Of Bus Ads and Bridge Building

I believe that God has uniquely positioned New Direction to be in a posture of facilitating, catalyzing and informing hospitable, gospel-centered conversations around the intersection of faith and sexuality. And I believe this is important because: 1. It is consistent with the person, ministry and teaching of Jesus. 2. It helps create space for those outside the heterosexual mainstream to explore and grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. 3. It models an authentic way of relating with an often cynical and alienated unchurched generation.

And I do pray that God will continue to give the courage and perseverance that is required to embody gracious and generous spaciousness on a topic that has so often divided, hurt and alienated those for whom this is a very personal and real reality.

I found it somewhat ironic then when I came across a link to an article from today’s Toronto Star. The headline is: “’Does God care if I’m gay?’ ads irk TTC riders”. The problem it seems stems from the campaign of an evangelical ministry called, “Bus Stop Bible Studies”. This ministry places ads on Toronto’s city buses with the intention of getting people to “consider their relationship with God”. Each ad has a question and then a link to a website where an answer is offered.

Apparently, the answer connected to the “Does God Care if I’m Gay?” question has now been taken down off the website – so I don’t know what the full response was. The newspaper article suggests that the longer answer boiled down to this particular statement, “We know from passages throughout Scripture that God hates homosexual acts BUT no more than any other sinful act.”

As one who is familiar with the broader conversation on faith and sexuality in our culture might imagine, this whole exchange prompted complaints coming into Toronto’s Transit Commission – sufficiently so that a review was called for – though at the time of the article a decision had not yet been made whether or not the ads would be pulled.

The quoted response from the ministry on their edited site was, “It has become apparent that, while one is free to ask the question, `Does God care if I’m gay?’ one is not so free to answer the question from a Biblical perspective. It seems that the whole message of God’s justice and grace was being misinterpreted. If anyone was offended by the original narrative we offer our sincerest apologies, this was never the intent.”

My fuzzy recollection is that I’ve talked with some folks from Bus Stop Bible Studies at Mission events in the past. I don’t remember specifics, but my impression was that these were sincere people with a passion for evangelism and to get people thinking about their faith. In reading of this particular scenario, I don’t judge the attitudes or question the motives of these fellow Christians.

But I do question why they didn’t consult with a ministry like New Direction before wading into the middle of this kind of public engagement. Now, maybe they did consult with other organizations who have experience in engaging these realities. I don’t know. What I do know, is that we could have been helpful to them in their desire to reach out and connect with gay people. We could have helped them understand the kind of dynamics that would arise with this sincere, but I might suggest under-informed, initiative. We could have had some conversations about how to engage a post-modern, post-Christian, diverse context. They might not have agreed with the insights we could have shared. They might have gone ahead with the ad anyway. But at least they wouldn’t be protesting, as they currently are, that the reaction to the ad has been “blown out of proportion.” Because we could have predicted the kind of response they’ve received. And we could have asked the tough questions about whether these were the outcomes that they were really shooting for …. And whether or not this initiative, and the predictable response to it, is really helpful in advancing a gospel informed mission connection with our gay neighbours.

As it is, they didn’t talk to us. And today we have more Torontonians shaking their head, annoyed and frustrated by a religion that they feel is arrogant and smug in its certainty – not to mention completely ‘out to lunch’ on this issue. And those Torontonians may never make it to this blog. And they may never know of the kind of conversations that do happen around questions of faith and sexuality. And, if I’m honest, I feel like today’s Toronto Star article puts us yet another step backward in bridge-building efforts.

It would seem that our commitment to engage in bridge-building is as relevant as ever. We have plenty of work to do.

-WG

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