As an educator, coach of rhetoric and debate, and full-time van driver for my debate team, I’m honored to listen and learn from young people as they mature into leaders and influencers. On occasion, there are students who emerge as exceptional leaders and for the past three years I’ve been honored to be associated with such a person. Her name is Emma Busby. I first met Emma through our work together in collegiate competitive debate, but over the years I’ve been honored to have a front row seat as a witness to her maturation as an influential Christian leader and example on our campus and beyond.
Now, Emma has taken on a courageous venture in sharing her story and the wisdom she has picked up along the way in her inaugural podcast; Gospel for Us+ . In the podcast Emma explores sexuality, LGBTQ+ identities, and church trauma, from a biblically informed perspective with content that is refreshingly absent the dogmatism that so often accompanies such explorations of these issues.
Emma opens her podcast in a powerfully vulnerable way as she honestly shares her sexual orientation, one that defies labels, yet also seeks to honor the work of grace that carefully crafted her in the image of God. As a cisgender male who embraces a traditional sexual identity, I appreciate the opportunity to learn from Emma about these issues as the increasing multiplicity of labels can sometimes be confusing. Thankfully, Emma transcends labels and gently guides listeners back to an understanding that everyone is worthy of love and respect.
Emma points out that on many fronts, the church has failed to love after the example of Christ. Powerfully, Emma recalls examples from her own life and experience while at the same time, acknowledging her own complicity in perpetuating this hurt. By doing so, Emma gives voice to all of us who have unintentionally or intentionally perpetuated harm to the LGBTQ+ community. Emma faithfully shares compassion and empathy through her words as Christians should, but sadly haven’t. Emma manages to embrace what she calls “a Christian orthodoxy with a lower-case o” while at the same time communicating a Christian orthopraxy that is often lost by those who make attempts to communicate effectively on these issues.
Like all of us, I’m sure Emma’s perspectives will continue to change as our collective understandings continue to be informed. It should be understood that as a young person, Emma has many evolutions in her thoughts and perspectives that will accompany the greater challenges of life that await her. We call this experience, and it is perhaps the one advantage age has over youth. But from where I stand and prompted by the advantage of experience, I consider Emma’s words to be informative, helpful, and wise. Emma embodies the love of Christ in her words without the baggage that so often encumbers modern Christianity. Her words communicate love without the expectation to conform, acceptance without the exclusionary “But” that hinders the space needed for God’s grace to flourish. Emma dispenses the substantive bread and wine of the gospel without excluding anyone from the table.
Gospel for Us+ lovingly communicates inclusion even in its title. It isn’t, (as so often is communicated) the “Gospel for Us period” which sadly draws lines of exclusion for those who view themselves differently, but it is “plus” which offers hope to all. This podcast proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of Christ, that will one day be consummated in this new order,
“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride.
Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come!
All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life!”
(Revelation 22:17 MSG)
As a mentor, coach, but most often a simple van driver, I am privy to many conversations between my young wards in our debate cohort. And although my responsibilities sometimes render me invisible to them, this also provides for me a privilege of listening without the filters that so often impair communication between generations. When these conversations become complicated, vulnerable, and difficult, as they often do, I am comforted to hear Emma’s voice providing loving clarity to her friends. And when she can’t provide clear answers, she doesn’t attempt to fake it, she just loves and accepts, an example we would all do well to emulate.
There is a temptation for those of us sitting in the driver’s seat of culture, to dismiss the voices of those who will soon be sitting in these seats of responsibility. It is often easier to discount their influence, or lament that they are somehow less than effective in their delivery and execution of the gospel than we are. But maybe, if we are willing to listen closely, we can glean the wisdom of truth that always emerges no matter how big the cultural or historical obstacles that seek to choke its growth.
I hear truth in Emma’s voice. It sounds a lot like the love of Christ. You should give her a listen.