Generous space communities are not merely a response to the lack of inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in many churches, as significant as that is. Generous space is a framework for maturing disciples of Jesus in healthy, diverse community. In this series of distinctives, we have considered the sufficiency of the cross as a secure foundation from which we can welcome the challenge and gift of diversity; joyful engagement with the scriptures in the humble and freeing recognition that interpretation shapes all of our biblical reflections; and the importance of making space to honor each other’s conscience as we journey together in community.
One of the gifts of experiencing community that intentionally makes space for those who have been marginalized is the opportunity to become attuned to the impact of privilege. Many of us grew up in contexts that assumed that heterosexuality was God’s creative intention and the idea that one might need to pay attention to the privilege that comes with being in the straight majority was never considered. Jesus, however, demonstrates the stripping of privilege, even the perfect privilege of divinity, as an expression of God’s strategy for reconciliation. Willingness to relinquish privilege, to identify with the other, is to participate in God’s plan of redemption. And while this often begins at a relational level, generous space community recognizes that we must bring this attunement into our communal discernment as well.
The influence of privilege and its impact on interpretive reflection must be addressed.
After years of study and conversations with Christians who embrace different perspectives on same-sex relationships, I have observed how privilege affects the interpretive conclusions one finds to be convincing. When those who are heterosexual, or cisgender, or married, or men indicate they are unconvinced of the interpretive perspective that liberates those in the minority from traditionally held restrictions, it is appropriate to ask if they have paid attention to their own privilege. This isn’t the only factor to consider in interpretation, of course, but it is an often overlooked one. Since our engagement with scripture is interpretive, and since such interpretation inevitably runs through the filter of our own experience, when one has no experience of same-sex orientation or what it is like to lack heteronormative privilege it has an effect. Those who may be non-heterosexual, or transgender, or unmarried, or female bring a different experiential filter to their consideration of the text. Let’s remember that Jesus consistently affirmed the faith, and the contribution of that faith to the larger community, of those who lacked privilege.
The incarnation models for us the radical relinquishment of privilege undertaken by Jesus. In Philippians 2, we are called to follow Christ’s example. This ought to compel us to consider matters of privilege in our interpretive questions. As someone who has intentionally embraced the assignment to seek to relinquish straight-privilege and cisgender-privilege for more than a decade (which while a worthwhile assignment is always limited in its efficacy), I have begun to recognize the unconscious ways such privilege creates barriers to what we consider convincing. This can be as obvious as the visceral distaste for the notion of the same-sex sex act or as subtle as minimizing the historical and cultural implications of gender for ancient near-east peoples.
Generous space community cultivates the kind of safe space where people with majority experience can become aware of their privilege. Folks are encouraged to resist the natural reaction of defensiveness and self-protection when privilege is exposed. And all are invited to eagerly embrace a deeper experience the privilege-stripping way of Jesus in loving and identifying with others and in the process of spiritual discernment.