Tag Archives: Generous Spaciousness

Generous Spaciousness: Whose Space is It?

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.

Spotlighting a Couple of BTG Posts

I really don’t have much to say today.  This is fine because it gives me the chance to point out a couple of posts written by Wendy over at the Bridging the Gap blog.  The first post is where she gives a brief summary and a few thoughtst about about the GSCR.  As I’ve blogged a bit about my own experiences at the retreat, I thought some readers might be able to hear someone else’s thoughts.  I particularly liked the sampling of quotes Wendy included from various attendees toward the bottom of her post.

The other post I want to draw readers’ attention to is one in which Wendy talks about a video showing a discussion between Rob Bell and Andrew Wilson in which the topic of the morality of same sex sexual relationships comes up.  Wendy offers her thoughts on how she might have responded to Wilson’s comments and questions, had she been in Bell’s position.  Her detailed and thoughtful analysis of some of the underlying questions — questions that don’t always have to do with human sexuality no less — that must be answered, as their answers will greatly influence how someone approaches the whole topic.

Wendy, being who she is, ties it back to Generous Spaciousness:

My point is not to argue for Rob Bell’s position. My point is that there are robust theological reflections that help us to understand why we can come to such different perspectives on matters such as our theology and ethics of sexuality. My point is to try to demonstrate that generous spaciousness is not some weak, compromise that is simply motivated by keeping up with culture and trying to make God relevant in a gay-positive context. Rather, generous spaciousness costs us our pride, it costs us the luxury of arrogant certainty. Generous spaciousness costs us our security in our exegesis, our hermeneutics, our interpretations. (especially when such exegesis and hermeneutics result in prohibitions for others that do not personally affect ourselves) Generous spaciousness forces us to find our security in the wild, untamable revealing of Jesus Christ to us through the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures, through tradition (including contemporary tradition), through the academic disciplines, and through our experiences. And the truth is that this revelation is not in our control – it is in God’s control. This demands our humility, our openness, our fearlessness, our willing to risk following – even when it seems God is doing a new thing.

I absolutely love it when Wendy — or anyone else — talks about humility and then goes on to practice it.  I find her willingness to let go of determining what is right for someone else’s life and leave that in God’s hands refreshing and powerful.  I also think it takes no small amount of faith, personally.

If you haven’t done so already, go read Wendy’s posts.  The whole blog, if you have the time.

Some final musings on the GSCR

Before too much time passes, I wanted to offer a few more comments and thoughts on the Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat I attended 10 May through 13 May.  In particular, I want to reflect more on one of my reasons for going and what I found out:

Generous Spaciousness offers a possible alternative [for living peaceably with Christian friends and family members] to those choices [hiding parts of who I am or limiting how much time I spend with certain people], and it’s an alternative that I want to place hope in.  Going to the retreat was, in many ways, an attempt to gauge how much hope I should allow myself to put in Generous Spaciousness.

At the retreat, I found a great deal of welcome and a willingness to walk with me no matter where I was in my own journey.  I found that people were seeking to make Generous Spaciousness as open as they possibly could.  In fact, I remember another member of my community group turning to me at the breakfast table and asking me if I had found the even very generous or spacious, given the fact that I followed a completely different faith tradition.  It suggested to me that he was considering how his spaces could be more welcoming, even beyond the bounds and dimensions of human sexuality.

I’ll also note that while many people commented on my bravery for attending the event, I found my fellow community group member’s choice to ask that question pretty brave in itself.  It takes a certain amount of vulnerability to ask another person if they perceive you and your comrades as welcoming and hospitable as you perceive yourself to be.

For the record, by and large, the answer to that question was a resounding yes on my part.  Oh there were a few things here and there, mainly what seemed to be a couple assumptions about people who land outside the Christian faith.  But I saw these as mostly minor things, the sort of thing that would be resolved by further dialogue.  What was far more important to me was the desire to have that dialogue and how many seemed open to allowing that dialogue to challenge them.  I think this was most likely due to the fact that I was dealing with people who have experienced what it’s like to be misunderstood and seen inaccurately (a la validity prisms and straw men) by others and have combined that experience with their capacity for empathy, creating a desire to better understand those they themselves and lose their own preconceived notions along the way.

Of course, this raises the question of how well other people — including the people who are in my life on a more regular basis — would do.  After all, the retreat was full of a self-selected sample of people who wanted — and in many cases — likely needed Generous Spaciousness.  It may still be a long time before Generous Spaciousness gains traction with a less intentional gathering of people.  I have high hopes that it will gain that traction in time, however.

Soon, I’ll be Canada-bound

Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be headed to a Christian retreat center in Canada.  There, I will spend the weekend hanging out with other people at the Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat.  Here’s a brief description of the retreat:

A safe place to be
authentic, to share, to worship, to learn and to grow! All are welcome
to enter this experience of Christian community with generous hearts, a
listening and humble posture, to experience God’s outrageous love and

The retreat is being organized by New Direction Ministries of Canada.  I’m looking forward to it for a number of reasons, including the fact that attending means I finally get to meet Wendy Gritter, with whom I have conversed online for two (three? four?  I’ve lost track!) years now.  Wendy is one of the driving forces behind the concept of Generous Spaciousness and has done a great deal of blogging about it.  Her thoughts on the topic are great.  I’m not sure if this particular description was written by her, but I think it accurately reflects her vision of Generous Spaciousness:

What is Generous Spaciousness? GS is a relational posture
that acknowledges the reality of diverse perspectives on the question
of faithful discipleship for same-sex oriented people. These differences
have polarized the church, hindered our public witness as the Body of
Christ, and alienated LGBT people from the church.

This posture prioritizes nurturing a safe and encouraging environment for gender and sexual minorities to explore and grow in faith in Jesus Christ,
entrusting each individual to the leading of the Holy Spirit while
encouraging them to be a part of a Christ-centered community.

Generous Spaciousness seeks to build bridges, to find unity in our diversity, and to pursue peace.

I’ll admit that earlier this week, I was very skeptical about the concept of Generous Spaciousness, or at least whether it could ever be successfully applied.  To be honest, between reading material that called me and other LGBT people to tell our stories and educate Christians in spite of the fact that many Christians are poor listeners at best and actually hostile to the listening process at best and being faced with some Christians who are unwilling to let go of their overpowering need to “answer the morality question,” I found myself disillusioned.

But then I remembered that people like Wendy have demonstrated both an eagerness to listen and engage with LGBT people and have even been willing to set aside the “morality question” or at least accept it as a disputable matter which Christians can disagree on in good faith, allowing them to focus on hospitality and fellowship.  As I considered these things the past couple days, my hopes for finding Generous Spaciousness and the retreat to be something worthwhile have returned.

I’ll blog about how it went and my thoughts sometime after I get back.