Responding to Gay Christians in the Church
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Committed Christians may respond differently to gay and lesbian Christians. How can we engage those with whom we might disagree and navigate our journey together in a way that nurtures unity, hospitality, humility, and justice?
Through her extensive experience in ministering to gay and lesbian Christians, Wendy VanderWal-Gritter has come to believe we need a new paradigm for how the church engages those in the sexual minority. She encourages generous spaciousness, a hope-filled, relational way forward for those in turmoil regarding a response to gay and lesbian Christians. This book offers a framework for discussing diversity in a gracious way, showing that the church can be a place that welcomes a variety of perspectives on the complex matter of human sexuality. It also offers practical advice for implementing generous spaciousness in churches and organizations.
Introduction: An Unpredictable Adventure
1. Reevaluating Evangelical Ex-gay Ministry
2. Of Doubt, Tension, and Anxiety
3. The Power of Stories
4. A Complex Spectrum: Views of Same-sex Sexuality
5. Coming Out and the Church
6. The Journey of Discipleship
7. Understanding Holistic Sexuality
8. Our Image of God
9. The Role of Scripture
10. The Challenge of Interpretation
11. A Disputable Matter?
12. Engaging the Church
13. A Word for Pastors and Leaders
14. A Word to Gay Christians
15. A Word to Would-be Gay Advocates in the Church
Concluding Thoughts: Living Into Incarnational Postures
"I can't imagine a more timely book. Modeling the very 'generous spaciousness' that she advocates, VanderWal-Gritter's heart is on every page. The church is at a crucial moment of transition in relation to gay sisters and brothers, and this wonderfully written book will prove to be one of the most helpful guides in the midst of change. Profoundly and deeply biblical, theologically rich, and rooted in years of humble, respectful, and vulnerable listening, VanderWal-Gritter's wisdom is precisely what we so desperately need."
Brian Walsh, Christian Reformed Campus Minister, University of Toronto; author of Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination
"This book provides a model of how people can be agents of reconciliation within Christian communities that are polarized over how to relate to gays and lesbians."
Tony Campolo, Eastern University
"'Loving people changes you,' says Wendy VanderWal-Gritter in this important new book. The author herself clearly has been changed by loving gay people, in a journey that began when she led a ministry in the 'ex-gay' movement. Now Wendy advocates a posture of 'generous spaciousness' and offers pastoral and relational insight from her time at the intersection of homosexuality and the church. This book is highly recommended for anyone who wants to minister in the world (and the church) we actually live in today."
David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director, Center for Theology and Public Life, Mercer University
"This is a truly important book for our time. Regardless of your view, Wendy's articulate, measured, and comprehensive approach to homosexuality will give you both food for thought and a means of moving forward. She evidences and argues for the kind of fearless vulnerability, rooted in deep conviction, that characterized Jesus himself. This is gospel with flesh on it."
Greg Paul, author of Close Enough to Hear God Breathe and God in the Alley
"Generous Spaciousness is an invitation to dialogue with someone who has courageously navigated and negotiated this issue not in a theoretical bubble but in the midst of real relationships. It will make you uncomfortable, perhaps angry, maybe even hopeful. You will not agree with everything Wendy says no matter where you position yourself in the conversation, but you will be stretched. Wendy has boldly put herself on these pages and you should read what she has to say."
Gary V. Nelson, president, Tyndale University College & Seminary; author of Borderland Churches
"VanderWal-Gritter . . . charts a middle course in the evangelical outreach to gay Christians. . . . Throughout, she is gentle in her urging for Christians to be more hospitable and for gays to be clearer about their expectations from any given congregation. Shying away from major debates about the Bible's stance, VanderWal-Gritter remains faithful to an open if not fully affirming Christianity. Using the stories of individuals from across the gay/ex-gay spectrum, she articulates the complexity of the issues and leaves final solutions open ended. The work will be of particular interest to those in ministry attempting to navigate interactions with gay Christians."
"VanderWal-Gritter tackles one of the most controversial topics in the church today. She offers a new paradigm for how Christians can engage with gay and lesbian Christians by providing a framework for discussing diversity in a gracious way."
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"The book offers a detailed and narratively rich discussion of the actual experiences of LGBT evangelical Christians, showing that their responses to their sexuality vary dramatically, and calling the rest of us toward a respectful posture. This in itself makes it an excellent pastoral resource, especially in the conservative evangelical world. It should be able to be heard there because Gritter never takes a normative stance embracing same-sex relationships. She wants to encourage a certain set of Christian virtues, such as hospitality and peaceableness, as the preconditions for adequate response to gay Christians and to the church's dialogue with and about them."
David P. Gushee,
"Generous Spaciousness is informative, reflective, and didactic. As an author, Gritter does the laudable work of articulating a nuanced stance, born from years of 'real life' experience, amidst a postmodern context. . . . Situating such a treatise on compassion for LGBTQ Christians within a wider cultural and global context allows Gritter to do the work of elucidating the personal in the universal and the universal in the personal; which is to say, by sharing stories--tales from her own life and the lives of the LGBTQ Christians with whom she has worked--in a compassionate manner, she helps her readers to navigate the labyrinthine struggle that is faithful sexuality. . . . Read it, savor it, pass it on: to your pastor, your neighbor, to every member in your congregation. It's that kind of book."
"[The book's] call for mutual respect and support is timely, particularly in a culture that is so polarized by gay issues. . . . I consider the book a good and helpful one for the way it situates the debate in its personal, real-world context. I'd recommend it to pastors and other ministers looking for an introduction to shepherding gay-identifying people who want to do so with manifest love, and to those who want to acquaint themselves with the atmosphere of the discussion of gay issues in North American churches."
Evangelicals for Social Action blog
Best Book about Homosexuality and the Church for 2014, Hearts & Minds Books
"Generous Spaciousness offers a much needed approach to Christian discourses on sexuality and the body. While many contributions on same-sex attraction set up dichotomies of for and against, VanderWal-Gritter develops a genuine alternative founded in an understanding of openness as 'the natural extension of the life of Christ,' who has come to break dividing walls, to embody reconciliation, and to remove barriers. Her approach is particularly valuable given its commitment to, and demonstration of, biblical and Christological understandings of justice, peace, and love as they relate to human sexuality. . . . Now more than ever there is the need for an approach to same-sex attraction . . . that can conceive of unity in diversity. Generous Spaciousness offers such an approach flowing from a life in Christ and modeling love rather than fear."
Kimberly L. Penner,
Conrad Grebel Review
"[An] extraordinary work. . . . [VanderWal-Gritter] is known as a fair and kind advocate for good discussion, and has worked well with many 'sides' in this complicated matter. . . . One of the very best books I've read all year, good for thinking about sexual ethics, good for thinking about how to get along as the people of God in these times. . . . Agree [or not] with her view of God, her exegesis of Scripture, or her open-minded, open-hearted approach to community and inclusion, this is, still, simply a must-read."
Hearts & Minds Books blog
"[This book] expresses a heart for Christians to love the LGBTQ community well and for us to be in healthy dialogue about our differing opinions. [This book does not] make a 'case' for a certain side of the debate. . . . I know Wendy personally and have seen her amazing ability to facilitate conversations among Christians on this topic."
YALT blog (official site of the CRC's young adult leadership taskforce)
"[This book] presents a passionate, practical, and challenging call to the church to find a better way forward. It needs to be widely read, honed by critique, and its wisdom put into practice. The book's value and significance derives not only from its being well-written, wide-ranging, and offering a new approach, but from its author having written from a decade of leadership in pastoral ministry and cultural engagement. . . . I hope all sides . . . will read and engage sympathetically with [VanderWal-Gritter's] book. . . . She has clearly been taken on a journey by Christ in which she has prayerfully and self-critically reflected on her experience to discern the Spirit's work. She recounts that in a way from which everyone, whatever their views, can learn much. . . . The book is packed full of pastoral wisdom and practical counsel about Christian discipleship and leadership. . . . Her vision will attract many, including evangelicals. It should neither be ignored nor dismissed but carefully and prayerfully weighed and tested. . . . An exciting, unsettling, in many ways prophetic, contribution."
Sacred Tension blog
"The focus of the book is on our posture rather than our position, which seems to me like a very Jesus-like approach to take. The concern over and over again throughout the book is a posture of love no matter which side of the debate you fall on. . . . In pushing for a better posture, the book is remarkably practical. . . . I highly recommend this book. I might be tempted to say I recommend it particularly for church leaders, and that is definitely a primary target audience, but there are a lot of others who need this message, too, like parents and friends. In short, I am inclined to say that every Christian in our culture-war context could benefit from this book."
Anabaptist Redux blog
"VanderWal-Gritter [includes] 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. . . . 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 neighbor regardless of their sexuality."
Panorama of a Book Saint blog
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