There are so many layers to this story. So I’ll try to communicate them accurately . . .
Last week I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend the Kairos gathering – basically a gathering of Christians from around Canada to come together and talk about issues of Peace and Justice. As always in the justice world, there are many Anglicans, United Church people, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, etc., and very few from the Evangelical world. In fact, my presence was requested there because I attend a Mennonite church.
I have always been open about my faith and about my Evangelical perspective. There weren’t many of us – I met 3 others who would sort of fit into Evangelical-ish perspectives – this in a conference of about 400 people. Evangelicals, we have a lot of work to do in the social justice world.
I had many opportunities to speak and be heard throughout the conference, in a number of capacities. When asked what perspective I come from, I normally identify myself as a “radical Evangelical” – I find that language helpful, in that I am intentionally not allowing people to box me into a little category.
But inevitably it happens.
At the closing of the gathering, we participated in an Aboriginal hugging ceremony – this took over an hour as we were to hug everybody in the circle twice! There were still a number of people whom I didn’t meet yet at the time of the circle, so we all had our nametags on and sometimes it was more of a “good to meet you” than a “goodbye.”
A lady came to me in the circle and, while hugging, she noticed my nametag. “Bre. You’re the Fundamentalist. Should I be frightened?” She said this without a smile.
I was somewhat taken aback. I didn’t quite know what to say. “Don’t be frightened. I’m not a fundamentalist. I’m radical evangelical.”
“Which means what?” She asks. By this time we were about 4 people apart, as the hugging hasn’t stopped and now more people were being brought into our conversation. I had to think fast, as within seconds we would be out of earshot of each other.
“It means that I love Jesus. And I love diversity.”
We didn’t get to finish our conversation. But another one started with the next person I hugged. “And is Jesus ok with that?”
“Jesus loves diversity, too.” I said. And again the line moved on.
I wish I could have been more eloquent. I wish I could have been more prepared; I had assumed that my presence at the gathering, and at the Aboriginal ceremony, would have allowed people to presuppose my stance on the church and on my personal theology. But assuming is bad, so it turns out.
I wonder how many people during that gathering didn’t approach me, or didn’t speak to me because they had assumed that I was not a safe person to speak to, simply because of how I identified as an evangelical. This thought saddens my heart to a degree where I find it painful to speak about it.
I firmly believe in an evangelical faith which is inclusive and supportive of all cultures, all religions, and all ways of being and living. A faith and a church which breaks down walls instead of putting them up. A faith and a church with an open heart, which is committed and passionate about Jesus, scripture, and service from a standpoint of humility, grace, and anti-oppression. A church more concerned with Spirit than of rules of being. A church in love with the concepts of grace and mercy, of the mystical and the divine. A church which stands firm in our understanding of sin and the reality of the bodily resurrection, of culturally respectful and appropriate evangelism of biblical truths, and a church which exudes God’s love and intention for diversity in every way.