Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bridging the Gap



My post today is part of a larger initiative of more than 50 bloggers all sharing their thoughts on how to ‘bridge the gap’ between faith and sexuality. You can check out the other links at: btgproject.blogspot.com

At one of my lowest points in life, it was a straight Christian who rescued me. At another low point it was an agnostic gay friend. At my highest point in life, it was a gay Christian who celebrated with me. I have found absolute unconditional love with a non-Christian. I have friends all across the spectrum. Gay Christians and straight agnostics. Gay atheists and straight Christians. I'm an ex-ex-ex-Christian (that's just a non-Christian with a very sordid past).

I have been everything from a fundamentalist Christian to an angry ex-Christian. I have been an evangelical ex-gay and an apathetic agnostic. I've been on all sides. So in some ways, it's ideal that I've been asked to participate in this synchro-blog-o-rama. Who better to talk about bridging the faith/sexuality gap? However, I find myself at a loss for words. Not that that's anything new (as readers of my blog will attest). But I'll try. Bear with me as I share my somewhat scattered thoughts.

Frankly, sometimes I wonder if it is possible to bridge this gap. I think, for instance, that many ex-gay programs and ex-gay therapists cause more harm than good. Many fundamentalist or conservative, Evangelical Christians think that GLBT folks are riding on a one-way train to hell and feel compelled to stop and tell us about it. How do we love while also holding these ideas that are most likely never going to change? We both would claim love for others as our motivation. Is it ever possible to love without an agenda?

About two years ago I went to lunch with a friend who is on the staff of an ex-gay ministry. Still smarting from a previous meeting with two major ex-gay leaders who seemed to take almost a perverse pleasure in saying the most hurtful things (including that they wanted to go back to a time when gay people felt ashamed to be gay), I forgot about loving without an agenda. I forgot about how much I love my friend, and instead tried to show him where he was wrong. I was hurt and I lashed out a bit. I confronted him "in love" but I didn't radically love him. I didn't find out where his heart was. I wanted to change him and change his thinking, out of love of course. I loved, but with an agenda.

Is it possible in particular for conservative, Evangelical Christians to love without an agenda? I started thinking about all the various Christians I've known and I realized I only know a small handful of Christians who seem to be able to just love with no preconceived notions of what will happen in return (will they get saved? will they change their beliefs about this or that? will they start going to church again?)

The very first time I ever met Wendy Gritter (director of New Direction in Toronto and the author of the Bridging the Gap blog, the organizer of this synchroblogging event), it was at a gay Christian event. She was there to experience it for herself and see what it was all about. I am sure that she witnessed what I did - scores of people who were dedicated to Christ but also happened to be gay. It's an amazing experience to be among gay Christians, and odd too, if you're a non-Christian like me but with a Christian background. It's like you've walked into a conservative Christian environment, with folks having seriously deep Bible discussions, and others praying for everyone's needs (including hotel staff) in the prayer room. The same sort of environment I've been in time and time again, with one exception. It's not an anti-gay crowd. These are gay folks, whom many incorrectly think are incapable of having a real and saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

But I digress. I'm there and I meet Wendy.

I knew right away that Wendy was different. I could tell from the start that she came with what I call an "open hand." She was not there to talk, but to listen. It was my privilege to sit and talk with her and share my story and answer her questions. Since then, we've had some email communication, but mostly we chat online. I tell her about my girlfriend and I think I can almost see her smile (through the computer) at my happiness. She inquires about my world and I ask about hers. I genuinely want to know, and I know that she really wants to know what is real for me. Not what I think she wants to hear, but what is real. So I tell her. All the ups and downs (but mostly it's ups, so that's nice). I enjoy seeing the journey she's been on, even if I might not be on the same walk. And I feel that in return. She loves without an agenda.

My two nephews are 4 and 6, and when they do something to hurt each other, my sister says "go and make it right" and they will go to the other and say "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" and rub the other boy's back. If they can do something else to make it right, she encourages that as well.

What can we do to "make it right?" All the past pain and hurt and heartache around this issue? What can we all do?

I don't know much about bridging the gap, I suppose. I probably know more about the gap itself than about how to bridge it, but I think this is where it starts. Open hands. Open hearts. And it's not just about the straight Conservative Christians loving without an agenda, it's about the GLBT community loving without an agenda too. Some would argue that it is not up to us to love. It is up to the straight Christians to make right what has been wrong for so long. I would argue that instead of worrying over who broke something in the first place, let's just all take some steps to make it right, and start loving without an agenda.

27 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing this. It is very helpful to read about another ex-ex-ex Christian problems with the gap.

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  2. I'm smiling through tears.... or crying through a smile ... not sure which :) Thank you Christine for taking the risk to become my friend. You are much loved.

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  3. oops - forgot to check the little box :)

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  4. I love this. When I'm taking care of kids, and they fight, and they get into the "he started it" "no, HE started it" argument, I say " don't care who started it, the point is to END it." I try to approach things with that perspective now. I admit, I sometimes fail, but you're right, if you don't come without an agenda, other people are going to see that and get defensive, and the whole attempt is going to fail. I've heard someone say "Love God, Love People, Nothing Else Matters" and I wonder if that's really possible...if it's possible to love God and people without letting doctrinal differences get in the way? I don't know, but I do know I'm ready to try. I've tried the other way, I've tried fighting, and I'm tired of fighting. I'm sure others are, too. I'm going to try to end it, at least from my end, because I can't control what anyone else does.

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  5. Christine - you, my dear, are beautiful. Thanks for sharing your heart!

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  6. Thanks for your thoughts. I'm a Christian who is passionate about God (though I no longer identify as evangelical). I also happen to be a lesbian. I've been blessed to find a church where my sexuality is a non-issue; meaning it is neither celebrated nor denigrated. I'm glad this conversation is happening today. I hope it will bring some measure of healing for bloggers and readers alike.

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  7. Beautifully said, Christine. And I agree that Wendy is a truly wonderful person.

    -- Jarred.

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  8. I hope more evangelicals, like myself, have a chance to read your blog and rethink what harm they are doing to the gay community.

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  9. Christine, thank you. I am so glad we are meeting, and I look forward to one day knowing you better. I've read bits of your story on your blog, and I can tell you are an amazing, passionate person.

    The best part of your post is the idea that we all must "surrender the agenda". What is friendship anyway, if we are coercively trying to mold someone else into our image of perfection? Such attitudes are patronizing and lacking respect, not empowering.

    (Wendy is one of my favourite people too!)

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  10. as always, Christine, i love your heart!

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  11. Thanks so much for all your comments, and especially for those of you who participated in this blogging event. I've been trying to read all the posts but am a bit behind. Thanks again.

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  12. Christine,

    I love how you refocused how love should look in 'the gap'.

    -Michael

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  13. It took me a while to reflect on your words. I am a grudge-holder, and I've made peace with this aspect of my personality. The people in my life who emphasized "forgiveness" were conservative Evangelical Christians. They wanted to receive forgiveness, but would never, ever return it. They thought my simply living my life my way was something that required "forgiveness." I decided that in this way, too, I'm okay the way I am and don't want to live up to their specifications. I will forgive when I am damned good and ready, and not a moment before. I will never, ever forget.

    Years ago, I tried to "bridge the gap." After I got married to another woman, it got incredibly hard for me. I decided to pretty much confine my "bridging" to my own relatives, which is the hardest thing for me anyway.

    All this said, weirdly enough, I find it encouraging that other people, like you and Wendy, are still trying to bridge the gap. Our public discourse is getting so angry. It probably isn't good for the world if we're all angry and all hold grudges. Your question will stay with me: "Is it ever possible to love without an agenda?" I'm glad some people can, or at least try.

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  14. Christine, why? Why? Wendy Gritter is Exodus ministry leader in Canada. Exodus...Ex Gay ministries...

    Love is important. But we dont expect people in abusive relationships to keep loving their abusive spouses. We expect domestic abuse victims to LEAVE.

    Ex Gay ministries abuse LGBT people and especially LGBT youth. Strong words? Yeah. But here, examples:

    eg 1: CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos interviews Dr. Alicia Salzar, psychiatrist and producer of the movie "Abomination" which takes a look at the Ex Gay ministries, their culture and claims.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxDN_VMt4aY&NR=1

    eg 2: Story of Zach Stark who was forced into a Love In Action program. Love in Action is part of Exodus International. Again Wendy Gritter is leader of Exodus Int in Canada (called "New Direction")
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLaBkiP0-nA

    eg 3: Lance Carroll's story:
    http://www.beyondexgay.com/collage/Lance

    Lance Carroll in Montel Show. (Note the discrepancy between what president of Exodus International, Alan Chambers says on the show and what the organization actually represents)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsYsusY1ALQ&feature=related

    So why? These people still believe that there is something wrong with 2 adults loving each other (ie: homosexual behaviour is sin). Exodus and its affiliates are still brainwashing LGBT teenagers.

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  15. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for your comment and all of your research (good stuff!). I'm not sure if you're aware that I'm the co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay. I'm super aware of the abuses perpetrated by some Exodus (and non-Exodus) ministries, and especially those against minors (I feel like any attempt to change the orientation of a young person against their will is absolutely abuse...). Lance and Zach are good examples of this.

    In the case of Wendy Gritter, I don't know if you follow or read her blog (the btgproject one) but she (and New Direction) are no longer affiliated with Exodus (very publicly not affiliated, too). She's also someone who is so radically different from almost any other ministry leader I know of (I wouldn't even call her an "ex-gay leader"). I have met Wendy personally and had extensive conversations with her. Wendy and New Direction do not promote the all-too-typical ex-gay line (change is possible - probable - mandatory in order to be pleasing/acceptable to God). I think her thoughts are that orientation change is often rare and incomplete, although some fluidity might be experienced by those who were already somewhere in the middle of the continuum anyway. That is a FAR cry from most leaders of ministries. And I happen to agree with her.

    Because she is such a great friend to her gay friends, because she no longer affiliates with Exodus, because she has listened to the ex-ex-gay community and communicated our message to other ministry leaders, she has earned my respect but also gotten a lot of flack from conservative Christians. She gets it from all sides really. I can't think of one other ministry leader I'd speak about like this. Anyway, enough about Wendy. I can tend to go on.

    Thanks so much for your passion on this issue. Of course, it is my passion also and I'm always happy to meet others who recognize the dangers of reparative therapy, especially when it involves youth.

    I'm glad you liked Lance's collage. I made it one night before a press conference that we set up in Memphis, TN, in front of Love in Action.

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  16. Hey CrackerLilo,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. I too understand the weariness and disappointment that can come from trying to bridge a gap. It really does depend on who is on the other side, doesn't it?

    If it's someone that thinks we are fundamentally flawed human beings, then there's not a great way to meet in the middle there. Because the middle (that I'm only somewhat flawed?) is not acceptable to me.

    But when there's people like Wendy Gritter involved, it becomes much easier to "bridge." I picked the easiest example I have...someone who respects me as a person, and thinks I have great worth, gay or not. So I can sound wonderful and bridgerly but really it's not much work on my part.

    It is harder though with others. I have a hard time knowing how to bridge with ex-gay leaders. I have come to them with my heart on my sleeve saying, "hear my story" and have gotten spit on in return in some instances (not literally, although once it felt like it might be coming next)! Others have been more genial but have not listened to me, instead, wanting me to listen to them about ex-gay psychology/theology (like I don't know enough about that after all my years in the ex-gay movement).

    This is why I have to struggle to love without an agenda. It doesn't mean that I let someone abuse me though. And that's where it's often a dilemma for me.

    To tell you the truth, I took a long time writing the original post. I had extreme writer's block and had to spend hours in the middle of the night discussing the whole issue with my girlfriend because of some of my own discouragement about trying to bridge with Christians. It's not easy and I am sure no poster child or saint.

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  17. Great post, Christine.

    I don't know how to bridge the gap, but I do know that listening will need to happen. And, unpleasant as we may find it, we need to listen to the concerns of the conservatives and address them in dialogue. This is hard, when one's instinct is to walk away.

    For instance, I got mostly positive comments after this service about homophobia, but one person made a negative comment, and it was hard for me to respond in a measured way (I did, but it was hard). I guess I could have written my post about my feelings on that, but it seems unfair to the person concerned to air it on the web.

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  18. Thank you for making the effort, Christine. (And Wendy, if you're reading, thank you, too.)

    It's nice to have a woman around to bounce ideas off of, isn't it? ;-)

    Yewtree, I think you're right about listening. It is so difficult. It may eventually be worthwhile, but we'll probably need to pace ourselves and take breaks.

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  19. Christine,

    Thank you for wisdom born of pain. Unconditional love means no agenda on either side. How tough that is to attempt much less to do.

    Thank you for you, Christine. It's been a while, we need to touch base.

    Lots of love,

    Bill

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  20. You are so cool, Christine! I just wanted to add my voice to saying it :)

    big hug,
    Carol

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  21. Hi Christine, thanks for a great post and for asking the honest questions. Your weariness of what you have been through is palable in your words so thanks for pushing through to write what you did. I am purposely choosing to not indicate which side of the 'argument' I fall on except to say I can relate as far as being a female and having SSA. You so hit the nail on the head about how we all need to stop and ask ourselves frequently if we are loving with 'our agenda' instead of just simply choosing to love. Your post was beautiful and I plan to take it to heart when reaching out to others. Thanks Christine!!

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  22. Hey Christine,

    Now I feel stupid! You are the co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay and and you even made Lance's collage and I was telling you all those stuff. Ughhhh! LOL.

    But understand this. I was just searching something totally irrelevant in youtube few days before writing here last time. Then I stumbled upon Lance Carroll's story. And then I found the story of Zach Stark. I felt so sad for them. But I also got angry. I got even more angry when I checked the dates. These things happened in 2000's. These kinda medieval religious attitudes arent supposed to exist in the 21st century!!

    Then I checked out another blog I had found b4 to see what she had to say about ex-gay ministries. And she had a link to your blog. And I came here and read your entry. I thought Wendy Gritter was the Exodus ministry leader in Canada based on a google search

    http://en.wordpress.com/tag/wendy-gritter/

    And I was pissed off that we still have organizations here in Canada that are affiliated with child abusing organizations (Exodus).


    So, what I'm trying to say is that when I came here I was angry and just replied to your post without reading everything. And now, as I said I feel stupid lol. So, you know a lot more about this than me but I just wanna say this.

    I checked Wendy Gritter's Bridging The Gap and yea they are no longer affiliated with Exodus. However I found this:

    "....
    Let me be clear, New Direction has not changed its foundational theological position nor its position on sexual ethics. However, the ways in which we express these positions embody a more generous orthodoxy than some Exodus leaders may be comfortable with.
    ....."

    "....
    1. Do you know of anyone who was completely gay (not a bisexual) who has become completely heterosexual?
    ...........
    We recognize that it has seemed the amount of healing has been exaggerated or that when asked direct questions about residual sga, responses have been evasive or misleading."
    http://btgproject.blogspot.com/search/label/exodus


    So it's clear that they still have the same ideology and they still see homosexuality as something to be 'healed' from.

    Eventho there are LGBT kids who have to live with religious parents
    and someone has to talk to those religious people for those kids' sake, why do you want to bridge anything with a mentality which sees homosexuality as something to be 'healed' from? Do you think theres anything wrong with 2 adults loving eachother and expressing their love?

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  23. Hi Alex,

    I totally understand, no worries. I have done the same thing - I am just so glad you are passionate about this. I was glad to see that you'd found things at BXG helpful.

    Regarding the quotes on BTG, I agree that they are troubling and do indeed seem to say that they see homosexuality as something that needs to be healed. I'd be interested in seeing what Wendy has to say to that. On the other hand, those ideas wouldn't stop me from being friends or bridging with Wendy. That's the point of bridging, I guess, is you need to come from separate (somewhat) ideologies or else there is nothing to bridge, right?

    I really appreciate your comments, your research, and most of all, your thoughts on this.

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  25. Hey Christine,

    I really appreciate your comments and answers too. Thx...

    Here's something (altho not very relevant but I just wanted to share it) that I really like, maybe you'll like it too:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akYuy2FMQk4&feature=channel_page

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  26. I was almost sure that I previously commented on this post. I know I read it during the synchroblog even on bridging the gap. Excellent post!
    I would like to offer you the bridge builder award.
    There are two rules for this award: The first rule is to write 3 ways you build bridges between yourself and others. The second is to nominate 3 of your favorite blogs/writers for this award.
    Here is the code for the award: if it doesn't come through, email me and I will happily send it to you!

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  27. I was doing some research and ended up coming back to this blogosphere synchroblog experience. Anyways ... as far as bridging I believe you learned a lot in your experiences. Although we come from two different perspectives I probably agree a lot with what you wrote. But I do find it interesting though ... there are some who have only come across few people who are gay and tend to try and say that the few represent the whole.. likewise, it is also valuable to know that there are a few in are ex-gay and unfortunately people make the same mistake to believe the few are the whole when in fact they are not. I'm just simply me, a woman created in God's Image on a journey of allowing God to reveal to me who He created me to be. I would call it a Post-Gay journey and tend to avoid such labels as specially ex-gay. My best friend is gay. Sometimes she comes to church with me and sometimes we talk about the Christian faith and then sometimes we watch a movie or dvd and just hang out. No agenda.

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