Since its inception in 1995, IAM has learned through trial and error that there is a way to create change around a contentious and controversial issue like homosexuality within faith communities in Africa. To capture that work, IAM developed a theory of change that is inclusive and affirming, and that creates safe spaces for real dialogue to happen. It acknowledges diversity and differences regarding sexuality, while at the same time holding togetherness as equally important to our common humanity – we are “all created in the image of God” and loved equally by God.
Our Wheel of Change underpins all of IAM’s work. It was created to help individuals and groups learn from our experience, better understand the change process, and become change agents themselves. Understanding its elements is key to understanding IAM’s process and how we effect change.
Starting with the end in mind: Open Doors
When we explain IAMs Theory of Change during training, we usually begin at the centre of the wheel. At its heart, IAMs Wheel of Change (WoC) is designed to help move towards inclusive and affirming faith communities that recognise and celebrate LGBTI people on the African continent (open doors). As we work towards this goal, we are aware that transformation and change takes time. Change takes commitment to deep dialogue, listening and being open to stories that are unlike our own. IAM’s WoC process (and the theory of change at its heart) empowers and enables faith communities to travel on this journey towards open doors for all.
Before change can begin: focusing on readiness
We have found that even people who commit to embark on this journey towards inclusive and affirming faith communities often find themselves on the outside of the wheel at a first training. Bringing people in faith communities to a point of readiness to being to join conversations of deep dialogue is as important as the movement of the wheel itself.
It can take months – even years – before people are ready to start a conversation.
Transforming faith communities are never a sprint, but a very long walk of accompaniment of partners involved.
During the readiness process, participants are invited on this journey towards transformation. Participants are prepared for the exciting journey ahead. Through training, listening and learning the journey towards change starts, making the invisible visible and giving voice to those who are silenced.
Diversity Awareness (Open minds)
The start of Diversity Awareness (Open Minds) includes exposure to language that helps us to enter into conversations about sexuality and diversity. Learning what the acronym LGBTI means brings us all onto the same page when we engage in conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity. We also talk here about how our bodies are not merely sexual beings, but sexuality is also linked to race, gender, class and other social and political concerns. Sharing of personal stories and testimonies takes place at this stage, as we listen to the realities of people’s lives in relation to their sexual orientation and gender identity(SOGIE) and spirituality.
A second training component includes the ways in which we read the Bible. IAM uses Reading Together as an introduction to alternative means of reading and interpreting the Bible that we use to train participants. We also have a Reading Together booklet available for further bible study possibilities. A Reading Together process requires a diverse group of people committed to be challenged by their own prejudice, cultural norms and social constructs that have been read into biblical texts and interpretations. When we read the Bible with people who have traditionally been excluded from interpreting the Bible on their own, the text takes on a whole new meaning. This is a challenging part of the journey, because it often addresses what we hold most dear to us and what has formed our deepest ideas of who God is.
Dialogue in safe spaces (Open hearts)
The blue segment on the WoC invites faith communities to dialogue in safe spaces (open hearts) while taking the risk of listening and sharing their own lived experiences. Traditionally in the African context, faith spaces are homogenous spaces – spaces where people usually appear to look the same, think the same, dress the same and ultimately believe the same. Even though we know that this is not true, the belief that it is has excluded people who look, think, dress and believe differently. When we truly want to move towards the heart of the WoC, this means that the next stop on our journey has to go slower and deeper. Deeper, as we listen to voices that have often been silenced, and slower as we hold our fundamental truths and deep beliefs a little lighter.
The training components include dialogue and diversity workshops. We explore together how we enter into conversations where we can all be honest while holding a space that remains safe for people who have diverse core beliefs. This is a relational space that explores the difference between dialogue and debate. At IAM we offer dialogue as a method for risky conversations because it leads to a more creative space for transformation than debate can offer.
A dialogue process takes time and happens in one-on-one encounters and/or group trainings – often moving backwards before we can take another step forward. Something that we’ve learned in deep dialogue settings is that disengaging after a time is equally important to engaging and can be as creative. A dialogue process challenges participants to talk to people who are different from ourselves (engage) but also to do reflection on one’s own (disengage).
Accompaniment of strategic partners in a journey towards inclusive and affirming faith communities takes a lifetime of slow walking together, discerning what the next step will be and getting everyone onto the same page as we build strong, strategic and healthy alliances. It is good to take a look at what other faith communities have done, but this does not mean that it will be as relevant in another context. “Reading the context” together with strategic partners is as important as reading the biblical text together.
Strategic partners range from faith leaders, congregation and presbytery, circuit or archdeaconry, leaders, congregation members, community leaders and various other LGBTI people and other stakeholders.
Change agents implement and replicate the WoC process in their specific context. The process towards transformation and open doors is never easy, and change agents often find themselves burned out and depleted. In IAM’s WoC, we anticipate this and encourage change agents to support, reflect and spiritually nourish themselves and each other and to reflect as often as possible. We have developed questions for reflection that empower change agents further on their journey towards inclusive and affirming faith communities.
The movement of the wheel
The arrows on the WoC indicate that this process towards the heart of the wheel–communities that recognise and celebrate LGBTI people – is always fluid. As it is with most journeys, it can begin at any point or segment on the wheel. There is always something new to learn or to become aware of. The journey can move from one segment to another, regardless of where it is on the wheel. Just keep moving!
Take a few moments to reflect on where you might find yourself or a friend or family member on the Wheel of Change. Be honest with yourself – where are you starting from? What might it take to get you to the next phase? Can you imagine what it might look like if you or your faith community moved to the centre of the wheel and truly became inclusive and affirming of all people? We’d love to hear your reflections – you can connect with us via social media or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.