Irvine Conference Features Gay Christian Network Founder and Chely Wright Film

Justin Lee, founder and executive director of the Gay Christian Network
Justin Lee, founder and executive director of the Gay Christian Network
Courtesy of Irvine United Congregational Church

An appearance by the founder of the Gay Christian Network and a documentary on the journey of a country singer who is Christian coming out as a lesbian highlight Irvine United Congregational Church's second annual Faith & Works Conference on Friday and Saturday.

The conference helps celebrate the progressive Christian church's 25 years as an "Open & Affirming" congregation, meaning it welcomes and includes as members of the LGBTQ community and their families.

The keynote speaker is Justin Lee, founder and executive director of the Gay Christian Network, an international network of Christians working for a fully inclusive Christian community. He wrote the book Torn: Rescuing Gays from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, in which he details his struggles growing up a believer in Christ, knowing same-sex attraction was a sin and that he would never act on it. He urges those with the same struggle to consider celibacy as an option, not simply to be gay or not be gay. 

Lee's address at IUCC is set for 7 p.m. Friday. He returns at 9 a.m. Saturday to focus on progress in LGBTQ acceptance as well as the challenges ahead. There will be a panel discussion at 11 a.m. Saturday featuring members and friends of the church discussing continuing issues and concerns for the LGBTQ community.

The documentary Wish Me Away makes its regional premiere at IUCC at 1:15 pm Saturday, and the public is encouraged to attend (if one registers first at www.iucc.org/register to guarantee a seat). It's about Richell Rene "Chely" Wright, the Academy of Country Music's 1995 Top New Female Vocalist, who has released seven studio albums on various labels and has charted more than 15 singles on the country charts.

Wright was romantically involved with Brad Paisley at the end of 2000 even though she'd secretly moved in with her female lover earlier that same year. Between 2004-06, Wright came out to family members and close friends, having abandoned her belief that being lesbian is immoral and deviant.

Country singer Chely Wright
Country singer Chely Wright
Public domain photo by Patrick P. Evenson, U.S. Marine Corps

With the release of her memoir Like Me in May 2010, Wright became one of the first major country music performers to publicly acknowledge she was lesbian. Filmed over three years, Wish Me Away premiered at the 35th annual Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco in June 2011. Now a gay activist, Wright married LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer in August 2011 and in May 2013 gave birth to their identical twins.

The church is at 4915 Alton Parkway, Irvine. For more information on the Faith & Works conference, call the church’s Adult Programs Director Steve Swope at 949.733.0220. 

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