I’ve just spent some time reading through a number of different blogs and, as I often do, find myself ruminating on the mission,vision and context in which New Direction seeks to serve.
On one end, Alan Chambers gives an interview for the Atlantic in which he shares his vision for a discipleship-focused ministry for same-sex attracted people who believe that Scripture directs them to refrain from entering a committed same-sex relationship. On the other end, John Shore chews up and spits out the idea of bridge-building and middle ground and unequivocally calls for all Christians to support gay marriage.
Both of these men are my brothers in Christ. Both believe they are following the leading of Christ. And the words and actions of both affect my sisters and brothers who are LGBT.
I am keenly aware, as I ponder not only their thoughts, but the comments generated by these posts, that I do so as a person of majority privilege. As a straight ally, I cannot fully enter in to the experience of needing to fight for the opportunity to enter a loving, committed relationship to launch building a family of my own. I can’t fully enter the experience of needing to deconstruct things I was told and taught, often under the assumption of the authority of God, in order to simply believe that I could be loved by Jesus and be welcomed to share in the inheritance of life forever in his presence. I can’t imagine the weight of feeling like people in my family and church believe I’m going to hell simply for who I am.
Sure, I have had to face a lot of fear and insecurity, self-loathing, and shame in my Christian journey. And yes, I have navigated the threatening terrain of my own cognitive dissonance and the need to risk rethinking and reassessing things I’d been taught to believe. I’ve experienced some rejection and judgment along the way. But, I know that I did all of these things as someone who still enjoyed many of the benefits of majority status.
In my role as leader of New Direction, I try to be especially sensitive to the limitations of my capacity to speak into these matters – while at the same time, trying to be faithful to do what I can to help the Christian community nurture safe spaces that are radically hospitable.
Because we work across a broad spectrum of the Christian community, we have refrained from aligning ourselves with a particular theological position on the question of gay marriage for Christians. This is a change from our earlier history when we were clearly positioned with the belief that sexual intimacy was to be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman. The reason for this change was our desire to focus on nurturing environments that gave people the room they needed to process these complex and threatening matters. We wanted to help people think through how they believe what they believe, why they believe what they believe, and to more deeply consider the impact of their beliefs on others. We wanted to be with people in the messy, chaotic process of opening heart and mind to the possibility that they could be wrong – and to seek with a willing and humble heart for what God might be saying to them on these matters as they risk prayerfully thinking and discerning in light of the reality of gay Christians in the church. As people do this, some will reaffirm the belief that for Christians, sexual intimacy is to be experienced only in heterosexual marriage. Others may move towards a belief that God’s grace invites same-sex oriented persons to experience love, intimacy, companionship and family in a committed gay marriage. We are not trying to determine that outcome for people, but to invite them to consider their motivations, their attitudes, their approach, and the implications of their beliefs on others. We want to encourage people to wrestle with God, to dig deeply into the Scriptures, to stretch their experience of faith in the lives of gay people, to pray, and wait, and listen.
When the people of God apply themselves to do these things, my hope is that the culture of the church will shift to a more loving, relational, and just response to LGBT people. Our confidence is that the Holy Spirit can be trusted to lead people into truth. Why that truth seems to look differently for different people is something I’d really like to ask the Trinity when I see them face-to-face. What I think I’ll encounter is a generous spaciousness within God that blows my mind and causes me to fall on my face in the realization that on this earth I never even began to grasp the immensity of his grace. Until that time, I’ll work towards sharing a vision of generous spaciousness that makes room for all people, with all of our different ways of engaging Scripture, different experiences, different theological assumptions, different levels of certainty, and different understandings of how exactly God is at work in our broken world. In the meantime, I will focus on becoming a more loving person as I encounter all kind of different people.
These are some things I know for sure:
- For better or for worse, there are a lot of different perspectives held by Christians on the question of gay marriage – both civil or within the church. We can get mad or sad or outrageously impatient about this, but none of that will change this reality. It is what it is.
- This range of perspective is motivated by many different factors – including the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of Biblical interpretation, logic, attitude and posture. Declarations of the perfect interpretation, logic, attitude and posture on this matter may likely be perceived as arrogant, insufficient, and flat-out wrong by those who disagree. Such declarations, no matter how passionately articulated, usually aren’t the most effective way to change people’s hearts and minds. That’s just the way it is.
- Humbly acknowledging these differences is the first step towards nurturing a space where people can actually listen to what each other thinks and believes. Assuming what another person believes or feels usually isn’t very helpful. Respectful, honest dialogue, particularly with people for whom a topic is personally impactful, is a much more effective way to work towards shared values than demanding change is.
- Gay Christians don’t all agree on how to understand God’s direction or how to interpret Scripture on the matter of gay marriage. There are incredible examples, like my friends Justin Lee and Ron Belgau, who model respectful friendship despite disagreements without the patronizing assumption of internalized homophobia, disregard for justice, or misguided agendas.
- A matter as complex as the intersection of faith and sexuality is difficult and threatening for most people to process. This means the process usually isn’t quick, pain-free, or neat and tidy. People need space to face their fears, privilege, and assumptions in a non-anxious context.
- People who experience same-sex attraction need space to wrestle with how they will integrate their faith and their sexuality. They need time to consider multiple perspectives, clarify their beliefs and values, and then build a network of supportive relationships that will encourage them to live in alignment with their convictions.
- For the foreseeable future, there will be diversity on the matter of gay marriage in the Christian community. This diversity needs to be stewarded in a way that takes the public witness of the church into careful consideration. The degree to which we will be able to experience unity in this diversity has a direct impact on how the world perceives the church.
- Unity in diversity is sustained by key common ground affirmations that include: affirmation of the dignity and value of all human beings; affirmation that salvation is a gift of God given through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our attempts to be holy; affirmation that only God knows the status of a person’s relationship with him; affirmation that we are called to nurture environments where all people can flourish; affirmation that we are to emulate God’s unconditional love – including to people we disagree with.
Generous spaciousness acknowledges the reality that in the church today there are people who love Jesus deeply and honour the authority of the Scriptures as God’s revelation to us but who none-the-less come to differing conclusions on the question of gay marriage for Christians. Paul dealt with matters that Jewish and Gentile believers disagreed with one another about in both the Corinthian and Roman churches. His focus was on cultivating relationships saying, “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently……So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault…….Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong.”