Now this is cool. Very cool. New Directions, a unique evangelical Christian ministry based in Toronto, has put together an absolutely incredible DVD called Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending our Gay Neighbours (that's right, neighbours; it was produced in Canada, so they can write stuff like that). Of the three resources that I reviewed this summer, this was far and above the best.
Not that I knew I would necessarily like it from the outset. New Directions is an evangelical Christian organization--its staff espouse a faith I once embraced but whose core tenets I no longer believe to be true. Some things evangelicals believe I disagree with; some I strongly disagree with. But more to the point, I've rarely had good experiences with evangelical literature addressing LGBT people. There seems to be no shortage of evangelical material designed to inform or "equip" evangelicals for "understanding" and relating to LGBT folks. But almost without exception, these resources seem to consistently misrepresent, distort, dehumanize, and (sometimes) outright lie about people like me.
Wow, is this resource ever different.
Again and again the content of this video surprised me. First of all, the video is not just about gays--it includes gays. You'll find conversations in the DVD with openly gay people. Real gay people. I'm not talking weepy, miserable, sex fiend, my-life-is-a-wreck gay people. We're talking ordinary, typically-adjusted, normal gay people talking casually about their lives and dreams and spiritual convictions.
Moreover, the gay people in this film hold a diversity of spiritual convictions. More than one side is presented; some believe God blesses relationships between two people of the same sex; some believe such relationships are immoral. Refreshingly, none deny the attractions they themselves have to people of the same sex. It's all out on the table. And these people aren't just interviewed alone. In this film, you'll find them having conversations with one another, laughing together, acknowledging where they disagree and where they agree. Incredible.
The DVD alternates between conversations between gay people and cutaway interviews with prominent evangelicals, who provide commentary on the current state of church-LGBT relations. Some of these speakers reiterate with little deviation the traditional evangelical conviction that gay relationships are immoral; a few, such as Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo, offer deeply nuanced insights into the lives and spirituality of LGBT people--perspectives that have clearly come from personal friendships with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks.
One discussion topic tackled by these evangelical luminaries stood out to me: several of these men challenge evangelicals to consider that gay-affirming Christians might actually be right--that people who say God has led them to believe gay relationships are wonderful gifts from him might actually be telling the truth and that maybe--just maybe--it is the traditionalists who have it wrong. Wow! I can hardly imagine a more respectful message that could have been communicated.
You might be thinking, "so Joe. You're out, you're content, you're married to fantastic guy, you feel your life is in congruence with your faith. Why the heck are you reviewing evangelical resources about LGBT people?"
Well, it's like this. While I may no longer be evangelical, many of the core people in my life (e.g. the members of my immediate family) are. Unfortunately, for many of those dear people,I'm the only gay person they have ever known. Often I feel like my one voice is overpowered by a litany of voices in their evangelical circles that, in my estimation, are telling them twisted, inaccurate, and wrong information about LGBT people.
Ever since I came out, I've been searching for a resource--by evangelicals for evangelicals--that depicts LGBT people in an honest, respectful, accurate light. I've longed for something I can wholeheartedly recommend to my (conservative Christian) family that (1) is created from their perspective and (2) can accurately educate them about LGBT people. I've read dozens of books, and I've watched a handful of videos. Time and time again I've been disappointed. I've found the liberal stuff--including the documentary I myself appear in--overglorifies gay people or unfairly demeans conservative convictions; the conservative stuff, on the other hand, usually seems to present twisted caricatures or reductions of the lives of gay people.
I've never found a resource that respects conservative Christian convictions while simultaneously presenting an accurate portrayal of gay people.
And so, last week, I found myself packaging up my copy of Bridging the Gap (along with my copy of Through My Eyes) and mailing it to my parents in Texas. Teaser: they called me over the weekend while in the middle of watching the videos; in a future post I'll share what we discussed.