Church StuffLGBTRelationships

Brave Spaces and Bigger Tables

I go to what some of us refer to as a “loving, but not affirming” church. For the past year and a half, I’ve struggled to find my place in it, to figure out how to participate in it, how to love my moderate-pseudo-progressive friends well and allow them space to learn, mess up, and grow as they seek to be better allies.

It is taxing sometimes. It is annoying and heartbreaking when you just want to exist in a church without having to explain yourself or defend yourself. But then there are moments when I do see breakthrough. There are moments when I see it click in someone’s mind just how important this all is to the future of the Church. I’ve had acquaintances become full blown allies in mere months after doing life with me and my community, and that, my friends, is powerful.

But there is something I notice from time to time within my own community of queer Christians, especially those of who move in social justice circles, and it’s this:

Sometimes we can be very unkind to people trying to be allies.

Especially those who are in the spotlight a bit more. Like when Jen Hatmaker announced publicly that she was affirming of LGBTQ+ folks, there was a proverbial eye roll from some. Their point of view is that we shouldn’t be celebrating cishet folks for “coming out” as affirming. They are late to the party, so to speak. Big whoop! Why should they get any sort of recognition for saying stuff that we, as marginalized people fighting for our existence, have been saying for a while now?

And that’s valid, and I get it, and to a point, I identify with it because just saying you’re affirming isn’t actually doing much. But still, on the flipside of that, it can be a powerful to have someone with a platform and influence lend their voice to this conversation because the more people we have pulling for us, the more change can happen in the minds and hearts of people (which is what we’re aiming for, right?).

This past weekend, at the Wild Goose Festival (which, I know, is a SUPER white space), I got to sit through two workshops with Mickey Scottbay Jones of the Faith Matters Network. She talked about this idea of “brave space.”

In Brave Space, we abandon the notion that any space is safe for everyone. Because what is safe for me as a queer guy might not be safe for my trans friends, or for my black friends or for the women in my life. In Brave Space, we acknowledge our imperfections and work hard to be sensitive while also acknowledging that we’re going to mess it up. All of us.

But rather than just totally breaking community with those who don’t have all the right language down, all the right tools in their social justice tool belt, we choose to be gracious. We choose to love bigger. We choose to give space to learning, failing, and reconciliation. We choose to give ourselves to healing. (And yes, that is asking something of those of us who embody marginalized identities.)

These two workshops were incredible, and it got me thinking about how I approach my own work, my own communities, and how we, as queer Christians, sometimes treat people who are seeking to be better allies. And, if I’m being frank,

We have a bad habit of shitting on our allies.

We claim to want to create a bigger space for everyone, but if they’re not the exact model of what we want them to be, then they can’t sit with us.

This is present both on the micro-levels of our communities when a cishet friend comes to an organizing meeting or is new to an affirming space, and also on the bigger, public spaces, like Facebook and Twitter, especially when prominent cishet Christians announce they’ve become affirming. It’s that eye roll I keep talking about.

Again, I get it. They are late to the party. They aren’t saying or doing anything revelatory. And no, they certainly aren’t perfect in their allyship, but no one is. But they showed up, and many of them lost big. They lost their communities, their platforms, and many of them suffered financial losses. But they showed up. They took up their cross, and they followed where Jesus led them to, and that was to the margins to stand with the queer community. There are so many pastors who are quietly affirming will never show up. They’ll never admit that they love and affirm queer people and queer relationships because of what they stand to lose.

Don’t get me wrong —I’m annoyed anytime another straight (white, male) pastor gets a book deal or gets invite anywhere to talk about being more inclusive when people could be passing the mic to marginalized folks. And we should be calling out our allies when they aren’t making a concerted effort to do so. We should absolutely call them out when the fuck up, just like I hope people will call me out when I fuck up.

But I know so many people, people who strive to be allies to our community who are too afraid to do more work, to be more visible, to fight more fiercely for justice because they know they’ll likely get their heads bit off and/or get dragged on Twitter if they mess up, or they know that no matter what they do, they’ll still get accosted by us. They’ve seen how we roll, and sometimes it’s beyond brutal.

I know were the salt of the earth, but damn y’all, we can really heavy handed with our saltiness. Maybe we should focus on being light a little bit more. Perhaps we could create spaces that are lined with grace and love, opportunities to grow instead of social excommunication?

I’m not talking about those who don’t own their mistakes. I’m not talking about people who can’t navigate their moments of white or straight fragility. I’m not talking about the allies who get defensive when we call them out.

I’m talking about moments like where someone says they are for us, and we basically give them a middle finger.

If we are Christians, we should be able to act a little bit more like Christ.

Like it or not, we need our allies.

I’m not always thrilled about it. I often times want to be the one with the mic. I want to be the person invited to conferences to talk about this stuff. I want to be the one getting the book deal. But more than likely, I won’t be able to get through the front doors of the churches I want to help reform and make better. I will never be welcome in certain spaces for the simple fact that I’m gay. But a straight, more mild, more moderate (male) pastor? He’s gonna have an easier time getting through the door. That’s just the way the world is right now.

That’s our reality of our broken world and the systems we inherited. We need people in positions of power and privilege to be willing to stand with us, to say things to the greater majority because, unfortunately, the greater majority might not listen to queer folks.

The work for an inclusive, intersectional justice is not a quick fix. We’re overhauling centuries of bad teaching, systems that have stood for over a millennia, and we’re simultaneously building new communities and creating new ways of doing life and cultivating community. It’s hard work, and it’s not gonna happen over night. And so, while we work to make spaces that will allow for more marginalized folks to have a chance to grab the mic, we have to rely on allies to help carry the load.

I’m not saying we have to pat our allies on the back or give brownie points to people for doing the right thing, but we shouldn’t be shitting on them.

Abolition, Civil Rights Movements, Women’s Suffrage… none of it would have happened without allies. And our movement will never advance without them either.

The Church Includes Straight People

I know, novel concept, right? But that’s something we can easily overlook if we are siloed off into our queer communes and social media circles. It’s easy to forget if one is working in only affirming spaces. (Granted, I love me a queer commune, but I live in the south so I don’t have that luxury.)

As someone who works and feels called to live and work in non-affirming spaces that are working to advance conversations around inclusion, this is who I am working with on a daily basis. Many of them are moderates who don’t know that their ambivalence is killing people. Many of them are kind conservatives who want to agree to disagree, and they think it’s okay to simply “disagree” about my existence.

But without me intentionally being in that space to tell a different story, they’ll never know. They’ll never have their worldview challenged. They’ll never be moved to something different. They’ll never become an ally. I need them to be affirming if I ever want to fully participate in the life of my local church. And I need allies in leadership if I want this to happen.

And I need my queer friends to not police my relationships with them. I get it, they are problematic in many ways, but I am called to that space. And on top of that, I love them and they love me. Not perfectly, but they do. And God loves them, perfectly and completely.

It would be so much easier to have my queer friends be supporting those of us who work in these spaces, whether it be conservative, evangelical, or what not, rather than just pointing out how screwed up it is. Trust me, we are well aware of how much BS we have to put up with, how we have to negotiate our identities to exist there.

And now I’ll say something else that you might not like:

God loves conservative folks. God loves non-affirming folks. God loves those who want to work against our right and protections.

And that’s something I hate to admit that. I hate that grace isn’t discriminatory. I hate that love wins and everyone gets in. But God really does love everyone. And God wants the people who call me an abomination to experience the same liberation I feel by being my full self. God wants them to experience the full gamut of Divine Love.

And want them to know that they are free to love more.

God not only loves them, but God wants them.

God desires for all to be saved, yeah? God wants more people to step into freedom, correct? So we should desire the same.

I think about the parable of the lost sheep, where the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to go find the one, and that there is rejoicing when the one is found.

We’re the 99 in this situation. We have found our flock. We know we are a part of a beautiful community of God that is embodying the more of what God is doing in the world. And God is out there looking for those one’s, those would be converts and allies that have always been welcomed by God. God is rejoicing when someone comes to a space of being affirming, of making space in their heart for others who they may have pushed away before.

We should celebrate too.

How many times are we in the place of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son? That when the wayward child finally comes home and is celebrated, we pout and say, “Where is my party?” And God turns to us and say, “My child, you are always with Me, and all I have is yours.”

We forget that we have access to joy, love and liberty that others haven’t even conceived of. We forget that we stand in the Presence of God. We forget that we are called blessed and beloved. We are aware of our identity.

I think we need to become more gracious, and I honestly think that it will attract more people to engage communally with us if we act less like assholes and act more like Jesus, act more like a community people would actually want to be a part of.

And you know who stands to win as a result of this? All of us. We get to welcome more people into community. We get to increasingly be in more spaces without fear of rejection.

Does it mean that we have to celebrate allies over the triumphs and resilience of marginalized folks? Absolutely not. But it doesn’t mean we have to shit on folks who are trying to do the right thing.

This doesn’t mean we can’t call people in and call people up. This doesn’t mean we can’t express anger. But we’ve got to figure out a way to be better about this. Because our pettiness isn’t just making us look unwelcoming, it is also a prison that keeps us from flourishing. It’s so easy to let our sarcasm be a bandage for our hurting and bleeding hearts, never working towards wholeness, forgiveness, and healing. It’s so easy to focus on the injustice of what we’ve suffered and never release it. I’d much rather live in joy. And the only way to do that is with an open heart.

That’s what it means to be brave, to help create brave spaces where we can come in, with our full selves, ready to receive, without discrimination, those who would come. This is how we move forward. This is how we begin creating the communities and churches we’ve been dreaming about. This is how we will start healing. Yes, there is risk of suffering a broken heart at the hands of those to whom we welcome in. But that is also the only way to cultivate great love. 

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  • Appreciate this post. I have certainly noticed some distrust and resistance from the LGBTQ and POC communities when I try to interact with them as an ally. So thanks for saying what it isn’t my place to say. It can feel discouraging when I try to show my support and people are all like, “Who cares? Leave us alone. Go back to where you came from. We don’t need you.”

    That being said, I know they’re kind of right–and that there is a touch of hero-complex in my need to be recognized for showing solidarity. I know that I am owed nothing and that an entire lifetime of reparations cannot make up for the harm that I and people like me have caused. I also know that people are dealing with fresh wounds, not just scars. Problems of discrimination and abuse aren’t in the past–they’re happening now, and I as a straight white guy am a very visible reminder of those problems.

    For now, I’m trying to just give people space–to Google before I ask questions and to build trust before I offer input. I have so much to learn from the kinds of people I’ve neglected for so long. Making friends with such people may be possible somewhere down the road. But, for now, I’m content for them to be my teachers.

    Thanks!

    • Jeremy

      Wow! Douglas! Keep going, man! Whatever you do here, even when others shit on you, is so good in building bridges that need to be built. You have to be strong to shrug off that shit that’s thrown back at you and keep reaching out. Really admire your attitude.

  • Jeremy

    Wow! You the man, Kevin! I really admire the fact that you do what you do and stay in that place in order to be a voice, a hand, to reach out and touch those lost in their conservative, fundamentalism, and to love them no matter how you disagree with them. Truly you teach us to love like Chris. So often I want to shit on them and have to remind myself that I came out of that place. I was once just like those folk, but God showed me that I was made in love by Him and that being gay was His purpose and plan for me. As I began to accept that I had to change my fundamentalist teaching/faith and take on a wider view. Having no choice as it were, because I was gay, meant I had to do it. I often now thank Him that He brought me into this wider space and delivered me from that hard place of religious narrowness. So far I have had little success in helping others to come out of that (maybe that’s not my calling) but when I come across someone like you doing this amazing thing, I’m totally blown away. Thank you for doing what you do and for publishing this great article on why we should all be careful about not shitting on our allies.