I am tempted to make this a very short post and simply say, “Get this book. Right now.” I liked it that much. But I suppose you may want just a bit more information.
Wendy VanderWal-Gritter’s book, Generous Spaciousness:Responding to Gay Christians in the Church is an interesting book on two levels. First, VanderWal-Gritter tells her story as a recent seminary grad who becomes the head of the Canadian organization “New Directions” which was, in the past, affiliated with “Exodus International. She chronicles her several year journey as she realizes that reparative therapy does not work and in fact is harmful and reevaluates her ideas about sexual orientation and faith. Her ability to empathetically listen to the gay Christians she met allowed her to recognize the spiritual maturity and deep faith of LGBT Christians. Her willingness to seek God’s will and listen to the Spirit caused her to rethink and reevaluate what had initially seemed to her to be the obviously correct stance about same sex attraction.
Being the lead of a national organization with the legacy of promoting and defending a clear and certain position (which is not only the traditional position that says sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman but also the evangelical ex-gay position that says freedom and change are possible for the same-sex-attracted person), makes it particularly threatening to go to that honest and authentic place, where doubt and questions and uncertainty live, with an utterly childlike expectation that God will be with you in that place. But that is indeed the journey that God compelled me to take, albeit with much fear and trembling on my part. (From the Introduction)
The author develops a growing conviction that as Christians our task is to support and nurture the Spirit’s work in each of us. Part of what this means is that we do not direct or tell others what God’s will is for them. We need to trust the Holy Spirit to be at work.
While her story is interesting on it’s own, she also develops the idea of “generous spaciousness”. By this she means there are issues about which Christians sincerely and faithfully disagree about, what she calls disputable matters. Despite our differences of opinion as Christians, we need to respect and support each other. Our focus ought to be less on being sure we are correct in our beliefs and more about the ways we live out our beliefs. She is not suggesting there are no correct answers, she is acknowledging the very real situation that discerning the correct answer can take a long time and if we are not careful can be unnecessarily divisive. VanderWal-Gritter recognizes that living with disputable matters is quite difficult but she asserts that it is also a spiritual discipline. Living with disputable matters as a spiritual discipline mean, in part, that we do not run away from the tension nor do we rush for comfortable answers. We must become capable of staying graciously and faithfully amidst disagreement. She offers suggestions to help individuals, congregations and congregational leaders grow into a generous spaciousness especially with respect to disputable matters.
This book is decidedly not about the right answer or solution for the church on the theological topic of homosexuality. It intentionally positions itself at a different starting point. It values the spiritual formation inherent in the experience of exploring intimate relationship with God and with each other as we wrestle through these difficult questions and challenges and face the inevitable differences that result. Its posture seeks to be one of openness that is inquisitive, personal, relational, and dependent on the Spirit. This book is about generous spaciousness. (From the Introduction)
This idea of generous spaciousness resonates with what I think is is a major calling of the church- to be welcoming, including, and to encourage spiritual growth. This practice of generous spaciousness applies to much more than this one area of disagreement. We disagree over all sorts of things- we always have. What if we as individuals and as churches re imagined places of dispute as opportunities for spiritual growth rather than issues to be decided? What sort of a difference would that make in our congregations and in our own lives?
One note: I received a free digital copy of this book via NetGalley, but no other compensation. My digital copy had neither page numbers nor location numbers. I apologize for the inexact nature of the book quotations.