First of all, let me say a big, “Congratulations!” to Sandy and to Wes who have worked so hard on our new website! If you normally see these blog posts on “Bridging the Gap” then welcome to the brand, spanking, totally awesome, new New Direction website. It is all super integrated and lovely – and now the blog is part of everything else here at www.newdirection.ca. Since I’m basically technically inept, I am super grateful that the two whiz kids have done all the work behind the scenes and that apparently things will be easy to update, fix, and change in the future.
Now on to the post:
One of the realities of being a pioneer/risk-taker is that you get invited and then dis-invited. Let me explain. Back in the day, I was one of the first female preachers in my denomination. That meant that I was often the first woman to come and preach in a given church. But it also meant that there were plenty of times when I would be invited (often by someone who was in favour of women preachers who thought they could slide me in on a quiet summer Sunday morning) and then a few weeks later get a phone call with a stammering gentleman on the other end explaining that he pulled the short straw and had to let me know that I would not be able to preach for them after all. I always felt sorry for the poor guy who had to disinvite me. They usually felt worse than I did.
You see, when you love the church, you take these sorts of things in stride. Sure, it was disappointing. But I knew it wasn’t personal. And I knew there was no use in pushing a church faster or further than they were ready to engage. Truth is you shouldn’t be preaching if you have a personal agenda. Preaching is about serving God’s people with God’s word to them. So when I would get disinvited I would chalk it up to part of the journey of being a pioneer – and trust that God would open the right doors at the right time for me. In the meantime, I always tried to simply be faithful in serving through the opportunities I did have.
Then when I began to serve through New Direction, I encountered a different kind of door closing. When I would meet with pastors or Christian school administrators or mission leaders I would be told how important they thought our work was. They would often say that they really needed to have these kinds of conversations with their staff or community. And then when I would follow up, and follow up again, and follow up again it would become clear that they actually had no intention of engaging further. The other day I got an interesting letter. It stated that since their church was complementarian, they didn’t allow female speakers in their church …. but ….. I was the only person they knew who they could ask for a recommendation for a male speaker. After years of these kinds of experiences, all you can do is chuckle quietly and ask God to bless them.
Then the other day I found myself playing phone tag with another Canadian leader. Their ministry had launched a national project that invited other Canadian leaders to contribute reflections on portions of scripture. It is a great project using social media to share relevant reflections on faith in our pluralistic, post-Christian context. I was happy to be invited and spent time prayerfully preparing the ten reflections I’d been asked to write. The reflections had nothing to do with sexuality. But they do embody many of the values and commitments that New Direction promotes through our posture of generous spaciousness. Anyway, my phone rang and I could see on the call display that it was this leader. And even before he began to speak, I could sense what he was going to say. Another major partner in the project had raised a very clear objection to my inclusion in the project. They believed that I advocated for gay marriage for Christians and that my participation in the project would discredit the other evangelical leaders who were part of the initiative. They made it pretty clear: It was them or me.
The leader on the phone was incredibly apologetic. Some of his staff, who particularly liked my writing, told him that they needed to fight to keep me in the project. I could tell that he was really struggling with what decision to make. While he told me he resonated with the ethos he could sense in our posture of generous spaciousness, there was also the practical reality of trying to build collaboration in a diverse evangelical community in Canada. So, I let him off the hook. I told him that it was okay. It was okay if I didn’t participate in the project.
You see, pushing our way forward, demanding our right to participate, fighting for recognition may have their place in the complex struggle for equity and justice. But they don’t have a place for a straight ally committed to serving the broad and diverse spectrum of the Body of Christ. My service as a female preacher or as the director of New Direction isn’t about me. When I preach, I am sharing, to the best of my ability, God’s word to his people. And when I serve through New Direction, I am advocating for others and working with the church towards a fuller embodiment of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all people. If, as CS Lewis said, the definition of humility is self-forgetfulness, then that is how I want to find my way.
While the opportunity to promote New Direction through my contribution to this project would have been nice, I have to trust that God will honour our graciousness and provide other opportunities for people to connect and engage with our invitation and challenge to embrace generous spaciousness. And I have to trust that the message of New Direction can withstand the rejection, critique, and accusations of others. If we are aligned with God’s heart, then the community-building we nurture through generous spaciousness will stand the test of time. If our message is consistent with the character of Jesus, then we can sing with quiet confidence, “I will not be shaken, I will not be moved, I will not be shaken.”
I am an unapologetic advocate for sexual minority persons in the Body of Christ. I long for the evangelical church at-large to see the beautiful faith that I have come to know in my LGBTQ sisters and brothers. I long for an end to our hurtful polarity. I long for a more generous, humble, hospitable, and just expression of church. I am sick and tired of fear seemingly getting the upper hand.
But I will quietly and faithfully go about serving the people God puts in my path, not demanding, not pushing, not fighting. And I will do so in the absolute confidence that I know how the story ends. I know, with a deeper boldness than I have ever known in all my life, that God’s embrace will never be thwarted by our fears, by our limited interpretations, by our desire to control. I know, that I know, that I know that God’s reconciling embrace is for all that he has made and nothing can disrupt, impede, or dissuade him from pouring out his lavish love on his creation. Not our sin – that has already been forgiven in Jesus. Not our mistakes – they have already been rectified. Not our disagreements – they have been reconciled in Christ. We are his Beloved.
So, since I have these ten reflections – and no project to contribute them to – I will be sharing them on the blog over the next few days. I hope that God will use them anyway – maybe with even more impact than if they’d been part of that national project. And I hope you will find them an encouraging reminder to simply be faithful where you are – for that is enough.