As I was posting my last entry on ‘trust issues’, I came across a comment that had somehow gotten lost in the wasteland of unmoderated comments. “Jack” was very articulate in raising concerns that seem to be shared by other gay readers, so I wanted to try to address some of the issues he raises:
Jack: Quite honestly, I truly question your motives. I think you truly want to reach out to gays and lesbians, and at some level, I believe that part. However, I always leave this blog and ones to similar to this wondering what outcome are you truly looking for. I see a lot of words revolving around reconciliation, understanding, bridging the gap and so on. But I am left wondering less about the process you are using and wondering MORE about what kind of outcome you are searching for? Is it your hope that you will befriend Gays and Lesbians in hopes that we will decide to become celibate and live chaste lives?
Wendy: These are the outcomes I pray for:
1. I hope that the conservative Christian community will be a safer place for gay people to be honest and open about their day-to-day realities and journey of faith. Some gay people might want to see a day when no one holds a conservative sexual ethic – but I think the reality is that there will always be people of faith who interpret Scripture in a manner that precludes same-sex sexual behaviour. The questions for me are, “How do those who do hold a conservative sexual ethic relate to gay people? How can motivations of fear, control, dominance, coercion, and hatred be confronted as being completely incompatible with the person and ministry of Jesus Christ? How can conservative Christians be helped to feel more comfortable and prepared to be in friendships with gay people – even though there may be points of disagreement that need to be navigated?”
So my hope is that Christians who continue to hold a conservative sexual ethic will do so on the basis of their own convictions birthed from prayer, study of Scripture, and a realistic connection and understanding of the realities of gay people – NOT from fear-based stereotypes of gay people, judgmental control, arrogance, or a sense of drivenness to “make the gay go away”.
My hope is that conservative Christians will engage people with respect, will speak up for issues of justice, and will navigate points of disagreement with humility and grace.
2. I hope, through the context of relationship with Christ-followers, that gay and lesbian people who are not believers would encounter the presence of Christ. I am unapologetically passionate about people coming to know and live in the reality of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ.
At the same time, if a gay person comes to Christ, they will, when the time is right (and that may not be for a long time), need to wrestle with Scripture and through prayer discern what God’s will is for them. In my pastoral connections, I regularly point people to resources like www.gaychristian.net where multiple perspectives are articulated. My perspective is that each individual needs to own what they believe – and then seek to live in a manner that is consistent with those beliefs. Some gay people will own a side B perspective – and many will own a side A perspective. I seek to leave that with God. For those who own a side B perspective, a commitment to celibacy often follows. Some find fulfillment and serenity in this decision. Others find over time that they move towards a side A perspective. Sometimes it is different than that – sometimes someone who was side A moves towards a side B perspective. In my years of connecting with people, I have encountered a lot of diversity in how people navigate their journey of faith – and I have learned to let go and let God be God.
3. I hope that those who are side B in theological perspective (conservative sexual ethic) would focus on shared love for Christ and a mutual commitment to grow in relationship with Christ with side A believers (gay affirming). My hope is that more Christians will recognize that God, through the Holy Spirit, is the one whose job it is to convict and challenge on issues of sin for any and all believers. And we all have sin issues that we’re not dealing with. There are times that we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to speak a word in season – but this requires discernment, trust in the relationship, and an openness for someone to accept or reject what we have to offer. Growing in this kind of discernment is most fruitful when we err on the side of humility and waiting for God’s confirmation rather than leading with an anxiety-based agenda.
4. I hope to particularly encourage those individuals who experience same-gender attraction who embrace a side B perspective in their walk with Christ. For example, my post about ‘staying true to convictions’ was written to an person who is committed to a side B perspective. It was not written as manifesto on why every gay person should be side B.
5. I hope that we will be part of fostering a generous spaciousness within the Christian community. Part of that may be accepting that the issue of homosexuality is a disputable matter. Good Christians who love God and take the bible seriously do disagree on this topic. And we can still love and respect each other despite our disagreements. We can still acknowledge and honour each other’s faith and love for Christ. And we can, through relationship, come to a place where we do trust one another’s motives. I hope that part of seeking to foster a generous spaciousness means that people have the room and freedom to continue to explore and respond to the ways they belief God is leading them.
Jack: Is it your hope that you will befriend Gays and Lesbians in hopes that we will decide to become celibate and live chaste lives? If this is your ultimate goal then you might as well stop your efforts now. Why would gay and lesbians want to be a part of conservative/evangelical congregation where your presence would be only lukewarm at best? Why not attend an MCC Church or another liberal mainline congregation where the issue of homosexuality has long since been answered?
Wendy: The reality is that there are some gay and lesbian people who are choosing, on the basis of their own convictions, to live celibate lives. There are very few resources that are of much encouragement to them. Sometimes, this decision to live celibately is driven by fear and self-hatred. When we sense this, we always want to gently challenge them if that seems to be the dominant motivation. If someone is committed to living celibately, we want that to come from a place of security in God’s love and acceptance – not fear.
Some gay and lesbian people do want to be part of a evangelical/conservative congregation, for a variety of reasons, and if we can help that environment to be more welcoming through our writing, resources and teaching – then we hope that is honouring to Christ and helpful to gay people.
Let me be clear. We are not trying to convince side A individuals or institutions to shift towards a side B perspective. It would be quite audacious to think we could have that kind of influence – and completely out of touch with reality. If God is who he says he is, then we don’t have to worry about convincing anyone – that is his job. If our writings are some sort of catalyst for rethinking attitudes and perspectives – we entrust that to God. Any seeds sown are God’s business. Our prayer is consistently that we would not get in the way of what he is already doing.
Jack: It just seems to me that this blog and others are so condescending–even more so than the out and out gay haters like Phelps and his crowd. In some ways I think Evangelical Christians who are so (all of a sudden” surgary sweet) and nice are a cause for MORE concern. More of a concern because it seems that this “new approach” being used by some in the evangelical church is an attempt to engage gays and lesbians in conversation without truly looking for a different outcome than those who out and out publicly denounce homosexuality. To put it in easier terms it just seems like a “sneakier approach” with the same intent in mind. Sort of a “love the sinner hate the sin” dressed up in a pretty dress–it looks nicer and prettier but the message and the outcome is still the same.
Wendy: The last thing we want to be is condescending.
At the same time, I would challenge the notion that the only person who can be loving and respectful toward gay people is the person who fully embraces and affirms all aspects of gay life. I deeply love my gay friends – and they do view me as an ally of sorts. I don’t agree with them on every theological point. But I have all kinds of friends with whom I don’t agree on every theological point. We can still be friends who care for each other, respect each other, and encourage each other to grow in the faith. For my gay friends who are not followers of Jesus, I love and care for them the same I would any other friend who isn’t a believer.
If the only terms acceptable for authentic engagement are that we all have to agree on everything, what a fractured and divided and horribly disengaged society we would be. And if those are the only terms, then there really is very little hope that the gap between the gay community and conservative Christian community can be bridged – and that would be a tragedy.
I would hope that those who connect with us over the long haul would discern the significant difference between someone, like Phelps, who expresses overt hate, consigns people to hell for their orientation, is driven to eradicate gay people from society, and protests any fair and equal treatment – and our commitment to love gay people and to be part of a generous spaciousness.
Last thought, a number of gay people, who are understandably skeptical and cynical, have commented on my “sweetness”…. what you may not realize is the crap that I take for the generosity I seek to embody on this blog, through the resources we develop and the speaking that I do. While I understand the skepticism and the reality that trust is earned …. and I’m committed to walking this out long term and being patient while people watch and observe ….. I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t say that sometimes it is hard to encounter the skepticism. I’m hardly a martyr …. But the truth is that it can be exhausting to try to stay present in the moderate middle. Being a bridge can be painful – especially when folks on both ends question your motives. But at the end of the day, I believe being a bridge, to the best of my ability, is what Christ has called me to – and so I lean on his grace in the confidence that he sees the integrity of my heart.
p.s. If you would like to read Jack’s full comment, see it in the comment section here: http://btgproject.blogspot.com/2009/02/staying-true-to-convictions.html