“There is no third way,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler wrote in a June 2 blog post. “A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them.”
Arguing against such an assertion is difficult if you follow American religious life closely. Pastors in the United Methodist Church have proposed a “middle path” too, but some now believe a denominational split over the issue is imminent. Some in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America once claimed they held to a “middle way” in the debate, but they can hardly claim to be Switzerland after electing their first openly gay bishop last year. One strains to find an example of a Christian organization who has been able to thread the needle on the matter.
But one Christian theologian, Wendy VanderWal-Gritter, says a third way is possible. In new book, Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church, she lays out her vision for faith communities where various perspectives on sexuality can thrive alongside each other. Wendy claims that the church has been distracted with the politics around homosexuality and our obsession with orientation change and causation. A self-described “eclectic Calvinist,” Wendy is a theologian and PhD candidate who serves as executive director of New Direction Ministries. Here, we discuss her provocative ideas for carving out a third way on the so-called “gay issue” in the church.
RNS: Some might say that what you call “generous spaciousness” is just tolerance. Is there a difference?
WV: When I tolerate someone with whom I disagree, I bite my tongue a lot but I don’t open my heart. Tolerating can mask all kinds of uncharitable attitudes toward the other. Where people feel forced to extend tolerance, resentment typically simmers just below the surface.
In generous spaciousness, I choose to listen deeply to the other, expecting to encounter God in our conversation. With generous spaciousness, I am seeking to experience a sense of community with those with whom I disagree. That means I intentionally contribute to an ethos of mutual respect. True respect doesn’t whitewash differences as if they don’t matter. But in generous spaciousness I allow myself to wonder if there might be more for me to learn and discover as I build relationship with the one who sees things differently than I do.