Monday, June 29, 2009

The gap

One of my regularly read blogs was part of a 'synchroblog' a few days ago. A blog devoted to “conversations on befriending our gay neighbours” organized over 60 bloggers to write something on the same day on “how we can best reach across the divides that often separate Christians and LGBT individuals.” The blog is called “Bridging the Gap”, and they have also produced a DVD resource as “a catalyst for courageous conversations and fearless, love-based relational engagement with gay neighbours.”

I read a number of the various blog posts, and was struck by a few things.
I recognize that there is indeed a vast chasm between some Christians and the gay community. Perhaps even many Christians and the gay community. However, I think the first thing to overcome in desiring to get rid of personal prejudice in any form is to choose to lose the 'us and them' mentality. You may decide you are going to treat people from another culture and background as fellow human beings, as equals. But if you still refer to them as 'those First Nations people', or 'those Chinese', you are still exhibiting racism. Keeping the 'us and them' references means you aren't considering them the same as yourself. Keeping the 'us and them' tags means you will always have a great divide that will always need to be bridged. The same is just as true for people who are gay, or homeless, or Buddhist. I think it is imperative that we learn to treat everyone around us as ordinary, normal, conventional, standard, common, usual, unremarkable. Yes people have their unique qualities, but treating someone in a distinctive, peculiar or special way means you aren't seeing them as an equal. Consider this: do we set left-handed people apart, and treat them in some special way? Or people with blue eyes, or people who can't swim? Do we talk about the need to 'bridge the gap' between us? No, because we still consider them as equals, even though they have some unique qualities. We need to move into the same realm regarding sexual identity.
Another thing that struck me in reading these posts was the number of people who had a conservative Christian upbringing, came to a point in their life that they acknowledged they were gay, and then felt it necessary to leave their conservative church setting. They haven't left their faith in God, they just feel very uncomfortable/unwanted/unaccepted/unloved in the church setting of their earlier years. I think that sadly demonstrates that we in the conservative evangelical branch of the church haven't done a very good job of loving and affirming God's love for some people. That is worse than sad, it is unconscionable. In effect, we created the gap that we now need to bridge.
As I read the comments posted by other readers of these blog posts, I discovered a large number of people approached the subject with grace and generosity. There was lots of dialogue on various ideas being raised, and for the most part, people were ready to listen to the points of view brought forth. But there were a few people who appeared to miss the point of the topic: “How can we befriend our gay neighbours” and used the forums as a place to state their theology that homosexuality is a sin, end of discussion. That attitude hurts. It hurts me, it hurts the church, and most sadly, it hurts many people who first need a place to be heard and loved, not to be attacked, squelched, and shut down. It also is a contemptible way to explore and discover truth. The fact is, we don't have all the facts. We still have more to learn, on just about everything. Devoutly affirming something as 'biblical' doesn't guarantee that it accurately reflects the original heart of the author. And it doesn't provide a safe place for someone to explore and discuss questions they may have. I believe the biggest problem with this kind of 'I already know the answer and you are completely wrong' kind of attitude is that it isn't what Christ calls us to.
John 13:34, 35 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples--when they see the love you have for each other.”
John 15:12-14 “This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you.”

Lest you accuse me of also missing the point of “How can we befriend our gay neighbours”, let me reiterate.
--treat your neighbours as good people—whether they are Chinese, gay, lawyers or computer geeks. Treat them like people. Talk about stuff—the weather, the economy, local issues, relationships, sports, food, whatever. The less you single out one aspect of who they are, the more you will be able to relate to them as whole individuals. Appreciate their distinct personality traits and interests, but don't major on just one facet.
--listen to them. Care about the things they care about, their hopes and aspirations. Prove that you aren't there to preach at them. Establish trust. Be ready to demonstrate God's love. Share your heart, your questions, your desires. If they bring up issues of sexuality, be honest and open.
--be ready to change your mind about things. Have discussions, not debates. Be more willing to learn than to teach. Explore things together.
If you haven't noticed, the preceding ideas are just as valid with befriending someone who is of another race, faith, or political persuasion. And, if you have forgotten, your neighbout isn't just the guy who lives next door.


Peter said...

"Be ready to change your mind..." I think that's always a hard one, particularly for people of faith. But important, if we truly want to be "listening."

I appreciate you Al!

Al said...

Thanks, Peter, for reminding me that perhaps the biggest 'gap' we need to bridge is the one between theory and practice.
In the zeal of the moment of writing, it's easy to theorize about ideals, but in the day to day grind it usually isn't that easy. Never more so than in my own life!
Truly, we don't want to be "carried about by every wind of doctrine", but neither do we want to be so attached to our pet theologies that we don't "keep in step with the Spirit" or "hear what the Spirit is saying to the church".
Ahh, the ever-present tension between doxis and praxis.


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