Earlier this week, i received my Kindle edition of Wendy VanderWal-Gritter’s book, Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church. I’m about to start chapter 11 (which puts me a little over halfway through the book), and it’s so far been a pretty good read. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to do a review of the book itself yet. I’ll have to wait until I get finished with it and mull over if there’s anything that I want to say about it that other potential readers might find helpful when considering whether to pick up a copy. (Generally speaking, I think people would do well to pick up a copy, but that statement alone is probably not very helpful to most potential readers.)
As I’ve been reading the book a number of thoughts have come up in my mind. The one I want to blog about today is related to the question I put in the post’s title: Whose “space” is it?
From reading the book so far and conversations I’ve had with Wendy1 in the past, generous spaciousness is a concept that is meant to be applied on the personal and institutional level. On the personal level, it is an attitude of welcome and agreement to live in tension and even disagreement with others. On an institutional level, it is a formal or informal policy that encourages leadership and members to embody that attitude in word and deed. The latter, which I’m going to focus on, can be more fully seen in Wendy’s recent OnFaith article about how go engage gay Christian who attend one’s church. Because the title of that article also points to the one nagging problem I see: Whose church is it?
While I’m not arguing against the idea that churches need to consider how to be more welcoming of and how to minister to LGBT people, people who are questioning their gender and/or sexuality, or people who are simply wondering what God really says about sexuailty, gender, and same-sex sexual relationships, the very notion of “making space” for such people suggests that the church belongs to a different group of people and not those for whom such “space” is being made.
Ultimately, it becomes a question of how welcoming a space can truly be when the space is controlled by others who get to decide how welcoming to make that space. Such a space still offers a great deal of comfort, safety, and privilege for those who control it and demands more risk and potential discomfort for those form whom “space is being made.” Those who wish to truly be welcoming of LBGT people, their supporters, and those who are sorting through questions about LGBT lives and faith journeys need to wrestle with that injustice. How does one make a space truly welcoming and generous to those who do not share “ownership” or control of a space?
Ultimately, I think that Christians also need to consider that rather than or in addition to “making space” for others in their space, they need to be prepared to completely give up their privilege, comfort, sense of control, and “home field advantage” by humbly2 seeking out those they wish to know in their own spaces, where they can feel safe and truly feel on equal ground or even at an advantage. After all, trying to meet others only on one’s own terms is not an attempt to meet others at all. Wendy talks about doing just that in her book when she talks about the first year she attended the Gay Christian Network’s annual conference.
1As an aside, I should point out that I have spoken with, met, broken bread with, drunken wine with, and gotten my butt kicked in a game of Stone Age by Wendy. As such, my interactions with her do affect how I approach and engage with this book and the subject of generous spaciousness in general.
2As anyone who has maintained or or belonged to any space that caters to and seeks to be safe for marginalized people can tell you, there are different ways for privileged people to try entering and behaving in those spaces. Some of those ways can disrupt such spaces and even make them unsafe. Wendy exemplifies one of the better ways to go about this when she talks about how she approached seeking entry to her first GCN conference.