I’ve been working behind the scenes to help organize a small gathering (about which I hope to say more in due course) on the topic of Christianity and homosexuality, and I had an insight today, as I was working on this, that I’m not sure I’ve had before.
I was discussing with the other event coordinators the title for the gathering. We’re pretty sure it’s going to be “Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Finding Paths to Ministry.”
But just as the flyers are about to go to press, someone pointed out an ambiguity in the title. It’s not clear whether “ministry” in the subtitle refers to the ministry Christians have towards and for gay Christians or the ministry gay Christians themselves have in the body of Christ (and the world at large). Should we, this person wondered, alter the title so as to remove the ambiguity or should we leave it as it is?
I ended up making the case for leaving it as it is and hoping that the ambiguity will be provocative and productive. But as I stepped away from the email thread and thought about it more, I wondered if maybe this exchange between the other organizers and me was a microcosm of some of the larger patterns of miscommunication and misunderstanding that we in the Christian world have around the issue of homosexuality. Is our goal to try to find a way to help a certain subset of broken, struggling Christians find healing and hope? Or, even if something so limited isn’t our goal, do we often talk in such a way that people might have that impression? Or, alternatively, is our goal to try to encourage gay people in our churches to recognize the way their (our!) “particular mix of the Fall” (as Francis Schaeffer called it) and their equally particular experiences of grace and redemption may have uniquely positioned them to bring gifts to the church and the world that no one else has?
It struck me today that perhaps what we’re doing here at Spiritual Friendship could be captured in the ambiguity of that word “ministry.” Yes, we want gay people who are lonely and hurting to find sheltered spaces where they can receive forgiveness, the binding up of wounds, and the comfort needed to go on hoping. We want them to be ministered to. But we also—and perhaps even more prominently—want gay people who are in Christ to follow their callings, impart their stories, offer their insights, and exercise the full range of their gifts in the church and for the sake of the world. We want them to do the work of ministry.
A wise Christian mentor said to a group of us recently that perhaps many celibate gay Christians have (among other gifts) a particular genius for cultivating and sustaining close friendships. If so, that can be understood as a ministry—not so much anyone’s ministry to us but our ministry to others. It’s a ministry we are called to and equipped to perform, not simply a ministry we receive.