Justin Lee

Baylor University hosts LGBTQ+ speaker for open conversation

KXXV | Erin Heft | Septemer 17, 2019

WACO, TX — Nearly a month after Baylor University clarified their stance on human sexuality, the university hosted a prominent LGBTQ+ speaker to hold "a conversation."

The renowned private Baptist university’s President Linda Livingstone clarified what the university distinguishes as human sexuality under their Student Policies and Procedures.

Nearly three weeks later, author, speaker, social activist and self-identified homosexual Christian Justin Lee was invited by the university, and hosted by the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, to hold a conversation entitled ‘Christianity and LGBTQ+ Persons.’

Hundreds of all ages were in attendance, filling every available seat in the room, consisting of, both students and the public.

25 News sat down with Lee prior to the event to get his take on what he hoped accomplish during his time in Waco.

“I would like people to leave here feeling like they have some practical tips for having this conversation better. They can make sure that LGBTQ students at Baylor feel really loved and supported, not just in word but in deed,” explained Lee.

Explaining the dichotomy he felt from his youth, Lee said, “From a young age I knew there were certain views that christians had...certain issues that Christian’s had strong views and homosexuality was one of those things.”

When asked what led him to Baylor, he paused and said, “I get asked to speak at a lot of Christian universities really all across the spectrum on LGBTQ issues, and try to help the church to be kinder and more supportive of people even in the midst of theological disagreements.”

Lee began the two hour event lightheartedly, making a joke in reference to musicals, exclaiming jokingly that a single mention of Broadway was in his contract.

He then quickly dove into his personal journey, both the struggles and triumphs that have led him to where he is, noting time and time again his time spent in front of those in attendance was not to change their theological journey, but in short, to open pathways for conversation.

"We're talking about actual people, because God loves people more than God loves issues, I'm convinced. And I think that even with all of the theological disagreements that we many have on all kinds of issues, if we're called to do anything as Christians, its to love one another" said Lee.

Lee concluded his speech with, "I want to end with this to LGBTQ people. You have something important to add to the body of Christ. The eye cannot say to the hand "I don't need you." You are needed. Your experiences give you empathy. You have learned humility. You understand why some of our biggest critics, why some of the church's biggest critics, are our biggest critics because you have experienced that pain directly. Your faith has gotten stronger in many cases from fighting for it, and if it hasn't gotten stronger then you know why so many people struggle with their faith."

He continued, "You have credibility as a LGBTQ person that the church at large does not have in our culture today. So use your gifts and don't let anybody convince you that you are not needed in the church. Represent the church to the world, demonstrate grace and above all don't wait for somebody to welcome you into the body of Christ. You don't have to be welcomed into the body of Christ. You already are the body of Christ. If the church is going to regain its saltiness in our culture, it's going to depend in large part on you. God loves you. God wants to use you. So go be the church."

Gay Christian activist: Baylor need not abandon theology to embrace LGBTQ students

Gay Christian activist: Baylor need not abandon theology to embrace LGBTQ students

Gay Christian activist Justin Lee harbored no illusions that his invitation to Baylor University would result in a sudden, official affirmation of LGBTQ students on the Waco, Texas campus.

Hundreds pack into room to hear Christian LGBTQ author speak at BU

KWTX | Chris Shadrock | September 18, 2019

Nearly 500 filled into the conference room atop the Cashion Academy Center on the Baylor campus Tuesday evening to listen to an influential Christian LGBTQ author speak about faith and sexuality.

The room was so filled, several people could be seen standing in the back to listen.

Justin Lee was at the university for a two-day visit where he also spoke to student in classes.

Dr. Jon E. Singletary was named dean of the Garland School of Social Work gave opening remarks and welcomed LGBTQ students to university and says they’re welcomed.

The talk was open to students and the public, sitting in the front row was President Linda Livingstone’s husband, filling-in while the university’s leader was away on travel, and some members of the Board of Regents.

Weaving humor into his talk, Lee did not shy away confronting the serious issues facing homosexuality and Christianity saying, “When we talk about issues we need to talk about people’s stories.”

He told the audience he realized at 18 he was gay, but struggled to accept what that looked like for him.

While unlike other topics, he also addressed this conversation is not something the Church has had before.

“Where does the body of Christ go from here? This is a new conversation for the church, how to address homosexuality, bisexual and transgender people.”

The end of his talk focused on how the straight community can work to better welcome the LGBTQ community.

He said the church needs to be empathetic to people. “It’s our burden to share,” he said.

Though contrary to how some might interrerpt the Bible, Lee pointed to scripture as why the church needed to embrace everyone.

“That night sound extreme, but the Bible points to helping those in need from widows, to the hungry and the LGBTQ community,” he said. “Christ lived and died for us. We need to be shining examples.”

He ended his talk speaking directly to the LGBTQ members in attendance.

“You have something important to add to the body of Christ. Your experience has given you empathy. Your faith has gotten stronger because you fought for it … use your gifts and don’t let any one tell you aren’t welcomed. God loves you. God wants to use you. So go be the church.”

Baylor to host discussion LGBTQ Christian author Justin Lee

Waco Tribune | Rhiannon Saegert | September 16, 2019

A leading proponent of building bridges between churches and LGBTQ Christians will speak Tuesday at Baylor University, where debates over sexuality and faith have come to the forefront.

The Baylor School of Social Work is hosting a discussion with Justin Lee, a nationally known author and founder of the Gay Christian Network.

Lee will speak at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on the fifth floor of the Cashion Academic Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Lee, author of “Torn” and “Talking Across the Divide,” has been writing about his experiences as a gay Christian since the late ‘90s. He founded the Gay Christian Network, now called the Q Christian Fellowship, in 2001, later parting with the organization in 2017. In his Baylor appearance he aims to discuss the way the Christian churches have handled LGBTQ issues in the past and how to better address them in the present.

“I’m not coming to give a theological talk on same-sex marriage or anything like that,” Lee said in an interview Monday. “My goal is to be able to speak to Christians on all sides of the theological disagreements and just focus on how we take care of people who are, right now, not always being cared for.”

He said debates about theology can often turn abstract, but he wants to focus more on students’ tangible experiences.

“We have to stop and say ‘What does this mean for the person sitting in the pews, for the student who is here at Baylor who is LGBTQ or who is wrestling with questions?’ “ Lee said. “What does all this mean for that person, realistically? What does it mean for Christian institutions and individuals in terms of how we treat people better?”

Lee said in his experience, it’s important for LGBTQ students to have ample opportunity to discuss their lives the way anyone would. Lee said after growing up Southern Baptist, speaking with other LGBTQ students in college and realizing he wasn’t the only one was crucial to him.

“For many LGBTQ students coming from conservative Christian homes, they’re already bringing a lot of cultural baggage and loneliness from growing up in the church,” Lee said. “It can be very difficult to work through all of that in a place like Baylor.”

Lee said there’s been rapid culture shifts in the way people think about and understand gender and sexuality within the last decade.

“It’s made people realize there’s a lot of people going through things they never knew they were going through who haven’t been well-served by the church in these areas,” Lee said. “That has really set off a lot of questions for Christians and Christian institutions that we haven’t really been focusing on for much of the church’s history.”

He said in his experience, Christian institutions can best navigate those questions when LGBTQ people whose lives will be impacted are involved in every level of the discussion.

“Those are not easy questions to work through, but I think it’s going to be really important that we not treat this as an issue to be resolved in the absence of human beings, but that we recognize that all of these conversations are ultimately about the lives of these LGBTQ students,” Lee said.

Lee’s appearance is part of Baylor’s 2019-2020 Conversation Series, which focuses on civil conversation about difficult topics. Diana R. Garland School of Social Work Dean Jon Singletary said Lee is not the first LGBTQ speaker at Baylor, but he may be the first to speak in an open venue rather than as part of a single class’ curriculum.

“This is the first time we’ve had someone with his profile at an event that is university-wide and really community-wide to promote a much larger conversation about our understandings of sexuality and as a way of wrestling with how to support our LGBTQ students,” Singletary said.

Singletary said the invitation was partially in recognition of LGBTQ students’ needs, which have been the subject of ongoing discussion since an open letter this spring calling for official recognition of Baylor’s unofficial LGBTQ student group, Gamma Alpha Upsilon, or GAY. The petition garnered more than 3,000 signatures, including those of Baylor alumni, donors and professors.

“It’s all part of how we talk about difficult issues, whether it’s part of our policy where there’s disagreement or part of the larger church conversation that it’s connected to, or values differences,” Singletary said.

Singletary said officials the School of Social Work have been encouraged by the support they’ve received. He said bringing in a speaker like Lee fits the school’s goal of educating future social workers who can work with people whose experiences may differ from their own.

“The university has been largely supportive of it,” Singletary said. “Now we know there’s a number of people who wouldn’t want us to be doing this, and disagreement, and we feel like there are conversations that will come about as a result of this.”

GAY Outreach Chair Hayden Evans said his group is barred from inviting speakers themselves as an unofficial student group.

“I’m hopeful that with Justin Lee coming to campus … that his talk will spur more action for others to gain a better understanding of the dynamic between Christianity and LGBTQ+ persons and understand that they’re not separate, they can be integrated and then hopefully people will be more supportive in our discussions and in our push for the university to recognize the need, in terms of safety and in terms of community, for LGBTQ + persons on campus,” he said.

Evans said the group’s charter was officially rejected by the Department of Student Life earlier this month, as it has been several times in recent years. A Baylor spokesperson confirmed that the charter had been rejected.