Motives and Hoped for Outcomes of Bridge-BuildingIt is not uncommon for people to have questions about why we do what we do at New Direction. Some people consider our ex-gay history and wonder how much that influences our work today. Others have general concerns about a Christian system that they view as oppressive. In the following article, I respond to a number of questions along these lines.
Question: 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 site 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?
These are the outcomes we pray for:
1. We 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 we 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 us 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 our 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".
Our 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. We hope, through the context of relationship with Christ-followers, that gay and lesbian people who are not believers would encounter the presence of Christ. We are 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 our pastoral connections, we regularly point people to resources like www.gaychristian.net where multiple perspectives are articulated. Our 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 traditional, conservative perspective - and many will own a gay-affirming perspective. We seek to leave that with God. For those who own a conservative perspective, a commitment to celibacy often follows. Some find fulfillment and serenity in this decision. Others find over time that they move towards a gay affirming perspective. Sometimes it is different than that - sometimes someone who was gay affirming moves towards a more traditional perspective. In our years of connecting with people, we have encountered a lot of diversity in how people navigate their journey of faith - and we have learned to let go and let God be God.
3. We hope that those who are conservative in theological perspective would focus on shared love for Christ and a mutual commitment to grow in relationship with Christ with gay affirming believers. Our 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. We hope to particularly encourage those individuals who experience same-gender attraction who embrace a conservative perspective in their walk with Christ to continue to persevere in living in a manner that is consistent with these convictions.
5. We 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. We 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.
Question: 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?
New Direction: 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 us be clear. We are not trying to convince gay affirming individuals or institutions to shift towards a traditional 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.
Question: It just seems to me that this site 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 suddenly "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.
New Direction: The last thing we want to be is condescending.
At the same time, we 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. We deeply love our gay friends - and they often view us as allies of sorts. We might not agree with them on every theological point. But we have all kinds of friends with whom we 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 our gay friends who are not followers of Jesus, we love and care for them the same we 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.
We 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.
We understand the skepticism and the reality that trust is earned .... and we are committed to walking this out long term and being patient while people watch and observe. Being a bridge can be painful - especially when folks on both ends question your motives. But at the end of the day, we believe being a bridge, to the best of our ability, is what Christ has called us to - and so we lean on his grace in the confidence that he sees the integrity of our hearts.