Being In Relationship

A New Way to Talk with Black and White Theologically Conservative Christians about the Place of Lesbian and Gay People in Our Families, Our Churches, and Society.

Made possible with the generous support of the Global Faith and Equality Fund at the Horizons Foundation.

What you will find in the guide:

Letter of Welcome
Being in Relationship: The Goals of This Work
The Current Landscape
Theologically Conservative Christians: Four Distinct Segments
Recommendations: A Pathway to Progress
Conclusion: Toward a Better Tomorrow
Tested Content: A Visual Overview

Letter of Welcome

Dear friends,

We love the title of this messaging guide. Being in relationship is the thing that has made this guide possible. It is the thing that gives us hope — and it sometimes feels like the hardest assignment in life.

How do we love our neighbor as the Bible mandates, when their views and actions may harm us and those we love? And why would we ever do such a thing? The answer, we believe, can only come about through relationship. While change rarely happens on our personal timetables, our experiences have taught us — and this research reinforces — that when we are in relationship, genuine and surprising transformation can happen.

For Macky, being in relationship with his Southern Baptist cousins in Georgia, claiming kinship even across political, ideological and theological difference, has led generations of family to reconcile their Christian convictions with counter-cultural support of LGBTQ equality. For Sharon, observing up-close places like Salt Lake City where deep friendships across theological and ideological divides are blossoming because LGBTQ leaders build long-term, behind-the-scenes relationships with conservative Mormon leaders has shown her that change is not only possible but contagious.

Being in Relationship advocates for curiosity, compassion and deep engagement over an extended period of time with those with whom we disagree. It is rarely the most politically expedient work one can do to win an election or defeat an anti-LGBTQ ballot initiative and it is not a substitute for base building and community organizing. We believe it is, however, necessary for long term cultural change and nurturing communities where we can see each other’s full humanity.

While this guide asks that we stretch our capacity to understand those who are not affirming of LGBTQ people, it is important to point out what it does not ask of you:

  • It does not ask that you change who you are. The intent is to help you have more understanding but not to force you to modify your own beauty or source of inspiration in any way.
  • It does not ask you to stop being an advocate for LGBTQ liberation. Working for justice in the streets, electorally, and in congregations is sacred work. Doing it with an understanding of how those who disagree with you may come to their disagreements will make your work stronger.
  • It does not ask you to avoid conflict. As you will see in the guide, we actually see constructive conflict and internal conflicted feelings as essential opportunities for moving people toward a more inclusive spirit.
  • It does not ask you to be results-driven in an all-or-nothing way. It is, in fact, not likely that we will move most theologically conservative Christians in the near term to full acceptance and celebration of LGBTQ people. What this research does show is that it is possible to shift hearts in important, meaningful, but subtle ways. Such seemingly modest shifts can make the difference in whether someone is bullied, plagued by suicidal thoughts, or publicly shamed.

Should you choose to move into relationship with a non-affirming conservative Christian, we believe this guide will help you do so with eyes wide open. The process of doing this research has been extensive. To get to this point, we spent nearly two and a half years talking with conservative Christians. Before that, we spent two years trying to understand how conflicted Christians, largely in Protestant congregations, could move toward supporting LGBTQ people and then two years after that beginning to roll out the research and testing its findings. With each conversation we have, we learn more. All of this research builds on the deep work that came before it and of those engaging adjacently in conservative spaces, in many cases for decades.

Nonetheless, as with any research project, this guide reflects its moment and time. It is not the one-time-only definitive report on the state of evangelical and conservative Christian thinking on LGBTQ people. It is rather a snapshot for a moment that will inevitably change as our relationships change.

We are inspired to partner with you as you consider incorporating these findings into your work. There is so much analysis and unpacking of nuance, power, complexity of cultural identity and difference that can help us understand why the people we interviewed experience the world as they do. We are conscious of the limits of this research and excited to learn beyond its bounds.

It is in relationship with many of you that we came to this work, that we grew and continue to grow in this work and it is many of you who we had in mind as we did the work, wondering every step of the way what you might think.

May we remain in relationship as we continue to discern how to bring into being the world for which we long where all may flourish and be celebrated for their particular and full humanity.


Sharon Groves, Macky Alston and the folks at Auburn

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