After sixteen years, the founder and Executive Director of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee, has parted ways from the organization due to “irreconcilable differences.” A joint statement released by GCN’s board and Justin Lee was released on Wednesday, July 19 came without warning:
“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 statement read.
The statement released on July 19, 2017 said that Lee hasn’t been Executive Director since May 4, 2017. Many of GCN’s supporters are frustrated by what they call a lack of “transparency” in the process and the statement.
“This statement makes me really uncomfortable and I think GCN owes us a transparent explanation,” Michael Craddock commented on GCN’s Facebook post announcing the transition.
“The lack of transparency in this situation is an unacceptable abuse of the board's privilege,” Shane Price commented under the same post.
Although the joint statement on the Gay Christian Network’s website called the separation “amicable,” Lee’s opening to the statement on his website says the former Executive Director is “crushed, and would appreciate your prayers.”
In a statement, Lee said he was unable to speak to the specifics of the separation but is looking forward to continuing doing faith organizing work at the intersections of Christianity, sexuality, and gender identity.
“It’s been incredible to watch GCN grow over the last 16 years, from a tiny idea I had in college to an organization that has made an impact for LGBTQ Christians around the world,” Lee said. “I’m proud of everything we were able to accomplish together in that time. Going forward, I’m excited to continue speaking out in new ways and pursuing my passion of working in less-affirming Christian spaces where many folks still desperately need support.
A New Direction
In an interview, GCN board member and trans Christian writer and speaker, Paula Williams was unable to answer questions around Lee’s departure due to a legally binding agreement.
“I can’t say anything about anything related to Justin [Lee] because I’m legally required not to because of the agreement we signed with him,” Williams said about an agreement that was formally signed the week the statement was released. “Sorry, I can’t say anything about Justin at all."
When asked if Justin Lee was pushed out or fired from GCN, Williams said she “can’t say anything around his departure” due to the legal agreement. Williams did say that the vote to separate from Lee was not a unified one.
When asked about the lack of transparency in the process and separation, Williams said: “The agreement that we entered into with Justin indicates that we give no reasons for our separation from him.”
Williams was able to assure that the separation was not due to any wrongdoing by Lee: “..there was no kind of moral failure of any kind, that would cause us to separate from [Justin],” Williams said referring back to the statement released by GCN. “I can say that unequivocally. There was no moral failure.”
As for the new direction, the vision of GCN will remain the same with more programming:
“I don’t see the vision of GCN changing at all going forward,” Williams said. “I would hope that it sufficiencies will increase as a ministry. Meaning that we publish more things more often. That we create more events that take place more often. That we work aggressively to create additional opportunities for the LGBTQ community to serve as it relates to the church. I think we hope to see it expand into a much larger ministry with a much larger income that can support many type of ministries going forward -- but nothing that’ll change the essential of it. For instance, there will be no abandonment of Side B.”
Board Chair Susan Shopland echoed Williams commitment to Side B community, a term to describe those who believe celibacy is scripture directive for LGB people, in a statement on GCN’s website:
“We will always be a Christ-centered, Spirit-led organization,” Shopland said in the statement. “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.”
Board Member Resigns, Donors Pull Support
Board member Casey Pick resigned in protest of Lee’s dismal as Executive Director after serving for three years.
“I joined the GCN National Board of Director’s because I believed in the organization’s mission, its unique role in the church and the movement for LGBT freedom, but most of all because in Justin Lee I found a tremendous leader and a true friend who has done more for LGBT Christians than anybody I’ve ever met. I am deeply saddened by this course of events, and after much thought and prayer have resigned from the GCN board, effective immediately,” Pick posted on her personal facebook page.
Pick sent a resignation letter to the rest of the board outlining her disagreements with the Board’s decision. When asked for a copy of the letter, Pick said she was unable to provide it as she refers “to various discussions and votes that are covered by Board confidentiality.”
Pick isn’t the only person pulling support from GCN. Marty Jacobson, who has been a monthly donor of GCN for seven years, spoke out on social media to announce he is pulling his support from the organization.
Jacobson’s letter to GCN, in part, reads that although he doesn’t identify with Christianity any longer, the message of GCN was important to him:
“It is with great sadness that I must discontinue my support of GCN,” Jacobson’s letter read. “I believe that it is the nuanced and careful articulation of values and beliefs that Justin put forth as founder and director at GCN that allowed me to come out of the toxic religious environment I came from. I'm not sure exactly what the differences are between the board and Justin, but if the board doesn't believe in Justin's vision, then GCN is not the organization I started supporting.”
Jacobson isn’t the only donor on social media claiming to pull their support. Others have suggested they will instead channel their financial support to Lee during his transition.
An Interim Executive Director
A few days after the announcement that Lee would no longer serve as the Executive Director, GCN announced that Isaac Archuleta would be taking over during the transition.
Archuleta, who received the recommendation for the position from Williams who he attends church with, has served as an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary from which he graduated. He is also a licensed professional counselor and founder, co-director of iAmProject, an organization that works to educate around sexuality and gender at churches, colleges, and other groups.
“This is definitely kind of my dream job. It has been for years,” Archuleta said in an interview. “I think what I’m most excited about, if I had to pick one thing, is sharing a spiritual journey with the GCN community.”
Archuleta says he grew up in a conservative religious home with not hateful but not affirming Hispanic parents. His goal is to allow GCN to be a community where LGBT Christians can thrive and be seen as children of God. “ I can be this because God intentionally created me this way.”
One of Archuleta’s first tasks for GCN is the annual conference, the largest gathering of LGBT Christians, to be hosted in his hometown of Denver, Colorado.
“I’m going to create not a totally different feel but i’m going to get local businesses involved to host different events during the evening,” Archuleta said. “So we can kind of go out into the Denver gay community. Live auctions, live music, that sort of thing. I’m really excited to have [the conference] here.”
Archuleta, who echoed more support of Side B inclusion within the organization, feels he is uniquely equipped to lead Gay Christian Network during its transition.
“I literally have been preparing my career for this moment. I didn’t expect it to come this way. I thought that I would have to spend years building iAmProject into a formidable organization…” Archuleta said. “I think after all the work i’ve done to keep my family intact after coming out, and working with families as a professional counselor, I’m just so excited to bring in many voices that’ll help keep GCN as this beautiful cohesive family that is learning and growing together. I get so incredibly excited about watching the GCN community grow into something really beautiful. I feel kind of crafted specifically for this new era.”
The Gay Christian Network conference will be held in Denver, Colorado on Jan 18-21, 2018