'I Never Knew a Space Like This Could Exist:' What InterVarsity Took Away With Its New Policy | Sojourners

'I Never Knew a Space Like This Could Exist:' What InterVarsity Took Away With Its New Policy

Image via InterVarsity/USA

Jesus’ teachings and miracles almost always occurred outside of the politics of the religious institution. Church happened underground.

And so, in the midst of the media storm over InterVarsity’s decision to dismiss queer-affirming employees, queer people of faith and allies continue to gather, heal, and seek God in sanctuary spaces and in our own ways. God’s movement and our zeal for justice cannot be circumvented by the ideology, policies, or contradictions of one strain of evangelicalism. This is the way of Christ: free and unbounded by social categories or respectability.

In this seminal moment, it is imperative to both thoroughly critique and prophetically reimagine a lived and embodied religion of God’s freedom. And it is vital we do this with people who are different from us. This piece is for those of us who identify as queer and/or people of color in the church — for those who have felt stabbed in the back by Christianity, yet are somehow still committed to God and building the body of Christ. This piece is also for my evangelical friends who disagree with me revealing InterVarsity’s new policy to TIME last week. Regardless of position, you're my family.

And as family, now is the time to enter into each other’s pain — because choosing solidarity ultimately deepens our faith, and helps us heal from our own traumas.

About 10 months ago, I had the honor to witness a group of queer students reimagine church together. A collective of LGBTQIA+ InterVarsity students, staff, and alumni met underground at Urbana. Urbana is InterVarsity’s international missions conference, which happens every three years and draws nearly 20,000 participants. At this year’s Urbana, InterVarsity invited Michelle Higgins, who delivered a prophetic and disruptive call to evangelicals to support Black Lives Matter, dispelling preconceptions about the movement while challenging us to reexamine our histories and ourselves. You better believe I had major heart eyes and serious heart palpitations throughout her 30-minute exhortation and illumination. InterVarsity’s support of the movement was a major step forward.

What was most empowering for me about Michelle’s sermon was her embodied preaching — not only what she spoke but the way she spoke gave us a foretaste of God’s freedom. Her embodied preaching showed me how God created women of color: to preach the truth unapologetically, to speak words of hope that point to a reality not yet seen, and to honor our own convictions and communities in the face of incredible risk, cost, and potential rejection.

Compelled by Michelle’s leadership, I came into communion with my own convictions. From that moment on, I knew I needed to push for a queer gathering at Urbana, no matter the cost.

I owe what happened next to black women’s leadership, teaching me to be true to myself and to lead with integrity.

We met discreetly in someone’s hotel room at Urbana (our multiple room requests for “queer gathering” had been rejected). We publicized our gathering the day-of, through word of mouth and secret Facebook groups. Twenty-five people showed up. We met each other, ate, and prayed together. We had church. We shared about being cut off from our literal and spiritual homes, and wrestling with our identities and spiritualities. We talked about family, theology, dating, and more. In this moment, we weren’t closeted, tokenized, or someone’s “outreach project.” We were queer people of faith gathered together. We knew why we were there without needing to explain. We were present to ourselves, to each other, and to God. And the resistance we faced trying to make this space happen made it all the more sacred.

The freedom to be ourselves and speak our narratives into a safe space began to loosen chains of isolation, despair, and shame. This is the religion of God’s freedom. The act of gathering together was calculatedly unlikely — prophetic and revolutionary in itself. When we began to sing the Doxology together, one of our sisters prayed, “Abba, I never knew a space like this could exist.” As her tears flowed freely like an abundant offering, this young woman articulated the grief and groanings of all our hearts.

After that moment, I heard God say to me, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing on is holy ground.” I looked around, and saw a collective of emerging disciples, evangelists, healers, teachers, artists, prophets, and peace warriors who loved God with all their hearts and earnestly longed for something new. Holding our own and each other’s wounds, I saw tears of lament that water the earth. I saw a community of spiritual orphans in exile, holding onto Christ while healing each other.

Like a tree that bears good fruit, the Christ I saw in this holy moment brought life, freedom, and community in the face of trauma, abuse, and isolation. I also saw clearly into my own life and calling: InterVarsity was no longer safe or sustainable for me. I wasn’t officially fired or asked to resign from my position. I willfully quit six months later, weeks before this new policy was released. I woke up to myself and to a renewed picture of God’s Kingdom I wanted to pursue.

Together, we have the power to reimagine and recalibrate the church. Our continued efforts to resist policies that silence LGBTQIA+ voices is only as strong as it is able to learn from and fight with #BlackLivesMatter. The spirit of God is stirring and prompting both of these movements to prophesy to some of the dry bones of evangelicalism. Together, our stories highlight how our Christian faith and membership can be co-opted by imperial ideals that easily dismiss us, deny us livable wages, or exile us if we challenge the established consciousness. Our movements expose hypocrisy and fragility in our religious ideals and institutions. Together, there is potential to liberate this interpretation of evangelicalism from white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal, and neoliberal strongholds.

My hope is that we will not only fight with and for each other, but that we will critically reimagine faith and church altogether. As we cast a vision for true reconciliation and justice, the challenge is to reimagine and protect our interconnected liberation.

In the aftermath of this experience, I am convinced Jesus dwells with those most impacted by racist, classist, and homophobic strains of evangelicalism. I am convinced those of us in anguish will sing a new song and usher in a new church.

Our God of freedom invites us to work together to create new systems and new communities. Our journey doing so will be our healing and our witness.

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