Thursday, February 16, 2006

Letter to Advisory Board

Since I recently decided to step away from my public ministry, my ministry partner and I will be meeting with our organization's advisory board to inform them of what's going on. For many of them, it will be their first time knowing about my journey. For others, it will be their first time knowing that i'm gay.

This meeting will take place in roughly six hours from now.

I've had a difficult time this week (emotionally) with the decision. I'm needing time to grieve. On the flip side, God is birthing new vision in me for this other non-profit organization that I'll be establishing. It's been a roller coaster week and I was having a challenging time preparing for this meeting with the advisory board. These are people I love and care about and I fear their rejection. Below is the letter that I have prepared for them . . . .

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[Note: the name of the organization and the name of my ministry partner have been omitted. Yes, some parts of this letter sound familiar - i extracted them from recent posts.]

Dear [Organization Name] Advisory Team of Long Beach,

God birthed a vision in [my ministry partner] and I that led to the establishment of [this public ministry]. He divinely teamed us together with complementary strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and talents equipping us to facilitate the vision of seeing Long Beach transformed as God’s people live out the Great Commission. Together, we have strived to function as a bridge building organization hoping to catalyze the Church in Long Beach towards personal and community transformation. We have invested almost four years into building relationships throughout the city for this purpose.

During this same time period, I have wrestled with the issue of my same sex attractions. I remember having these attractions as early as 8 years old. I accepted Christ as my Savior 13 ½ years ago when I was 16 years old. It’s been a difficult experience for me to live in a world with an obvious public stigma towards gay people. Even more difficult was functioning within the Church that often ignored the issue unless it was condemning it. I learned that the Church was not safe for people like me.

In 2004, [this public ministry] was connecting with numerous prayer intercessors throughout the city. I was a part of several city-wide prayer meetings that often and typically prayed against the homosexual population in Long Beach and the enemy’s “stronghold” over this city in regards to their rebellion. I consistently felt convicted by the Lord regarding two things:

“Why am I praying against a people that I don’t even know?” and “Why am I praying against them when I am one of them?”

I felt that I could not speak these questions publicly to the prayer intercessors because their hostility towards the GLBT community was evident in their prayers against them and I was afraid. These questions led to further questions about the issue, some of which are:

“Why do I believe the things I do about homosexuality? Is it because I really believe it to be true or is it because it was simply the only thing that I was taught?”

In 2005, I began a new kind of wrestling regarding the issue of homosexuality, faith, God, and the Church. I refer to this as “my journey” and started an online journal (also known as a “blog”) called Two World Collision to chronicle my process. This journey of mine began with the desire to “own” what I believe about it being a sin so that I could confidently speak against it. I didn’t want to simply repeat the ideas of others of the same perspective. So on my journey, I chose to take a step back and to take a neutral stance about the issue. I wanted to be informed regarding all perspectives so that I could honestly discern for myself through the Lord’s guidance what I believed.

This journey included reading books and essays, hearing testimonies, examining Scripture, prayer, and interviewing people from three distinct perspectives: Side A, presenting the perspective that one can be both gay and Christian in a committed and monogamous context; Side B, presenting the perspective that one can be both gay and Christian but should remain celibate; and Side X (a phrase I coined referring to ex-gay ministries), presenting the perspective that one cannot be both gay and Christian and that transformation of sexuality was necessary.

I entered this journey with [my ministry partner's] full knowledge and support. As I learned about the different perspectives, I was able to process much of my thoughts with him. He walked this journey with me. In this process, I discovered that I no longer held a Side X view regarding this issue. My original intention for this journey was to be able to confidently speak against it but instead I have found resolution in terms of my faith and sexuality. I sincerely believe that the Lord has walked with me on this journey as well and that the Lord has led me to my current Side A perspective.

Early on in my journey, it was still pretty safe to be part of [this organization] because I was simply "wrestling" with the issue. But now that I have found resolution in myself being both gay and Christian and have even started "dating", it complicates things a bit for the organization. The purpose of our organization is to be a bridge builder. One of our hopes is to catalyze the Church in the "hot zone" - to stimulate the Church to dialogue about the issue of faith and homosexuality and answering the question . . . .

What do we do with those gay Christians?

In order to do this, [the organization] needs to be neutral and it needs to be strategic in the timing of these dialogues. My presence in the organization hinders this because of the Church's historical nature of responding with irrational hostility. I think that about 75% of our relational networks - the relationships that we've invested in building for almost four years - would disassociate from us simply knowing about me and my "lifestyle".

Even though he does not have a Side A view like I do, [my ministry partner] is fully willing to go down this road with me. He'd be ready to "take the hits" in his relationships and in [the organization]. We trust each other and he honors me in his willingness to stand by my side through the fallout when people begin to discover that I'm openly gay and calling myself Christian.

He's willing. I'm not.

I'm not willing to have the organization take the hits of controversy. I'm not willing to trade the organization's ability to continue its work towards unity and mission in exchange for my own sense of personal justice. I'm not willing to see [my ministry partner] have his relationships with the pastors of the city sacrificed. The work of the Kingdom trumps my own personal justice. The dialogue within the Church about the issue of gay Christians is more important than what people think of me. And so, for the sake of the Kingdom and for [the organization], I will be the one to "take the hit". I've decided to step away from the organization so that it can continue its purpose without the controversy of me. The dialogue can happen more effectively if I'm not a part of the organization.

While this is an emotionally difficult decision for me, both [my ministry partner] and I are in agreement that this is the best thing to do. I have a peace about it. From our perspective, it's not a "split". He will continue the work we started together in calling the Church to Kingdom values (including unity) while I will establish another non-profit organization. God is birthing a fresh vision in me for this new organization that will be moving to "catalyze a culture of trust, unity, and life in the GLBT community and the city". Our intention is to preserve an attitude of partnership among the two organizations so that we can work together to bring the GLBT faith community and the mainstream Church together in healthy dialogue.

The reality is that there are people like me – gay and Christian – within our local churches throughout the city. Many of us are Side A, some are Side B, some are Side X, and some are still wrestling through it. However, we have all placed our faith in Jesus Christ and have received His salvation by grace alone. We worship the Lord, serve our neighbors, and exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.

My challenge to this Advisory Team, to [the organization], and to the Church in Long Beach is to call the question:

What do we do with those gay Christians? As the Church, do we acknowledge them as being included with the Family of God or do we disown them from the Family of God and insist in their reorientation?

I encourage you to bring this issue into the “hot zone” – that place of dialogue where homosexuality is no longer the unspeakable topic. I encourage you to stand firmly beside those with whom you are in relationship with. I encourage you to model for the rest of the Church what it looks like to embrace each other despite theological differences of interpretation.

It has been a privilege serving Him along side you.

Blessings,
Eric
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Let's all hope the meeting goes well . . . .

7 comments:

E said...

I see a lot of integrity on display in that letter. I hope the board members are able to put that (and everything they know about you) ahead of whatever feelings they may have about "the issue."

Paul said...

E, I just came across this site and started reading. I am coming in late to your jounrey, but I am glad that someone is forcing the issue and asking those questions. Especially what do we do with Christians who are gay? I hope it goes well today. I am praying for you.

Peterson Toscano said...

Eric, thank you for outlining some of the process that lead you to where you are today. That coupled with your integrity speaks volumes to me and articulates well some of my own journey.

I appreciate your willingness to be transparent as you grapple with your life and the church.

Eric said...

UPDATE:

Well, the meeting went as I expected. But it was still difficult to hear them communicate disapproval for the decisions I've made.

From various people, I heard deep concern for the path I'm taking, for the influence I have with others and the potential to lead people "astray", that I am no longer "partner-able", that I may be rushing in to starting a new organization, that I am naive to Church history, and that my motives are less than virtuous in making it seem like i'm a "martyr" for the organization. Not in these words, but I was told that I am getting what I deserve because of the decisions I've made.

Don't get me wrong, though, these things were still said out of care and concern for me - I don't doubt that. But it's certainly hard to hear, repeatedly, things like "i'm saddened by this" or "this breaks my heart".

Me too.

Just because it is hard to hear these things doesn't mean that I haven't taken them into consideration. I value their counsel and wisdom. But I also have to consider that they come from a different perspective, paradigm, and generation.

That said, I came out of the meeting with the following questions to wrestle with (these are my questions, not theirs):

*Do I need to be 100% sure about myself and the issue before I start an organization for the GLBT community?

*What if I lead people astray?

*What's the real question we need to be asking?

*Am I taking a firm position or am I just articulating the position that I currently hold? Is my impact minimalized by doing so?

*What should I be doing to be most effective for the Kingdom?

*Are certain supportive individuals and/or relationships framing my journey?

*Did I really need neutrality in my journey? Is there a distinction between being objective and being neutral?

*Have I done enough research about all of this?

My journey has been based on this value: Let the questions drive the journey.

I know this whole thing is tough for them because they do come from that different generation and paradigm - one that has to have all the answers and give all the answers (and for some, "police" the answers/truth). As for me, I'm okay living "in the process". The journey constantly changes and I'm open to having my conclusions be just as flexible. I am growing in this process and simply having "the answers" isn't going to lead me to a place of owning what I believe.

I'm having such a difficult time wrestling through all this - not just the issue, but more so the response from people I care about regarding my journey and where I happen to be at right now on my journey. It's hard for me to think of many more people that I consider my "spiritual mothers" in the city respond similarly. [I know, this is still the effect of the decisions I've made. I'm just saying that I'm having an emotionally challenging time navigating through this.]

Am I right in saying that along the way I've been honest in this blog that I've always reserved the right to change my mind? I've said before that this blog is my creative outlet - a tool for me to process my own raw thoughts that I'm having at the moment. It's all about process for me. But for others, I think it's alarming to them to hear some of these things because they think that once i've decided something - or concluded something - it will be that way for the rest of my life.

And so, does that mean I am now the enemy?

I'm still calling the question:

What should the Church do with gay Christians like me?

Dave_62 said...

Eric,

I knew this was coming, however not this soon. The Church is fractured and may always remain that way until the second coming. This is largely do to the egos of spiritual or religious leaders. Mind you I not just talking about the gay issue alone. When Christ walked the earth two thousand years ago, an overlooked thing he did was pacify religious leaders.

It’s not all bad; some mainstream ministers of the gospel are already embracing the idea that you can be both gay and Christian. This is only the beginning and a new chapter in your walk with the Lord.

Blessings!

Angel said...

(((((Eric)))))) I am so proud of how you've dealt with this. You know I'm here for you, no matter where this journey takes you.

I'm sorry that the meeting went as you expected. I don't know how they can't see you as the same Eric who walked in there.

Hang in there, my friend.

Zeke said...

So... are you asking if you should already have it all figured out before you act? That's just fear talking.

Keep being the man that you are. It certainly seems to me that you are acting with an abundance of spirit and wisdom, thinking things through, questioning your assumptions, speaking the truth... there's great power in that.

The "leading people astray" thingie is the #1 fear surrounding this issue. Everybody who feels the impulse for change is afraid to speak out because they either fear leading others astray or they fear the accusation being leveled against them. How about we be afraid of consenting to the status quo, with its undeniable harvest of pain and alienation? Which is the greater risk: to press for change or to preserve the status quo?