Generous Space: Encouraging Discipleship

At its core, generous space acknowledges that on the question of covenanted same-sex relationships faithful Christians disagree about what is the most faithful path for a disciple of Jesus. We promote the idea that the church ought to make room for people to be honest about their convictions and/or their uncertainty on this matter without pressure to conform to a uniform interpretive conclusion. This is much more than a merely theoretical cultivation of space. This has tremendous impact on the lives of real people. I have met too many hurting Christians and post-Christian LGBTQ+ people to ever view these matters theoretically or as a one-dimensional theological exercise. I refuse to erase the faces of the lesbian moms whose request for baptism for their child was refused; or the young man who once dreamed of being a pastor but was kicked off the worship team when he came out; or the teenager with two dads who heard rejecting language at Christian camp; or the widower who was excluded from the family grieving process for their same-sex spouse. The reality that I encounter every day is Beloved children of God encountering Christians “taking a stand” or “drawing a line in the sand” that tells them that unless they read scripture and hold the same convictions that those in ecclesiastical power hold, they cannot participate and contribute within the Body of Christ.  No matter what your theological view of sin, repentance, or same-sex relationships, this seems to be less about obediently following scripture and more about power and control. Jesus had strong warnings for those who would get in the way of others pursuing relationship with God.

In the course of developing and articulating the nuances of this posture of generous space, where ALL are welcome to pursue relationship with Jesus regardless of theological positions, I encounter push-back, assumptions, and, at times, accusations. As a posture, there is freedom for generous space to continue to develop and mature, be contextualized, and tested. One of the joys of my work is that I am able to learn from distinct communities as they seek to embody generous space in the particular relationships and experiences that are shared by that unique group. In addition to the 13 generous space groups that New Direction supports, there are many church communities that are seeking to incorporate various aspects of the posture of generous space. Not only that, I have found a wonderful sense of collegiality with Ken Wilson and Emily Swan and their work with the concept of Third Way, the Colossian Forum and their new curriculum, the Marin Foundation and their Living in the Tension conversations, Evangelicals for Social Action and their Oriented to Love dialogues, and Tim Otto and his work on Oriented to Faith, and all the communities that they have engaged. There is no question that this is a season of momentum in opening new dialogue and re-evaluating priorities regarding our engagement on matters of gender and sexuality. Many celebrate this movement, but others view it as dangerous and something to expose and oppose.

I understand that. I used to be a zealot for a clear and certain theology of marriage that demanded defending and preventing the encroachment of anything that even smelled like generous space.

I have gone - my shadow remains via photopin (license)

I have gone – my shadow remains via photopin (license)

Then God humbled me. And while that was a painful process in some ways, I couldn’t be more grateful.

The process exposed my own fear. And being released from fear brings life. The scriptures say it this way, “Perfect love drives out fear …. because fear has to do with punishment. There is no fear in love.” (I John 4)

My fears came from the deep desire to be faithful and obedient to the scriptures and to God. Such desires are commendable. What I was blind to was the way that privilege, power, and control creep in and affect our discernment. I was also unaware of how my own shame and difficulty experiencing that I truly was the Beloved of God and securely reconciled to God through Christ’s accomplished work made it difficult for me to trust the trajectory of inclusion and liberation that now seem to leap off the pages of scripture.

Generous space compels all people in the community, regardless of their convictions or levels of certainty, to relinquish the drive to dominate, to hold the majority influence, to rally supporters and defenders, or to define expectations for others. Frankly, that’s why some people disqualify themselves from generous space. There is a concern for chaos, loosey-goosey theology, people doing whatever they happen to think is right. But what we actually see in generous space community is people doing the hard work of listening more carefully to each other, clarifying to ensure understanding, asking for and offering forgiveness, extending patience, being attuned to where the Spirit is at work, taking ownership of what one brings into the community, giving up the desire to be defensive or the right to be offended. You can try to do all of this in your own strength, but I for one am so very grateful for the Spirit of the living God within to do what I cannot do on my own.

While some would label an emphasis on dialogue as being too focused on human experience and not sufficiently engaged with scripture, what we see time and time again in our communities is that the trust and growth that occur in the dialogue invite people to (re)engage the scriptures more openly in community.  Where there is the trust that you will be heard, that your struggles with scripture will be engaged rather than dismissed, and that your convictions will be given space to be articulated rather than simply judged as selfish or fleshly, people can begin to let down some of their protective barriers with not only God’s people but also with the scriptures themselves.

This is the stuff of discipleship.  This is how we grow.  This is where the Spirit enlarges our faith. This is generous space community.