NALT and working for Justice

A new initiative launched yesterday called, “Not All Like That Christian Project”.  Modeled after the “It Gets Better” campaign, which I participated in years ago, NALT is intended to provide a platform for Christians to express their love and affirmation for LGBTQ people.   I shared it on my facebook page and will create and submit a video.  Along the way, a regular reader of this blog, Jarred, posted another article on facebook that raised some critiques about the initiative.  My basic take-away’s from that article were:

  1. Don’t perpetuate a gap between LGBTQ people and Christian people by failing to draw attention to the reality of LGBTQ Christians.

  2. Don’t launch an initiative addressing an issue of diversity with a group of majority status folks (white cis-gender men).

  3. Talk without action is cheap.  People can post a video, feel good about how loving they are – and not really count the cost of actually doing in-the-trenches work for equity and justice.

These are really important critiques – and I’m grateful for the challenge they pose.   There is nothing simplistic about working for justice through social change.  While seeking to influence others, open people’s minds and change attitudes through sharing our stories and journeys of understanding is a tangible thing that all of us can do – there seems to be a disconnect between that and the realities I read about on a daily and weekly basis:  LGBT youth who are homeless, trans people encountering violence and overt discrimination, nations passing unjust legislation, souls wounded and scarred from expulsion, rejection, and cruelty.  Yesterday I posted some questions that I wish the church would ask – and Jarred’s comment reads, “What can we do to address the fact that homelessness disparately affects LGBT youth?”  It would be easy to just get overwhelmed by the enormity of the question and just run away ….. but I think we really need to be willing to enter the discomfort and consider the opportunities we DO have.

In a world of social media where we get excited and feel good when a clever or inspirational status update garners multiple likes and shares, how do we actually work for justice in the real-life realities that people face?  And for those of us who connect with faith in Jesus Christ, how do we integrate such faith with our actions?

A few years back I went through an extended process of applying for a grant from a large NGO, with Christian roots, committed to alleviating poverty.  This particular grant was for their work in Canada – and so I developed a pilot project that would educate and equip Christian street ministries, social services, and churches about the realities and needs of sexual minority youth to keep them off the streets and integrated into supportive environments with mentors and a strong community around them.  We never got the grant.  And I’m sad to say, that the lack of funds meant our small organization never implemented the project.  I remember looking at Cyndi Lauper’s “Give a Damn” campaign and the safe houses that she established for LGBT youth and wishing that we could have pulled that off in the name of Christ and his unconditional love.

While we don’t have the funds and celebrity connections that Lauper does, we do have invaluable resources at our disposal: people.  Over the many years that New Direction has quietly been serving, often behind the scenes, we have been building connections, relationships, and trust in the Christian community.  It doesn’t always work out – and there are Christians who have written us off as “liberal”.  But there are a lot of really good people, who are serving in their neighbourhoods, who give a damn about sexual minority people.  They are the church planters who spend hours talking with us to better understand language and priorities and the nuances of hospitality while nurturing a diverse community.  They are the front-line workers in the inner city who took flak from their evangelical donor constituencies for years because they embodied incarnational mercy rather than playing the expected role of moral police.  They are the Christian doctors and nurses and dentists and lawyers and teachers and physiotherapists and musicians and, yes, hair-dressers, who connected with us to share their love for their gay clients and their sense of isolation in the church.  They are the parents who stood up to their Christian “friends” and stood by their gay child no matter what.  They are the volunteer youth leaders in both church and community who want to learn how to best support a kid through the coming out process.  And I could go on.

These folks don’t always have all their thoughts figured out completely.  They might still have some theological questions.  But they genuinely want to love.  And they genuinely feel sick at the ways that LGBT people are treated as second-class citizens – and most often by religious leaders.  And they quietly serve by loving real people, in their real context, to the best of their ability.

I know people who have literally spent hours watching videos on the “It Gets Better” site just to make it through another day of dodging bullies and dealing with abuse from controlling family members.  I don’t know if the NALT project will have uncertain but well-meaning Christians spending hours watching videos from affirming folks.  But it can’t hurt to submit an encouraging video.

But more than a video, consider these actions:

  1. Whose life are you investing in right now?  Are you giving time, emotional energy, and costly unconditional love to someone who is cynical about faith, hurt by the church, rejected by Christians?

  2. How do you talk about your beliefs and convictions?  Are you like a bull in a china shop trying to convince everyone to adopt your views?  Are you respectful and open to others?  Can you listen patiently – expecting God to speak to you through the other?

  3. If you’re an evangelical Christian, have you written to some of the Christian charities you support encouraging them to be welcoming and affirming of LGBT people?  Have you financially supported those ministries that are taking risks for those on the margins?

  4. Do you step out of your comfort zone to speak up at work, church, family gatherings, or through social media, when you hear anti-gay comments made?

  5. Have you bitten your own tongue to avoid voicing a quick, and potentially judgmental or self-righteous, reaction to something?  Do you practice waiting, praying, and discerning how to respond in a loving and generous way?

  6. Are you growing in becoming less defensive?

As a mainly straight, cis-gender, white ally, it is becoming more and more clear to me that I need to elevate the platform of those on the margins.  That may seem like an obvious thing – but sometimes when we’re passionate about our work we get too caught up in trying to share our vision and mission and grow the ministry.  Recently, I was able to recommend a speaking spot to a queer Christian – and it was such a joy to see that come together.  Another gay friend will be speaking on a panel that we recommended her for.  And she’s been contacted to be interviewed with her wife by an influential pastor.  I’m so glad.  The church needs to hear these voices, needs to see the demonstration of the good fruit of faith in their lives, and needs to encounter the witness of the Holy Spirit through their sexual minority sisters and brothers.

I’ve had a restlessness in my spirit for a while now about the timing of an LGBT person taking the primary reins at New Direction.  At this point, I don’t know what that will look like or when that transition might happen.  But for this ministry to embody justice, there needs to be a movement from the center to the margins and from the margins to the center – and I want to be part of a willing demonstration of that.  So I’d invite you to join me in praying that the way forward would be made clear.

For Christians who want to turn the tide on the public perception that the church is anti-gay, let’s get busy loving people where they’re at, let’s build authentic, supportive and caring communities, let’s make sure that instead of telling other people’s stories we’re making a way for them to tell their own story, and let’s be willing to give up power to someone who has less than we do.

This is a vital time in the story of the church.  Things are shaking and shifting.  There is a lot of uncertainty and fear.  There is anger and defensiveness.  But there is also a lot of intention to love.  Be encouraged today to do something that moves from good intentions and passionate talking to demonstrate love!

#attitude #justice

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