I am proud of a few things as I reflect on Pride season this year.

First, I am approaching one year of serving as lead pastor of Life in Deep Ellum, a faith community and cultural center in urban Dallas.

I remember the small but challenging minority of voices that questioned how I would ever thrive in ministry as a visibly queer pastor. I marvel at the ways God has protected me, grown my love for Christ and used my queer identity to minister in ways I could have never imagined.

One of those unexpected opportunities was the invitation to help plan and host the Dallas screening of the film “Pray Away” this spring.

The Emmy-nominated documentary features former leaders of the “pray away movement” as they contend with the consequences of their involvement. It is a powerful and disturbing exposition of the ways that theology can wound us.

The basic premise of the movement was that one could “pray the gay away” with enough faith and persistence. The figureheads of the movement claimed miraculous stories of no longer being gay or lesbian after God healed them of their sexual “brokenness.”

Many of these leaders later come to terms with the truth of who they are as LGBTQ+ people, and they uncover the deception of a movement that promised to save them. The documentary was produced by Multitude Films, a company that began an impact campaign to start meaningful conversations about conversion therapy in communities around the nation.

The film was screened in several large cities and eventually came to Dallas. “Pray Away” was screened at my church, Life in Deep Ellum, in April. The panel discussion that followed the screening was truly amazing, with panelists sharing their experiences with conversion therapy from different but parallel perspectives.

My friend and colleague Kathryn Keller, who specializes in religious and spiritual trauma, explained the basics of trauma and how the film showcased some “fawn” responses.

Another panelist, Jessica Ritter, the Texas ambassador for Born Perfect, an organization that seeks to end conversion therapy, shared about how she lost everything when she came out — including her family and community of faith.

Jessica and I were once sorority sisters at Rhodes College in Memphis. Now we are both queer leaders, working to make Dallas safer and more accepting for LGBTQ+ people.

My leadership coach and friend, Josh Miller, reflected on the experience, saying they “felt authentic and vulnerable” on a church stage for the first time after surviving life-threatening indoctrination and spiritual abuse.

Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, shared the sobering state of legislation in Texas as it relates to LGBTQ+ people. But instead of leaving us with a sense of apathy or discouragement, he reminded us how powerful our voices are and how much our emails and phone calls make a difference.

I felt so much awe and gratitude seeing these brave voices share their stories on the same stage where I now proclaim the gospel week after week. It was holy ground.

At the end of the panel discussion, Alex D. Byrd, pastor of Living Covenant Church, remarked that “people wouldn’t try to destroy [LGBTQ+ people] if we weren’t powerful.” The room was filled with amens and exhales. Somehow, even in Texas, hope and solidarity were renewed again.

This experience strengthened my resolve to be a visible and empathetic leader as I serve all God’s people in ministry. There is so much work for us to do. But we cannot grow weary.

I still feel shocked when I try to find Bible studies or other curriculum resources and cannot easily find affirming voices. Affirming Christian perspectives and resources are not yet the norm.

No matter how much rainbow merchandise you see in the aisles this year, please remember this: it is still dangerous to be visibly queer in this world.

The official “pray away” movement may have disbanded, but the theology is still very much alive. And it still hurts.

Even when I feel confident in who God created me to be, the confidence with which these Christian leaders proclaim miraculous “healings” can trigger me back into shame and self-doubt.

I take a deep breath, text a friend for support and remember I am not alone. I do not have to pray myself away. If anything, we must pray away the movement of theology that can kill us, deceive us and make us feel worthless.

I feel God’s grace every day when I live into my calling proudly.

Now, when I look into the bright and nervous eyes of the queer teenagers in our youth group, or celebrate the new name of a beloved transgender parishioner, or validate the identity of a bisexual woman who feels erased, or hear my people sing a variety of pronouns for God in worship, I remember just how much this work matters.

Life depends on it. We are powerful, indeed. God’s power protects us forever. God is proud of us.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Pride Month (June). The previous articles in the series are:

Why the Peters Must Repent | Kali Cawthon-Freels

All Human Sexuality Is a Gift From God | Lauren Supplice

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