I have had some wonderful and challenging conversations this week. That’s the way it is with relational engagement. Some weeks are very full with coffee connections, in office-sessions, phone and email contact – but it is generally unpredictable how much time I’ll commit to nurturing such conversations. When I’m busy connecting with people, things like the blog go to the back burner. But, in one of my connections this week, we had the bright idea of sharing some of our conversation with those who peruse BTG. Sort of killing two birds with one stone so-to-speak.
Shane is someone I am still getting to know but have really enjoyed his generous space in enagaging the diversity that inevitably is encountered in the Christian community when faith and sexuality intersect. I asked him a couple of questions and thought that our readers would find his responses really interesting.
W: Can you tell me a bit about your experiences with New Direction in the past – both the far away past and not so distant past?
S: If I remember correctly I originally contacted New Direction sometime in 1996 (I think it was summer.) I was in second-year university and earlier that year I had come out for the very first time to one of my friends as being someone who experienced same-sex attraction. My approach at that time was definitely that my sexuality was somehow broken and needed to be fixed. I had read some books that introduced me to the idea that I was gay because I had a distant father and an overbearing mother. I also read about the idea that my attractions to men were a sexualization of the desires I had to be more masculine. These ideas resonated with me because although I didn’t have an overbearing mother I did have a distant father. I also grew up in rural Ontario and I was definitely not a rough-and-tumble farm boy. I was a kid who liked to read books and play the piano. So I was eager to connect with a ministry that would help me to get rid of these unwanted attractions that I had. I met with one of the New Direction staff. I remember being very nervous and it was scary to bare my soul to this person whom I didn’t really know. I was warned in advance that this person was not a counsellor and that these were not counselling sessions. Unfortunately this individual was very overworked and it was clear that he had too much on his plate. He had trouble remembering from one meeting to the next what we had actually talked about, which was disconcerting because I had shared what I considered to be the most personal information about myself. We only met a few times and I realized that these meetings were not helpful. I was eager to join some sort of support group but at that time I think the only group that met was in Toronto.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2007. By that time I had much earlier reached the conclusion that my attractions to men were not going away. For a few years I had simply assumed that I would be single for life. I had thrown myself into ministry, working full-time for a Christian organization in a cross-cultural context. However at times I felt really lonely and so I decided to try dating women. I had two relationships that lasted about half a year each and both times I broke it off because I felt like I was leading the women on. I felt like a monster. I knew that I was not going to go down that road again. During a one-year sabbatical from overseas ministry I knew I would have more time for personal reflection. I was determined to find answers to the questions that I had about my sexuality. I heard that there were people who were gay and Christian. How did they reconcile their faith and sexuality? Because I didn’t know where else to turn I thought I would contact New Direction again. This time I was connected with a New Direction staff member who did have a background in counselling. He was a great listener and I really appreciated his honesty. He told me that he didn’t have all the answers and he was honest about his own doubts. We had many good conversations and I think I grilled him pretty hard about the questions I was having. I was especially curious to meet others who gay and Christian so that I could hear their stories. So he recommended that I check out an online community called the Gay Christian Network (GCN). GCN was a great place for me to discuss my questions with people who held a wide variety of opinions. Through discussions with people on GCN, my friends, my pastor, my counsellor and others and through my own personal reading and reflection I ended up arriving in the place where I do believe that God blesses same-sex relationships. Along the way I left the Christian ministry I was working for and came out to my family. Soon after this I met Dave who is now my husband.
My experience with New Direction the second time was markedly different. This was partly because I was in a much different space. I had rejected a lot of ex-gay ideas because they just didn’t match up with my own experience. The questions I was asking the second time were a lot more about integration of faith and sexuality rather than about changing my sexual orientation. I believe my recent interactions with New Direction were marked much more by authenticity. I wasn’t being convinced to think a certain way. I was given a place to voice my questions and to find answers for myself.
I know that New Direction has been accused by the Christian organization where I used to work of telling me that same-sex relationships were OK. This was not the case. The staff member was honest about his own views and they were that God does not bless same-sex relationships. However he treated me and my questions with respect. Even later when I landed on the other end of the spectrum I was still treated with grace and respect. I am actually very intrigued by the conversations that New Direction continues to be a part of. Through my own journey I know that there are no simple answers to the questions about faith and sexuality. I have my own doubts about the decisions I have made. I still have many friends who disagree with my choice to marry a man. But I hope that we can still treat each other with love, grace and respect.
W: I understand that you have married your partner Dave – whom I have yet to meet. Where you’ve landed is a distinct place on the spectrum. Why would you be willing / interested in contributing to a conversation that acknowledges different perspectives and welcomes participants who would be very opposed to your relationship with Dave?
S: I have wrestled with questions about sexuality long enough to know that there are no simple answers. I don’t believe I have ever found a book about faith and sexuality that I totally agree with. However in many of these books I have found ideas that have shaped my beliefs. I also know that I have people who have modelled the Christian life for me, who have been Christ to me, who disagree with my choices to be in relationship with Dave. And yet I have met gay Christians who inspire me to follow God more wholeheartedly.
I know that in life I have learned a lot from people who disagree with me. I have worked as a university lecturer and a campus minister and I know that much fruit is born out of healthy discussion where opposing views are presented.
A key value of mine is authenticity. I strive to live my life openly and honestly. I seek to freely communicate my ideas including my doubts and even the places where I have been wrong. Therefore I generally seek out people who are authentic. People who are honest about what they believe and are willing to share the areas where they have questions. For example, one of the values of the church I attend is exploration which is described as in the following way. “As a community, we celebrate the journey of faith. Although we are a place of non-judgment, we challenge one another to be stronger people in our walks with God and through life. We uphold biblical principles in our daily lives. We encourage each other to challenge our own preconceptions and value knowing why we believe what we believe. We prefer to explore the questions of faith rather than provide packaged answers; ultimately knowing that each individual is responsible to God.” I believe that we are all on a journey. I believe we all need to authentically follow our own convictions.
In addition to authenticity, another value I have is that of love and respect. I believe that God calls us to love everyone, including those that disagree with us. Therefore the discussions that we have should be marked by love and respect. We need to be able to share our beliefs “with gentleness and respect.” Name-calling and demonizing are not helpful. Not everyone who is gay is promiscuous and not everyone who disagrees with same-sex relationships is a homophobe.
I do believe in absolute truth. I just don’t think that any of us has all of the truth. Therefore we need each other to sharpen our ideas. We need to hold our own ideas loosely realizing that we could be wrong. I pray that God will guide us as we seek him together.
Thanks Shane for your willingness to share your thoughts.