New Direction, the Ontario-based Christian ministry known to Ex-Gay Watch readers for its 2009 break with Exodus International, will host Relevant Engagement this weekend, with guest speaker Tony Campolo, the evangelical speaker and University of Pennsylvania sociologist.
The event will be live-streamed on the official website from 6.30pm onwards on Saturday, October 9.
New Direction began in 1985 as an ex-gay ministry, but over the last few years has rejected the narrow confines and false dichotomies of the ex-gay movement and broadened its mission to embracing gays and lesbians wherever they are in their faith journey and however they reconcile their faith and sexuality. While the ministry’s evolution was initially interpreted as a bridge-building exercise, I think I’m right in saying that Executive Director Wendy Gritter now prefers the “generous space” metaphor. New Direction wants to help Christians create a spaciousness where people of different theologies, different sexualities and different life choices respect, love and learn from one another without judgment.
For some positive insights into how New Direction is being received by some gay Christians, see this interview (also parts 2 and 3) with Wendy Gritter and Shane, a one-time client of the ministry who is now in a happy same-sex marriage.
Why I Believe in a Generous Space
I cannot speak for other Ex-Gay Watch contributors, but I would like to offer two reasons why I support this kind of attempt at bridge-building, or making generous spaces.
The first is that we mistakenly tend to view progress as a temporal journey that all of society makes together. So in 1950, we were at A with gay rights, in 1970 we were at B, in 1990 at C and now, in 2010, we’ve arrived at D and still have a long way to go. So we naturally condemn people who are still at B when everyone else is at D, but we forgive people who were at A half a century ago because no one had arrived at D yet–they were part of a different society, and they hadn’t progressed.
The problem with that viewpoint is that not everyone is part of society in the same way. Society comprises sub-societies, counter-societies and all sorts of social groupings–whether ethnic, religious or political for example–moving in different directions, at different paces and at different times. Progress isn’t just vertical, with society in a monolithic climb towards the ideal; it’s horizontal, occurring in different groups at different times. My guess is even the most progressive gays and lesbians acknowledge this by making allowances for, say, elderly parents or grandparents who, because they belong to a different generation, haven’t quite caught up with modern notions of equality.
The second reason is that I was once a conservative evangelical Christian, and therefore I’m not cynical about the potential for people to change their minds and their hearts when confronted with evidence and experience of others different from them. From when I first questioned the Christian condemnation of homosexuality, through to having an open heart toward gays and lesbians, to accepting them and eventually accepting myself as a gay man, it took the best part of four years. Why would I deny anyone the same journey by shutting them out? Hearts and minds don’t change overnight. We all–gays and lesbians includes–need time to be challenged by seeing and warming to the humanity in others.
I’ll be tuning in on Saturday night, and I am eagerly following the progress of New Direction; I encourage you to do the same. I’d also like this article to stimulate some discussion about the entire subject we’ll call, for lack of a better term, bridge-building. We’ve seen New Direction, Andrew Marin, Warren Throckmorton, the Gay Christian Network and others, all apparently aspiring to breach the gap. Does it work? Can it ever work? How?