After months of planning and preparing, our “Pastors’ Conversation: navigating LGBT issues & questions” is finally here. At 2:00 p.m. eastern standard time tomorrow, we’ll begin our live stream and will be engaging as a panel with some of the video interviews I shot at last January’s Gay Christian Network conference. I’m so grateful to the 16 gay Christians who were willing to share with me their needs and hopes for belonging in the church and in relationship with their pastor. We’ll be shooting all day, and beyond the live stream event, we’ll be pulling together the material to produce another resource DVD to complement our “Bridging the Gap” resource for small groups and “The Youth Room has a Closet” for youth leaders and youth groups.
For some pastors and leaders, just the fact that I have used the acronym LGBT will be an indication that this isn’t a conversation they want to participate in. Recently, in fact, I was chided for using the language of “secular gay advocacy groups”. I think this is unfortunate. The apostle Paul knew the importance of contextualization and using the common language of the cultures he found himself in. And while I think it is probably unavoidable, I really hope that using a term like LGBT doesn’t prevent some pastors from tuning in.
The conversation won’t be about proselytizing or trying to convince anyone to change their theological position. Rather, the conversation will seek to create space to articulate some of the tensions that I know so many are wrestling with. Most pastors I know, the ones who truly love the people in, not only their own congregation, but also in their local neighbourhood, feel the tension every time they hang out with their gay friends. And many of them are part of systems where it isn’t really safe to talk about those tensions, those questions. Sometimes, just being able to express some of those things, to know you’re not alone, to listen to others’ experiences – perhaps those who’ve been on the road a little longer or with more experience than you do, these things can be invaluable to encourage and energize us to continue to persevere in loving people and loving the churches and denominations we are a part of – while continuing to press in to God’s heart for the people in our neighbourhoods.
Over the years I’ve met a lot of pastors who have a willingness to engage this conversation – but they aren’t sure how to do so. I’ve also met pastors who have a lot of gay friends – but none of them are Christians. So these two realities, gay friends – and pastoring a church, are neatly compartmentalized like the way I carefully separate my mashed potatoes from the corn and the corn from the roast beef on my plate. When I ask them if they know any gay Christians – often they say “no”. And if I ask them if they know any gay Christians who hold different theological positions than they do – they almost certainly say “no”. But if we are to be a relational people – and if pastors, particularly, are to be investing in building relationships and extending hospitality to all the people in their local context (which, to reveal my bias, are non-negotiable aspects of living out the gospel in my mind), then they need to have the opportunity to hear where people are at, how they are navigating their faith, hear the kinds of questions and needs that arise for them. They may not agree with everything they hear – but they will then need to think through why they disagree, how they would handle it differently, and how they could shepherd and disciple people in a manner that is humble, sensitive, and loving (which, again, I think are non-negotiables for a pastor seeking to be an ambassador of reconciliation with Christ).
So for me, the live stream conversation is hopefully a taste of a stretching but respectful conversation that allows pastors to perhaps be exposed to some stories and voices that might challenge some of their assumptions and to experience a safe environment to articulate some of the questions and tensions that arise when you enter the messy reality of real people’s lives. I also know a lot of gay Christians will be viewing the live stream. My hope is that they will be encouraged to hear pastors grappling with some of the very real matters that gay Christians need to navigate. I hope that as all the participants dialogue together using the chat room and twitter that conversations will spring up beyond just the panel – and that it will truly be a listening and learning adventure for all of us. Then when we turn to the Q & R time, I hope that we will have the opportunity to engage with some of the real dilemmas that both pastors and gay Christians face – and that while I don’t expect we will have perfect answers or solutions to these dilemmas (that’s why we call it “question & response” not “question & answer”)- that we will be able to really wrestle together with how to best live in the way of Jesus, how to best love one another, how to best create space for all of us to explore and grow in faith in Jesus Christ. Because at the end of the day, this conversation isn’t really about homosexuality. It is about being in community with one another – where there may be difference and/or disagreement, but where we are still called to love and honour one another. This conversation isn’t about what gay Christians should do. It is about how all of us together can ask and wrestle with the question, “How now shall we live together?” and “How now shall we be a witness to the reconciling love of Christ to a watching world?”
I hope you’ll join us – but if you cannot tune in, don’t worry – we will be making the video of the live stream portion available FREE online (though it may take us a couple of days to get it in working order).
To watch on Tuesday, June 21 at 2:00pm EST go to www.newdirection.ca where you’ll have a choice to watch it through UStream or on the New Direction Facebook page.
Let me also just give a shout-out to our panel participants. I am so grateful for their willingness to join us for this adventure! Thank you Mark, Michelle, Pernell and Shane!
And thank you to the 16 friends from the Gay Christian Network who were willing to be interviewed and videoed. You were articulate, you were poignant, you were passionate about your faith in Christ ….. and I am so grateful to you!