Here is the third installment of the Q &A with Shane & Wendy:
W: What insights would you share with Christians who perhaps have little experience with relating interpersonally with gay people?
S: I think most of what I would have to say applies to relating to all people whether they are gay or not and whether they are Christian or not.
My first point would be authenticity. Relate to people honestly and openly. Share about yourself personally including your joys, your pains, your questions about life, your doubts, your certainties, etc. Your faith is a part of who you are so share about it openly as well. Learn to talk about your faith in natural language. I think Christians hide behind language at times not knowing what the words actually mean. Talking about your faith without church words will actually help you to understand what you really believe and how you actually view the world.
Be willing to share questions and doubts that you have. Share the things that you are wrestling with. Share your own failures as well. Be honest that you don’t have all the answers. Talk about ways that you have changed your views in the past.
The person you are relating to may have been hurt by the church or by Christians. Be willing to talk about that openly. Listen to the person and try first to understand the other person’s pain. Share ways that you have been hurt by other Christians. Share how you dealt with that pain. Share how you deal with disappointment with Christians and with God.
My second point would be love. Actually it probably should have been my first point, but I didn’t want to seem cliche since all Christian articles start with love. 🙂 The motivation behind everything that we do should be love. We should always desire the best for the other person. That doesn’t mean always saying sugar-coated things or never confronting a person about something difficult. I think truly loving someone means having difficult conversations at times. It may even mean that you will be confronted and will have to apologize for your ways.
We should seek more to understand rather than be understood. I think if I remember correctly this is one of Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I believe this principle is an application of the Christian idea of putting others ahead of ourselves. It may mean in the end that we disagree with the other person but at least we will understand their point of view and not what we think it their point of view.
Loving someone means entering into their pain. All people have pain in their lives. It might involve broken relationships. It might be physical challenges related to school, work, money, housing, etc. It might be personal issues like loneliness, addiction or fear. It doesn’t mean that you have to try to solve all their problems but it means being with them in the challenges they are facing.
I know that I have been thinking about the question most from the personal side of things. I am someone who definitely thinks relationally. So even when I try to think about ND as an organization my thoughts usually go back to individual relationships. I hope that ND would be an authentic organization. One that operates openly and honestly. I also hope that the motivation behind the things ND does is love. That ultimately they are seeking people’s good.
W: In what ways do you think we can be a welcoming and hospitable place for those who do not identify with the Christian faith but who may have history with the Christian community and / or ex-gay ministry?
S: It can be frustrating to meet someone and be evaluated by categories we fall into. People have boxes with labels such as Canadian, Christian, gay, math teacher, husband… These are all categories that I fit into. Usually a person has a preconceived idea what a person from a certain category is like. These notions are based on their experiences (be they real or vicarious) with others from these categories.
Thus when another person finds out that we are a Christian they will have associations of what a Christian is like. New Direction used to be an ex-gay ministry and therefore people will have preconceived ideas about what this organization is like or how it operates.
I think the first thing we have to do is to accept the other person’s experiences for what they are. If the person has been hurt by the church then it does no good to downplay or explain away their pain. Honest conversation can really clear the air. Sometimes we may need to acknowledge our own role in the pain they have experienced and ask for their forgiveness.
From there I seek to break the person’s stereotypes or preconceived notions. I must admit that I love to surprise people by breaking out of categories that they have put me in. I think Jesus often did that. It was one of the reasons the Pharisees got upset with him so often.
Another thing I try to do is to find ways to show support or solidarity with that person. Someone may not agree with my marriage to Dave but it sure means a lot to me if that person would still be willing to help us with moving into our new apartment. New Direction may not be in favour of same-sex marriage but they could take a role in anti-bullying policy in schools.
I would hope that our interactions would always be marked by honesty and authenticity. No one wants to be someone else’s project. We open our hearts to someone else and hope that in return they will open theirs.
Thanks so much Shane for sharing your thoughts! -WG