More and more people are experiencing Generous Space through our community groups running across Canada. Cultivating relationships and community shaped by the values and posture of generous space is bearing good fruit for so many LGBTQI+ people, their families, and allies. Another significant part of our ministry is in the church and broader Christian community. Many denominations are experiencing tension and differences in the LGBTQI+ conversation. Even though we experience pushback at times, we believe that embracing generous space can be transformational in how communities navigate those tensions.
Pastor A: I’m so excited about what’s happening in my congregation! Our folks are really taking the call to live simply and generously seriously. Folks are selling their cars and riding their bikes, some are even down-sizing their houses. We’ve been able to sponsor another refugee family because with these lifestyle changes, people have been able to give more! I’m pumped.
Pastor B: Wow. That would never fly in my congregation.
Pastor A: Why not?
Pastor B: Well some of the wealthiest people in the city come to my church. They are generous and support many, many projects. But we’re just in a really different context.
Pastor A: So what are you excited about and where do you see your people growing?
Pastor B: We’ve been learning about contemplative prayer and people are really getting into it. Some of our folks run huge businesses and they are finding the practice of prayer and mindfulness to be transformational in their high stress environments.
Pastor A: That’s awesome! Just goes to show how we need to give each other space in our own contexts to listen for how the Spirit might be leading and teaching us.
Pastor C: Well unless you mean generous space.
Pastor A: Huh?
Pastor C: Generous space wants congregations to make room for big theological differences. They think that people who disagree about what is sinful can still worship and serve together. They’re pushing relativism in the church and don’t care about the authority of Scripture.
Pastor B: Wait a minute. I’ve been to some generous space presentations. I think they’re trying to help us acknowledge that Christians who are deeply committed to the authority of the Scriptures sometimes come to different interpretations. It seems to me it is important that we learn how to listen to each other and learn from each other and also, like Pastor A said, give each other space to discern what God is asking us in our own contexts.
Pastor C: So you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid have you? Don’t you see, they talk about unity but they just want us to accept things that are clearly unbiblical.
Pastor A: What would you say if people in my church went to people in Pastor B’s church and told them they were being unbiblical and sinful for not making the same kind of simple living and financial decisions that they’re making? The bible says a lot about greed and money. But we find a way to give each other space to interpret what that means in our lives. I would hope that you wouldn’t support people from one church demanding that everyone make the same decisions in this arena. What is the big issue that you’re so worried about with generous space?
Pastor C: Don’t you know that generous space is just code for affirming same-sex marriage?
Pastor A: You do realize don’t you that there are a lot of Christians who disagree on that topic. Seems to me that generous space is exactly what we need to help us love each other well through our disagreements and struggles to best embody the gospel in ministry with LGBTQ+ people.
Pastor C: Are you kidding me? The bible is clear. I worry that all this dialogue is just opening ourselves to deception. We’ve got to guard the truth. Generous space is just a Trojan horse for liberalism.
Pastor B: It sounds like you don’t trust that the Spirit might be working in your brothers and sisters in Christ who are coming to different conclusions than you do.
Pastor C: I’m following our church’s statements – the same ones you agreed to uphold too.
Pastor B: Those statements are meant to be guidance – they’re not meant to prevent us from being attentive to the Spirit. How are the statements helping you minister to LGBTQ+ people in your context?
Pastor C: Have you read Rosaria Butterfield’s latest book?
Pastor B: Should I take that to mean you aren’t ministering with any LGBTQ+ people in your congregation right now?
Pastor C: Well there is a guy I know of who lives by the denominational statements. He’s a really committed Christian.
Pastor A: I wonder if maybe LGBTQ+ Christians are like any other group of Christians – they all need to discern and make decisions about how they are going to live as a disciple of Jesus. Some people in my church are making really different decisions about finances than the people in Pastor B’s church – but I don’t think our folks would automatically assume that his folks have unrepentant greed or aren’t really a Christian, or that they shouldn’t take the time to hear how God is working in their lives, or that they couldn’t fellowship together and serve together.
Pastor C: But homosexuality is a moral issue!
Pastors A & B: And money isn’t??
Pastor C: But this is about sex and God’s design and the bible is clear!!
Pastor B: Friend, for many it isn’t so clear how to understand seven texts that are situated in very specific historical and cultural contexts.
Pastor A: And some people would say the bible is very clear about money and the call to live simply.
Pastor B: Generous space means we all have to hold our convictions humbly, willing to listen to other voices, paying attention to our own privilege and power, and being attuned to barriers that are preventing others from flourishing. In my context, too much money can be a barrier to flourishing. In another context, not having enough is the barrier. For some, not having close enough friendships and a caring and invested community is the barrier. For others, we need to hear the longing for intimate companionship and family and wonder how God is speaking through that.
Pastor C: Clearly, we are on very different pages. I just don’t think our denomination can both believe something is sin and not believe it is sin.
Pastor A: I hear you. These are really tough things to discern. I have found it important to remember that we are made right with God through Christ alone. If I focus on sin, I am much more worried about how the church can stay unified across our differences. If I focus on Christ, I feel more freedom to remember the ways we can serve together. That’s one of the things that I respect about generous space – they want to keep focused on Christ and what Christ has accomplished to reconcile us to God. Sometimes it seems too good to be true, sometimes I feel pulled back into trying to just do all the right things …. but more and more I see that that kind of striving exhausts people and doesn’t necessarily draw people closer to God. As our community presses forward in sacrificing to live simply – we can only do it because we feel free to do it – not because we feel like we have to do it to be pleasing to God.
Pastor B: And our folks are feeling drawn to contemplative prayer because prayer arises from the conviction that they are the Beloved. Prayer used to feel like an obligation that they were always failing at, but since we’ve been grappling with generous space and seeing everyone as being fully loved and accepted through Christ, prayer seems like a gift, a time of being present with the lover of our souls.
Pastor C: But where is the bible in all of this? Neither of you sound very scriptural …. It all just sounds like loosey-goosey, lovey-dovey spirituality.
Pastor A: It is the scriptures that reveal Christ to us! It is the scriptures that tell us we are adopted by God! It is the scriptures that invite us to find our delight in God which frees us to live simply.
Pastor B: And it is the bible that gives us the language to reflect on in prayer. The bible is more alive and real to many of our folks than it has ever been.
Pastor C: Ya, but do you all affirm same-sex marriage now?!?
Pastor B: Generous space has helped us to have some hard, but needed, conversations about sexuality – but we’re finding that it has given us so much more than just an invitation to reflect on LGBTQ+ matters. It is changing how we understand our communal life together. I never would have guessed it, but it’s changing how we experience God’s love and that is changing how we respond to one another. I just feel like we’re becoming a more loving place. Sometimes tension comes up – but we don’t seem as afraid of it. We’re beginning to see that our differences really do give us the opportunity to listen, learn, and grow. I’m feeling pretty revitalized in my ministry – and I’m so grateful to see our folks excited about prayer!
Pastor A: We’ve always had people who differed in their perspectives on LGBTQ+ questions – but it was invisible and we didn’t know how to talk about it. Now we’re learning to trust each other because as we’ve been listening we’ve heard that we all want to love people well and we all want to take the bible seriously and we all want to know Jesus more. So now people feel less afraid to talk about how they’re wrestling with the bible about all kinds of things, not just sexuality. And those conversations are much more important than just superficial niceness. I feel like people are more real with each other. We don’t talk about sin a lot but I see people really growing and really taking their faith seriously and making decisions that really prioritize Kingdom values.
Pastor C: Ah ha…. See, you’re not talking about sin – you even admit it!
Pastor A: I see people growing in Christ …. And that’s the best way I know to experience freedom from sin.
Pastor B: I agree. My people are excited about their faith and that is permeating into every area of their life. They’re lives aren’t as compartmentalized, they aren’t as tripped up by shame, and they’re more grateful. This means sin doesn’t have as much power over them. When I was preaching about what sin to stay away from, I could see I wasn’t really impacting their hearts. Now when I preach about things like humility, hospitality, mutuality, and justice – which happen to be the core values of generous space – I can see that people are connecting.
Pastor C: I still think generous space is just putting out the welcome mat to false teaching!
Pastor B: Our interaction with generous space hasn’t been about pushing a particular position on a particular matter. Generous space has been about growing as a more authentic, trusting, loving, and Spirit-led community. I, for one, am grateful that our congregation is learning to take more risks in honestly engaging our differences because I see it having a positive effect in so many ways.
Pastor A: I hope you’ll take some more time to observe the good fruit in churches that have been open to learning about generous space. It has meant so much more than just having dialogue about homosexuality. It has better equipped us to live out our vision and values for ministry and mission. We’re even more passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus and working for justice in our community. One of the quotes we hear a lot in generous space circles is, “If I diminish you, I diminish myself” (Desmond Tutu). Generous space has freed us and empowered us to first see our union in Christ and then go from there.