The Messy Business of Starting a Dialogue

(Originally posted on Wednesday, October 22, 2014)

It’s a weird feeling to sit in a room full of people who are in the midst of a passionate debate over your sexuality. But hey, I asked for it. Well, technically, my friend Janai asked for it for me. But I eagerly accepted. In a conference about loving across borders and moving beyond tolerance and into loving, a workshop on embracing the lgbt community seemed like a natural addition, even an imperative one. It seems the church, at least the one that hosted this conference, is more than ready to engage the atheist, the agnostic, the Buddhist, or the Muslim with love, understanding, poise, and confidence. But sexual minorities? Well, let’s just say they’re not quite there yet. But the very fact that they created a space for such a discussion shows that they’re willing to try. And although this was just an hour long workshop, and there’s a long, long way to go, I left the experience feeling hopeful, if still a bit misunderstood.

I led the workshop twice that day, and the sessions took very different turns. The first one was a lot more light-hearted. I shared my story, and the group had little trouble digesting it. They asked many good follow-up questions about how my gay friends reacted to my conversion, how Anna and I have dealt with challenges in our marriage, and practical ways that they can support gay Christians who choose to follow the traditional understanding of biblical sex ethics.

The next session was much more intense. In this group, my story and the way in which I framed the conversation really demanded a paradigm shift in the minds of most people. The thought that someone could be gay and Christian had never occurred to them. I was redefining things that had hard and fast definitions to them, and my very existence and the reality of my story defied what they had always thought about this issue. They had a category for gay people who reject God. They also had a category for more liberal congregations which affirm same-sex marriage and have gay couples among their ranks. And some of them had a vague notion of the ex-gays whom Focus on the Family and other conservative Christian groups used to tout. But this? “You’re the only person I’ve ever heard saying anything like this. You’re it!” one person said.

It’s funny: when you saturate yourself with articles and books from various authors, and you participate in online discussions and insert yourself into communities who are committed to thinking about and talking about a subject, you tend to forget the reality that outside of that, most people are oblivious to the things that you’ve come to take for granted.

It was a painstaking effort trying to explain why it’s not the best idea to compare homosexuality to pedophilia (that was fun), and that while the language of sexual orientation is extra-biblical, it isn’t necessarily unbiblical, and that being a new creation in Christ doesn’t mean that my orientation has changed or that it isn’t a significant part of me. I’m not sure if anybody walked away from the workshop feeling like they learned something or that they know a little more. But I’m pretty sure that most of them left realizing that even much of what they thought they knew was shaky at best. And while that’s not the end goal, I think it’s a pretty good start. Because while uncertainty is a scary thing, it often leads to humility. And if we really want to love across borders and move beyond tolerance and into loving, humility is a necessity.

 

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