Sunday, July 30, 2017

Justin Lee Removed as Executive Director of the Gay Christian Network // UPDATE: GCN Has a New Interim Executive Director: Isaac Archuleta // GCN Board Issues Updated Message

(Originally written on 07/19/17): Justin Lee started the Gay Christian Network back in 2001. It started out as a small discussion board where people had the opportunity to discuss what it meant to be gay and Christian. Or whether one could be gay and Christian. Or if you had to be celibate to be gay and Christian. Over time, the online community got huge. GCN began organizing yearly conventions. Small regional groups began meeting. Justin wrote a book. And then the GCN board participation shot down as more people turned to resources such as Facebook to connect with other LGBTQ people of faith.

That's just some background. The main point of the blog post is that Justin Lee has been removed as the executive director of GCN. In fact, he's been gone from the organization since early May 2017:
Joint Announcement from the Board of GCN and Justin Lee: Due to irreconcilable differences about the direction and future of the organization, Justin Lee and the GCN Board of Directors have agreed to his amicable separation from the organization. Justin Lee will no longer serve as the executive director of GCN, effective May 4, 2017. Neither Justin nor the Board will publicly discuss the reasons behind Justin’s departure other than to affirm that it was a practical business decision intended to allow for the growth of this important work.

Both Justin and the GCN Board of Directors remain committed to pursuing the mission of creating “…a world in which the next generation of LGBTQ youth will grow up fully loved and embraced by their families, churches, and neighbors; and where Christians worldwide will live up to their calling as instruments of grace and defenders of the outcast.” We remain allies in continuing our work for the LGBTQ Christian movement.

As announced at the 2017 Pittsburgh Conference, the Board reaffirms its previous commitment to changing the name of the organization to one that better reflects the diversity of the ministry and the community we serve. Recognizing the long history of Justin’s connection with the GCN name, the Board has chosen to accelerate the timing of the name change and will announce it at the 2018 Denver Conference.

From the Board of GCN: Dear Friends of GCN,

For 16 years the Gay Christian Network has been meeting the spiritual needs of the LGBTQ community throughout our nation. Justin Lee, our founder, has helped GCN become a vibrant and healthy community making a difference for those who have been treated unfairly by the church.

Through GCN and his excellent book, Torn, Justin has been a pioneer helping LGBTQ individuals accept the truth that God loves them, just as they are. Through GCN, he helped those people find a spiritual home. Because of Justin’s dedicated work, countless lives have been changed. The Board of Directors of GCN is grateful for Justin’s years of service. Moving forward, however, Justin and the Board have come to realize they have 
differing perspectives on the operational needs of the ministry. After much prayer and discussion, the Board of Directors and Justin have agreed to separate.

The GCN Board is pleased Justin will continue to speak, write, and produce content serving the LGBTQ community he so dearly loves. There have been no issues that would cause us to be anything but fully supportive of his continuing work in ministry. Those wishing to follow his work are encouraged to do so at JustinSpeaks.com.

Please join us in thanking Justin for his many years of service.

From Justin Lee: Dear friends,

I don’t have the words to say how grateful I am for all of your incredible support of me and of this work; the time, energy, and money you’ve committed to our shared mission has enabled us to accomplish things I never dreamed we could. Running this organization for the last 16 years has been absolutely the most incredible experience of my life, and I will always treasure the memories and the knowledge of how we’ve changed the world together.

As sad as I am to say goodbye, my hope and prayer for this organization is that it will always stay grounded in a passion for Jesus Christ and uphold an ongoing commitment to living out His light and love in all things. In Christ, anything is possible, and yet there are still so many people who have experienced the gospel as a hindrance rather than a hope, who’ve been led to believe that God doesn’t love them—or at least that the church doesn’t—and who feel all alone. They need to know they’re never alone.

As for me, I continue to feel a calling to change hearts and minds in the church for the sake of those who still don’t have that support. Even though I am no longer involved at GCN, I will still be speaking out on the issues that matter to our community and doing all I can to support those in need. I’m as passionate about this work today as I was back in 2001, when GCN was just a website I was running out of my apartment! In the days ahead, I will share more at JustinSpeaks.com about my future plans, and I would love to hear from you there.

Thank you again for your love and support. To those I’ve had the privilege of interacting with over the years, I sincerely hope our paths will cross again in the future. If not, you will certainly be on my heart and in my prayers. Love to you all, and may God bless you.

In Closing: The Board has hired an Interim Executive Director who will be introduced to the community soon. The Interim Executive Director will be in place while the Board commences a national search for a new CEO who can lead us into the future.

Constantino Khalaf, our Director of Operations, will continue to direct the GCN staff in preparation for the 2018 Conference in Denver, the October 2017 Youth Retreat in Wilkes-Barre, PA in October, and the other ongoing offerings of GCN. 

We ask for your prayers for Justin, and for GCN, as we all work to create vibrant spiritual opportunities for LGBTQ people of faith.
I have seen little else but shock, anger, and sadness over this announcement over on the GCN boards, on Facebook, and in other social media corners. The GCN Board is really going to need to step up and smooth things over before this winter's annual conference.

Updated on 07/21/17: Justin Lee's departure/ouster from the Gay Christian Network continues to rattle the GCN world. In addition to the shock, anger, and sadness; more people are starting to step forward and assert that maybe it is time for a change. After all, donations are down. As is participation within the online GCN discussion boards. It's still unclear what led to Justin leaving/being forced to leave GCN and nobody is really talking.

I did talk via Facebook Messenger with Costantino Khalaf, who pointed out to me that he is not the interim executive director. I totally misread that. But that conversation gave me the opportunity to tell him that GCN's Board of Directors really needs to get involved with this conversation and help people move forward.

And conversations began. First, I came across an updated statement from Justin Lee:
As you might imagine, the last 24 hours has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. After the statement went up yesterday afternoon, I spent some time responding to private messages and then took the evening away from my computer to spend time with some local friends. I haven’t yet had a chance to read all of the messages, but I’m truly grateful for the words of support and love, and I promise to read all of them as I’m able. 
Some of you have known me for a long time. I know that this work is personal for many of you as it is for me, and I know that this is emotional news for some of you (as it is for me). I can’t talk about the past right now, so I won’t. But there are some things I want to say about the future that I think are pretty important. 
First, we’ve got to show each other some grace here. None of us—not you, not me, not the remaining board and staff at GCN, not the other people posting about this stuff on social media, and not the people you trust and admire most in the entire world—none of us is perfect. We make mistakes, we see things our way, and we fail to live up to God’s calling for our lives. Every single one of us needs to be willing to forgive and show grace to others in times of conflict, because every single one of us has done things we need to be forgiven for ourselves. Besides that, none of us ever has the whole picture, because we never have the whole story of other people’s lives, and even if we did, none of us can see into other people’s hearts and know what motivates them. We superimpose our own assumptions onto others, and sometimes our assumptions are wrong. Grace, grace, grace. It’s one of the most important core doctrines in Christianity, and we need to remember it, especially in times of emotional challenge. 
Second, I want you to know that I’m not going anywhere. You’ll actually probably see a lot more of me on social media than you used to, and I’m hoping to have even more time available for speaking engagements, so that means more opportunities for me to travel and interact with y'all. I’m also finishing up the manuscript for my second book, which I’m really excited about. And on top of it all, there are a bunch of projects I had in the planning stages when I was with GCN that I’m still really passionate about, so I’m just going to keep working on them, even if it’s not my job anymore. Plus, being on my own, I might just have a chance to show more of the quirky, geeky side of my personality. Ultimately, this work still drives me as much as it ever did, and none of this changes that. I’m not stopping anytime soon. 
And finally, because people have been asking, yes, there will be a way to support my future work for those of you who feel led to do that; I appreciate your asking. I just didn’t feel like it was the right time to get into all of that stuff yesterday as this news was breaking, you know? I won’t pretend this hasn’t been an emotional time, but I am optimistic about the future, and I am constantly reminded that I am truly very, very fortunate, especially because of all of you. ❤️ Thank you for being you, as wonderfully diverse and passionate as you all are. I’m lucky to have such amazing friends.
And then I came across this statement from Susan Shopland, the chair of GCN's Board of Directors:
Friends, 
As part of the GCN community, and trustees of its mission, the members of the Board of Directors are aware of the shock caused by yesterday’s announcement. Transitions in leadership are never easy, regardless of the good will that may be behind them. We were sensitive to the concerns the announcement would raise, and have planned to reach out to you today. Out of respect for Justin and his legacy we decided to wait a couple of days to announce the name of the Interim Executive Director. We are looking forward to sharing that news tomorrow. 
We are not at liberty to speak about what transpired in recent months. But we are delighted to speak about the bright future GCN has ahead. We are encouraged by the success of the initiatives we have already launched—the Parents and Youth Retreats, and our devotional series, to name a few. I personally can’t wait to share more of what’s in store in due time. 
As our statement yesterday mentioned, some changes are coming. We look forward to better representing and embracing the full diversity of our community—the beautiful diversity of God’s creation. We want GCN to include more women and people of color, and we want our new name to reflect our full embrace of our trans and non-binary siblings in Christ. 
But we also want to reassure you that certain things are never changing. 
We will always be a Christ-centered, Spirit-led organization. Our Christian faith is what brought us together, and it will always remain the central focus of our work. We will thrive in the unity of the body of Christ, and our commitment to nurture and sustain the faith of all members of our community will not falter. To be clear, GCN will always be a spiritual home for both Side A and Side B. 
Please keep us in your prayers, especially as we meet at the end of this month for our annual Board and Staff retreat. Pray that Christ’s love and grace continue to guide us into the future.
She later asked some of the more upset commenters on the GCN discussion boards to reach out to her via PM to discuss their hard feelings about this separation. She also encouraged people to wait before making the decision to permanently quit GCN.

Then earlier today, GCN announced its new interim executive director: Isaac Archuleta:
“The Gay Christian Network has much to be proud of, and I seek to build on the incredible accomplishments of the staff, board, and volunteers. My desire is to fortify GCN's ability to empower LGBTQ lives as reciprocating beings with themselves, their loved ones, and God. I will approach my work with GCN with passion and conviction to strengthen your mission to create ‘…a world where the next generation of LGBTQ youth will grow up fully loved and embraced by their families, churches, and neighbors; and where Christians worldwide will live up to their calling as instruments of grace and defenders of the outcast.’”
Then Archulea, Khalaf, and another member of the GCN staff named Kyle Franklin released a video with the following message:
As three cisgender men, we are aware that our team needs more diversity—more people of color, more women, and more of our transgender siblings. And while GCN builds an internal structure that more accurately expresses God’s diversity we are also building an external structure: we are ever focused on creating a GCN community that will grow in solidarity, that will be transformed spiritually, and one that will fortify the stability of our God-given identities- whether we’re side A or side B. We believe, just as GCN always has, that all of us belong at the same table. We will continue to work as a Christ-centered organization with your essence in mind. . . 
. . .As the staff at GCN, we are committed to seeing you thrive relationally and spiritually. We are here to welcome our allies so that we can walk as one cohesive unit, teaching one another about Jesus’ love

The GCN guys promised a commitment to more diverse staff and board representation. And they recommitted to establishing a more diverse organizational name that better encompasses the entirety of GCN's membership, including lesbians, straight allies, transgender folks, and gender fluid individuals. You can watch the video here.

Here are my final thoughts (for now) on this situation as we move into these GCN-PJ months and years:

1. I hope the new GCN leadership avoids gimmicks that likely looked good in concept, but that really harmed GCN. I'm talking about stuff like secretly inviting Exodus International's Alan Chambers to one of the GCN Conferences. Or Justin doing outreach to Focus on the Family in hopes that they would become a safer organization for LGBTQ youth.

2. And I want GCN's leadership to have an active presence on the GCN discussion boards. Not just the new director, but the Board. Justin promised that he'd be an active member of the GCN boards much more each time they relaunched the boards, but that rarely lasted more than a few days. GCN is an online community. GCN needs its leadership to participate in that online community.

Updated on 07/30/17: The GCN Board has been meeting all weekend doing things that boards filled with gays and Christians do during the weekend (presumably praying, planning, and working). One of the things that they did this weekend was issue an updated statement about Justin leaving the organization:
When it became final that Justin Lee was departing from GCN, I was in a state of sorrow. I felt an overwhelming sense of grief and sadness that my friend who had helped me so much in my own spiritual journey was no longer going to be part of the organization I have grown to love. 
Then, when the announcement was finally made public, I relived my initial experiences of sadness and grief as I read and listened to all the comments from the community. I wanted to read each one that I could, because I felt each voice needed to be heard. And I want to acknowledge to the GCN community that we hear your grief and frustration. And we are saddened by it. 
I know there is a season for everything, and in this season, I not only want to reflect on all the good that Justin has accomplished through his service at GCN, but I also want to give myself space to grieve. I hope each of us creates that space for however long we need it. 
And we also hear that you’d like us to be more transparent. And we want you to know that transparency is important to us. But as it stands, we are legally prohibited from sharing more information with you. We unfortunately cannot reveal anything further regarding Justin’s departure. We grieve that this has caused frustration for you. 
As I stand here with my fellow board members, we can attest that the past few months have been extremely difficult. We are united in believing that this work that the Lord had begun through Justin, will continue to accomplish amazing things. And we will say that our mission has not changed. There are still untold numbers of marginalized people who suffer because of their identities. So we pray that through this period of hardship and grief, God will do even greater things—both through GCN and the new ministry of Justin Lee. May God be with each of us. 
On behalf of the Board, Danny Cortez
I'm not sure where this is all going. But it's nice to see the faces of the GCN Board.

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