Friday, October 10, 2008

Inclusive Pastors Round Table

It's clear to me that both groups of conservative pastors and inclusive pastors are in very different places when it comes to the prospect of coming together at the same table to have a productive and safe dialogue regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals within our community.

We anticipated that though. I mentioned last month that I'm part of a Coalition of Bridge-Builders who are trying to facilitate this dialogue within the Hot Zone - "that place of conversation where the issue of faith and sexuality and God are no longer the taboo subject". Last month, the conservative group got together for their initial discussion. A couple days ago, the inclusive group got together for their initial discussion.

Both groups have their own baggage and so very different preparatory conversations need to happen within each group first before each can be ready to sit down with the other. The conservative group needs to grasp the concept of grace, responsibility, and empathy towards a community that has felt hurt by certain churches and church people. The inclusive group needs to wrestle with the anger and pain that they and many of their friends and congregants experienced from conservative church leaders. Both groups need to assess their willingness to come to the table under a common bridge-building framework. And that's what we hoped to do in the first initial round table discussions with both groups . . . .

The round table discussion with the inclusive pastors and leaders went very well. I had the honor of facilitating the discussion. It was a great opportunity for them to meet each other or reconnect. The group was comprised of mostly senior pastors who were gay or lesbian, other leaders representing organizations, and also the Coalition team members - some of whom are straight and represent the traditional conservative perspective about "the issue" but remain open to the dialogue.

Through lunch, we had each person share what they've witnessed God doing among their congregation and community so that we could possibly see a common trend of what God was doing in the region. We discovered three common trends of God's movement:

1. Conversation - these leaders are reporting that more and more people are wanting to engage in conversation or are open to the conversation regarding faith and sexuality. These included GLBT people, gay Christians, straight Christians, and even straight non-Christians. People are talking.

2. Growth and Activity for the Kingdom - despite what others in conservative spheres assume about the GLBT community and the darkness that prevails, these leaders are reporting about the wonderful things that God is doing in their ministries. It was clear that God's light was shining through many GLBT individuals in the community. Imagine that! God was using GLBT people to be a blessing to their communities!

3. Shift - these leaders are reporting that there are increasing numbers of straight people who are becoming more welcoming of gays and lesbians. Leaders are seeing the demographics of their congregations change to include a more diverse representation of gays and straights.

I think that observing these three common trends simply based on listening to those present is very exciting! Imagine how much more God is at work within the GLBT community!

After everyone shared, we took some time to share the vision and purpose of the Coalition and about the productive and safe dialogue that we are trying to facilitate within the broader Church. We talked about last month's initial round table discussion with the conservative pastors and shared the feedback we were getting from them. In a nutshell, there are those from that group that are willing to continue the conversation.

That has got to be encouraging! Granted, the conservative group is taking baby steps towards being ready for a productive and safe dialogue with gay Christians, but these steps forward are worth celebrating. Just like we had a lesbian share her story of faith with the conservative group for the purpose of helping to expand their perspective, we also had some straight conservative leaders share their story of faith and why they are willing to engage in this conversation. The goal was to build empathy within both groups for the other.

This is still going to be a process.

During much of the discussion, it was really interesting to see and hear where various people were at. Some are cautious and apprehensive about interacting with straight evangelicals. Some are prayerfully discerning about the prospect. Some are open and ready to engage in dialogue with the conservative group. But it was a very dynamic round table discussion!

We spent some time taking a look at some of the preliminary results from The Marin Foundation's national survey on "Religious Acculturation within the GLBT Community" - the same stuff that we shared with the conservative group last month - and we took a look at how the data could enhance all of our ministry approaches to the GLBT community.

We introduced the initial bridge-building framework with them and sought their feedback. With minor additions for consideration, everyone pretty much affirmed that it was a good framework. More importantly, they expressed a willingness to talk at the same table with other willing conservative pastors within this common bridge-building framework.

We now intend to introduce this framework to the conservative group, seek their feedback on it, and to assess who among them would be willing to talk at the same table with other willing inclusive pastors. The next set of follow-up events will be on November 15, 2008 - during the day, there will be a day-long training and discussion geared for the conservative group of pastors and leaders called "Elevating the Conversation"; during the evening, there will be a banquet dinner to provide inclusive pastors and leaders an opportunity to continue getting to know one another. Both follow-up events will be open to either group to attend.

As a result of our round table discussion with inclusive pastors, we won't be planning a combined round table discussion with the conservative pastors in January. The consensus of the group was that they wanted more time to get to know one another, to build trust, and to continue the discussions that were started.

I think this is exciting because in the process of getting ready to meet with the conservative group, this inclusive group can continue to support one another while also connecting with more and more inclusive pastors and leaders. So they'll build bridges within our own inclusive community while concurrently preparing for that productive and safe dialogue with the conservative group. So I see multiple levels of bridge building taking place and many opportunities for connection and support.

At the end of the day, I'd consider this round table session with the inclusive pastors and leaders a success because we were able to assess those who were willing to stay in the conversation. Hopefully, we'll be able to continue working with both groups of willing pastors and leaders so that we can eventually bring the two together - not with the intention of either group changing the other, but with the express purpose of elevating the conversation.

The Coalition would like to thank Hot Java (a popular gay-owned coffee shop in Long Beach where we purchased the panini sandwiches for lunch) for generously providing all of the drinks for our round table discussion. They don't seem to have a web site up, but if you're ever in the LB area, check them out on the corner of Junipero & Broadway at 2105 E. Broadway, Long Beach, CA 90803.


Anonymous said...

Brother,I am so thankful for this work that God has you doing. It is so needed. It has the potential to change the religious landscape in our country in such powerful ways. It is truly exciting. I am proud of your leadership. I am proud to be able to watch your work. May God bless this initiative extravagantly!!! Love you, bro.

Anonymous said...

I just want to second what Earl said. It is so amazing to see how you work with the comunity, take on responsibility and help people along their way... I know is sometimes feels like things go very slow, but it is still moving...

God is really using you to grow his kingdom and to build bridges...


Amanda said...

What an amazing experience :)

I just had to comment, Eric. I didn't realize it, but I'd read a bit of your blog before via my friend Angel's "Give Me Something to Sing About" blog.

Well, today it was way WAY slow at the office, and through some random web-reading which resulted in massive google-insanity, I came across the "Narratives" portion of the Beyond Ex-Gay site, and through that I found your blog again.

Life is funny that way sometimes. Online, Angel and I first ran into each other on AOL's "mommy" boards. We were both posting on childbirth and related topics, and through a series of revelations realized we lived in the same city. Come to find out she was married to an old classmate of mine I'd been in orchestra with since 7th grade... and even funnier, she and I had even met a few times in person!

Our lives shifted and we lost touch, then one day she was reading our local newspaper's blogs and found a comment by "Amanda" with a blog link. Yep, it was me -- we'd done it again! Ah, the delights of Teh Intarweebs...

At any rate, I'm happy to have re-discovered your blog, and just wanted to let you know that I think your journey and path are simply amazing and inspiring :) Bless you.