It is understandable that the descriptive term generous spaciousness creates some inherent challenges. Some people resonate with it and seem to have a gut sense of what it is all about. For others, it is a term that fails to bring clarity to an already complex conversation. Part of the thinking behind coining such a description is that it necessitates further discussion. It is a description that invites further development and evolution and definition. I think this is helpful in our current discussions around the kind of climate we want to nurture in the Christian community in our interactions with those of us who experience sexual or gender identity differently than the majority of people do.
And that raises the first point about generous spaciousness: It is intended to describe the environment, climate, ethos within expressions of the Christian community as it pertains to engaging with gender and sexual minority persons. It is not a theological position statement. It is not about doctrinal boundaries. It is not about promoting particular positions.
We believe that such an environment is best nurtured from a series of postures:
• The posture of hospitality: all are unconditionally welcomed and invited into relationship
• The posture of humility: we all hold our own convictions deeply with the keen awareness that, “I could be wrong” given the reality that none of us has a perfect pipeline to God and all of us see through a glass dimly
• The posture of grace: I seek to have eyes to see the good fruit in another person’s life – particularly those with whom I may have particular disagreements; I expect the best, not the worst, of those I am in community with; I recognize that there will be times I am misunderstood and I determine to not get defensive or combative about it; I will do my best to not take offense and respond in the manner of Christ
The second major focus of generous spaciousness is that it prioritizes spiritual exploration and growth. Clearly the stewardship of our sexuality and the moral decision-making we are all called to is an integral part of our spiritual growth. However, for many sexual and gender minority persons such matters have been elevated to the primary and sometimes sole priority by those in the Christian community around them. In my experience, this perpetuates the very thing most Christians agree on, that people should not be defined by nor reduced to the realities of their sexuality. In light of this, generous spaciousness seeks to focus on encouraging individuals to explore and more deeply connect to the person of Jesus, to grow in wisdom and discernment, to develop mature spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, silence etc., and to pursue a life of virtue that exemplifies the fruit of the Spirit. Regardless of where one lands on the question of appropriate choices for a life of faithful discipleship for gender and sexual minorities, this emphasis will best position someone to be open and able to respond to the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit.
A third focus of generous spaciousness is that it is not intended to be a theoretical concept – but is intended to be an embodied and lived reality through relationships in community. This makes it a little challenging to have discussions about this concept divorced from shared life together. To simply have a discussion where one person brings in their experience and another contributes their separate and distinct experience may prove to be simply frustrating. Generous spaciousness only becomes a life-giving concept as people actually seek to embody it in their interactions with one another in real-time, face-to-face relationship. Though I think we can model aspects of generous spaciousness in online interactions, this is a limited expression of the depth of what the concept seeks to encourage.
For some, a description like generous spaciousness seems to be unhelpful because it doesn’t articulate clear boundaries. It is certainly true that generous spaciousness is not a stand-alone term. It is meant to encourage a particular environment within given groups in the Christian community.
So, in the context of a Christian family where there may be divergent views on the appropriateness of same-sex relationships, generous spaciousness might indicate a commitment to find common ground in a shared faith in Christ despite differences. It might mean that family members give each other the benefit of the doubt when sharing about their spiritual life rather than assuming that such testimony is counterfeit because of the position they hold on same-sex relationships. It might mean that there is a shared agreement to not allow debates and arguments consume family conversations. It might mean a mutual commitment to focus on encouraging each other to continue drawing near to Christ.
In a church setting, generous spaciousness might mean that within the framework of whatever clear position on same-sex relationships the church holds, there will be a sense of safety, trust, and freedom to wrestle with the variety of perspectives that exist in the Christian community on these questions. It might mean that individuals are encouraged to live in the tension between their personal autonomy to shape and own their beliefs and values and the call to live in mutual submission to one another within the context of the faith community. It might mean that space is made for someone who believes differently on the question of same-sex relationships with the understanding that the individual will not constantly seek to confront, coerce, or challenge others within the community to adopt their viewpoint. It might mean that once clear understanding has been established of the church’s position and an individual’s position, the focus prioritizes spiritual growth as described above.
In a Christian organization, generous spaciousness might mean that the idea of who can be a Christian is more than a code of moral conduct. It might mean that there is an intentional commitment to find unity in diversity with the understanding that people may form and shape their beliefs and values based on slightly different approaches to scripture – but it doesn’t mean that people can judge who cares about the scriptures and who doesn’t. In a Christian organization, generous spaciousness may mean that we recognize that sexual and gender minority persons may navigate their journey of discipleship in different ways but the priority should be to be alert to the fruit that is evident in their lives as they seek to follow Jesus.
Generous spaciousness as a descriptive concept doesn’t mean that anything goes. As we use this phrase in the context of New Direction, there are some non-negotiable matters that we believe are critical to address to be able to truly nurture environments that are generously spacious.
• Generous spaciousness is unapologetically Christ-centered. While we are humbly grateful to have the opportunity to engage those of differing or no faith, our focus on Christ as the source and energy behind our commitment to generous spaciousness is not up for debate.
• Generous spaciousness prioritizes fidelity. We believe that faithfulness is a core facet of God’s character – and we are called to model that in our lives and relationships. While we encounter and seek to be unconditionally hospitable to people who are not modeling fidelity in their expression of their sexuality, we unapologetically uphold the standard of fidelity.
• Generous spaciousness seeks to address and prevent harmful ideas and practices that have the potential to hinder or hurt a gender or sexual minority individual in their spiritual journey. We recognize that people may disagree about what is harmful – which makes this aspect of our commitment to generous spaciousness challenging. However, our priority is to ensure that gender and sexual minority persons have every opportunity and encouragement to explore and grow in their faith in Jesus Christ. We trust that the Holy Spirit can fulfill the role of bringing conviction and correction where it is needed. We may be used in that process – but leadership and control of that process is up to the Spirit of God. This means that we will seek to address issues of language, attitude, assumptions or pastoral practices that we believe are unhelpful and potentially harmful. Our determination of such issues arises out of the last ten years of ministry and listening to the stories of gender and sexual minority Christians and paying particular attention to their descriptions of harmful and painful experiences. Despite the reality that there will be disagreement about our determinations, we make no apology for doing our best to ensure that every same-sex attracted, LGBT individual has every opportunity to consider and embrace faith in Jesus Christ.
Generous spaciousness is not a perfect concept – but we do hope that it is a vehicle through which in the messy realities of real life in community we can, in the midst of our diversity, find common focus in Jesus Christ and in encouraging one another to explore and grow more deeply in our relationship with Him.