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The Spiritual Significance of Space

Sometimes I forget. I don’t mean to …. it just happens. I forget the powerful feeling of being trapped, with no space to ask questions, wrestle, consider options, or simply honestly reflect on one’s experience and faith journey. I forget because I know so many gay Christians who have already made the difficult journey to internally and externally come to terms with their sexuality. Some of these friends are deeply committed to traditional views and to living a single celibate life with a sense of both serenity and adventure. Some of these friends are living authentically in a mixed-orientation marriage where they love their spouse, their family and are navigating the rhythms of grace. Some of these friends are dating or in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner. Regardless of the manner in which they are integrating their faith and their sexuality, these friends no longer live in fear, dread or paralysis. They have disclosed the reality of their same-sex orientation. They have wrestled with diverse perspectives and have identified and own their core beliefs and values. And they are putting the supports and encouragement in place such that they will live in alignment with these beliefs and values – just like any other Christian person prone to wander and live inconsistently.

With the variety of resources and conversations that can be accessed anonymously and for free, most of the folks I encounter are beyond the worst in terms of their own fear and dread. Perhaps they’ve spent some years quietly reading, absorbing and processing in the privacy of their own home prior to actually connecting with me. And while some are still living with quite a bit of tension and with quite a few questions – they are fairly calm about it most of the time.

So it is easy for me to forget. To forget how utterly painful and isolating it is to be in a place where there is simply no space. No space for honesty – or at least it feels that way. No space for questions or dialogue – or at least that is the expectation. No space to figure things out without rejection or judgment – or at least it is perceived as such.

But if there was ever a soul killing situation, this toxic combination of fear, shame and dread is it. It can suck up your energy, suck up your joy, suck up your hope and suck up your dreams. It feels like there is no place to go….. and staying where you are just doesn’t feel tolerable either.

I wish I knew some easy way to connect such folks with this blog and others like it, with our resources, with my facebook page where more often than not I’m having late night chats with people who simply want to vent, express, process and share what is going on in their journey. But the vicious cycle of hiddenness and shame means that those who are most thirsty sometimes don’t realize there is a drink of cold water just around the corner.

There is a lot out there, of course, that articulates various biblical views about homosexuality. I’ve often said that there is lousy scholarship on both sides of the question of the appropriateness of committed same-sex relationships as well as compelling and thorough argumentation on both sides. If you’ve experienced same-sex attraction your whole life in the context of a Christian community that views its traditional perspectives as the only possible right interpretation, it is terrifying to even read anything that differs or looks at things with different interpretive priorities. The vulnerability, the sense of betrayal, the shame and the fear. I think most of us can hardly imagine how intense this can be. This really isn’t an experience of space. This is more like a furtive peek into restricted territory. And while there can sometimes be tentative surges of hope and euphoria at the idea that maybe they don’t need to be as paralyzed as they currently are, this will almost inevitably be overtaken by guilt, self-doubt and the whisper of accusation that says, “you’re just trying to twist scripture to make it say what you want it to say”…… “your needs don’t matter, the only thing that matters is submission to Christ” ……. “don’t you know the Christian life is about suffering, stop looking for fulfillment that’s selfish and sinful” …. “watch out, it is the devil deceiving you with cheap grace – God wants your obedience” ……

This kind of guilt-inducing accusation, however, will never afford an individual the space to genuinely ask, seek, and wrestle with God through scripture, prayer, discernment, conversation. And this is the invitation set before us as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We are not robots expected to mechanically go through all the right motions. We have been given the gift of love – the gift of a free will, a mind, distinct and unique personalities and experiences and ways of processing and interpreting. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit who works within each one of us as a unique individual. We have been given the gift of history, culture, context, linguistics, and exegesis. We have been given the gift of teachers, thinkers, philosophers, theologians, pastors, practitioners. And we have been given the gift of diversity – for the Body of Christ will never be a monolithic, uniform army of robots – but will always be a living, breathing organism. Whether it is like Jacob wrestling for a blessing, fearful Gideon needing multiple signs, depressed Elijah being revived by the Spirit, Abraham entertaining angels unaware, Mary yielding her life, Paul confronting Peter, young Timothy intimidated by threatened elders, or Anna seizing the prophetic moment, each of us needs to find and own our faith. Otherwise, one has to question whether it is really faith at all – or merely right belief.

Part of owning our own faith is the foundation on which we build. Clearly, the foundation is Christ. But we can say that our foundation is Christ and still be fearful, shame-ridden, anxious, non-thinking people-pleasers. Really owning our faith means that we begin with the profound and deep awareness and reception of the reality that we are the Beloved of God, chosen from before the foundations of the earth to be reconciled to God through the free gift of Jesus Christ. In order to have the space to wrestle through our place in God’s story, we need to begin with that solid foundation that nothing and no one can separate us from the love of God that is FOR us in Christ Jesus. We need to know that we know that we know that we know that we are loved, cherished, enfolded and embraced – that we belong to God.

Now some people would say ….. but what about repentance? The foundation has to be repentance. I have enough Calvinism left in me to argue that without knowing that we are loved, received and reconciled to God irrevocably, we lack the capacity to repent. Our repentance flows out of our gratitude for all that God has already done on our behalf through Christ. Repentance is our response – it is not the foundation.

Where people still live with the question, as many same-sex attracted folks do, whether or not they are loved by God, whether or not they will be rejected by God because of their gayness, whether or not they will disappoint God and be separated from him should they dare even consider whether there might be room in God’s grace for them to experience intimacy and love as a gay person ….. they will never be able to enter the sacred space of wrestling with God for the blessing for their life.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not promoting a particular theological position. What I am advocating for is the nurturance of a space where a same-sex oriented person can actually ask the questions that are haunting them and seek and question and own their convictions in the context of a faith community that can come around them – not with fear, shame or rejection – but with spacious love, support and truth-telling that arises from the confidence of this individual’s Belovedness.

Some of these questions may be:

“If God is love, and if God is relational ….. why would he not want me to experience intimate love in relationship?”

“If God doesn’t want me to be gay …. why hasn’t he answered my many prayers to take these attractions away? If I could be straight and marry someone of the opposite gender, I would.”

“Why didn’t Jesus say anything about this? Is it really fair to take his comments in response to a question about divorce as binding on this issue?”

“Of course, in creation we see that Eve was made for Adam, and of course we know that this is the creation norm for the propagation of the human race …. but does that mean there is no room for someone who doesn’t fit that majority norm to experience love and family?”

“I know gay Christians who have married their partner, who are faithful and giving to one another, who model vibrant faith and service ….. don’t these examples count for something? Isn’t that a sign of the Spirit’s presence?”

The reality is that Christians on both sides of this debate have well-articulated responses to these questions. But that gay person, feeling stuck and alone, may not be looking for a well-articulated response that they are simply expected to absorb and regurgitate. They need to be able to wrestle it out for themselves – as an individual and with their community of fellow disciples. And the truth is, when people do experience this space, folks come out at various places in their own responses. Some deeply sense the Lord’s calling to lay down their drive to overcome their aloneness through a same-sex relationship – and to find their fulfillment in a vocational call to singleness. Some experience a profound sense of the Lord’s love and grace for them and the invitation to be open to meeting a soul mate of the same-gender with whom they can share their life and faith with. And while this is threatening and uncomfortable to many of us in the church who don’t do so well with multiple answers and shades of grey, I challenge us to consider what would make God’s heart the most glad: A group of gay robotic Christians who belief and do the right things perhaps for all the wrong reasons…… or a diverse group of gay Christians who learn to love one another, to extend grace to one another, encourage one another to keep growing in Christ, to keep maturing in faith and obedience, to keep deepening in worship and service in the pursuit of shalom and justice.

There is no doubt that when we see Jesus face-to-face, all of us will be confronted with things we thought we got right – that we really got wrong. And on the flip side, we’ll probably also realize things we assumed were wrong – were actually caught up in God’s grace. The glorious amazing peace is that all that we got right and all that we got wrong will have already been assumed by the crucified and risen King. We do our very best to discern rightly, to live rightly, to serve rightly, to love rightly ….. but we rest in knowing that our reconciliation with God is not dependent on us – but it is completely within the control of our loving God – who knows us, who knows our frame, who knows that we are dust.

And so the theme from the very beginning of God’s story to the end is to tell his children: FEAR NOT!

Search. Wrestle. Ask. Risk. Listen. Discern. Obey. Wait. Love. Serve. Worship. Trust.

Without fear.

This is the kind of space our LGBT sisters and brothers need in the church. And if the church is not in a place where it can offer you this kind of space ….. then in the quietness of your own walk with God, begin to take the steps to find it for yourself. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the author and perfector of your faith. And know that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. He will not abandon you. And NOTHING can separate you from his love.

-WG

#dealingwithfear #generousspaciousness

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