Synergy & Diversity

My family and I moved last week. We had decided to downsize. We wanted to free up income to be more generous in the lives of others. We wanted to simplify our lives. We wanted to be more intentional in community, in our neighbourhood. Seemed like a pretty good idea ….. but then our house didn’t sell. For four months. And the market went into the toilet. And we took possession of the townhouse we’d purchased. And instead of freeing up income, it felt like we were bleeding money paying for two houses. It was really, really stressful. And there were moments where I felt like I couldn’t stand the uncertainty of it all for one more minute.

Now we are in the midst of the normal chaos that accompanies moving – trying to get settled. And you’d think that I’d feel really relieved that our house finally sold and that we’ve finally moved …. But to be honest, I still sort of feel like I’m holding my breath, still feel a little stressed and ragged around the edges. And I’m still basically just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Step-by-step. Grateful to at least be moving forward.

Change is hard. Emerging out of a season of stress and challenge is tough.

So why am I sharing all of this on this particular blog? This blog isn’t about me afterall. But it is about honesty. It is about transparency and vulnerability and engaging in transition and growth. These things are critical if we have any hope of bridging the gap to befriend those who differ from us.

Bridging the gap requires us to stay present in the uncertainty. It requires us to be willing to be uncomfortable. It demands that we open ourselves up to change – perhaps not theological change – but attitudinal change, relational change, engagement change.

Lately, I’ve been speaking about paradigmatic change – about the shift from an old paradigm through a period of early transition to late transition into a new paradigm.

Whether we like it or not, our context is changing. The old paradigm of Christian attitudes toward homosexuality was basically black and white: “gay people are an abomination and they are going to hell”. As culture began to change and gay people began to share their stories, some began to make an early transition towards a new paradigm. And some began to suggest that gay people weren’t carte blanche an abomination – there was a differentiation between orientation and behaviour. Some said gay people weren’t an abomination – but they were disordered and could be easily cured. People in Christian circles talked about choice – with the assumption that same-gender attracted people could just choose to re-order their sexuality. Transition continued, more narratives emerged – including the stories of those who unsuccessfully tried to change their orientation – and some people began to say that orientation is not chosen and not easily changed. More stories emerged of gay Christians who believed that God invited them to express their sexuality in monogamous partnerships.

In the midst of all of this transition, there has been a lot of stress. And for some, a lot of uncertainty. In general, people do not deal with stress and uncertainty very well – so there has been a lot of fear and anger too.

And whether we like it or not, we find ourselves in the midst of a new paradigm. And we live in the reality of many diverse responses. • Some people still believe gay people are an abomination and are going to hell. Thankfully most Christians cringe at this response. • Some people continue to believe that homosexuality is like a disease and can be easily cured – though current research does not support this. • Some people understand that same-gender attraction is a reality that some people will live with throughout their life. They believe Scripture does not endorse same-gender sexual intimacy. They recognize that while some people experience sufficient fluidity in their sexuality to be able to authentically enter heterosexual marriage, this is not the dominant experience. For the majority of same-gender attracted people they believe that celibacy is the only God-honouring option. They may question whether anyone who holds a more gay affirming perspective is really a Christian. And they may likely have a real problem acknowledging gay Christians who are in relationship with a same-gender partner. • Some people see the reality of same-gender attraction in people’s lives, consider God’s concern that “it is not good for man to be alone”, and seek to support sga people in experiencing healthy intimacy through non-sexual covenantal friendships or intentional communal living. • Some people encourage gay people to be chaste until marriage (where same-sex marriage is legal) and to find and commit to a life-long partner. Some are respectful and accepting of those who hold more conservative views – some less so.

In a time of transition, it has been suggested that there is a need for a synergy among diverse responses. In the culture wars of the last generation we have seen plenty of evidence of a lack of synergy in diversity. But increasingly the next generation is impatient with this lack of synergy. Not all young people are stereotypically liberal in their theology of sexual ethics – but many are unwilling to perpetuate a sense of enmity between diverse responses.

I recently interviewed Tony Campolo for this “Bridging the Gap” project. Tony said this, “There is a multiplicity of answers to the question, and in the world that we’re moving to, we’re going to have to face that reality. I spoke at a youth convention of a very significant denomination in the US. The convention of 5000 youth were meeting simultaneously to the adults going through evaluating the rules and regulations of the church. And they came out with a very strong statement towards gays and lesbians, saying they would never accept gay marriage. Word drifted over to this youth convention, which was right next door. And they put their own statement together saying that, “We are not going to make a strong statement on this. We are going to be open to a variety of answers, and we don’t like that you have come down so strong with one answer. And the last thing we want to say is it’s not that long of a time before all of you will be dead.” Young people are not thinking the same way as the older people are on this. And they are not necessarily liberal. They are very conservative in many circles, it’s just that young people have reached a point where they see something transcending above this issue, and it’s the love for Christ that transcends that issue.”

The question as we continue to move forward, perhaps simply able to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, is: How do we bridge the gap between those we disagree with? (Because let’s face it, the multiplicity of responses isn’t going to magically go away.)

A few (incomplete) thoughts: • Let’s be honest – this can be hard. It can be stressful. It can make us anxious. Breathe in and breathe out. Put one foot in front of the other. Stay present in the uncertainty. • All of the tension that can accompany this transition is worth it for the sake of our gay brothers and sisters. Honouring them is more important than our own comfort (regardless of where you land on the theological spectrum). • In times of transition we need to be reminded to represent Jesus well. Some of the harsh, fearful, critical, demeaning comments that are directed at people with whom there is a disagreement do NOT reflect the character of Christ. • We need to take the time to really hear people – and to hear people, we need to be in relationship with people. Without relationship it is far too easy to be reactively judgmental or stuck in the theoretical. • Being in respectful, gracious relationship with people with whom we disagree honours Christ who continually called his followers to love their enemies. • Being in relationship with people with whom we disagree affords the opportunity for us to grow and mature in the fruits of the Spirit. • In the midst of such paradigmatic change we have the opportunity to be like Jesus, who chose to humble himself, empty himself, divest himself of the dominant, power position …. We, too, can choose to be the servant of another – including those with whom we may disagree.

And when all of this change brings moments where we feel like we just can’t stand the uncertainty of it all for one more minute, we have the opportunity to go to the foot of the cross, gaze into the face of Jesus, rest at his feet, listen for his voice, and be filled with his love, patience, strength, courage and grace to keep moving forward – one step at a time.