by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
A few weeks back I started to write about notions of healthy sexuality in Christian community. One of the things that prompted me to do so was simply a lack of nuanced writing on the subject, whether in print, on the web, or wherever. This isn’t to say that there aren’t all sorts of books and materials out there that cover the topic, but I’m honestly just not satisfied with the idea of leaving it up to Joshua Harris or Lauren Winner to be the final arbiters in this discussion.
Floating in the back of my mind through all of this has been the thought that if Christians cannot manage to have meaningful, open, frank conversations about heterosexual relationships, then it’s not going to be easy to have meaningful, frank conversations about broader questions of sexuality.
That’s why I’m hopeful about today’s Bridging the Gap synchroblog. Bringing together bloggers gay and straight, from a variety of faith perspectives, Wendy Gritter and the folks from New Direction are stimulating the dialogue. Here’s what it’s all about:
The purpose of this synchroblog is to share positive stories, ideas, suggestions on how we can bridge the gaps between people on the topic of faith and sexuality. Another way to put it is, “How can we embody mutual honour and respect in our conversations and relationships with those with whom we may disagree on the topic of homosexuality?”
From personal experience, one of the more difficult things has been getting to a point of dialogue with my own family. I can think of an evening several months ago at an extended family get-together where the conversation suddenly ended up focusing on same-sex marriage. It was a short-ish conversation – ten minutes in all – but it made some folks around the table a bit uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable to share my thoughts and experiences with my family because I wasn’t sure how they’d respond. The unknown factor of their possible response scared me. And yet, I don’t know that it was terribly helpful on my part to minimize our (assumed) differences, or to pre-emptively end the conversation.
I didn’t continue sharing my thoughts. I chose instead to cut the conversation short rather than offending someone. In so doing, I tried to sweep the gap underneath the rug to minimize conflict. Then last week I read this story on The Onion. My life as satire. Convicted by The Onion. How often does that happen?
Looking back, I wish that I had done more to engage in that important conversation with my family. To meet them where they are. To provide them an opportunity to meet me where I am. As it was, I denied that opportunity by being more focused on how I’d be seen in light of the conversation than on truly being present to the people, thoughts and ideas around the table. Perhaps this is the beginnings of a resolution. Perhaps this is the start of a push out of this little comfort zone to engage my own family and to engage this conversation more deeply.
I’ve written previously on this blog about a friend who used to remind me that “a bridge goes both ways.” My response to that assertion remains the same. Sometimes people need help crossing it. If it’s a dangerous bridge to cross, if it’s a bridge that leads to a place of discomfort or discrimination, then we have to do more than lazily call out from the other side. If it’s important that someone be able to bridge the gap, then we need to reach out, and accompany them to make sure they get across safely.
I now work in a denomination that is in the midst of its own debates over how LGBT folks should be recognised within Christ’s body. These debates have led to wounding on all sides, in countless churches and denominations. Folks turning their backs on one another because they don’t agree. Folks puffing up in pride because they’re right and others are decidedly wrong. Such postures are not not limited to one side of the debate.
I’m not sure that militancy on either side is going to lead us towards a place where we can see the image of God in all people. Embodying mutual honour and respect is difficult if all you see is an enemy. If we are unwilling to share place with one another, to enter in to each others’ struggles and joys by truly and respectfully listening, we will never get anywhere together. And that’s sad. I heard it said somewhere that all things hold together in Christ. If that’s the case, then how, St. Paul, do you explain all the divisions amongst us?
Maybe there’s a solution Maybe everyone in the church should just give up sex for one year. No sex. One year. For anyone.
Don’t do it. Don’t talk about it. No innuendos. Nothing except fasting and prayer and working together to build God’s kingdom. Maybe if we just learned to work side by side, to see one another as human, we’d learn a few things along the way.
Then again, talking about it isn’t a bad idea either. So long as we can do so with respect and humility. To help us along, we could start by reading and engaging with the rest of the posts on the Synchroblog.