Responding to Resistance to Generous Space

At its core, generous space acknowledges that on the question of covenanted same-sex relationships faithful Christians disagree about what is appropriate for a disciple of Jesus. We promote the idea that the church ought to make room for people to be honest about their convictions and/or their uncertainty on this matter without pressure to conform to a uniform interpretive conclusion.

seawall chain via photopin (license)

seawall chain via photopin (license)

In the course of developing and articulating the nuances of this posture, I encounter push-back, assumptions, and, at times, accusations. As a posture, there is freedom for generous space to continue to develop and mature, be contextualized, and tested. One of the joys of my work is that I am able to learn from distinct communities as they seek to embody generous space in the particular relationships and experiences that are shared by that unique group. In addition to the 13 generous space groups that New Direction supports, there are many church communities that are seeking to incorporate various aspects of the posture of generous space. Not only that, I have found a wonderful sense of collegiality with Ken Wilson and Emily Swan and their work with the concept of Third Way, the Colossian Forum and their new curriculum, the Marin Foundation and their Living in the Tension conversations, Evangelicals for Social Action and their Oriented to Love dialogues, and Tim Otto and his work on Oriented to Faith, and all the communities that they have engaged. There is no question that this is a season of momentum in opening new dialogue and re-evaluating priorities regarding our engagement on matters of gender and sexuality. And while I and many others celebrate this movement, others view it as dangerous and something to expose and oppose.

I understand that. I used to be a zealot for a clear and certain theology of marriage that demanded defending and preventing the encroachment of anything that even smelled like generous space.

Then God humbled me. And while that was a painful process in some ways, I couldn’t be more grateful.

The process exposed my own fear. And being released from fear brings life. The scriptures say it this way, “Perfect love drives out fear …. because fear has to do with punishment. There is no fear in love.” (I John 4)

I’ve also discovered, however, that surmising that fear may play a role in one’s resistance to generous space on the matter of covenanted same-sex relationships is a very efficient way to elicit defensiveness. And defensiveness doesn’t do much to open dialogue.

Some of the fear I encounter, in fact probably most of the fear I encounter, arises from the deep desire to be faithful and obedient to the scriptures and to God. Such desires are commendable. What is not so commendable is the refusal to see the ways that power and control creep in to colour our discernment.

Generous space compels all people in the community, regardless of their convictions or levels of certainty, to relinquish the drive to dominate, to hold the majority influence, to rally supporters and defenders, or to define expectations for others. Frankly, that’s why some people disqualify themselves from generous space. To relinquish such control is unimaginable – for surely the result is chaos, loosey-goosey theology, people doing whatever they happen to think is right. But what we actually see in community is people doing the hard work of listening more carefully to each other, clarifying to ensure understanding, asking for and offering forgiveness, extending patience, being attuned to where the Spirit is at work, taking ownership of what one brings into the community, giving up the desire to be defensive or the right to be offended. I suppose you can try to do all of this in your own strength, but I for one am so very grateful for the Spirit of the living God within to do what I cannot do.

Engaging in some denominational conversations of late, I offer the following insights to overcome resistance and encourage the cultivation generous space:

1. The Sufficiency of the Cross:

For those who believe that covenanted same-sex relationships are sinful, the typical reason I hear for resistance to generous space is the understanding that such sin has eternal consequences. When I hear this, I see it as an opportunity to share the good news of the gospel. Particular sinful behaviours do not determine our eternal destiny. Our eternal reconciliation with God has ALREADY been secured through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the cross, all sin – past, present, and future in our understanding of time – has been accounted for and forgiven. God does not need our confession to forgive us. We need confession to reconnect us to the reality of God’s forgiveness. The tragedy of sin is that it prevents us from living in the reality that is already true – we are joined with Christ, adopted heirs, made right with the Father, and called to participate in God’s kingdom right now as we join the work of setting things right. The tragedy of sin is that it can so blind us that we never acknowledge our need of a Saviour.

LGBTQ+ Christians who know and love Jesus Christ, who eagerly receive the free gift of atonement through the cross and resurrection, cannot be separated from the love of God that is theirs in Christ Jesus. If after prayerfully agonizing over the scriptures, being still and submitted before the Spirit of God, they discern that the interpretive perspective that would make room for God’s grace in their covenant of marriage with their same-sex partner is true and they go ahead with their marriage, they can live their lives at rest in the victory accomplished at the cross. If, they are actually in error because marrying their same-sex partner and consummating their relationship sexually is sinful, that sin has been dealt with at the cross. The power of sin, evil, and death has been broken. Their prayerful decision was not willful rebellion, it was not merely twisting Scripture to make it say what they wanted it to say. It was the reality of two same-sex orientated Christians seeking to work out their salvation with fear and trembling as they trusted that God would work within them to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Phil. 2:12-13) I even know of one same-sex couple who literally prayed the night before their wedding for God to kill them in their sleep if they had discerned wrongly – so committed were they to following God’s will and not wanting to sin against God. They determined that if they woke the next morning, they would make their covenant before God.

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Rom. 6:1) By no means! answers Paul. When we receive the outrageous news of grace, we die to sin. When we truly believe and live like people of the resurrection, those joined with Christ, those confident in being reconciled to God and knowing that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God – we don’t run to sin – we rest in Christ. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:13) and again, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matt. 12:17)

The LGBTQ+ Christians that I know who have entered the covenant of marriage with their same-sex partner have thrown themselves on the mercy of God as an act of faith in a good God. I believe, that even if they are in error, their lives are hid with Christ in God. This may not match your theology, and I won’t focus on trying to convince you otherwise. I will simply ask you to humble yourself enough to acknowledge that married LGBTQ+ Christians who put their faith in Christ are the same as any other Christian who makes discerning decisions on their best understanding of the truest interpretation and at the end of the day trust in Christ’s righteousness to be sufficient for them. To refuse such acknowledgement is to refuse the sufficiency of the grace given to us through the risen Christ.

2. This is an interpretive matter.

Those who resist generous space often declare authoritative biblical certainty that all same-sex sexual activity is sinful. The insinuation is that anyone who questions this conclusion has disregarded the authority of scripture. The reality is, however, that every single reading of Scripture is interpretive. Every single reader of Scripture sees through a glass dimly to some extent, no matter how many PhD’s might be behind their name. And in these matters, there are people who are deeply committed to Christ and to the Scriptures with multiple PhD’s in Biblical Studies behind their names who come to opposite conclusions on whether or not covenanted same-sex relationships are sinful. It would seem that some of those good folks, despite their best intentions to be faithful and obedient to the Scriptures are in error – and because of those errors there will be people who either discern that something that is sinful is NOT sinful – or that something that is not sinful IS sinful.

Thanks be to God, all of this has already been addressed at the cross. When God looks at those who put their faith in Jesus Christ as the one who has made the way for them to be made right with God, God sees Christ. God doesn’t see our theological failings, our interpretive errors, our numb conscience, our selfish hearts…. What God sees is the righteousness of Christ – praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ! Does this seem too good to be true? Does it seem too easy? I would suggest that is the biggest lie – and the pride of our own hearts – preventing us from rece