Past conferences have included names such as Philip Yancey, Rachel Held Evans, Ray Boltz, Peter Gomes, Tony Campolo, Jennifer Knapp, Derek Webb, and more. This year, GCN is proud to welcome our Portland conference speakers.
Jeff traveled across the country to meet people on all sides of the debate—gay churches, mixed-orientation couples, former Christians, even the Westboro hate group—and found unexpected ways God is working.
Jeff Chu is an award-winning journalist and the author of Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. That pilgrimage led him to dialogue with people as far apart as Westboro leader Fred Phelps and Episcopal bishop Mary Glasspool, with often surprising results. Jeff is an editor-at-large at the New York-based business magazine Fast Company, and his writing on religion can be found on Beacon. He was previously on staff at Conde Nast Portfolio and at TIME magazine, where he was a London-based staff writer and then a New York-based writer and editor. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and other publications.
A graduate of Princeton and the London School of Economics, Jeff was a 2004 Phillips Foundation journalism fellow and a 2011–2012 French-American Foundation Young Leader. He is currently an elder at Old First Reformed Church in Brooklyn.
Danny was thrust into the national spotlight for daring to ask whether a church like his could agree to disagree on homosexuality.
Danny Cortez founded New Heart Community Church in 1997 and currently serves as their teaching pastor. In August 2013, after 15 years of hearing stories of LGBT people, he realized his views on homosexuality had changed. Another revelation soon followed when his 15-year-old son Drew came out to him as gay. This sent the Cortez family and their traditional Southern Baptist congregation on a journey that resulted in their decision in May 2014 to become a so-called “Third Way” church, one that has agreed to disagree on LGBT issues.
Following Danny’s coming out as an affirming Christian and New Heart’s adoption of a “Third Way” approach, the Southern Baptist Convention chose to retract the church’s membership. It is now a thriving and welcoming community and is no longer affiliated with the SBC. New Heart’s unique, grace-filled approach has attracted national attention and is now serving as a model for other churches wrestling with similar questions.
Danny received his M.Div. at Talbot Theological Seminary, Biola University. In addition to serving as a pastor, he also co-founded and serves on the board of My Refuge House, a non-profit ministry that provides a safe home to empower and restore survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and abuse. He lives in La Mirada, CA, with his wife, Abby, and their four children, DJ, Derrick, Drew, and Alyssa.
Vicky stands for an intelligent, compassionate Christian faith in a country where the Church is increasingly viewed as irrelevant.
Vicky Beeching is a London-based, Oxford-educated theologian, writer, and broadcaster specializing in the areas of religion, ethics, and technology. She is a regular contributor to radio, television, and print media, appearing in The Guardian, The Independent, Ethics Online, and BBC Religion. Following her studies at Oxford, a USA talent agent headhunted her for work in radio and TV, and Vicky relocated to the States and became a familiar face in American media. During her time in the States, Vicky also became a prominent recording artist and worship leader, writing songs such as “Glory to God Forever” and “Yesterday, Today and Forever.”
Last spring, Vicky began speaking out in favor of equal marriage in interviews and on her blog. She strives to create a safe space for productive and civil dialogue on issues of faith and sexuality and encourages her readers to question and respond respectfully. She is an Ambassador for Accepting Evangelicals, has been invited to speak on behalf of LGBT rights by groups such as Oasis Trust and the Greenbelt Festival, and has been nominated for a National Diversity Award. This past summer, Vicky came out as gay and has since become even more of an inspiration for LGBT Christians around the world.
Justin works to build bridges between those who disagree, advocating for compassion and grace without compromising our deeply held principles.
Justin Lee is the founder of The Gay Christian Network and the author of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Nicknamed “God Boy” as a young man for his passionate Christian faith, Justin preached against gay acceptance until the realization that he was gay forced him to reconsider everything he thought he knew. Today, he is widely known as an advocate for gracious Christian dialogue, working with those on all sides of the sexuality and gender debates with an approach that has been called “ingenious” by The Advocate and praised as “fresh air” by the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Justin has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper 360, NPR’s All Things Considered, and a front page story in The New York Times. He co-hosts the popular GCN Radio podcast, speaks frequently across the country, is a contributor to the Huffington Post, and writes about issues of faith and culture on his own blog, Crumbs from the Communion Table, at JustinLee.co.
Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, author of Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church, has served as Executive Director of New Direction Ministries of Canada since 2002. Wendy completed her Master of Divinity degree in 1999 and is in the final thesis stage of her doctorate. Wendy says, “I might not be a Christian today if God had not called me to journey, as a mutual pilgrim, with LGBTQ+ followers of Jesus. The fearless faith and confidence in God’s love that I have experienced with queer Christians has transformed my own spiritual journey.”
Wendy self-describes as mainly straight, has been married to her husband Carl for 20 years, and is mom to three fantastic teenagers, Nathan, Renate, and Arianna, and three wonderful puppies.
Youngest Son is singer/songwriter/pianist Steve Slagg, who plays personal, story-driven indie-folk songs with his band, Allison Van Liere (multi-instrumentalist/singer), Cathy Kuna (cello), Lee Ketch (guitars), and Matt Tanaka (drums). Their most recent album, All Saints’ Day, and its companion EP,
Currently, the band is working on a new album of songs Steve wrote about growing up gay in the church. You can’t hear those songs online yet, but he and his band are excited to share some of them with the GCN conference audience.
Nashville-based singer/songwriter Justin Ryan knew he always believed he’d grow up to sing gospel music. Five albums in, Justin has something to say, gleaned from a journey trying to fit LGBT life into religious experience, evolving into a mission to let spirituality waft its way into every day, all the while fighting for equality. He’s sung extensively in gay-affirming churches, his most recent tour in response to the rash of teen suicides because of bullying. Justin’s most recent studio album, Different, brings full circle his own journey from his roots in Paducah, KY, to his current home in Music City, showcasing an artist who knows, and is perfectly content, with who he is: different. Just like the rest of us.
For more information about Justin Ryan’s music and upcoming performances, visit his website.