Of mistakes, risks, and denominational tension ….

I used to be terrified to make mistakes. I hated getting in trouble and tried to do everything perfectly to avoid getting the equivalent of the “howler” as JK Rowling describes in Harry Potter.

My perfectionism first began to crumble when I literally burned out and simply lacked the energy needed to maintain my impossibly high standards. In and of itself, that isn’t a very healing resolution to such an anxiety-driven obsession.

Slowly, and I mean very slowly, I began to realize that I had some choices about the scripts that ran through my mind.  At first it didn’t seem like I did.  The scripts coloured by shame and accusation just seemed too strong. Eventually, however, I found very simple but profound internal mantras that helped to shift my perceptions of what was actually true. When I felt overloaded and like things were beyond my control, I would whisper to myself, “God is on the throne.” When the fear of disapproval and rejection gripped my soul, I would remind myself again and again, “Whom have I in heaven but you?” And when I worried that I had irrevocably messed up, I breathed, “I am the Beloved.”

It’s not like any of these things were particularly new ideas to me – but mysteriously I began to embody them at a deeper level of knowing and belief than ever before.

My theological reflections on some of the most central aspects of the Christian story became increasingly full of light, liberation, and love. The mysterious reality of the accomplished victory of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gradually overshadowed all of the other fears.  My life truly was hid in Christ and when God looked at me, God saw the righteousness of Christ.  We read these texts, and we know these texts, but for the first time in my life – I could actually stand in this reality and experience a depth of confidence and security that I previously didn’t really think was possible.

Risk bus via photopin (license)

Risk bus via photopin (license)

Ironically, despite my fear of making mistakes, I have always been a risk taker.  Maybe that comes with the kind of personality that is constantly thinking of new ideas, pursuing more impactful and strategic vision, and desiring to participate in systemic movement towards justice and equality. This has been a pretty good fit for my engagement in matters of faith and LGBTQ realities.  It has also caused me many times of feeling great vulnerability and I have had to dig deep many times to recollect God’s 365 scriptural reminders to “fear not!”

In December, I was invited by a Toronto based LGBTQ media outlet, Daily Xtra!, to be interviewed. (see part 1 and part 2)  My two colleagues, a married same-sex couple, were to be interviewed as well as some others in our generous space community.  My first thoughts about the invitation were about the opportunity to reach LGBTQ people who were perhaps predominantly beyond the faith community.  Particularly in the city of Toronto, the notorious ex-gay history of New Direction has a very long memory and any chance to be able to talk about the new direction of New Direction is important. And, the story-line was a familiar one. Former ex-gay ministry leader now welcomes LGBTQ people from a diverse spectrum to come together in generous space community to explore and grow in faith in Jesus and build supportive and encouraging relationships with each other. This is a story a number of significant media outlets, including the CBC and Macleans magazine, have picked up in the last few years.  When I was asked to provide photos of my journey to be used in the video production, I made the decision to send in a photo of me participating in the wedding of one of my board members and his husband.

Since the introduction of generous space in 2010, I have prioritized this posture of the ministry over my personal perspectives and convictions. Generous space is about cultivating healthy community where diversity is a given and seen as an opportunity to grow instead of a problem to fix. We are finding that encountering other Christians who interpret the scriptures differently than you – but who also share a deep commitment to Christ – is one of the most effective ways to grow up in the fruits of the Spirit. I find this both life-giving and challenging – and a very different experience than the elitist, certain, and often prideful Christianity in contexts that I have known.  I am passionate about generous space – and always enlarging our tent pegs to welcome those who will both stretch us and enrich us. I did not want my personal views to seem to slant or weight generous space community in a particular direction.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not think anyone can be neutral in these matters. Either one makes space to acknowledge that both those who hold to a gender complementarian view of marriage (not allowing for same-sex relationships) and a kinship view of marriage (allowing for same-sex relationships) may be genuinely seeking to faithfully follow Christ and the revelation of the scriptures OR you don’t. With the introduction of generous space, New Direction was saying that we DID make that space. We chose to not assume things about each other:  we didn’t presume that someone who held a gender complementarian view was a bigot nor did we presume that someone who affirmed marriage equality didn’t really care about the scriptures. We made space for people to reflect on their beliefs and values and consider how fear, shame, or privilege may be energizing them. But we wanted to listen and respect each other, not make each other a project for our best persuasive arguments about why they should change their mind.

Then in August of 2014, we hired Beth and Danice who were married that previous May. Bringing this couple on staff was not inconsistent with the space we cultivate in our communities – and in these two women we saw spiritual gifts, ministry experience, and the kind of passion and commitment that would advance our vision of generous space. But for some, this crossed the line and meant that New Direction could no longer be trusted. That was unfortunate, however, we knew that those folks weren’t going to question or potentially give up their faith in Christ over our new staff configuration – they just weren’t going to support New Direction any more.  But WITH hiring Beth and Danice, we knew that this could be a clear demonstration to the understandably cynical and hesitant LGBTQ people who were intrigued but unsure about whether generous space community would be a safe place for them.  And indeed, our risk was well worth it as we see the fruit of so many new connections and stories of hope and transformation that have come through Beth and Danice’s work.

That same summer, I had the opportunity to participate in our board member’s wedding.  One of the reasons the couple asked me was because there were Christian family members who were feeling conflicted about the marriage and they knew that I would be sensitive to them.  They wanted a sense of generous space in their marriage ceremony. I am not credentialed to marry people and I am not ordained in my denomination, but I agreed to participate – to demonstrate my love for this couple and their families and to lift up the name of Jesus. I knew this was risky.  I knew that certain people, particularly in my own non-affirming denomination where I have been engaged in a number of capacities including a committee to offer pastoral guidance regarding same-sex marriage, could use this as ammunition to try to shut down any flexibility or movement towards greater inclusion for LGBTQ people in the church. None-the-less, I decided to participate trusting that even if I was discerning unwisely that God was still on the throne and that I am the Beloved.

Just as with the hire of Beth and Danice, I was aware that that a photo of my participation in a same-sex marriage ceremony might demonstrate more than a thousand words ever could, that New Direction has taken a new direction – particularly for LGBTQ folks who expect Christians to be duplicitous and deceptive (sad but true).  Was this some political agenda?  Hardly. Canada has had marriage equality since 2005. Was this evidence of a motive to make all churches affirming? Nope. This was a risk taken to embody in a video targeted at LGBTQ people outside of the church that a Christian can repent.  That a Christian can recognize that action (attempt to change sexual orientation) that was intended to be helpful and faithful to Christ had actually traumatized people to the point of suicide – and was therefore inconsistent with Jesus’ promise of life and life abundant. That a Christian can humble themselves, apologize and stick around to make whatever limited amends they can. And that a Christian can be willing to face hostility in the church to participate in a celebration of God’s love because it is “not good for the human to be alone.”

That was my line of thought anyway.

As it turns out, the anti-religious energy in the queer community is alive and well. There were some very harsh comments on my video interview – including expressions of violence and desire that I would die a slow and painful death.  There were also more moderate voices that seemed to cautiously believe the genuineness of our repentance. And, I can only hope that there are more who refrained from wading into the public arena who are maybe wondering if it is time to relook at the faith of their childhood – and that maybe there is a place for them at the table.

On the church end, particularly in my own denomination, there have also been some pretty challenging responses riddled with a fair number of inaccurate assumptions.  In addition to the significant concern that I officiated (nope – only participated) same-sex weddings, there has also been negative reaction to my use of an expletive and my indication that polyamorous people are welcome in the generous space community.  There is concern that because I was part of a committee that wrote a report that was mandated to uphold the 1973 position of our denomination that views same-sex sexual activity as sinful, my participation in these weddings will cause people to reject the report. (It should be noted that the 1973 report in my denomination is one of “pastoral guidance” and is considered “settled and binding” but is not at the level of doctrine and individual members can respond in accordance with their conscience.)

Quickly: First, I apologize to anyone who was offended by my use of the term “mindf*&%k.” It seemed like the most contextually appropriate way to express my profound distress at discovering that Christian efforts to minister to same-sex attracted people has actually traumatized people, including driving some to suicide. Second, I don’t think ANYONE should be excluded from a faith community seeking to explore and grow in faith in Jesus Christ. The fact that there are polyamorous people in our community is not an ethical or moral statement of agreement or approval – it is a missional description. I don’t apologize for acknowledging a group of people who are judged, rejected, and dealt with derisively by the church – and indicating that they find a place of belonging in generous space community. Why wouldn’t we want polyamorous people seeking Jesus?

As the reactions have come in, I have found myself vacillating between the rest of being truly hidden with Christ in God and feeling that old sense of fear at having made a mistake. I may never recover my reputation within my denomination, and that would sadden me but I can live with it.  It is the possibility that my decision could make things even more difficult for LGBTQ people in my denomination that haunts me and causes some of that fear to flare up again.

To which I have to remind myself: God is on the Throne.  Whom have I in heaven but you? I am the Beloved.

It’s not easy. But it is worth striving to enter the rest of God…..

That and I keep hoping and praying that others who understand the complex contextual realities of our ministry, our deep commitment to honour Jesus and the scriptures, and envision a healthy and diverse church will have the courage to also risk speaking up and standing up and testifying to the need to cultivate generous space.