Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bridging the Gap

Lately it's been difficult for me to want to maintain bridges (much less build them) between the worlds of faith and sexuality. Honestly, I feel like wounds just keep getting ripped back open and the scabs are barely hardening. Perhaps my heart, too?

My heart isn't hardening towards the Lord. Heck no, I love Him! He's cool. We're cool. It's church folk that I guess I've been growing weary of - both gay and straight. That's probably a whole other blog entry by itself. You may get a sense of where I'm coming from in February's post "The Monkey's Pet Fish" and also April's posts "Through My Eyes", "Outside the Village Walls" and "Disrespectful, But With a Smile".

But when it comes to the idea of bridge building within the Church between those who hold a traditional perspective and those who hold an inclusive perspective regarding being gay, I'll admit that my initiative has sharply declined the past several months. Our local bridge building efforts (see Oct, Nov, Dec posts here) seems to have been on pause - I guess we're all busy (that's the easy excuse).

I think what brought us to a screeching halt was when it began to become an unsafe place for me. I say that because I was helping to drive our efforts forward and so when I hit the breaks, no one else took the initiative. I felt personally attacked and undermined by one person and the result was me feeling unqualified to be part of such bridge building dreams. Before that, we had been experiencing some really exciting relational breakthroughs. He drove me back into the closet as he reminded me of my shame.

I do believe, however, that we can resume our bridge building efforts. The vision of the Coalition of Bridge Builders is to see the broader Church engage in a productive and safe dialogue regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals within our community. We started our efforts with churches and organizations. I wonder if we could resume with starting with individuals first. Our initial approach was to connect with the senior pastors but our efforts quickly became event driven, rather than relationship driven. Perhaps we can invest our energies with a coalition of individuals who are open to entering this dialogue - a productive and safe one. Individuals like Wendy Gritter at Bridging the Gap and everyone taking part in today's synchroblog event.

If we can catalyze individuals from the ground up, then the conversation will inevitably take place among the leaders. But if we only engage the leaders, then it may not filter down to the people. With productive and safe dialogue happening from both ends, then I believe we can see healthy movement.

How can we do this?

I've written before about these things which I'll share with you at the end of this. But first, here are some of my more recent thoughts from my gay Christian perspective and as a bridge builder:

1. A Sense of Safety is Paramount!

Regardless of the positions we take on issues, we have to be sensitive to people feeling safe. Remember that a gay Christian has experienced tremendous historical hurt by the Church. Asking a gay Christian person to engage in dialogue with a straight Christian person about the subject of being gay or the subject of homosexuality (those are two different things) is like asking an abused person to sit next to the person that abused them. I realize that you may not be the actual person that hurt them, but the feelings are still there and it can get pretty raw when it resurfaces. So if we want to keep everyone at the table, then we all need to be sensitive to that.

On the flip side, us gay Christians need to remember that this dialogue isn't therapy. The person next to us or across the table isn't really the person that hurt us. He or she may represent those who hurt us but it's not fair to them. We can't project our anger towards them by inflicting our baggage on to them. Let's remember that they are present - they are there willing to sit with us to have this very important dialogue. That should score points with us.

2. Take Initiative!

If you're a straight Christian person willing to be in this dialogue, it's a huge gesture for us to see you take the step forward into the gap. The reason is because from a gay person's perspective, we have routinely experienced people stepping away from us. We are all too familiar with rejection. So if you would take the initiative in reaching out toward us, then we're more likely to step forward to join you in the gap.

If you're a gay Christian person willing to be in this dialogue, we ultimately have to choose to step towards the other person as well. I know how we can be really bitter and not want to take any steps forward while expecting the person or group that wronged us to do all the work of making amends. Well, we have to be proactive about our forgiveness too.

3. Elevate the Conversation!

We have to find our common ground. There are numerous things that we might disagree about: tongues, tithing, communion, baptism, leadership roles and worship styles and structures and approaches, or even our interpretations of Scripture about the subject of homosexuality and being gay. But we may agree on the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith, and a number of other core things. We need to elevate the conversation beyond the politics of our differences. We need to elevate the conversation to a broader vision - to see God's people love better. Our goal isn't to enter into debate about the things we disagree on. Our agenda cannot be to try to change the other person's mind. That was the old way and that clearly has served only to divide the Church further. But perhaps through relationship, we can change each others hearts towards one another. And God's Church can again begin to assemble to worship Him.

So with that, I invite you to continue this dialogue at - a gay and straight collaborative christian community.

Here are articles I've written to help serve this dialogue:

"Building Relationships that Matter: A Framework for Entering the Hot Zone"

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

Be sure to check back at Bridging the Gap's blog to see what other bloggers are contributing to the synchroblog event!


Greg said...

That's great Eric. I hope you are well.

wendy said...

Eric - bridge building is exhausting work and sometimes personally painful - thanks for being so honest and sharing that. For some people this may be a one day risk-taking initaitive (and I'm really grateful so many straight Christians are taking risks in writing their posts) ... but for some this is day in and day out - dealing with the hostility (from all sides), dealing with personal accusation and attack .... and when we're weary and beaten down we need each other. I hope that reading some of the other synchroblog posts has encouraged your heart and given you renewed hope.
I'm grateful for you and look forward to connecting in Nashville in January if I don't make it to California sooner than that.

jt said...

Eric - Thanks for trying and leading and doing and being. I'm finding it a challenge just to be myself and know where I stand these days, let alone trying to build bridges with others.
And thanks for passing along the synchroblog link - it's nice to be reading these during Pride Week here in San Francisco.

Howie said...


I think you raise some really relevant point here. Points that should be basic and natural for everyone but isn't

To be able to have a dialogue there need to be a mutual respect (which does not mean agreement) of your standpoint and you as a person. Without that there wont be a dialogue, just attacts and defendings...

You do an amazing work and I am proud and honoured for what you do for your communities on so many different levels...

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