Recently we became aware of Wendy Gritter’s keynote talk (mp3) at the Exodus leadership conference in January. Wendy is the executive director of an Exodus member ministry in Canada called New Direction. While it is what most here would describe as an ex-gay ministry, many things about it are unexpected. For one, you won’t find them using that term, “ex-gay” or many others associated with an Exodus ministry. Whether this is for show, or a sincere attempt to be different, you are free to explore here.
Many of her suggestions echo our own pleas to ex-gay ministries over the years; stop political lobbying, stop emphasizing “change,” genuine respect for those who are comfortable with their sexual orientation (even though this may come from a personal understanding of Scripture which diverges from their own), recognizing and removing the underlying tone which says that ex-ex-gays just didn’t try hard enough, and on and on.
We thought Wendy might just be a breath of fresh Canadian air and asked her to write a guest post to spur on discussion. What might Exodus, or any ex-gay ministry, be like if they were to take these suggestions to heart? What does it mean that an ex-gay ministry which may just “get it” more than any so far, grew out of a country largely unfriendly to the kind of fundamentalism that often surrounds their US counterparts? How close does New Direction come to your idea of what a fair ex-gay ministry should be, if it is to be at all?
Wendy will be available to respond off and on in comments, so don’t spare the hard questions. Her post follows:
Thank you for the invitation to write this piece. To be honest, my knees are knocking a bit.
I want to begin by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain that some of those who follow this site have experienced from leaders like me and ministries like the one I lead. I’m sorry that some of you connected with this site who identify as Christian have had your faith questioned and judged. I’m sorry there is a felt need for a site like XGW. I’m sorry that it feels like legitimate concerns have not been listened to. I am sorry for the arrogance that can come across from leaders like me.
I suppose I’m not what some would assume to be your typical ex-gay leader. I’m not gay, not ex-gay, not ex-ex-gay. Not male. Not Southern Baptist. Not Republican. Not even American. I’m a Gen X postmodern whose perspectives are, depending on who you talk to, too liberal or too conservative, unorthodox or too orthodox, heretical or vibrantly Christ-centered.
The ministry I lead is over 20 years old. I’ve been at the helm for the last 6 years – although truth be told, the first 2 years I was just trying to get my head around what the heck God had called me to. It’s been the wildest learning curve of my life.
I deeply believe that God’s intention for sexual expression is the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. God has also deeply convicted me of my own pride in assuming that I had a perfect pipeline to God and everyone who disagreed with me was simply deceived by the enemy or putting their own wants and desires ahead of commitment to God. I have had the opportunity that many conservatives have not had – and that is to come to know people who have deeply and honestly sought God through prayer and scripture and come to a different conclusion than I. Their faith was not trivial nor superficial, and though there were points of disagreement, I respect their deep commitment to God. And so, I’ve come to a place where I’m grateful that God has humbled me and given me the opportunity to listen, learn and engage with those who come to different perspectives.
I don’t think my job is to change the minds of all those who think differently than I do. As an eclectic Calvinist, I believe God is the one who convicts and reroutes us in our minds and hearts. My job is to walk in step with the Spirit and do my very best to do what he tells me to do. I find a lot of affinity in the words attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” As I work and serve, I find more often than not that what the Spirit whispers for me to do is to simply focus on serving and loving those he brings across my path.
I do think there needs to be a safe place within the Christian community for those who experience same-gender attraction who have wrestled with scripture and come to believe a traditional biblical sexual ethic. I believe we have a long way to go to eradicate hateful and homophobic environments and responses in the Christian community. We have a long way to go to demolish the pervasive hierarchy of sin. And we have a long way to go to counter-act the perpetual sense of shame that many experience due to the reality of their same-gender attraction.
I work towards the day when a follower of Jesus who experiences same-gender attraction can be honest and open about that reality and receive support and encouragement in living a life that is pleasing to God. And I feel particularly called to do that within the conservative church.
I also feel called to speak to the conservative church about some of the ways I believe we have been distracted from the primary calling to support and encourage deeply devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.
- We have been distracted by the politics around homosexuality. I do think there is a place for Christians to engage in the public arena. God calls his followers to be a blessing to all nations and to represent him by being the presence of shalom on the earth. Unfortunately, in many of the Christian political efforts regarding homosexuality there is little evidence of shalom. The result is that many who need to hear a gospel of good news perceive God’s people to be hypocritical and unloving (“you say you love us – but you’re fighting to prevent/take our rights”). This has perpetuated a sense of alienation that I believe, grieves the heart of God.
- We have been distracted by a focus on orientation change. The heart of Christian ministry was summed up by Jesus when he said, “Go, make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you”. The point of a ministry like the one I lead is to support and encourage disciples of Jesus in their journey to live out their sexuality in a manner that they believe is God-honoring. If in that process they experience a deeper ability to love their opposite gender spouse (if they were already married) or a greater capacity to engage an authentic romantic, sexual, marital relationship with someone of the opposite gender, that is a gift that can be gratefully received. But such gifts can’t be predicted, they can’t be guaranteed, they don’t follow a set of instructions, or come after just the right combination of root identification and eradication. There is a sense of mystery that necessitates an attitude of humility, discussion of realistic expectations, and serenity. So at the end of the day, “change is possible” is not really the main point. Life in Christ is.
- We have been distracted by the question of causation. While there is clearly a place for research on this topic, and those involved in ministry should have the integrity to stay abreast of current research, by and large the conclusions (or lack of conclusion) on this matter are peripheral to the call of Christian ministry. Because there is currently such inconclusiveness on this question, conservative Christians would do well to humbly acknowledge that rather than being perceived as ill-informed, blinder-wearing, or agenda-promoting.
In light of some of these distractions, New Direction Ministries, under our current leadership, have laid out some distinctives for ministry:
- We are pastorally-focused, not politically driven.
- We are relationally-focused, not program driven.
- We are discipleship-focused, not change driven.
- We are partnership-focused, not empire driven.
Our Core Values are to be relational, respectful, relevant and redemptive.
I acknowledge that there have been people who have connected with our ministry who have left feeling hurt, confused and uncertain about how to go on with their life having not experienced change. I wish I could pass the buck and say all of that happened before my time. Sexuality is incredibly complex. People are complex. Their stories, their experiences, and their journeys are unique. In this midst of this complex uniqueness, as ministers of the gospel we don’t always get it right, we don’t always discern appropriately. I hope, that as a ministry, we are learning and growing and improving. I hope that we have created an environment that is open and safe regardless of what happens with someone’s attractions. I know our staff are open to engage people where they’re at. If people disengage from the ministry, which could happen for a multitude of different reasons, we hope that they would always feel they could return for a hot cup of coffee and be received with warmth, caring and respect – regardless of where they might land on the ex-gay ~ ex-ex-gay continuum. When we can, we try to follow-up with those who have left while respecting their privacy and right to be left alone as well. We believe God loves unconditionally and, though regularly faced with our own limitations, we seek to imitate him.
I see a lot of triumphalistic “name it, claim it” kind of stuff in the church and it always makes me nervous. I don’t particularly see evidence that the Christian journey should be about getting all the things we want – or even about our individual happiness. We see in Jesus Christ someone who poured himself out for the world and he calls his followers to imitate him. Frankly, Christians aren’t very good at pouring ourselves out for others, especially for those who disagree with us. The world sees this – and it compromises our ability to share the love and life of God with our neighbors. At the risk of being misunderstood or called heretics, we want to engage, listen, and be the presence of Christ with those who hold differing perspectives. We want to hang out with all the folks that make church leaders nervous (and frankly want to be the kind of people who make church leaders nervous) – because we know that is who Jesus was and what Jesus did. We do this, in part, because there is more common ground than might be initially apparent. And I think there could be more understanding and respect.
I’ve been very encouraged by some of the conversations I’ve had over the years that were respectful, charitable and gracious. For all the caricatures Christians may have of gay people, I have encountered a whole array of responses – some not so nice – but many kind and thoughtful. I’m very grateful to those who, though personally holding a gay affirmative perspective, have acknowledged a place and even a need for a ministry like New Direction. And in those conversations, you’ve earned the right to keep us sharp and on our toes. You’ve been an interesting accountability partner at times – and my hope is that I will continue to be open to hear any appropriate critique that is offered. Likewise, I hope that in my engagement and offering of input, I will also earn the right to speak – particularly with those who name the name of Jesus Christ. The perception of polarization and enmity between Christians of differing minds on sexual ethics is so damaging to a unified Christian witness to an increasingly post-Christian, skeptical generation. I want to be part of doing something about that.
So, we seek to be a nuanced, moderate voice in this area of ministry. The attempt at introducing this level of nuance has, in part, been impacted by listening to the critique of people like those represented at XGW. The listening process has, at times, been difficult and frustrating. It can be discouraging to feel “lumped in” with others, despite real attempts to chart our own distinct course. It can be painful to reach an impasse and feel there is no way through. It is disappointing to be accused of being disingenuous in attempts at bridge-building.
But I’m grateful for this journey none-the-less. Because in the process, we have felt compelled to put “first things first” and recognize when second place things were encroaching on an essential focus on Jesus Christ. One of the contributors to XGW at one point, somewhere, said something like, “The mission of ex-gay ministries should be to support those, who for religious reasons, seek to not be mastered by their experience of same-gender attraction.” I think that is pretty darn close to what I would suggest too.
I am deeply passionate about contributing to a climate where anyone questioning, struggling or embracing an alternative sexual identity can encounter the presence of Jesus Christ. My focus in this area of engagement is unapologetically Christ-centered. Some might say that by the very nature of holding a traditional sexual ethic, I contribute to the inaccessibility of the gospel for gay and lesbian people. I believe the power of the gospel is not thwarted by a call to radical discipleship. And my prayer is that as we, at New Direction, commit ourselves to loving, serving and building bridges with same-gender attracted people, Jesus will be seen in and through us.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my heart for Christian ministry from a conservative perspective. I look forward to further conversation.
Wendy Gritter is the executive director of New Direction Ministries of Canada. For more information on New Direction: www.newdirection.ca