How can TFT become more diverse?
Glancing out over the balcony, I see a myriad of trees and shrubs next to the creek, in full display of uncountable shades of green. Yet, upon closer examination, it is not just all green. There are dazzling yellows and dark browns, purples and pinks, scarlets and fuchsias. The wind then blows, and the leaves rustle, whispering in harmony to the melodies of the birds and the insects. All the while, the bubbling creek keeps to the rhythm of the whole symphony. Together, it reflects perfection in creation, even if only for a while.
In this article, I reflect on how the TFT community, and perhaps the whole church, might become more inclusive and diverse. In the experience above, it is the diversity that brings out the beauty of each part of creation. Each aspect highlights or complements another. The reds would not look as bright without the greens, and the birdsong would sound lonely without the background bubbling creek. In the same way, diversity is not only found in nature; we should also find it in all areas of life. This includes the “body of Christ”, the whole church, which TFT is part of.
How TFT is already changing
There can be a perception externally that TFT is exclusive and narrow-minded, catering only to a small sub-section of the population of white, middle-class males. Our conferences often reflect this, where there are certainly far more males than females. Even the staff, at first glance, appear to be from a particular demographic. However, this impression quickly dispelled as they warmly welcomed me. Once you get to know them, you swiftly realise that the staff and the wider volunteer team do come from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Even the small staff team includes men & women, gay & straight, North & South! There is also an active women’s group, parents of same-sex attracted children, and those in related support ministries.
However, there is still work to be done to draw more diversity into TFT and to be more welcoming to those who do not fit in with the TFT stereotype. In the last couple of years, as the diversity in TFT has grown, the articles, policies and choice of images on websites and social media could be updated to contain more welcoming references to diversity and inclusion, which should be evident as a part of the greater body of Christ. The increase in diversity is one benefit of the pandemic, where TFT has taken steps to be more accessible via virtual events, which has welcomed involvement from people outside of the UK. Many more people can now connect online, which has broken down the location barriers. This is a great example of how TFT is opening up and addressing the need for support, especially in places where organisations like this do not exist.
Diverse friendship groups
We can all take practical steps to open up and reach out to those who would benefit from TFT. Diversity has to start with each of us individually, reflecting on the diversity in our friendship groups. We can ask the question, “How diverse is my friendship group based on age, gender, race, class and upbringing?” We can review this continually, and ask God to open our eyes to seek opportunities to reach out and understand others who differ from us. It is so easy to slip into the comfort zone and surround ourselves with like-minded people. If our everyday life reflects diversity, we will naturally be more open to reaching out to new members by welcoming and interacting with them.
I have lived in five countries, and spent more time living outside of my birth country than in it. These cultures have shaped me through my interactions with a diverse range of people, many with different backgrounds and upbringings to mine. I have friends from those in their eighties, to those under eight. It does not matter where they are born, what their job is, whatever their educational level, where they live, or whether they are single, married, divorced or widowed. I always come away from our interactions learning something from each person. I am fortunate to have an incredible array of friends in my community and circles, and feel all the richer because of them. A simple challenge for each of us is to connect intentionally with someone at the next TFT event with whom we may not have interacted before.
As Christians, God calls us to reach out to people all over the world and to make Jesus known. A great place to start is in TFT, where we can challenge ourselves to seek interactions with people with whom we may not always feel comfortable. Same-sex attractions do not discriminate. Anyone might experience it. The unity that we have with others in TFT who are different to us, but who also want to honour Christ despite their SSA, is something that can deepen our friendships. These interactions can build us up to reach out in the local community, and open the doors to meaningful friendships and opportunities to share our personal testimony and Christ in the wider world.
Those of us who may be a little more shy might start with just being around in a group conversation, or being present virtually after an online TFT event and attending small groups. For example, our Barnabas group has been looking at material from Preston Sprinkle, who himself took steps to reach out to the secular LGBT+ community and listen to their stories. Hearing his online content has exposed me to people with different views and stories. While we are different, we all still long to be understood and loved. Through understanding others, we come to understand the world, ourselves and God in a deeper, fuller way.
Remembering the “why”
As we think deeply about our friendship groups, how we fit in, and how we reach out, it is important to reflect on why we want to do this. Why should TFT, and each of us, be inclusive and seek diversity? Here are three reasons from the Bible:
- Jesus came for ALL (Ephesians 2:13-14).
- It is God’s will for everyone to believe and trust in Him (2 Peter 3:9), so who are we to discriminate?
- We need each other. As the church, we bring a range of talents and gifts, just as each part of a human body has its own function (1 Corinthians 12). Diversity is a taste of Heaven on Earth (Revelation 7:9).
I glance out over the balcony again. The beautiful panorama I saw hours ago is no longer visible now that it is dark. As the magnificent scene disappears from view, it is easy to despair and to lose sight of the bigger picture. Similarly, seeking diversity, reaching out and including others can be hard, it can take us out of our comfort zone. Nevertheless, I am reminded that it is worth it because my Lord Jesus Christ never gave up on me. He is the best example of why we need to be open and inclusive to everyone. Jesus broke down the barriers of culture, nationality and caste. He loved his enemies, the outcast, the sick, the poor, the old, the frail, the women, the children – those different to him. Together, in Christ Jesus, we make a beautiful symphony.
This article was originally published in the spring 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the spring 2022 edition of Ascend