Guidelines for Dialoguing Side-by-Side

GUIDELINES FOR DIALOGUING SIDE-BY-SIDE

Q Christian Fellowship is committed to teaching and living into radical belonging in God’s family. Like Jesus, who welcomed people from all walks of life--the Syrophonecian woman, the Ethiopian eunuch, Nicodemus the scribe, Paul the Pharisee--we practice hospitality with people across the spectrum of identities and beliefs. We want to foster connecting with one another beyond our disagreements by centering ourselves on what centered Jesus: love of God and love of neighbor.

As the board went into discernment about the name change of the organization, they were lead to the image of an estuary as an example of a place which teems with life despite the unlikely mixture of salt-water and fresh-water. We believe that protecting difference, protecting your right to believe as you do, to follow Jesus as you are doing, is integral to us becoming a healthy Q Christian community.

We also know that this is hard, that it requires trust and bravery to share our true selves, to give one another the benefit of doubt, to invite connection even in our differences.

In our discussion you will hear voices representing different theological perspectives, different interpretations of the Bible, different beliefs about what God requires of God’s children. Each of you is welcome here. Again: Each of you is welcome here. Each one of you belongs here, in this room, here with us in this community, here in God’s family.

In order for us to become a healthier family, we ask that each person present their perspective with respect for those who hold different convictions; that we speak from a heart of love: love for God, love for neighbor; and, if those feel impossible, we ask that you speak with love for your enemy because Jesus calls us to this kind of radical love.

We know that many conversations we hold here can, at times, be triggering to any one of us, because we are each at different points in our journey.

If you find the conversation painful, we would encourage you to carefully consider whether you can share how and why the conversation is difficult for you in a way that respects others in the room. If it is too difficult for you to participate in this manner, you may decide that the best way for you to love yourself is to excuse yourself based on where you are in your journey.  Practice healthy boundary setting.

But we hope you can stay engaged because, we want to hear from you, because you belong here.  We welcome you here.

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Devotional Supplement: Love Undivided: A Side B Perspective

Love Undivided: A Side B Perspective

By Anthony Trent, blogger of The Liturgical Queer

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”

As I read Isaac’s reflection and prayed over the Q Christian conference scriptural verse, I felt enormous gratitude for the unity within LGBTQ+ Christianity. I am Side B (celibacy affirming), an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and living in a same-sex celibate partnership. When Isaac discusses transcending boxes and binaries, I cannot help but relate. God has given me the generous gift of fellowship with other LGBTQ+ Christians, even Side A (same-gender sex affirming) believers.

But as I read over the verse, I also felt challenged. I wondered, “Am I, as Paul commends, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit?” Probably not.

I share Isaac and Q Christian’s vision of deconstructing dualistic thinking, cherishing neighbors who disagree with me, and living alongside one another in unity. The challenge, however, is when we try to apply those principles in real life. I can try to downplay it all I want, but I’m Side B; my church doesn’t bless same-sex marriages or same-sex sexual activity. If I’m wrong in my obedience to this conviction, I’m in serious error. If my Side A siblings are wrong, then they are in serious error.

How do we make sense of the seriousness of our disagreements on sexual ethics while also living alongside one another in love? I’m not perfect by any means in my quest to participate in Love Undivided, but here are three frameworks I keep in mind as I dialogue:

1. Remember that we, LGBTQ+ people, are doing the best we can

When many of us discovered and disclosed a non-straight identity, we were told to either marry someone of the opposite sex or stay celibate for the rest of our lives. That is a huge burden to put on someone, especially if they discover their sexuality when they are 13 years old. From the moment of self-realization, many LGBTQ+ Christians do everything they can to sort out who God is and what God wants from their lives. There are complex reasons why people end up Side A or B. It might be a sincere interpretation of Scripture or a commitment to an ecclesiastical body; Catholics and Orthodox, for example, believe their respective churches have the authority to interpret Scripture with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. People can be Side A without being interested in sex and people can be Side B without hating themselves. Let’s stay curious while listening to why our friends have adopted a particular sexual ethic.

2. Be consistent in your theological posture

We live in a world full of false “good/bad” binaries. People believe they either have to say it doesn’t matter which sexual ethic they adopt or that they should cut fellowship with people who disagree. Yet, we are able to navigate similar tensions on other issues all the time. For example, one of my fundamental theological beliefs is that infants have a right to be baptized and receive communion; most churches, pastors, and parents do not do this. I think to exclude infants from sacraments is a serious error because it is the primary way God heals and interacts with his creation, but I’m still able to understand why other people have not adopted my conclusion. I do not think your choice to not baptize or commune an infant makes you a worse Christian (you’re probably a better follower of Christ than I am), but I can still think you are mistaken. I try to exercise a consistent posture toward my Side A Christian friends: You are a follower of Christ who has simply come to a different conclusion than I.

3. Acknowledge that God is working in all LGBTQ+ lives

This past summer, my partner and I visited a same-sex couple with whom we are friends. My partner and I are Side B and pursuing celibacy, but our friends are Side A and plan on marrying next year. Do my partner and I feel morally superior because of our sexual ethic? Absolutely not. God cherishes love, commitment, intimacy, companionship, and mutual care, no matter who is participating in it. Every adult relationship has a mix of virtue and vice. No adult relationship is 100% honoring to God or 100% dishonoring to God. My partner and I non-sexually sin in plenty of ways and practice virtue in other ways. I believe the grace of God is large enough to cover our moral and intellectual mistakes on sexual ethics because “God desires all to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). What we do or not do in our bedrooms doesn’t cancel out God’s delight in us. We can live in tension with our disagreements while remaining faithful to our convictions.

While I will not be attending the Q Christian conference this year, I am earnestly praying that the Spirit will teach and guide us to follow Jesus Christ, who gives and receives love perfectly to and from God. The Trinity is a communion of three persons who delight in each and every LGBTQ+ person. I will be praying for all of you in Chicago. Whether you are Side A, Side B, or still processing your convictions, all of us should desire one another’s flourishing. May God help us make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Amen.

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Week 12 Devotional: Love Undivided

Love Undivided

Written by Isaac Archuleta, Executive Director for Spiritual and Relational Formation

Started as an online community more than fifteen years ago, Q Christian Fellowship is an intrepid organization serving as a refuge for LGBTQ+ Christians and their allies. Our history holds a beautiful legacy—a legacy that drove pivotal conversations and illuminated pertinent language as we became a community valuing diverse theologies and moral ethics. To strengthen our roots in such a rich heritage, this year’s conference will focus on how we all share in the essence of God, so that we may abide with one another in love without divisions.

Our conference scripture is Ephesians 4:2-5, which reads:

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism…”

Love Undivided has been chosen as this year’s theme, alongside Ephesians 4:2-5, because we see a great benefit in fostering an inclusive community that is non-binary and non-dualistic. Dualism separates people by distinguishing the “in” from “out,” the right from wrong, the clean from dirty. A community established on non-dualism, however, can live peacefully amid a relational paradox: differences create unity.

In Christ, we are one Q Christian family. We are called to demonstrate bold hospitality that nurtures a vibrantly diverse community, initiates personal growth, and inspires justice by creating relationships that value reconciliation and liberate the marginalized. Our action—as one body—requires Love Undivided.

During our time together in Chicago, you will hear voices representing different theological perspectives, different interpretations of the Bible, and different beliefs surrounding righteous behaviors. Some perspectives may be challenging to hear, and we won’t always agree with one another. Amidst the discomfort, we ask you to present your perspective with respect for those who hold different convictions. Please listen with compassion and love: love for God, love for yourself, and love for your neighbor. We ask you to speak with respect because Jesus calls us to radical love, even for those who might call themselves our enemies.

When it comes to serious matters such as sexual ethics, sexual orientation, and gender identity, many are trained to believe they defend God by disregarding, derogating, or even hating their theological opponent. This fact is nothing new for the LGBTQ+ community. Dualism will convince one they are emphatically right, deeming another empirically wrong. We have often experienced division within our families, churches, and politics because dualism is such a compelling force.

Love Undivided, however, with its non-dualistic intentions, not only deconstructs barriers that keep us from relational intimacy, it also fortifies connections to our neighbors—not by agreeing with their beliefs, but by cherishing who they are, from the inside out. Ultimately, Love Undivided prioritizes our position as God’s children above the tensions we bear and the paradoxes we struggle to embrace. We are truly of one God and one faith.

Whether your theology aligns with one side or another, it’s time to abide side-by-side and center ourselves around what centered Jesus: love for God and love for our neighbors. We are eager to journey with you as we grow in Love Undivided.

Our aim as the executive leadership of Q Christian is to create a conference atmosphere where we practice mutual respect of our differences, giving us the opportunity to experience stronger connectedness. Our goal is for everyone to walk away from conference cherishing one another’s God-created uniqueness in deeper, unifying ways. As a result, we will be better equipped to boldly enter into transformative vulnerability, eager to reach deeper layers of relational intimacy, and empowered to grow in greater self-acceptance.

The LGBTQ+ community has been affected by the power of divisions and dualism, but may we boldly demonstrate to the world how to Love Undivided. May we leave an everlasting impression of safety, acceptance, and belonging on all those who attend this year’s conference.

Questions for this week’s devotional:

  • How might Love Undivided be a challenging practice for you?

  • In what ways might you be craving for someone to cherish you with Love Undivided?

  • What personal dualisms might you like to address and overcome at conference?

  • Who has been your theological opponent and how might you be willing to listen with humility, gentleness, and patience, so as to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace(Ephesians 4:2-5)?

Discuss this devotional with others

Week 11 Devotional: Experiencing God: A Freely Chosen Spiritual Life

Experiencing God: A Freely Chosen Spiritual Life

Just outside the town’s gate, a starved widow gathered sticks to create a fire that would cook her last meal. She was starving to death. The prophet Elijah, after hearing God’s life-saving instructions, met her at the gate (1 Kings 17:7-16).

Upon meeting, Elijah instructed her to give him a morsel of bread and attempted to soothe her fears. Elijah, a male and prophet with social privilege, reiterated God’s reassurances for her and her life: “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth” (1 Kings 17:14). The widow simply did as Elijah instructed.

Most likely, the widow was unable to read the Hebrew Bible, but she was, however, willing to rely on God. The widow was eager and open to experience God first-hand—she didn’t need social privilege to do so.

Many of us have felt adrift and nomadic in our spiritual lives. Wandering near the influential gates of our lives, where the safety of normalcy meets the open, bare wilderness of options, we find ourselves at spiritual thresholds. And sometimes we end up in the wilderness to gather sticks because we’re starving for something more. Our hunger forces us to confront the spiritual impasses, but then we negotiate within ourselves: to venture into the unknown landscape or remain in the safe confines of our comfort zones?

The laws of our internal cities, where we’ve forged a relationship with God, are often well-defined. They provide boundaries that stabilize peace and give us rubrics that guide our moral code. But sometimes, that which is safe doesn’t give us the option to experience what can be. The wilderness is where angels are wrestled, our names are changed, and Satan is confronted. It is also the place where God shows up (Genesis 28:10-17; 32:24-26, Luke 4:1-2).

The call to experience God might just take place when we choose to step beyond the boundaries of our comfort zones, so we can experience God internally, in our relationships, and in our everyday lives. The internal world where our spirituality is maintained has the potential to be bigger than we know.

Jesus was all about experiences: healing the sick, performing miracles, speaking to hundreds, and interacting one-on-one. Without needing to confirm any other facet than sheer belief, Jesus created experiences that convinced people of God’s presence.

When we are as eager to experience God as we are to rely on a theology about God, we will undergo a paradigm shift—just like the woman who, at one point, prepared for her last meal. The widow realized she wouldn’t get a farmer’s silo stocked with flour and a well full of oil. She received just enough, one day at a time. God is a daily-bread God (Matthew 6:11). She had found her life source.

In the same way, we are challenged to step into the experiences that expand our spiritual lives and allow us to tap into a different form of spiritual vitality. Although we must keep our experiences accountable to Scripture, we must also be open to walking on the edge—where the safe city meets the bare and unpredictable wilderness—to experience God. Thomas Merton, an influential monk and world-renowned theologian, would call this “contemplation.”

God is bigger than the Bible. God transcends doctrine, theology, and that which is known. Experiencing God gives us the courage to believe what we believe, not because others have taught it, but because our interactions with God have been the final proof.

In his interactions with those to whom he ministered, Jesus was good at getting us to move our gaze from ourselves and our theologies to life-changing experiences made possible by God; we participate by proclaiming, “I believe” (Matthew 9:28). We might be enamored with shiny theologies or want to joyfully engage doctrine, but what we really hunger is what Jesus pointed us to: God.

Questions for this week's devotional:

  • When have you been ‘gathering sticks’ to realize that God showed up just in time?

  • How might you be called to trust the ‘daily-bread God’ in this season of your life?

  • Is prioritizing an experience with God new (or require renewal) for you? If so, do you have any fears or biases that might color your interactions with God?

  • Is there an area in your life where you are seeking or needing an experience of God?

Discuss this devotional with others

Have questions about this devotional?

Week 10 Devotional: Connecting to God Authentically

Connecting to God Authentically

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good”- John Steinbeck

Last Christmas, my niece, Madison, wrote to Santa for a pogo stick—and, goodness gracious, she wanted it desperately.

For hours on end, Madison practiced bouncing up and down after unwrapping her treasured present. She is a tenacious, just like her mom. She would fall. She would hop and teeter to the left and then the right. Initially, Madison found more frustration than success.

Madison, an 8 year-old at the time, would coach herself as to what was not working and how she needed to adjust her stance and technique. Occasionally, she would whisper motivational quotes to herself. Eventually she mastered the pogo stick, but she never realized I had been listening and observing her tenacity. I hope she would have done the same exact things if she knew I was watching.

I want Madison to feel so safe with me that she neither loses, filters, nor minimizes her authenticity in front of me.

In last week’s devotional, I wrote: “Our perfectionism—an idealized litany of standards that rob us of experiencing true safety—will produce shame.”

I want her to avoid perfectionism at all costs, which means there will be a time when I have to protect her from my expectations and my criticisms. I never want her to believe she is better off hiding her genuineness than unleashing it in front of me. We see this type of protecting love wonderfully scattered throughout the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

I am enamored with Jesus’ ministry. Every person with whom Jesus interacted seemed to walk away from their exchange having experienced a major transformation: Zacchaeus realized he was a community member (Luke 19), the Samaritan woman at the well learned she was free from shame (John 4), the woman who pulled the hem of Jesus’ garment discovered she wasn’t dirty (Luke 8), the woman who introduced us to the alabaster moment discovered she was just as profound and powerful as any Pharisee (Matthew 26). Jesus was in the business of reminding us of our God-created identities. He wanted us to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we were created as the imago Dei (as the image of God).

Jesus, in his famous Beatitudes sermon, stated a very simple phrase that has the power to deconstruct our pillars of shame, tear down our facades, and assuage our fears. It resounds with tones of the imago Dei, defining our inherent role as God’s masterpiece:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

One interpretation of this passage claims that “pure in heart” refers to our motivations. But what if the purity of heart that Jesus mentions is the purity of our internal disposition? What if “pure in heart” refers to a shameless self-understanding or a solidified and confident self-perception? The Beatitudes seem to center on a person’s disposition, rather than how a person behaves.

Jesus’ one-liner could suggest that the disposition of a person pure in heart may be a reflective mirror, allowing us to see ourselves as God’s wondrous creations—an identity that shifts the manner in which we present authenticity to the world, and the way we bond to God. When we see ourselves as God’s masterpieces, we have the opportunity to see God in ourselves and each other.

Wouldn’t it be silly to try to hide the painting from the painter?

Here’s the liberating truth: We cannot fabricate authenticity. In fact, one of my favorite theologians, Richard Rohr, wrote a statement that transformed the ways I understand human authenticity. He writes:

“We have to let go of the passing names by which we have tried to name ourselves and become the ‘naked self before the naked God.’ That will always feel like dying, because we are so attached to our passing names and identities. Your bare, undecorated self is already and forever the beloved child of God. When you can rest there, you will begin to share in the very ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16).”

Falling in love with the way God loves us and being bold enough to love ourselves with the same tenacity is the key that unlocks the painter’s masterpiece. Expressing our unrestricted authenticity gives others the permission to know and see our truest essence. We will forget what invisibility and isolation feel like. We’ll feel safe to create bonds that stands the test of time. In this way, authenticity gives us the power to create the relational intimacy we’ve craved.

It’s easier than it sounds. Authenticity is vulnerability. Being bold enough to show someone your unfettered and undecorated self means you have the stamina to withstand judgment. In this context, we participate in an exchange of sacred vulnerability, whereby our raw and genuine expressions not only expose our authenticities, but also invite others to do the same. You will discover relational safety—a freedom to genuinely encourage another to embrace their own essence. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.

God rejoices in us even when we don’t even realize. Whether on a pogo stick, in a relationship, or in a moment of pure delight, God connects with the pure hearts God created.

Drop the façade and pick up your resilience. Whether you bounce with tenacity or talk to yourself with words of self-encouragement, God wants to bond with the child God created, not the façades we produce. Trust the authenticity of God’s love and you’ll discover an invitation to live and love undivided within yourself.

Questions for this week's devotional:

  1. Have you grown more accustomed to protecting yourself from rejection than protecting your authenticity?

  2. How might you hide your authenticity from others and God?

  3. In order to reconnect with your pure heart, what façades, fears, or internal shaming narratives need to be addressed?

Discuss this devotional with others

Have questions about authenticity?


Week 9 Supplement: The Power of Belovedness

The Power of Belovedness

I have been serving as an advocate for LGBTQ+ people for a long time. But as a mainly straight person, it took me a long time to really understand, at a deep-gut level, what being an ally was all about and what Pride celebrations were all about.  And I have to wonder if maybe some other kind, well-meaning straight people might be in a similar boat.

My lack of “getting it” wasn’t because I didn’t care about LGBTQ+ people.  It wasn’t because I was homophobic or transphobic. It wasn’t because I didn’t know the right language to use. It wasn’t because I was hung-up on scripture. It wasn’t because I was a hateful bigot.

My lack of “getting it” probably wasn’t even readily apparent. Afterall, I was serving in ministry to cultivate places where LGBTQ+ Christians could connect with God and with each other.  There was certainly some theological unlearning to do and the ministry has evolved fairly radically over the years. But the deep understanding I needed wasn’t really about those things.

It was a lot more personal than that.

Truth is, I had internalized the idea that God was oppressive. Oh, I wouldn’t have worded it that way. But somehow it became my assumption that God would constantly and consistently expect and demand hard things of me, that suffering was the dominant motif in the Christian life, and that my personhood really only existed so that I could submit and surrender it to God.

Truth is, my being was rife with internalized misogyny.  Women were second class citizens in most of the contexts I found myself in – including church.

Truth is, I was riddled with shame. “Don’t get too big for your britches.”  “Who do you think you are?” “How dare you?”

I didn’t really “get” what being an ally was or what Pride celebrations were really all about because I wasn’t an ally to myself and I couldn’t conceive of a Pride celebration for someone like me.

And I have to wonder, when I hear the tone-deaf refrain, “When are we going to have a Straight Pride month?”, that mixed in with all the resentment, and lack of awareness, and potentially toxic mix of fear and disgust, if there isn’t a cauldron full of self-hatred and shame lurking.

I am grateful for all that I have learned about dynamics of privilege and power. It has profoundly impacted how I understand the incarnation of Jesus. And it has helped me understand how essential integrating an anti-oppressive lens is. But, if something hadn’t shifted in that deep place within me where self-hatred and shame resided, I’m not sure that just learning about these things would have really helped.

What really shifted and changed everything was practicing and choosing to live into my belovedness.

Intellectually, I’ve known my whole life that God loved me. But how can you receive love from your oppressor? Stockholm syndrome has revealed some of the crazy things that happen to our minds when we’re trying to survive – but the sense of loyalty and commitment that can arise in these situations aren’t anything close to the power of true love.

The problem wasn’t with God.

The problem was with my conception of God.

And it was LGBTQ+ people who helped me deconstruct the violent and oppressive conception that held me captive.  I always believed that the church was impoverished if LGBTQ+ people were missing. But it was witnessing their courage and resilience and sometimes defiance to take their rightful place as beloved children of God that moved something deep within me – and imperceptibly it began to take root in my own heart.

“I am beloved of God.”

It has become the refrain of the Generous Space community. And every day I see it taking root in hearts and changing people’s lives. For some of us, it isn’t an easy thing to live into this truth consistently. But that is where I see the beauty of our community as we affirm and speak this into each other’s lives again and again and again. Knowing I am beloved isn’t a silver bullet for all human struggles. We still share the pain of mental illness and emotional anguish. We still long for deeper wholeness. We still grapple with finances and housing. We still ache from broken relationships. But, living into our belovedness reminds us that we are worthy of dignity and respect. We deserve to know and be known in a safe and loving community. And we are held by a God who works for our good. And for many of us, that is a huge change indeed.

So when I reflect on all of this, the transformation I have experienced and witness everyday in the Generous Space family, I stand in awe of the power of belovedness.

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