I met Bruxy Cavey back in 1992 when I was involved in planting a new church in Brampton, Ontario. I was impressed with Bruxy’s enthusiasm for the gospel, his heart for people, and his non-judgmental approach to ministry.Image

A dear friend who now attends the church where Bruxy is lead pastor recently asked my opinion about this video.

Bruxy goes to great lengths to give clear Biblical guidelines about when it is appropriate to “divide” from other Christians (or from other religious people). I am not going to comment on the Biblical correctness of Bruxy’s ideas about this. I think that such rules of inclusion and exclusion are needed for human organizations to continue: the denomination that Bruxy’s The Meeting House church is a part of is just one such organization. Such organizations do not represent Christ (only people can do that); they do represent the people who are responsible for maintaining whatever religious structures exits. This does not make them good nor bad, they simply are. What might be good or bad is the impact those structures have on human lives over time.

For issues that do not come within the scope of the Biblical guidelines proposed by Bruxy for division within the body of Christ (paradox alert), Bruxy proposes a “third way,” whereby we can still be family with those with whom we disagree. He states, “I have to get to know them, get to know their heart;” this third way is to be used whenever there’s “a person who loves Jesus, loves scripture, and just disagrees, and we can be family together while we disagree.

It appears from the video that this third way approach has succeeded in helping The Meeting House to become a place where Christians of many different Christian beliefs have been welcomed, including gay and lesbian Christians. I thank God that there is such a place where LGBTI Christians can feel welcomed and accepted. The lesbian couple he interviews during on this video seem to cherish their memories of their time at The Meeting House, and they value their ongoing friendship with Bruxy.

Before I continue to respond to my friend’s question about this video, I want to first introduce The Riddle Scale. The Riddle scale is a very helpful way to assess attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. (I believe it could be a helpful way to assess attitudes towards any particular group of people who have a history of marginalization.) I like to add numbers to the scale, and a ninth attitude. So if I was designing the Riddle Scale it would be a continuum with the following stages 1-9:

1. Repulsion

2. Pity

3. Tolerance

4. Acceptance

5. Support

6. Admiration

7. Appreciation

8. Nurturance

9. Celebration

When it comes to attitudes to LGBTI persons, I believe the church in general has moved from maybe 1 to 3 on this scale over the last 40 years or so. So instead of being repulsed by and having pity for us, we now are tolerated and in some places accepted. I need to say here that I believe Christianity emphatically proclaims that God is at a 9 on the scale. Our Creator celebrates each one of us! (And that includes straight people too!) If this were not the case, I would have left my faith some years ago. (Indeed, if it weren’t for reading James Alison’s book On Being Liked, I probably would have abandoned my faith five years ago.)

I get the impression that if I were attending The Meeting House, as an openly gay man, I would be accepted. I would be judged as acceptable because it is clear that I am sincere about my faith, and I love Jesus. I would be supported because I have a right to be a part of the kingdom of God. (However, they might have difficulty tolerating my unorthodox view of scripture.) This is how Bruxy seemed to approach the lesbian couple he interviewed. In fact, I believe that Bruxy even admired them too: as result of applying the principles of “the Third Way”, Bruxy had gotten to know them and the friendship he developed with them has become stronger than any theological differences that might get in the way. Alas, I would have to say that Bruxy even had an element of appreciation for his lesbian friends. Why not? They agreed to be a part of his show, even though he apparently cannot support their choices. So, I would rate Bruxy in the 4-7 range on the Riddle Scale.

In the video clip, Bruxy also interviews Laurence, a policeman and a “just-war Christian” (The Meeting House is apparently part of a “peace” church, adhering to a non-violent approach to justice issues in the world). Apparently, Laurence and his family were supported by the church when they were in Haiti for three years on some form of Christian mission, in spite of the theological differences around non-violence. Of course, I wondered whether he would have received that support had he been an openly gay man going to Haiti with his husband. Whether or not any openly LGBTI Christians in The Meeting House would be trusted in leadership roles in the church is an important question, and one that glaringly was not addressed in this video.

So what do I think of Bruxy’s so-called “third way”? It is very similar to the way proposed by Andrew Marin in his book Love Is An Orientation. A third way approach is needed if the church is to become a safe place for LGBTI Christians to seek truth and ask deep questions at the intersection of faith and sexuality. Indeed, if I had found a church like The Meeting House ten years ago, it would have been perfect for me: It is a place that honours the Bible, appears to put some emphasis on holiness, and still would have welcomed me as I struggled to unlearn years of living with internalized homophobia. However, there would have come a time when I would have needed to move on to a higher level on the Riddle Scale.

To truly experience the love and grace of God, I need to be in a place where I am nurtured and celebrated just as I am. I need a place where I can move on from the questions of identity that proliferate at the intersection of faith and sexuality, to a place where I can simply get on with living my life. From the interviews on the video, Laurence was able to get on with living his life while being a part of a third way church. I’m not sure that LGBTI people could. Indeed, there was little evidence to suggest this, both with the interview with the lesbian couple and with New Direction’s Wendy Gritter.

Bruxy made it pretty clear in the video that there would be conditions for him reaching the level of celebration on the Riddle Scale. He clearly states his (or his denomination’s) expectations of gay people:

      “…God does not affirm gay marriage; we believe that same-sex attracted people are called to singleness and celibacy as       eunuchs for the kingdom, and we believe that’s another version of awesome. We are willing to admit that there are good and godly Christians who have come to a different conclusion  and we don’t automatically treat them as heretics or outside of the family to us and so we create that space to be challenged and work through it together.”

Excuse me while I throw up. Thanks for telling me what my calling is. And letting me know it’s awesome (just in case I had doubts about that). If it is so awesome to be a eunuch, why are castrations not at the top of the list of elective surgeries? We’re not “automatically” treated as heretics? What does the inclusion of that adjective mean?

No, Bruxy, I could never place myself under the leadership of someone who thinks they know how I should live. If this is a place where it is safe to have a conversation, then replace “we believe” with “I think”, or “what do you think about this”? That’s a true conversation. When the person in authority declares a quite rigid position, that tells me that the conversation that follows will be little more than lip service. The only interest is the appearance of unity, not a genuine desire to hear and to understand and to demonstrate Christlikeness.

A “third way” approach would have been a welcome stepping stone in my journey to fully accept and celebrate who I am. I believe this approach can probably be found in many open minded churches today. But it falls short of the gospel. The gospel that declares “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). The gospel that says, “neither do I condemn you…”  (John 8:11). The gospel that shouts, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

I attend a church where LGBTI and straight people alike are celebrated and nurtured, just as our hetero siblings are celebrated and nurtured in most other churches. I tell people I go to a “gay church”. Maybe it would be better to say that I go to a church where all God’s children are nurtured and celebrated. God’s love is not conditional on our sexual or gender identities, not how we express our genders and sexualities. God’s love is not even conditional on whether or not we want to have a conversation about this. God is for us. And God likes us. And God’s love and mercy is for us. All of us.

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This week I received an email from “Jake,” who kindly attached Mel White’s essay, What the Bible Says. Mel’s essay attempts to rebuke the most common Biblical arguments used by conservative Christians to condemn homosexuals. I have never found Mel’s arguments terribly convincing, especially his explanation of Romans 1. If you want a more compelling argument of why Romans 1 cannot be used to condemn homosexuals, go to the work of Catholic theologian James Allison. It was only when I began reading the Bible as the narrative of God and of God’s people, putting aside the fundamentalist view that every word of the Bible is the Word of God and is therefore inerrant, that I was able to work through the cognitive dissonance that I had been living with as a gay Christian from a holiness Christian tradition. (William on January 20, 2008 in this ex-gay watch discussion brilliantly describes cognitive dissonance in the context of homosexuality and fundamentalist Christianity.)Brian McLaren’s writings and along with Bruxy Cavey’s The End of Religion would also be excellent places for any Christian whose experiences are forcing them to re-examine their faith.