communications conference “Simply Communicate.” Jenny participates in women’s empowerment initiatives in the U.S. and Africa. Her work helps stamp out the marginalization of women from atrocities such as domestic violence, trafficking, and bonded servitude. She has a BA from University of Iowa, and graduated with honors from McAfee School of Theology. She is the former Communications Director at a multisite megachurch in DC, spends lots of time snuggling with her pit-bull Pinkerton Moose, and is currently traversing the U.S. to create a new home closer to her dads in Palm Springs, CA!
Having lived many years at both ends of the Bible Belt, Heidi Riley is highly invested in the conservative, Evangelical church in America. Heidi worked for six years part and full time in parachurch ministries, and the people sheI worked with and served during that time challenged and nurtured her in Christ more than she knew possible. Heidi is forever grateful to these brothers and sisters for charging her to share the Gospel even in the midst of her angsty questions about what it means to be a Christian and gay at the same time. Heidi loves Jesus, and loves His Church. One of her greatest desires is for us not to be fragmented over questions about orientation and sexuality, and is pleased to be part of the Leadership Development Cohort this year in order to learn how to better bridge our perceived gaps. Heidi hopes and prays these efforts will hand down a faithful tradition to the Church that comes after us so that we may glorify Christ as one as He commands.
Bethany Rodriguez grew up just outside of NYC and currently resides in Queens, NY. She grew up the second of four children, was raised within a non-denominational church since the age of one and is the daughter of the associate pastor. She has previously served in the children’s and youth ministries. With a greater heart for music, she now serves in the choir, ensemble and worship team. She received her clinical doctorate in physical therapy in 2014 from Hunter College and currently works in the NYC school system with children in grades K-12. Since accepting herself as a queer person and recently coming out to family, she is excited to be a bridge builder for LGBT inclusion within her conservative community. Other miscellaneous things that make her heart skip a beat are live music, coffee, spinning records and enjoying craft beer with friends.
Justin is a gay-identifying first-generation Chinese American born and raised in Los Angeles. Midst much of the segregated diversity in LA, he was surrounded by a predominantly Asian community most of his life where traditional Asian culture further heightened the taboo of being a sexual minority within a conservative religious community. He struggled with severe depression throughout adolescence, wrestling with homophobia in his community and feeling hopeless from what seemed like hopeless condemnation in Christianity. In college, he began to initiate the social change he wanted to see on campus, and began unpacking the Scriptural topic of homosexuality with an increased critical eye. As a follower of Christ, social activist, and future physician/healthcare leader, Justin is determined to engage his passions and talents in creating healthy communities that are educated on this paramount Scriptural topic.
Sara Magee Smith began researching what the Bible really says about homosexuality when an extended family member drank himself to death. After his death, it became known he had lived his entire life as a closeted gay man, and some of his more painful tales suddenly made sense. His story is hardly unique. Sara was raised deep within conservative Christianity: baptized at age 10, graduating from Westminster Christian Academy, and then from Wheaton College. Her biological family are all old-school Southern Baptists from the deep south (she still loves crawfish jambalaya!). Sara gradually became convinced our existing Biblical beliefs around LGBT persons were deeply flawed. Where was the “abundant life” Jesus promised in John 10:10? Where were the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – found in Galatians 5:22? She is excited to participate in the Leadership Cohort to learn better skills in advocating full Biblical inclusion!
Lauren Ileana Sotolongo
Reaching your "breaking point" is an interesting sensation. In 2015, I was alone, afraid, and isolated; the Lord told me these were not holy chains. So I trusted, I believed, and I followed. Two years ago, I came out of "the closet" as an LGBTQ person, because the Lord called me out. Since that night in January, the road has been jagged, hilly, and difficult. It has been moments of rest, chaos, sadness, joy, and everything in between. Presently, since the beginning of this 2017 Cohort, my TRP community has served as a haven, a classroom, a pulpit, and a small group. It has been the best of any family dinner, and the hardest of every family conversation. We are honest; we are searching; and we are stubbornly committed to the pursuit of "the Good", the Truth, the story and beauty of Scripture, and the encapsulation of that story in the person of Jesus. [The Reformation Project and I met in October 2016. The Lord refocused my eyes, and seemed to say, "This is your path. Start walking." My heart raced, and it remembered the joys and passions that had been instilled in it from a young age; hope in suffering; truth; community; Christ. I applied to TRP's Cohort a few weeks after attending their conference, and was accepted.] Currently, we are stretching ourselves. We are reading and rereading and crying and sharing and responding and staying engaged. In this present political climate, we are committed - wholeheartedly - to the expansion of the Kingdom of God, and the many ways that this includes all people, and the beauty of our diversity as human beings made in the image of God. Our God found me in the darkness; our God created Light in all my fear, shame, and doubt; our God shines through, and uses it all; and our God calls it good. I seek to build bridges, to create positive dialogue between churches, the greater LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups, in order to enact spaces that offer holy safety, and encourage a boldness in seeking Truth fervently. If you would like to partner in this work, please consider donating to my spot as a member of The Reformation Project’s 2017 Cohort. Thank you for always being family; thank you for partnering to create a community of both deeply-engaged Christ followers, and caring human hearts (within and outside church walls); thank you for walking this journey with me, and thank you for allowing me to share it with you.
Vickie Spivey is from Eatonton, Georgia and currently works with two non-profit art organizations as she reworks her own photography business. As a closeted bisexual woman living in the South, she has grown accustomed to hiding her true self to the world and sadly that simply has kept her at an arm’s length from living her truest life. Now that the cat is out of the closet, she has found life to be more honest, peaceful, and fufilling. Vickie has seen throughout her life as the phrase goes, ‘God is so faithful to wreck your plans before they wreck you,’’ and experienced them as signals of God’s commitment to her in helping her live a life that no longer holds hidden spaces and attempts to keep her truest self from the world. God is faithful to her sanctification and she feels fairly certain that the Leadership Development Cohort will play a huge role in her growing in love and truth.