Vision: Unity that is deeper than agreement
ESA's Oriented to Love dialogues help Christ followers come together around the highly charged and challenging topic of sexual and gender diversity in the church. How can Christians love each other across sharp disagreements about what faithful sexuality and gender expression look like? How can we listen respectfully in order to truly see and know those we disagree with rather than vilify and dismiss each other?
Unity was one of Christ's most passionate desires during his walk among us. The apostle Paul took up that passion as well:
"I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 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, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." Eph. 4:1-6
But how often is Christ's body torn asunder as people choose sides, hunker down, and take cover, refusing to engage? How can we love those we can't even see from our trenches?
In today's cultural and political climate, few of us know how to deal with difference. Increasingly, we consider opposing points of view as toxic or threatening simply because they are opposing points of views. The problem is widespread, affecting conversations on faith, politics, culture, and worldview.
When it comes to the intersection of sexual orientation, gender identity, and theology, these tensions are heightened. We caricature and accuse each other, our interactions often defined by polarization and demonization bordering on abuse. Love, which is Christ's greatest command, can so often feel scarce.
How do we live with our deepest differences?
Oriented to Love dialogue retreats offer a completely confidential, immersive, multi-day experience that helps Christians of all theologies and orientations/identities learn to live with and love the theological, sexual and/or gender "other"—and to do so within the context of a serious apprenticeship to Jesus. Beyond our shared faith in Christ, we seek not to find agreement but rather, through loving dialogue and mutual vulnerability, to build community in the church amidst theological diversity. We are able to do this, not by defining or sharpening our theological differences, but by encouraging each other in our relational commitment to Jesus and our shared desire to move toward him. (Oriented to Love fishbowl dialogues are public events where select dialogue alumni model the kind of curious, compassionate conversations that happen at the retreat.)
In the Australian outback there are two ways to keep cattle on the ranch. One is to build fences around the perimeter of the ranch; the other is to dig a well in the center of the ranch. The first approach establishes barriers of binary exclusion—keeping the rancher's cattle in and everything else out—while the second draws the cattle toward a life-giving well.
The church can and should do the same, building community on relational direction toward a compelling vision (Christ) rather than deciding who's in and who's out based on theological doctrine. But the American church, especially the American evangelical church, does not know how to do this effectively.
Oriented to Love aims to model this kind of community building and to give Christians a taste of what is possible—finding unity that is deeper than agreement. While Oriented to Love explores the lived tensions of sexuality, gender, and identity, its real aim is to showcase a new way of living with difference in the church across all the tensions and differences that make up contemporary life. Here is a brave space for messy conversations, a place where the Holy Spirit shows up in life-transforming ways. Will you join us?