I have been engaged in meeting with denominational leaders this fall. In particular, I’ve been meeting with leaders of Evangelical* churches (and by this term, I mean those denominations that hold to a high view of the authority of Scripture, the need for a personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ, and the call to share the good news of the gospel with others). These denominations tend to have clear position statements on marriage, understanding the Scriptures to affirm only marriage between one man and one woman.
I have known many of these leaders for some years. About three years ago, I spoke at a denominational leaders’ day hosted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to share some of my discernment and reflections on the posture of generous space at the intersection of faith, gender, and sexuality. At the time, I was deeply touched by the genuine desire I encountered in many of the leaders to be pastorally attuned to the needs of LGBTQ+ people and to their families. Many of the leaders acknowledged their sense that the conversations (or lack of conversations) within their churches needed to be improved if genuine ministry with LGBTQ+ people could be hoped for.
The tensions that these denominational leaders and the churches they serve face are neither new nor simply addressed. In most denominations today you will encounter diversity among congregations. The ways that local churches worship, engage, discern, disciple, and serve can look very different in different contexts. Not only that, but within each local community there are individual participants who approach theological reflection differently, have different experiences, and navigate their spiritual journeys uniquely.
As I have often said, the potential for pastoral or relational violence to erupt in our attempts at discussion about gender and sexuality can seem dangerously high.
Generous space, as a posture, as a way of being together, as a way of seeking to honour one another, as a way of enlarging humility, as a way of extending hospitality, as a way of embodying mutuality, and as a way of pursuing justice, is an attempt to hold all of these complex differences in a healthy tension. We’ve endeavored to see these tensions not as a problem to fix but as a refining gift that invites us to grow. Embracing, not erasing, our differences can lead to transformation.
For generous space to work, there are some paradigm shifts to make that I know some of my siblings in Christ do not feel that they can, in good conscience, make.
- First, generous space relies on the sufficiency of the cross and the resurrection to confidently claim the free gift of grace through Christ as our only means of reconciliation with God. In other words, we do not see these sexual ethics questions as salvation issues.
- Second, generous space acknowledges that faithful Christians who embrace the Scriptures as authoritative, do arrive at interpretive differences on questions about same-sex marriage. In other words, we see this as an interpretive matter not an authoritative matter.
- Third, because of the sufficiency of the accomplished work of Christ and the necessary humility that recognizes the incompleteness of our best attempts at interpretation, we regularly relinquish the desire to convince others to adopt our convictions and practice entrusting one another to the ongoing work of the Spirit in leading us into all grace and truth.
Let me be clear, while I am passionate about participation in generous space, I seek to love, honour, and respect my siblings in Christ who cannot, in good conscience, participate. For those who cannot not see this as a salvation issue, an authoritative issue, or an issue on which they must convince or exclude those who disagree with them, I seek to entrust them to the ongoing work of the Spirit. Those who choose to not participate in generous space because of who it includes, are no less the Beloved of God, made right with God through Jesus Christ, than anyone who does participate.
But back to the denominational leaders. I have shared with them our hope to identify Evangelical congregations with the readiness and capacity to be identified as generous space churches. A simple way to describe this is a church community that is willing to say, “We might not always agree, but we commit to dialogue respectfully, and follow Jesus together.”
The truth is, I encounter a lot of pastors who genuinely want to be able to invite LGBTQ+ people to find belonging in their congregations. They recognize the limitations that a denominational position can create, they want to be honest about that (ie. no bait & switch), but they share the conviction that the church is impoverished if any voices are excluded. They want to journey with LGBTQ+ people seeking to follow Jesus. And they’re willing to learn from LGBTQ+ people by listening to the ways they have wrestled with Scripture to prayerfully discern how God is asking them to live out their life as a disciple.
I also encounter LGBTQ+ people who have grown up in Evangelical churches and long to have that sense of “home” in the congregation they participate in. They are aware of some of the limitations within their denomination (ie. clergy not able to perform same-sex weddings or ordained leadership closed to partnered LGBTQ+ people) but would still like to find a pastor and a church willing to get to know them, affirm their faith in Jesus, and invite them to use their spiritual gifts. Some LGBTQ+ Christians feel it is important to remain in the denomination they grew up in as a witness to how God loves and works in the lives of LGBTQ+ people.
I acknowledge that this can get messy. I acknowledge that this isn’t where every pastor, church, or LGBTQ+ person wants to be. But I also know that for some, this is exactly the kind of messy, relational, Jesus-loving adventure they want to navigate, fully engaged in the Scriptures together, and fully trusting that the Spirit will keep on revealing more grace and truth to them. These are also folks that tend to be open to embrace mystery, uncertainty, and paradox. This doesn’t mean they have wishy-washy convictions. But they might prioritize convictions differently than those who are not drawn to generous space as a life-giving pastoral posture.
Our hope is that we will begin to identify and make connections for local congregations who want to identify with generous space so that:
- We can refer LGBTQ+ folks who are looking for generous space congregations in their area
- We can connect pastors of generous space congregations to each other for mutual support, encouragement, and discernment (some of the pastoral dilemmas can be daunting)
- We can share resources for congregations wanting to dig even more deeply into generous space as a framework for discipleship (ie. this isn’t merely a response to LGBTQ+ matters, but a way of being together in grace in our differences)
Do you think your church could be a generous space congregation?
Hoping to find a generous space congregation?
Contact us to start the conversation!