Brandan Robertson said he has yet to become fully accustomed to the feelings of public condemnation and rejection that come with his work as a bisexual Christian seeking LGBTQ inclusion in evangelical churches.
Robertson, 24 and a former Southern Baptist youth minister, said there is little surprise left when he is, in one way or another, excluded from conservative church groups.
The four were inside the convention space and had just attended a book signing when they noticed a plain-clothes security agent observing them for several minutes. The agent then approached, demanded they surrender their registration badges and then escorted them outside, Robertson said.
“I felt a lot of shame as I was being escorted out of the building by a security guard,” he said.
He admitted they were a little surprised, even though it was an SBC event.
Robertson and his colleagues were at the annual meeting on behalf of Faith in America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing LGBTQ equality in American faith. Robertson also is the founder and executive director of Nomad Partnerships, which seeks to build bridges between LGBTQ groups and religious groups.
But they were not there as protesters. They weren’t wearing t-shirts emblazoned with slogans or preaching to conventioneers on gay rights. There were other Faith in America activists outside distributing invitations to a dinner, but they were not protesting, either, he said.
Even more baffling is that Robertson and his fellow activists had emailed SBC officials that they would be in attendance and were told that was OK.
Two or three years ago, Robertson said, he led a delegation to an Ethics and Religious Liberty conference. The visitors were welcomed to that event and to theological conversations.
Going in to the gathering in Phoenix, it seemed the Faith in America group had taken all the right steps.
“We had done everything we needed to do to be there and we registered as guests,” Robertson said. “The four of us attended the convention and were having conversations in plain clothes, not protesting.”
The ejection of the LGBTQ activists wasn’t the only news-making event at the SBC Annual Meeting. The national spotlight zeroed in on the passage of a resolution denouncing white supremacy.
Messengers approved the measure only after its initial proposal by a black pastor was rejected by a mostly white resolutions committee.
Robertson noted that the controversy surrounding that alt-right debate should have been of more concern to convention officials than the presence of four LGBTQ activists.
“I would still love to know why we were asked to leave, especially since there were alt-right protestors who were being disruptive,” he said.
But Robertson said he does not see his ejection from the SBC event as a setback. “It is a reminder of how much work there is to be done.”
Their aim is that the SBC and other conservative evangelical groups cease harming LGBTQ people, especially youth.
While Robertson said he identifies now with a more progressive evangelical Christianity, his religious past inspires his current work.
Robertson said he professed faith in Christ at 12 in a Baptist church and later served as youth pastor for an SBC congregation in Illinois. He is a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute, where he studied pastoral ministry, theology and biblical studies.
“I am asked why I go back to these environments if they hurt so much. My answer is that these are my roots.”
So for now, it’s back to waiting to see if relationships can be established in the SBC – just as it is with other groups.
“It’s a waiting game,” he said.