New Direction Ministries of Canada did a lot of harm before hiring Wendy Gritter to be its executive director. She changed everything, not by coming in as a firebrand reformer but by realizing she had been wrong.
Started as a Bible study group in 1985, New Direction focused on personal experiences of sexuality. That could be translated as helping everyone embrace their true, heterosexual selves.
As an evangelical minister, Gritter was the right person to take the helm in 2002. She believed in the mission of assisting gays and lesbians to convert to “normal” sexuality and was probably not bothered by the group’s affiliation with Exodus International (an ex-gay Christian organization that operated for just over 35 years before finally closing its doors and apologizing).
Her beliefs slammed into what she found in the group, and she gradually reversed directions. It was difficult to cling to anti-gay doctrine when faced with the good people around her. She apologized to those who had been pressured to abandon their authentic selves and to embrace a heterosexuality that was anathema to them. She completely changed the focus of New Direction. As she writes in “A Letter to Ex-Gay Survivors”:
I want to acknowledge that people have been hurt by ex-gay paradigms. I know people experienced shame. I know people felt less than. I know that some people’s faith never recovered from the experience. This causes me deep grief and motivates me to be very clear that New Direction does not promote an ex-gay mindset. We want to be part of the movement within the Christian community that recognizes and affirms the full humanity, worth and dignity of our LGBT sisters and brothers (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender).
The about-face made Gritter and New Direction targets of some virulently conservative Christian organizations. It also put them in the hot seat with LGBTQ organizations that questioned the sincerity of their shift in focus. In the years since New Direction lived up to its name and really did choose a new direction, Wendy Gritter has been called on regularly to explain or defend her belief that Christianity must be inclusive and accepting.
She and the organization she heads continue to practice what Gritter calls “generous spaciousness”. As she wrote in a recent blog post about finally handing over the reins to an LGBT person:
[F]or this ministry to embody justice, there needs to be a movement from the center to the margins and from the margins to the center – and I want to be part of a willing demonstration of that.
Wendy Gritter and New Direction Ministries keep learning, writing, discussing and expanding their hearts. Their openness came long before Exodus International closed its doors and doubtless influenced that transition as well. Winds of change are blowing away old stereotypes and injustices, and that gives me hope.