Sunday, November 30, 2008

Journey Christians: Beyond the Side A/B/X Framework

I've often said that we are not alone. Along my own journey, I've been blessed to have encountered straight Christians who have been supportive of my story. That doesn't necessarily mean that they all believed that being gay is or is not a sin. Just that they've all been supportive. As my friend Andy often says, there's a difference between validating a person's experiences (by acknowledging them) and affirming a person's belief system (by sharing them).

If we're ever to elevate the conversation beyond the politics of our differences, we need an alternative space for conservative/traditional straight Christians to be able to walk with us who are either not straight or not conservative or not traditional . . . .

I still maintain that the Side X culture and ex-gay programs do more harm than good. They communicate the mixed message of God's unconditional love with the Church's conditional acceptance, and the historical result of such a culture is that it traumatizes individuals into a closet of shame and secrecy (and suicide) and has left many in its wake feeling spiritually abused. I believe that the Side X culture and ex-gay programs attack our self-esteem, self-image, self-confidence, and self-worth.

[Click here if you are unfamiliar with my use of the Side A, Side B, Side X Spectrum of Perspectives.]

I respect that many of us have a difference of perspective, opinion, and interpretation regarding the issue of faith and sexuality. That's okay. I think the Church needs to learn how to disagree with itself. My pal Ryan and I developed the term "swervemat" to describe "a learning space where one explores various viewpoints of a relevant subject in order to gain perspective."

But what alternative is there for straight Christians who lean more on the Side X part of the spectrum and can't exactly affirm a Side A or Side B stance on the issue but at the same time recognize that the broader Church needs to get away from the terrorism of Side X?

I've come to realize more and more that there are straight and gay Christians who are what I call "Journey Christians". These are believers who don't primarily use the Side A, Side B, Side X framework. For these Journey Christians, they engage in relationships without the lens of sin/not sin. They interact on a completely different plane and paradigm where a person's viewpoint about the issue of being gay and being Christian is less relevant than the fact that every person is worth knowing. And so they are willing to walk with others along the journey of their lives without precondition of purity or shared perspective.

It seems too simplistic for some "Side - ?" Christians to accept that these Journey Christians are simply building relationships on love. It sounds almost too intangible. But the fact remains that they live out the truth of our common faith in Christ with a consistent message of both unconditional love from God and an unconditional acceptance from God's people. They leave the judging to the Judge because they realize that condemning another individual of whom Christ died for is way above their pay grade. As believers, it's simply not our place to do such a thing.

All of us have been charged to love God and to love one another (the Greatest commandments) and then also show others to do the same (the Great Commission). So where ever any of us land on the spectrum of perspectives, it really doesn't matter in light of the fact that we are to engage in authentic relationships that are shaped not by our opinions on issues but rather shaped by our love.

That doesn't seem so hard. What does this look like?

1. Give each other the freedom to journey with God.

We need to keep pointing each other to Christ and get out of the way. We need to restrain ourselves from molding someone into the image of what we think they should be. We need to learn how to walk with one another without telling each other what to do. If we point people to the Counselor, instead of arrogantly counseling them with our own answers, then we more effectively disciple one another how to nurture our direct communication with God. That's more important than simply providing a temporary seemingly good answer. It's better for us to encourage each other to present God with our questions than to seek our friends for the answers. Let go. Trust Jesus enough to talk to His own.

2. Be willing to journey with each other.

Relationships take investment - of time, of energy, of heart. Our challenge is to love beyond our surface interactions and to explore what it looks like to walk through life with one another. Celebrate in each other's joys. Can it be enough for me to be happy that you are happy without the precondition of me agreeing with what you're happy about? Let's support a family member or friend in the things that they are excited about. On the flip side, grieve in each other's sorrows. Life isn't always about celebration. It's a struggle too! Let's share in each other's disappointments. Walking with each other through life means communicating through our actions that we are not alone.

3. Love without agenda.

We are the Church. And as the Church, we are to live a lifestyle of faith beyond the box of our religious routines. Let's explore ways of expressing tangible love. This could include hugging someone or putting your hand on someone's shoulder as they "come out" to you. Show the person tangibly that they are not unclean and that you are not afraid to touch them. Let them know that Christ loves them and that they are worthy to approach God with their questions. Encourage them to invite our Lord into their process. Just love without a (straight/Christian) conversion agenda. Tangible love builds relationship.

4. Subject ourselves to our own mirror

We need to stop looking at what we think is wrong in others and love them without precondition. We can remain humble by continually examining ourselves for correction instead of "lovingly" telling others what they need to correct. I can hardly see your sin because my own huge sin is blocking my view.

5. Experience empathy not pity

There is much hurt in the gay/gay Christian community. If we are to walk with one another, gay or straight, we need to empathize with each other's stories. We need to share in the painful experiences of others so that we can love more sincerely. For too long, the words and actions of God's people has caused hurt in already fragile people and has forced God's loved ones emotionally and spiritually farther away from Him. Cry when I cry. Get mad when I get mad. Show me that you'd rather be on my side instead of a Side A/B/X. It's personal. So get personal. Stand up for me. Don't tolerate it when someone else dehumanizes me. Remind me that Christ's love gives me human dignity. Then model it.

These are some tangible ways that Journey Christians can function above and beyond the Side A/B/X framework. Something has to change. We cannot continue this cyclical war of perspectives within the Church because it is hindering our effectiveness in being a witness of God's love. We cannot continue the Side X culture that communicates an inconsistent message of love. We have to shift the cultural paradigm of the broader Church to one that centers on our common faith in Christ and respects the individual faith journeys of all Christ's believers.

There is a better Way.

Go to to see a community of Journey Christians.


Andrew Marin said...

Wow. I always love your words Eric, they strike me to the core.

Steve said...

Wow, Eric. So much wisdom here. I love how you bring things down to basics.

Anonymous said...

Wow Eric!!! I love all of it! I made me cry!

I had a recent similar conversation withs someone...although I am not sure she heard me!!!

I love you!!!

Becky O F!!:)

P said...

Something you said in particular resonated with me: " they engage in relationships without the lens of sin/not sin. They interact on a completely different plane and paradigm where a person's viewpoint about the issue of being gay and being Christian is less relevant than the fact that every person is worth knowing. And so they are willing to walk with others along the journey of their lives without precondition of purity or shared perspective.

While I think the church does need a new level of conversation and the shackles of conditional relationships need to be dropped, I get wary sometimes (as to folks on all sides of this issue) with ambiguity. Hurting people need answers and the church needs leaders who are able to articulate definitive answers instead of vague platitutes.