This fall I helped start a Generous Space group in BC’s Fraser Valley. Simply put, Generous Space is a bible study for people and allies of the LBGTQ+ Community.
If you asked me five years ago if this is where I saw myself headed, I would have laughed. Six years ago, my husband of 15 years and father of my children publically came out and left me. I was a pastor in the CRC at the time.
It was my worst nightmare coming true. I knew my former husband wondered about his sexuality. He felt a strong pull to the gay community. My response was to pray unceasingly. I dared to believe God would fix my marriage and bring us restoration, renewal and regrowth. I recited verse after verse and declared to the heavens my marriage would triumph and my beloved children would not be a product of divorce.
Things did not work out that way.
I can tell many stories about navigating this season. Even though it was awful, God overwhelmed me with good. Looking back, the biggest shift I experienced was my own.
My heart became more open to my own need for grace and mercy. I could not point any fingers at the LGBTQ+ community. God wanted good things for me; he also wanted good things for my former husband. I began to see that gay lives matter.
I saw churches saying “all are welcome” but I did not see them telling their gay congregants that they’re important and essential to the growth and relevance of the church. I looked for churches telling the LGBTQ+ community that we need them. I found few.
I began dreaming of a day when the church comes out of its own proverbial closet and we stop pretending we don’t have LGBTQ+ people in our congregation.
An example: in the last century, society has had frank conversations about race. Many of us—thinking we were doing the politically correct thing—may have unintentionally hurt our friends of colour by declaring we were “colour-blind” and that skin shade is a non-issue. I don’t think pretending to ignore the colour of someone’s skin was ever the point.
The point is that people are different from us and we can learn from them.
The point is that we are equals. We are created in the image of God. All of us.
We are created to live in community with each other.
We are created to learn from each other.
We are created to display different parts of the character of God.
Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message) says: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it requires great courage. Yes, there may be a cost.
What do we say as we rub shoulders with the LGBTQ+ community? What do we say to LGBTQ+ families whose spousal/parental/sibling relationships have gone through change?
Let’s start with two postures that we, as the church, can take.
The first is: seek empathy. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Christians are traditionally adept at displaying sympathy. Sympathy is, “I feel so bad that this has happened. I will pray for you.” There is nothing overly wrong about this reaction, but the thing is, it’s a reaction.
Empathy pursues understanding. Empathy means walking a mile in the LGBTQ+ community’s shoes.
The second is: be inclusive. This is different from tolerance. Inclusion is inviting families and members of the gay community into your home. Eat with them. Learn from them. Invite them to pray for you. Stop pretending they don’t exist; they do. They are members of your family, your church family and community. They love you.
Show them your own God-colours.
— Beckie Evans is an award-winning writer and teacher. She is currently collaborating with Rebecca Schroeder (M.A., R.C.C.) on a resource for the church entitled “ReVision: When Gender Issues Change Partner Relationships”. She lives with her husband Jarrett and five kids in Abbotsford, BC where they enthusiastically cheer for the Winnipeg Jets.