Thursday, September 18, 2008

Coalition of Bridge Builders

Another big collaborative project that I've been working on the past several months doesn't have an official name but the phrase I've been using to describe us is that we are a coalition of bridge builders. The team is comprised of my friends Dr. Becky Kuhn (Global Lifeworks), Andy Marin (The Marin Foundation), John Lewis (Urban Youth Workers Institute), Ed Salas (Newsong Church), Brad Fieldhouse (Kingdom Causes) and also myself (Catalyst Community). We're all bridge building organizations and so the vision of the Coalition is to see the broader Church engage in a productive and safe dialogue regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals within our community.

This means that we are trying to build a bridge between the pastors of conservative churches and the pastors of inclusive churches, help each group to find common ground, and help create a space of conversation that helps us all share Christ's light and love for all people. (Side note: the link to GCN isn't meant as an official endorsement of the Coalition's work (though Justin does support what we're doing!) - its just that I'm using GCN's mission statement a lot in my every day language because I believe in GCN's mission so much that I think it should rightly be applied as a lifestyle in every context. Anyway, just giving proper credit.)

So anyway, back to the Coalition.

In this collaborative project, at times I feel like I am undertaking one of THE most difficult tasks the Lord has called me to do. He's told me to step, and I've stepped, but for me, it's really scary at times . . . .

I have my own baggage and hurts from the conservative Church and I'm dealing with a slew of emotions in this collaborative project - from hurt to resentment to bitterness to gratitude to excitement to hope. There are times when I fight back the tears because there's still much grieving to be done that I never allowed myself to go through back then. I just got busy with new vision and began the new work moving forward and following God, but the reality is that there is still pain deep down from when I was in the closet, being in the Side X culture, and even being patronized and rejected by people within the organization that I helped start.

Drama.

Ya know, I've been great since coming out, feeling free to be authentic and all. I'm cool. But when the pain resurfaces, it's as if I'm in the closet again and I feel silenced. I'm not at all saying that the Coalition silences me - they do the opposite. I'm just saying that my participation in the Coalition is exciting while also requiring a great deal of emotional energy because I'm experiencing the silencing pain and at the same time being intentional about speaking up. There's a lot of internal wrestling going on while I'm at the table. Not only do I want to ensure that what we're doing is safe for inclusive pastors and other gay Christians, but I want to make sure that it's safe for me as well!

It's not easy to ask someone who has felt abused to be in the same room with those he/she perceives to be the abuser. That's what we're potentially asking inclusive pastors and gay Christians to do in coming to the table with conservative pastors and potentially Side X straight Christians.

That said, the Coalition has been great to me. The team have all shown me respect, patience in my need to build trust, and they have honored my contributions to what we're doing. I am honored to be at the table helping to shape what this Coalition looks like. And despite the stuff going on inside me in order to be at the table, I know that this is the very thing that God has been preparing me for and calling me to.

Here we are, in the Hot Zone - "that place of conversation where the issue of faith and sexuality and God are no longer the taboo subject".

To any of our knowledge, no where else is anyone trying to do what we're trying to do. In other places, there are Side A folks bent on changing Side B folks. There are Side X folks bent on changing Side A folks. But we haven't seen anyone else trying to bring the two groups of conservative pastors and the inclusive pastors together in the same room to talk about the issue that is dividing the Church globally while not having an agenda of one group changing the other group's mind. The difficult thing for our core team is to sift through all the complexities of both groups and trying to find a framework for a productive and safe dialogue for those two groups.

This past Wednesday, the Coalition had our very first event. It was a round table lunch discussion with pastors and leaders from conservative churches. The goal was to help share with them a new perspective regarding the GLBT community, give them an opportunity to share with each other about the GLBT concerns/issues that they are experiencing or are concerned about in their own ministries, and to introduce them to a bridge building framework so that eventually this group could engage in that productive and safe dialogue with the inclusive pastors and the gay Christian community.

The Coalition's bridge building approach is to also have a round table lunch discussion with pastors and leaders from inclusive churches. This will take place on October 8, 2008. The discussion will be similar in that we'll introduce them to the same bridge building framework that the conservative pastors and leaders heard. But we'll also give them an opportunity to share with each other about concerns that they may have for even trying to meet half way with the conservative group.

Our goal with both groups is to facilitate introductions so that they can begin to build trust. As trust develops, we'll bring them together - not to change each other, but rather to hear each other. This will take a process.

So the Wednesday round table event with the conservative group went well. Andy did a great job with sharing research results from his organization's national study on "Religious Acculturation within the GLBT Community". (In fact, to participate in the study, go here.) He was also the one to share the bridge building framework with the group. We then had someone share a personal story (honoring confidentiality here, but the person did an amazing job) to help give this conservative group a new perspective to consider.

While the event itself went well, all in all, internally I think I did fairly well too. I found myself fearful and silent at times. There were other times when I openly talked about my journey. And then there were other times where I intentionally left out details about my being a gay Christian and left it ambiguous because, well, the point of it all was that it didn't/shouldn't matter.

I spoke to someone who was clearly Side X and was not budging. I spoke to someone who was open to new perspectives and was clearly wrestling with them. I spoke to someone who has a heart for the GLBT community. I spoke to someone who felt somewhat conflicted - she wants to love on her gay friend(s) in her church and even would take steps in having her church be more supportive but she's also concerned about how other churches would respond to such things.

There were probably two or three gay people in the entire room which would include me and another Coalition member - and maybe someone in the closet. So you can imagine I had awkward moments. But really, it wasn't that bad. There weren't times when I just wanted to bolt out of the room. There were times when I recognized, "yeah, you're someone I normally try to avoid" but still I stuck around.

Ya know, being a bridge builder is really exciting because it totally forces you to stay out of your comfort zone. It's stretching me and that's a good thing. I ought to set an example so that I can tell others (in either conservative or inclusive group) that it's okay and it'll be worth it. But i'm learning a lot about myself.

One day, I'm going to have to be in the same room as certain other pastors that have profoundly hurt me. I'm not looking forward to that day. But I know, that it will come and I'm gradually getting ready for it. However, what I do look forward to is the day when we can bring all these pastors from both groups together in the same room, introduce and speak with each other, share a meal and prayer together, and then to talk about how we can all work towards sharing Christ's light and love for all people.

4 comments:

Andrew Marin said...

As tears are running down my cheeks right now after reading that post Eric, what you are doing with the Coalition is without a doubt an example for all of God's children to learn from as you willfully go against your right-mind as you step out in total, and utter faith to do what you're doing with those who have so drastically hurt you.

I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry because when I look at you I see love, and a great friend who is actually living out and modeling what you feel the Lord is asking of all of us to do as well - yet so many are not able to even wrap their heads around doing such a thing. It's never easy to break new ground (emotionally, spiritually or socially); and your example compels me to continue on working in the face of so much opposition, doubt, fear and insecurity because I know you, my brother, are publically putting yourself out there doing the same.

Thank you for the courage, love and support. My life has never been the same since I have been privledged to meet you and call you a great friend. I take much honor in that statement, and I hope that one day your life will also impact millions of others across the country who feel that same fear and shame, to step out for God as a gay man (or lesbian ...) as they realize faith, love and validation come from the Father who is willing to talk and enter into relationship; not from some human person who isn't. You're treading that new path each day. Thank you for such boldness to do something different.

Love you Eric.

Earl said...

Awesome!!! What you are doing is so awesome! I thank God for using you in this way. This can make such an impact, Eric! You and Andy are so imcredible. I love you both. I'm so proud to call you friends.

Earl

J-Lou said...

i am privileged to call u friend as well. thanks for sharing your heart and allowing me the opportunity to be a bridge builder with you. i am new to the conversation and would never think i would have been in this place and a part of this coalition, but god has me here and glad he has me hear.

theviewonsuperior said...

Eric, just to let you know we've move.

Our View On Superior (Steve and Warren) is now Our View From Lake Superior and we are over at http://theviewonsuperior.wordpress.com/

Thanks :-)