Altogether we visited four different kinds of "ministries" or organizations; all four had a profound impact on us--thanks to Pierre, our school director, who organized the whole trip. The first night in Toronto we were beautifully hosted by John Franklin (the director of Imago [www.imago-arts.on.ca]) and his wife. Imago is an organization that helps artists raise funding for completing their projects. John, like our director, Pierre, feels strongly that arts (serious arts) have somehow become obsolete in many areas of Christian culture. He is determined to encourage all forms of artistic expression within and outside of Christian circles.
The other ministry we visited was one similar to YWAM called Ignite Youth. It is a team of 7 or 8 people from all over the world who have come together in a specific area in Toronto, Regent Park, to basically help the poor community there. The leader of this organization, Geoff Ryan, also has a church (although he likes to call it a community) and a cafe, where he offers good food to the poor or the street people for very low cost. Geoff was quite a contrast from John. Geoff struck us as a very literal, concrete person who believed the best way to live out the gospel would be to serve the poor and under-priveleged. John, on the other hand, emphasizes the arts, which too often have no relevance when it comes to the poor. A lot of our conversations that week centered around this conundrum: how do we reconcile something as high-class as quality art with serving the poor?
The third ministry we visited was called Sanctuary. This place was an old church turned into a sort of soup kitchen for the homeless of downtown Toronto. What struck me the most about this ministry was what the director, Allen, explained to us about really caring for the poor. He said that caring for the poor did not mean just pitying them, or even feeling sympathy for them (and therefore feeding them); no, the most true, holistic way we can care for the poor is to see them as people created in the image of God who undoubtedly have a purpose and a unique make-up. Now, you might wonder: how do we make that concrete? He said it meant entering into a relationship with them just like you would with any other person. For example, if you saw that person on the street, hungry and without any money, obviously you would help that person. In conversation, you would listen to that person not just out of sympathy, but out of a genuine interest in his/her own life and how it can positively affect yours. It was profound to me to think of serving the poor in this way, not just out of sympathy, but out of a sincere conviction that real relationship is the only way to restore self-esteem and a sense of purpose to these people.
The last ministry we visited was called New Directions. Basically, this organization exists to bridge the huge chasm that has too long existed between mainstream Christians and the homosexual population. The director, Wendy Gritter, coherently deconstructed for us the different traditions of thought on homosexuality within Christianity. She spoke of the different levels of acceptance that exist in different Christian communities.
She started with the churches that view homosexuality as an abomination, and as a sure ticket to hell. Of course, these types of communities are definitely not abundant, but nonetheless still exist. The next level of acceptance are those that see homosexuality as a sickness that needs to be cured. They believe that a person can eventually come around to heterosexuality if he/she gets enough help. After that, there are those who are willing to accept--and not try to change--those with homosexual tendencies, as long as they are not acting on it or, in other words, remaining celibate. I would say most Christian churches fall in to one of the two above levels of acceptance.
The next level would be an acceptance of homosexual behavior, as long as that person is in a monogamous, dedicated relationship with his/her partner. There's probably only a few churches that ascribe to this level of acceptance, comparable to the numbers of the above mentioned zero-acceptance churches. The last level is one of total acceptance of any kind of homosexual behavior, monogamous or not. These people are usually the ones that refer to anything else as oppressive. I don't think there are any Christian churches that would ascribe to this perspective.
It was quite an all-encompassing run down of the present relationship between Christianity and homosexuality. She pushed us to continue the conversation in our Christian communities so that this issue (often viewed as taboo) would no longer remain stale and tucked away.
My feelings are that somewhere along the way within the Western Christian mindset homosexuality became something undoubtedly ugly, horrible,and irredeemable, and yet Jesus never says much about it. So, how do we as Christians approach this issue in a new way that will make genuine conversation possible with the homosexuals around us? Too often we're scared to death of anything that has to do with it. As long as that fear persists, the huge chasm between us and the homosexual population will only grow wider, and nothing will occur except one side blindly judging the other.
For me, this is challenging and I'm not sure how to respond to it exactly. I feel strongly about opening up conversation, and yet am not sure I would have the courage to actually do so in a real life context. But we can start here with this blog and I invite anyone to share their thoughts and feelings on the matter so we can all have a better educated perspective on the issue. One other source is the blog of the director of New Direction, Wendy Gritter. If you're interested, her web address is http://www.btgproject.
Well, that was not a short blog. I apologize for misinforming you in the intro. We'll be back soon with to share more exciting adventures. Thanks for caring.
Denny, Lauren, and lil' D