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Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Generous Spaciousness" (Wendy VanderWal-Gritter)

TITLE: Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church
AUTHOR: Wendy VanderWal-Gritter
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (288 pages)

Gay rights and homosexuality matters have become hotly contested issues in many societies. It has split large segments of society into more than two camps. One side is pro-gay while the other side oppose gay agenda. Even religious circles are not spared, with many Christian groups being torn into two over this very issue of homosexuality; the definition and re-definition of marriage; the rights to educate children about heterosexuality and homosexuality; the legal system surrounding this and so on. If anyone is looking for a silver bullet solution, I suggest look elsewhere. While the two groups representing the extreme ends of the homosexuality issue have been very vocal and active, there is a sizeable part of the population that toes the middle ground. This groups asks whether there is a place for both views. They question the pros and cons of both groups represented. They attempt to be as conciliatory as possible and at the same time avoid being misrepresented by others. Unfortunately, voices that offer alternative views apart from the two groups are not able to articulate their position as well. Wendy VanderWal-Gritter calls many of them as offering "proffered answers," which are unsatisfactory and not sufficiently inclusive. Thus, rather than offering another book of that kind, the author introduces this book more as "permission to confront the tensions and air the questions you should ask" so that one can participate in expanding the space for constructive engagement, interaction, and understanding. That is why this book is called "Generous spaciousness."

VanderVal-Gritter begins with a confession so as to clear the decks for open discussion. She admits that she is neither gay, ex-gay, or having any same-sex attraction tendencies. She openly states her belief in the traditional position of marriage being between man and woman. She also shares her experiences of being cornered, even threatened by gay advocates simply because of her stand, so much so that she has become tired of "triumphalistic" behaviours and bigoted attitudes from both sides. She is Executive Director of New Direction Ministries of Canada, a ministry that reaches out to gays and lesbians through understanding and appreciating the tensions they feel. Due to her moderate stance, she was even invited to give a keynote address at Exodus leadership conference, and her take on what it means to minister to ex-gays. Speaking to the conservative circles, she lists three distractions that prevent building bridges of understanding.
  1. Causation: where activists try to find the root causes of homosexuality
  2. Orientation Change: where groups try to focus on sexuality changes
  3. Political Involvement: where groups politicize the whole issue.

Writing more as a practitioner, VanderWal-Gritter writes firstly for the Church in mind; for people disillusioned with Christianity over the homosexuality matter; for people who wants to be understood; for ex-gays; for anyone interested in engaging constructively with gays, lesbians, and their advocates. People in the LGBTQ camp needs to be understood more than to be attacked for their views. She describes how she herself had been forced-funneled into either a "you're right" or "you're wrong" from various groups. The accusations fail to ask the right questions, which in turn produces bigoted answers. Ex-gay ministries are not to be streamlined into any of the three "distractions" above, but to be approached using stories that accurately describe the condition of the person. Readers are urged to understand that there is no one simple way to understand same-sex relationships. In other words, just to label a homosexuality as "rebellion," "addiction," "brokenness," or "natural variant" is by itself too simplistic. Rather than identifying someone with their orientation, why not with their status as child of God? What about helping gay people to help accept themselves? Whether they are able to relate honestly about their feelings depend on how people can accept them. What about progressing beyond homosexuality issues and work more toward discipleship matters? How can one understand "holistic sexuality?" How is a homosexual's image of God different from the rest? What is the place of the Bible in such discussion? It is important to understand that there are gay people who honestly and diligently wrestle with Biblical principles. VanderWal-Gritter brings in the four key sources of theological reflection: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience.

VanderWal-Gritter points out that any fruitful discussion must be done in a "safe environment of generous spaciousness." In such a space, there will be openness to different viewpoints. There will be a common faith and trust in God. There will be avoiding the three distractions above. There will be a restraint from judging one another. There will be hospitality by all and to all. There will be love and humility. There will be less emphasis on sexuality but more on Christlikeness. VanderWal-Gritter also leaves a chapter each for pastors and leaders, Christians who call themselves gays or lesbians, and would be gay advocates. These three chapters are worth the price of the book as they are filled with VanderWal-Gritter's deep experience and knowledge about the different groups that she cares about.

This is a remarkable book that tries to build bridges of understanding instead of fences of distrust. VanderWal-Gritter tries to encourage us to adopt the attitude of humility, hospitality, and honesty. There are already many hurts and hurting people. The Church has already been divided and people are causing unnecessary harm and hurt on people when what they need is healing and a loving heart. I like what VanderWal-Gritter is doing, in affirming her own position but still welcoming of people who do not share her stand. In an age where people often see the homosexuality issue as black and white, or with binary clarity, VanderWal-Gritter reminds us that we are to love our neighbour regardless of their sexuality. One does not need to be labeled a gay-lover or gay-hater on the basis of one's view. Neither is it fair to straitjacket anyone on the basis of their faith position. For anyone to do so, they are only creating a tiny corner to play, instead of creating a big space for more people to engage in fruitful conversation and open sharing. We do not need more fighting. We do not need to race one another to be dominant over the other. We need more space to find time to agree what the main issue is, after the smoke of simplistic judgments is lifted.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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