AUTHOR // Serkan Ozturk

A forum in Sydney this Mardi Gras weekend will bring together gay community leaders and representatives of Christian churches and organisations, with those involved suggesting that it’s a clear sign that progress is being made in the volatile and hostile space where sexuality meets religion.

The forum, ‘A Different Conversation’, has been organised by Reverend Mick Hercock, pastor of Imagine – a Baptist Church in Surry Hills. Hercock is also the founder of 100 Revs, a group of 100 religious ministers who signed an apology in 2008 to the LGBTI community for the wrongs of the church.

“After successfully hosting A Different Conversation in previous years, we are once again opening up the conversation and encouraging dialogue between LGBTI community leaders and Christian leaders, to respectfully hear each other’s different approaches,” Hercock said.

Other Christian leaders who will be involved include Major Paul Moulds from the Salvation Army and Matt Glover who was controversially voted out of the Lilydale Baptist Church in Melbourne recently over his support for marriage equality.

Reverend Rod Benson, the public affairs director of the NSW Council of Churches will also be present as will members of the Social Issues Committee of the Baptist Union of NSW.

Gay community representatives taking part include former Assemblies of God leader Anthony Venn-Brown, who is also the founder of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International as well as long-time gay rights activist, Rodney Croome, and prominent Brisbane-based gay psychologist, Paul Martin.

Venn-Brown said that opening up a dialogue and continuing with it was imperative for both the church hierarchy as well as gay people from Christian backgrounds.

“For too long the interaction between Christianity and the gay community has been like a boxing match. You have the right wing Christian activists in one corner and the gay activists in the other.

“The bell rings and they both come out fighting; usually in cyberspace or the media. We welcome the opportunity to sit down at the table and talk”. Venn-Brown said.

“As I see it, the enemy is not individuals, churches or political parties; the enemy is ignorance.”

The conference will run over both Saturday and Sunday, with the first day’s session to focus on ‘Where We’ve Come From: Sexual Identity and Faith Identity’, while the final’s day’s events will take a look at ‘Where We’re Going: Colliding Issues of Same Sex Marriage and Faith Identity; Community Relationship and Pastoral Relationship.’

Saturday’s session will also provide an opportunity for individuals to experience the Mardi Gras Parade in a safe small group environment.