Christians seeking gender and marriage equality must use biblical arguments, not avoid them, a renowned religious researcher and communications expert told the opening plenary of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians national gathering here Oct. 31.

“Use the Bible, but not the way they (opponents of marriage equality) do or the way were taught in seminary,” said Macky Alston, director of Auburn Media, a division of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City. “Go to the core of the biblical message: ‘love God, love neighbor,’” he said.

Another key to successful messaging in support of marriage equality, Alston ― who comes from a distinguished line of Presbyterian ministers, including his father, former General Assembly Moderator Wallace Alston Jr. ― is the power of personal story.

“The ‘journey’ story is a home-run, hands down, Alston said. “In our walk and witness, people see God, they see good. And then they realize something’s wrong with what the church has taught them.”

Supporters of marriage equality must walk with those who are re-examining their position on marriage equality. “They are moving because they like people like us and want to be accepting, to reconcile what they know in their hearts with what they’ve heard from pulpits. They want to move ahead without leaving their Christianity behind.”

Alston told his own moving story about his relationship with his father, who was pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, N.J. when his son came out. “My father embraced me and told me that nothing could separate our love,” Alston recalled, “but he warned that I would probably meet an unhappy fate.”

Decades later, the elder Alston performed his son’s wedding to his now-husband, Nick. “Decades of rotten church teaching washed away,” he said. “My father’s heart changed when he saw the value of my marriage. He had to do the religious math, Alston said, “and found the way to understand by Stacy Johnson’s book.”

Johnson, a systematic theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law and Politics, is scheduled to address the Covenant Network gathering Friday afternoon (Nov. 1).

The theme of the Covenant Network conference is Marriage Matters.It continues through Nov. 2. In addition to Alston and Johnson, the group will also hear from Amy Plantinga Pauw, professor of doctrinal theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Alston praised the Presbyterian Church. “I celebrate the fact that you have stood for justice in historic ways in my lifetime,” he said. “This church holds in scripture and tradition the next way ― a 21st century movement ― in which we stand as a testimony to God’s glorious diversity.”

And he concluded with a plea: “Show us the way to live in lavish ways and to be extravagant in our building up of this beloved community,” he implored. “May we all know the depth and breadth of it and may the church continue to bear witness to it.”