Last weekend Wolf Creek Community Church was host to Wendy Gritter of New Direction Ministries where Gritter facilitated a conversation surrounding the coexistence of faith and homosexuality.
Gritter released a novel earlier this year titled Generous Spaciousness – Responding to the Gay Christians in the Church that explores how religious groups can look to be more affirming to minorities, specifically LGBTQ people.
The conversation in Lacombe was a chance for Gritter and her peers to share their experiences regarding faith and homosexuality and explore how the two concepts can coexist in a community.
“Dialogue invites us to a very different experience of being able to – temporarily – lay aside our convictions, whether we hold them with great certainly, or if we are more unsure about them. We suspend those convictions so that we can be fully present with one another,” said Gritter.
“We need to be willing to really enter a person’s journey and understand not only what they believe, but why they believe it. We are listening for the ways people seek to convey what they believe. Hopefully, we learn together to convey what we believe in a way that is intentional, quiet and gentle rather than ready for a fight.”
Gritter brought with her three pastors to share their experiences as gay and lesbian people within the ministry.
Wes Patterson, Danice Carlson-Malena and Beth Carlson-Malena work with Gritter within New Direction Ministries and shared their very personal stories as gay people in a Christian community.
The stories shared by Patterson and both Danice and Beth Carlson-Malena focused on first of all, the appreciation of their faith, and secondly, how they struggled to align their sexual orientation and identity with their identity as Christians.
All four of the speakers spoke of their journey to realize a generous space. What that really means is finding a space for themselves that is accepting, loving and present in the Church. The presentations were personal and were received with respect by the audience.
“Typically, the way the Church has handled conversations and questions about gender orientation and sexuality is to draw lines in the sand, often around leadership, sacraments, membership and ordination. We decide who is worthy and who is unworthy,” said Gritter.
“Generous spaciousness says we’re not going to worry so much about who is in or out. We are seeking to be energized by our core values which are humility, hospitality, mutuality and justice.”
Gritter brought up some interesting points such as the idea of the Bible being unable to be interpreted without a ‘lens’ of perspective by the interpreter. She meant that it is difficult for so many people to read something so old without having to make interpretations, guesses and decisions about meaning based on personal experiences and culture.
“None of us can read scripture without our own interpretive lens. There isn’t any one of us who can be perfect interpreters of God’s truth. We can always say ‘I could be wrong. I’m pretty sure I’m not, but I could be wrong’. That means that we can have a conversation, because I’m not going to blast someone with my certainty or arrogance,” she said.
The conversation was held under the guidelines of New Direction Ministry values that are humility, hospitality, mutuality and justice. Gritter’s definitions of these words are based in inclusion.
By experiencing humility, people are meant to realize that there is no single truth, she said. Hospitality meant listening to the voices unheard previously in the church – in this case, LGBTQ people. The mutuality factor of the discussion was the common ground of faith among the attendees. Justice, by Gritter’s definition, is meant to remove barriers that prevent people from flourishing.
The aforementioned concepts govern New Direction Ministries toward being an inclusive, patient and understanding ministry, according to Gritter.
“Generous spaciousness really acknowledges that people who really love Jesus and who care very deeply about the scriptures are arriving at very different conclusions about what faithful discipleship might look like for a gay or lesbian or transgender person. That doesn’t mean that one person is faithful and the other hardly a Christian – which is the way we have tended to view these kinds of discussions,” she said.
“The days when we can just write each other off as not really being good Christians, I would submit to you, are over. We need to find a way to reach across the divide, recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and demonstrate love across differences to a world that is desperate for a community that unconditionally loves.”
Gritter said she hoped the conversation would allow people to feel free to experience hope of better relationships and a better understanding of each other.
“Christians have a variety of convictions, interpretations and positions concerning same-sex marriage. Our presentation offers an opportunity to practice unity in the midst of such diversity, invites us to find common ground together, and works to dismantle the barriers and judgments that keep LGBTQ+ people on the margins of the church.”
More information on Gritter, her colleagues and their message can be found on the New Direction Ministry web site.
The team will speak in 14 cities by the end of their tour.