Navigating tension is a normal every day aspect of trying to serve well through the ministry of New Direction. It shows up in all sorts of ways, but I think one of the most significant underlying factors is that we seek to respond to two primary audiences. In speaking about money, Jesus said you can’t serve two masters. And on some days, I wonder if our efforts to serve two communities gets us into more trouble than its worth. Through the years there have been those who have suggested that this is an impossible task. So maybe I’m dumb, or stubborn, or foolish…… but then I remember the folks who are straddling both communities – and I remember that this is our unique calling, and as challenging as it sometimes is, we’ll do our best to persevere in discerning God’s leading to serve both.
I am speaking here about our personal connections with and advocacy on behalf of sexual minority persons or what can generally be described as the LGBTQ community AND our ministry within the Christian community serving as a consultant and offering equipping for pastors and leaders, denominations, congregations etc. It needs to be stated at the outset that these are most definitely not mutually exclusive communities. The voice of the gay Christian is so critical in the polarized culture wars. These are the brave souls who refuse to be dishonest about the reality of their orientation and sense of identity as a sexual minority AND who resiliently hold onto their personal journey of faith with the recognition that such faith means they are a part of the family of God, the church. The same could be said of our bisexual and trans brothers and sisters who tenaciously live as followers of Jesus. That is why New Direction is so committed to try to elevate the voices of gay Christians, regardless of their theological position on marriage equality, because we believe the church needs to hear their voice if they have any hope of dismantling the walls of hostility that have been built during the culture wars of the last generation.
There are also many folks who continue to love Jesus or consider themselves to be spiritual who have given up on church – gay or straight. New Direction has a lot of contact with de-churched folks and post-Christian folks too. (As an aside, if this describes you and you wonder sometimes if there was a community you could be part of, you may want to check out nakedpastor’s online group, “Lasting Supper”)
Generous spaciousness as the overarching concept behind how we navigate ministry is inclusive. If you want to be part of the conversation that explores the intersection of faith and sexuality, then you are welcome to our table to break bread, share your story, and offer your reflections on these matters. There is an acknowledgement in generous spaciousness that these matters are very complex and that people come with different experiences, different approaches to authority and interpretation, and different convictions about particular expressions of discipleship, faith, and intimate relationships. Generous spaciousness isn’t about affirming every idea that comes to the table – it is about nurturing space where people can discover common ground around core values and explore together how to nurture shalom for the common good. The core values that we have articulated are: humility, hospitality, mutuality and justice. In my doctoral work I am fleshing these out in greater detail and look forward to eventually sharing them once I’ve passed my defense.
But, generous spaciousness can make people nervous. Just how generous is it? Who gets to draw the lines? How can generous spaciousness be safe when it means I’m going to encounter people who hold views that I find oppressive or offensive? How can generous spaciousness be faithful when it doesn’t defend and promote the view I believe to be biblical? How can I trust that generous spaciousness doesn’t have a hidden agenda that favours one community over another?
Every week I field emails from different perspectives looking for some assurance that I am “really on their side” and won’t encourage too much exploration of the other side. This is an assurance I cannot provide. I know, for better or for worse, that a good percentage of the church is in some season of transition on these matters – whether that is formally or informally. There are, of course, those churches that have strong clarity and precision in their positions – and they tend to not connect with New Direction. That’s ok. There are also individuals who have strong clarity on their positions – and they might not to connect with New Direction. And that’s ok. Sometimes, though, because individuals straddle the experience of sexual minority reality and the church, they connect with New Direction even though their personal positions are clear. And this is sometimes challenging – because New Direction intentionally lives with the reality of ambiguity that so many are experiencing on these matters. And of course, lots of individuals, gay or straight, connect with us because they are wrestling and not sure where to land.
It is hard to serve two audiences. I stumbled across this article written by a pastor in my denomination. It discusses the decision of our last Synod that appointed a study committee to offer pastoral guidance to churches on the matter of gay marriage with the mandate to do so within the bounds of current church position. If you take a read, you will perhaps get a bit of a sense of the pressure cooker that I can find myself in.
In the morning I might encounter a message from that pastor in a denomination with a clear position wants assurance that the pastoral care I might offer to folks in their church will affirm this position. I can say that I’ll honour and acknowledge that position but that in pastoral care, our focus on spiritual direction means that we aren’t going to tell people what they should think. It means we’re going to help them look at where fear or shame may be energizing their reflections on these matters. And sometimes, when people are able to move past their fear and shame, they consider other perspectives and sometimes land in other places. My main concern is that they are drawing closer to God and learning to hear the whisper of the Spirit and are finding their security in their Belovedness.
That same afternoon I might hear from an affirming LGBTQ person who has heard that I honour and acknowledge the position of churches that seems oppressive and unjust to them and wants clarification on what it means that generous spaciousness values hospitality and justice for LGBT people. (The point of our core values is that we value humility, hospitality, mutuality, and justice for ALL people – which includes LGBT folks but is not limited to LGBT folks) And when I respond that I am committed to welcoming all, but that even among LGBT people I find different perspectives and positions, which means there needs to be room for people to tell their stories and own their own journeys, it somehow seems that I haven’t quite passed the test.
The goals that energize and motivate my service through New Direction are these:
- For people who love Jesus, I hope that their encounter with New Direction strengthens that love. I hope they come to a fuller and deeper understanding of the generosity of Jesus and the way he broke social barriers and ushered in a universal welcome to be reconciled to God the Father.
- For people who have left Christian faith or been hurt by the church, I hope that their encounter with New Direction gives them the opportunity to experience kindness and care from a Christian ministry. I hope they will experience some healing in their encounter with us and that they will recognize our desire to love unconditionally as an extension of God’s love.
- For people who are unsure about what faithful discipleship for a sexual minority person entails, I hope that their encounter with New Direction will help them to see their questions as having the potential to be spiritually formational. I hope that they will grow in the fruits of the Spirit as they pursue greater understanding. I hope they’ll fall in love with the Scriptures (again or more deeply). I hope they will feel increasing freedom from fear or shame. I hope they’ll feel more confident in their capacity to exercise discernment. I hope they’ll be humble as they talk about their journey with others.
- For people who have very clear positions but grieve the divisions in the church, I hope that their encounter with New Direction will encourage them to pursue unity in diversity through dialogue. I hope that they will be inspired and encouraged to be peace-makers in their community. I hope they will grow in being willing to set aside their own agendas and preferences to love sacrificially. I hope they will grow in confidence in the Spirit’s role and ability to correct or convict others. I hope they will have a new vision of how diverse this Body of Christ is and that we truly need one another in all of our differences.
- For the church, I hope that their encounter with New Direction will help them as a community acknowledge honestly the diversity that is already in their midst. I hope they will see such diversity as a gift of grace. I hope that they will embrace offering space for dialogue and exploration with the confidence that such a process can encourage people to more fully engage and own their faith journey. I hope that their community will become more hospitable. I hope they’ll take more risks. I hope they will be better equipped to engage their local communities with grace and openness.
None of these goals differentiate between people who are gay or not – that is intentional. We are all human beings invited to a journey of mutual pilgrimage. None of these goals articulate a position on marriage – that is intentional. We acknowledge that people who love Jesus and care deeply about the Scripture hold different convictions on this matter. We want to nurture opportunities to experience unity in our diversity as an expression of shared love for Christ, with the commitment to build up the church universal, and with the value of embracing each person as a child of God, created in his image, and worthy of dignity and respect.
Such goals do not answer everyone’s questions about right doctrine or true justice. Given our sense of call to serve both communities, I don’t think that we can specify a precise definition of either.
We do know that Jesus said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”
We do know that Jesus said,“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
So we know that when it comes to right doctrine and true justice, we want to, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
That means when doctrine seems too generous and the pressure is on to draw the line in the sand, we will choose to love all. That means when the pressure is on to make very clear statements in the name of justice, we will turn the other cheek and embrace our enemy.
And for some this will be unsatisfactory. But our prayer is that as we live in these places of tension, serving both LGBT friends and the church, that we will be a living expression of God’s outrageous love.