Grieving, Accusation & Tough Questions for God

I haven’t written much about HIV/AIDS on this blog for a few reasons.  First, I don’t feel like I have the knowledge to write helpful posts on the topic.  Second, while this is an important topic, it hasn’t been a particular focus at New Direction.  And third, I do not want to perpetuate the stereotype that HIV/AIDS is a gay disease.  Hopefully most people recognize by now that HIV/AIDS is transmitted in a number of different ways and is a risk that crosses all social, economic, racial and orientation lines.

But we received an email today that offered the opportunity for me to respond:

“I have used your resources in the past when my brother came ‘out’ to my parents. I am SO thankful for your organization! My brother was recently diagnosed as HIV+ and I wondered if you can direct me to any resources that deal with this? Not so much the medical side of things, but questions like, ‘Why is God punishing me?’, ‘Why did God allow this to happen to me’, ‘Can I be forgiven?'”

When I read an email like this, a number of things flash through my mind.  I remember the first time I heard about AIDS.  I was in a phys. ed. class at my Christian high school.  It was the mid-eighties.  A video clip was shown in which a gay man was talking about his illness.  One of my classmates burst into tears and rushed out of the room.  The man in the video was her uncle.  She did not know that he was gay or that he had, since the video’s release, died of AIDS.  She’d been told he died of cancer.  I can remember the shock going through the room.  And I remembered at the time how angry I felt that this girl’s family had been too embarrassed to be honest with her and tell her the truth.  I didn’t know that much about homosexuality back then, but I knew enough to be outraged that someone’s family would be so ashamed of them as to lie.

Generous Spaciousness & the Invitation to Rest

Generous spaciousness is a posture that is needed more than ever.  In a world of instant communication where people can react and respond within seconds, perhaps without taking time for reflection or prayer and with the convenient protection of anonymity, harsh polemic is more often the norm than is generosity.  It is easy to be black and white, self-righteous, arrogantly certain, and loud with your judgments when you don’t have to put your name to your opinions.  When there is little to no chance of accountability, you can throw out statements without really thinking through how they might affect others.

Generous spaciousness invites a different kind of discipline.  It seeks to intentionally make room for the reality of multiple perspectives.  It seeks to extend the benefit of the doubt that different conclusions are held on the basis of convictions that have been thought through and prayerfully reflected upon.  This of course is not always the case.  Sometimes people hold opinions that they’ve never risked questioning or challenging.  But generous spaciousness

Changes at Exodus & Apologizing for the Pain of Ex-Gay Survivors

There has been a lot of buzz of late about changes in the focus of Exodus International under Alan Chambers’ leadership.  As many of our readers will know, New Direction used to be a member ministry of Exodus.  In fact, I served as the Regional Rep for Canada for about three years.   In that time, I did my best to encourage the network to step back from debates about causation, to focus on discipleship rather than reorientation change, and to cease any involvement in political matters that would impede or prevent civil equity for LGBT people.  It seems that some five years later some of these changes are being incorporated into Exodus as it moves forward.  

In my last conversation with Alan, I encouraged him to think very carefully about how Exodus will navigate dialogue with those who hold affirming views in the future.  He and I both know that societal attitudes are shifting at an incredible pace, at least in North America.  These shifts are happening both outside of and inside of the Christian community.  I challenged Alan to think about the potential role Exodus could play in modeling peace-making and being a catalyst of respectful dialogue in the midst of diverse perspectives on the question of gay marriage for Christians.

Is Generous Spaciousness just a Bridge to Nowhere?

I’ve just spent some time reading through a number of different blogs and, as I often do, find myself ruminating on the mission,vision and context in which New Direction seeks to serve.

On one end, Alan Chambers gives an interview for the Atlantic in which he shares his vision for a discipleship-focused ministry for same-sex attracted people who believe that Scripture directs them to refrain from entering a committed same-sex relationship.  On the other end, John Shore chews up and spits out the idea of bridge-building and middle ground and unequivocally calls for all Christians to support gay marriage.

Both of these men are my brothers in Christ.  Both believe they are following the leading of Christ.  And the words and actions of both affect my sisters and brothers who are LGBT.

I am keenly aware, as I ponder not only their thoughts, but the comments generated by these posts, that I do so as a person of majority privilege.  As a straight ally, I cannot fully enter in to the experience of needing to fight for the opportunity to enter a loving, committed relationship to launch building a family of my own. 

Suggestions on Communicating Effectively

In a blog post entitled, “The Church and Homosexuality:  Ten Commitments”, Kevin DeYoung offers advice to Christians about speaking on the topic.  As he considers different audiences, he recommends:

-> If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous.

-> If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic.

-> If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be apologetic and humble.

-> If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society’s approval, we want to be persuasive and persistent.

-> If we are speaking to liberal Christians who have deviated from the truth once delivered for the saints, we want to be serious and hortatory.

-> If we are speaking to gays and lesbians who live as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be winsome and straightforward.

-> If we are speaking to belligerent Christians who hate or fear homosexuals, we want to be upset and disappointed.

 

So how ought we to speak about homosexuality? Should we be defiant and defensive or gentle and entreating? Yes and yes. It depends on who is listening. All seven scenarios above are real and not uncommon. And while some Christians may be called to speak to one group in particular, we must keep in mind that in this technological day and age anyone from any group may be listening in. This means that we will often be misunderstood.

The Tipping Point

As those who read this blog will know, I’m not a “jump on the latest news” kind of writer. I prefer to ponder, percolate and pray before sharing my reflections. This particular post has been in the hopper for a while – before North Carolina’s vote on Amendment 1, before Obama’s comments about gay marriage, before this great post by Rachel Held Evans, before backlash within the Exodus network, before SoulForce got to sit down with some Focus on the Family leaders ….. well you get the idea. A lot has been happening that seems to reinforce the thoughts that I’ve been distilling to put into this post. Typical for me, however, this post didn’t germinate in the headlines – but in the context of conversation and relationship. That’s where the real stuff happens, IMHO. What we see in the headlines comes long after the quiet, behind closed doors, emotionally connected, vulnerable, soul-searching sharing between human beings doing the best they can to hear God, to love him with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love their neighbour as they love themselves.

I’ve been in this conversation about how straight people can respond to gay people, particularly gay Christians in the church, for a while. Over ten years in fact. During that time I’ve encountered a lot of resistance, a lot of tearful tension, and some openness. Almost without exception, the openness I’ve encountered has come out of people’s encounters with gay people. This isn’t rocket science of course. But it bears being highlighted because it is still the most significant tipping point in this conversation. Once you move from this being a theoretical theological or moral dilemma to the reality of people’s lives, their faith, their challenges, their questions, their authentic searching, their commitments, their fears, their hope and dreams you, most often, can no longer categorize things in impersonal terms.

Resisting the Trap of Idolatry

Idolatry isn’t a topic I write on every day. And some of our regular readers might be holding their breath a bit to see what I might say. The context for this particular post is multi-faceted. It begins with an article I read, bolstered by a pivotal memory in my own journey, and then supported by a time of listening in my church service on Sunday in the context of a recent support session.

The article was for one of my courses and it focused on the integration a Christian psychologist was making with Object Relations theory and the biblical concept of idolatry. The author made use of the work of theologian Richard Niebuhr who said that an idol was, “any cause or object to which the self gave itself in devotion from which the self derived life’s value and meaning.” Perhaps a simpler way to say that is: “Be careful who or what you worship because you will become what you worship; you will become like the object or the one you worship. Everyone has an ultimate object of love and loyalty.” The psychologist was suggesting that the deficits in a person’s life become these deeply engrained objects of desire that ultimately take on the shape of an idol. The journey towards dis-empowering the deficits in one’s life involved naming and severing links with what had become idolatrous.

Mixed Orientation Marriage: a case study for the now and the not yet

This topic seems to have enough complexity to be a source of some consternation from multiple viewpoints within the larger conversation about faith and sexuality. Indeed, each individual situation is so unique that it is difficult to make generalizations without it feeling like a disconnect for at least some who live in this reality. The basic concept of mixed orientation marriage is descriptive of one or both spouses experiencing some degree of same-sex attraction. In light of this, it is easy to recognize that anyone who identifies as bi-sexual who is married could be described as being in a mixed orientation marriage. Bi-sexual individuals may or may not appreciate that description – not so much because it is inaccurate but perhaps because it may seem to have a connection to an ex-gay paradigm. Ironically, I have also encountered individuals within the ex-gay paradigm who don’t like the term. While they may be willing to clarify that they still experience some degree of same-sex attraction, the mixed-orientation descriptor seems to insult them. Perhaps, they take it as a statement asserting that complete orientation change is rare.

It seems to me that the usefulness of the description mixed-orientation marriage is less for the individual who might use it for themselves and more to aid in clarification and understanding in the larger conversations. The description, I think, does something very important. It brings a level of honesty and authenticity into the conversation. As I see it, the description is intended to be value-neutral. It isn’t a judgment on someone’s marriage.

Day of Dialogue?

On Sunday night I had the opportunity to speak with a group of students. In the days prior to the talk I had several conversations with the youth pastor and with an elder from the church. It’s understandable, that the leaders of an evangelical church, who will also have to try to communicate with parents, would want to have clarification on my approach in coming to talk to their youth group. It was determined that one of the elders would open the meeting by communicating what the church’s leadership believed about homosexuality – which in this case was the affirmation of marriage being between one man and one woman and that same-sex sexual activity was sinful. Because the elder had clearly stated this position, that actually freed me to be able to present from a posture of generous spaciousness with this diverse group of students. Having felt like a misfit during my own teen years, I usually don’t feel incredibly comfortable speaking to a group of high schoolers. It tends to trigger all sorts of less than pleasant feelings for me. But over my years at New Direction I fairly regularly face my personal demons and try to serve this population to the best of my ability. Being able to speak from a posture of generous spaciousness made the task of speaking to students infinitely easier and more comfortable for me.

Conversations on Generous Spaciousness

Part of my doctoral journey is to invite a small group of folks from diverse backgrounds to gather with me on a regular basis to engage with me on my research topic. At this point, I am planning on looking at the impact and effectiveness of the concept of generous spaciousness on a church’s experience navigating the conversation about faithful discipleship for LGBT people. My hope, of course, is that by introducing the concept and then facilitating dialogue from the posture of generous spaciousness, that a congregation will experience honest, open conversation without coercion, debate, power struggles, shame, fear or paralyzing anxiety. My hope is that generous spaciousness might generate a sense of meaning-making for this conversation – that rather than the discussion being polarizing and threatening fracture, the conversation would enlarge in members of the congregation the capacity to be patient, humble and gracious with each other despite any differences in perspectives that emerge. If this hypothesis is demonstrated, then not only will engaging this conversation be healthy for a congregation, it will be a safe and spacious place for any individuals who find themselves not neatly fitting into the majority heterosexual experience. Lots of churches talk about being welcoming. But if the conversation about how an LGBT person ought to faithfully navigate their life as a follower of Jesus is ignored or the source of argumentation and fracture, it is a hollow welcome.