“This book is decidedly not about the right answer or solution for the church on the theological topic of homosexuality . . .its posture seeks to be one of openness that is inquisitive, personal, relational, and dependent on the Spirit. This book is about generous spaciousness” (26).
Linger in the metaphorical foyer of the Church, and it won’t be long before you encounter stories of love and heartache. Listen closely, and some of those stories will concern LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people. Listen deeply, and it will become apparent that the heartache known is not simply between lovers, but between gay and questioning children of God and the Church. Enter Wendy Vander Wal-Gritter, Executive Director of New Direction Ministries of Canada. As a ministry, New Direction seeks to “see safe and spacious places where [those outside the heterosexual mainstream] can respectfully wrestle through the complex and difficult questions of discipleship and mission. In such places, we fully trust that the Holy Spirit is more than able to lead God’s people in the way they should go.”
It’s that last bit – about the Holy Spirit being “more than able to lead God’s people” – that really sticks in the craw of a wide population of Christians who have had a difficult time assimilating stories of same-sex love into the cacophony of Christian narratives. Allowing the Holy Spirit to lead on this issue, without any particular endgame in mind (dissolution of same-sex attraction or commitment to lifelong celibacy, for example) is a posture that may inspire anxiety in some, but it’s that very openness to the Spirit that has allowed for many LGBTQ and questioning people of faith to find solace in the ministry of New Direction. And it’s from this very place – the dividing line between the same-sex attracted and the heteronormative – that Gritter’s highly-acclaimed Generous spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church speaks. She writes:
“If Christ has come to break dividing walls, to embody reconciliation, to remove barriers, to tear the curtain in the temple, then this false notion of needing to renounce, get rid of, suppress, to do away with one’s same-sex attraction in order to find one’s place in God’s economy is tragic.”
Tragic, but all too often the script. As Gritter explores throughout Generous Spaciousness, the renunciation and suppression (of one’s sexuality) as a means to sanctification narrative remains sacrosanct for many gay ministries today. In this way, New Direction (which, it should be noted, was itself a an “ex-gay” ministry before it parted ways with Exodus International in 2007) remains outstanding among its kin for being without prescribed agenda in regards to its counsel, beyond helping its people to seek Christ’s heart for their lives as a whole, sexuality included.
As a text, Generous Spaciousness is informative, reflective and didactic. As an author, Gritter does the laudable work of articulating a nuanced stance, born from years of “real life” experience, amidst a postmodern context – or, as Gritter describes it, a “transitional season.” She writes, “I see this book as a word in a transitional season. . . . These questions surrounding homosexuality are best engaged as part of a much bigger conversation about the expression of the Christian faith in our Western culture and global reality.”
Situating such a treatise on compassion for LGBTQ Christians within a wider cultural and global context allows Gritter to do the work of elucidating the personal in the universal and the universal in the personal; which is to say, by sharing stories – tales from her own life and the lives of the LGBTQ Christians with whom she has worked – in a compassionate manner, she helps her readers to navigate the labyrinthine struggle that is faithful sexuality. When seen through that same lens of compassion, this quest for bodily and relational holiness is not primarily a homo- or heterosexual journey, but rather, a human one.
To be sure, with nearly 300 pages of material to work through, this is no light read, heavier still for the reader for whom these issues are more than theoretical. For some, this book will not go far enough in affirming the legitimacy of LGBTQ identity and lifestyle. For others, Gritter’s argument to extend grace to those outside the heterosexual mainstream will lack exegesis. Likely greater still, however, will be those in the middle who find Gritter’s apologetics of compassion irresistible. So read it, savour it, pass it on: to your pastor, your neighbour, to every member in your congregation. It’s that kind of book.
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