So I’ve made it home from Urbana 09 while back in St. Louis, 16,000 conference participants are still hitting the main sessions, workshops and completely slamming a tiny little Starbucks across the street from the conference centre. Put on by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Urbana happens once every 3 years. From what I understand, this year had the most developed focus on hosting conversations around sexual identity.
I began my workshop by suggesting these priorities:
• Fostering a spacious place for those outside the heterosexual mainstream to explore faith
• Encouraging disciples in local, contextualized communities
• Nurture shalom where these issues touch real people’s lives
• Dismantling the negative perceptions of those outside the church
I wanted to lay out the context by describing the attitudes, tensions, and challenges I regularly encounter across the diverse spectrum of folks I engage. I also wanted to identify the realities that should inform our thinking: the impact of post-modernity, post-Christendom, rapid social change, generational disconnection, diversity in the church, and turbulence in the church.
In light of these considerations, core values for engagement:
• To be radical in hospitality
• To be grace-based—not judgment-based
• To not use shame or fear as motivators
• To be non-coercive
• To embody a sense of mutuality & equity (non-patronizing)
• To be respectful of differences
• To be realistic about expectations
• To be alert to issues of justice
• To focus on authentic hope in Christ
• To empower the individual to own their own journey
• To continue growing in discernment
There were four speakers addressing various aspects of engaging our gay neighbours. Andrew Marin, Christopher Yuan and Bill Henson joined me in offering five workshops – by far the most Urbana has ever had. The four of us also joined forces in offering our thoughts in a 90 minute panel discussion. Going in, I’d read Andy’s book, followed his blog and connected a bit over email with him, I had a bit of a sense of who Christopher was, but had never heard of Bill. And I wondered how well our different talks would mesh. I was glad they put us on a panel together – and I was grateful for how that discussion emerged. While each speaker comes from their own unique context and journey, there was a clear and consistent focus on: the priority of sharing the love of Christ with people where they’re at; and promoting a strong relational paradigm for mission and ministry.
I expected that the audience would be diverse – and I was right. It seemed that generally speaking audiences had a good capacity to acknowledge and respect the reality of diversity. I encountered many students for whom these are very personal realities – and I cherished the chance to affirm to them God’s love and his desire to use them in their sense of calling.
All in all, I leave Urbana hopeful – hopeful that gay brothers and sisters will know the love of God as they serve him in missions and beyond and that this generation of leaders will engage their gay neighbours with priorities and values that embody the heart of Christ.