Posts Tagged ‘evangelical’

Reflections on the Dialogue: LGBTQ Issues and the Christian Church

Hello, my friends. It’s so nice to be back with you.

A few weeks ago, I told you about an upcoming dialogue to which I’d been invited—a conversation with a dozen evangelical Christians about LGBTQ issues and the Church. As you may know, the words evangelical, LGBTQ, and dialogue do not often appear together in the public square, so this gathering promised to be extraordinary.

It was all that, and then some.

I don’t think I can describe it any better than I have in this Huffington Post piece on the dialogue. The article includes some questions that the dialogue raised in my mind: new (to me) possibilities about the way we might think about not only LGBTQ issues, but the future of the Church itself. The comments on the article, on the whole, have been more thoughtful than one sometimes sees online, so you may want to check them out—and add your response. I’d love to hear your thoughts, there or here.

Upcoming Dialogue: LGBT Issues and the Christian Church

When a pillar of our quasi-evangelical church came out in 1989, I had just started rethinking the whole issue of gender, sexuality, and the Bible. So I was not prepared for how torturous the resulting church discussion would be.

Partly because of this event, LGBT people and issues have been dear to my heart ever since.  Perhaps this was God’s way of preparing me to become an Episcopalian—a Christian denomination riven by hostility over LGBT issues. Perhaps it was God’s sense of humor that placed me in my specific corner of The Episcopal Church: a liberal (i.e., welcoming-to-LGBT-people) church in a conservative diocese in a liberal national church in a conservative worldwide church.

But wait, there’s more. Once a year, I serve as a representative from our church to the diocese’s convention—which makes me a quasi-liberal surrounded by ardent conservatives.

This is a tense and painful place to live. To be sure, I am one of many comrades in this place: a sort of no-man’s-land in the culture wars. But we are outnumbered—and surely outshouted—by those on either side.

So why would anyone in his right mind continue to live there?

Here’s why I do: Because I will not abandon my LGBT sisters and brothers to a theology I find deeply flawed. Because I believe that my conservative sisters and brothers have great gifts to contribute to the world at large. Because I believe that dialogue has power. Because God calls me to peace and compassion, not to anger and the severing of relationships.

This is why I am deeply honored to have been invited to a most exceptional dialogue. Evangelicals for Social Action has asked a dozen pastors, therapists, scholars, students, writers, and “other struggling saints”—gay, straight, liberal, conservative, what have you—to a two-day conversation about LGBT issues. We will convene in November to get to know one another, share our stories, explore our perspectives, and generally live side by side for a short while.

The dialogue will not be easy. But the very fact of it thrills me. And if the emails we’ve exchanged so far are any indication, this could be something special. No one has brought up the “clobber passages” in the Bible. No one has debated genetics or biblical literalism. Instead, we’ve explored deeper issues of sexuality and gender and personal stories. Some of the participants, at least, are well versed in bridging divides. They bring rich and eye-opening experiences to the table.

If you are the sort to pray, please pray for this gathering. If not, please think of us in November. We may not change the world. But perhaps God will make us a tipping point for reconciliation—or at least one tiny example of living in peace and compassion despite our differences.

Why Sign THIS Civility Pledge?

Do you have “channel markers” in your life? I’m referring to those people whose deep insights and good example command your attention. Wherever you are in life, you keep half an eye on them (as you would a channel marker when you’re sailing) to see what they’re thinking, writing, or doing. A glance at their words and actions helps you chart a straight course.  

Jim Wallis of Sojourners is one of my channel markers. He’s a born-again Christian with a deep concern for peace and justice issues—so he confounds the conventional wisdom that religious always means conservative (and that liberal always means godless). His prolific writing has found expression in three books, a popular daily blog, and the magazine where he serves as editor-in-chief.

Yesterday, he asked me to sign a civility pledge.

Not just me, of course, but anyone and everyone. Like me (and probably you, since you’re reading this), Wallis is deeply concerned about the climate of polarization that pervades U.S. culture. Like me, he believes people of faith have a unique role to play in nudging us toward dialogue. So he’s asking said people of faith to sign his Covenant of Civility as a critical step.

I’m skeptical of pledge signing in general: it’s too easy to pledge and too hard to deliver. (Think New Year’s resolutions.) But this may be different. According to the site, “church leaders from diverse theological and political beliefs” have already signed on. Just as important, Jim Wallis is a “channel marker” for a wide swath of the faith community—including, I believe, people in very high places—so anything he produces has more clout than the average effort.

Civility, as I’ve mentioned before, is only the first step, a precondition for the dialogue that draws us close to one another across all manner of divides. But it is an absolutely necessary first step, because you can’t talk—or, more important, listen—until you’ve stopped shouting. I encourage you to visit the site and sign the pledge.

Next Week, on The Dialogue Venture…

Fluff the pillows, vacuum the rugs, and get your questions ready. We’re going to have a guest.

In thinking about the dynamics of dialogue, I’ve become intrigued by evangelism and the tension it introduces between Christianity and the rest of the world. Many Christians view telling others about Christ as a core requirement of their faith. Many of other faiths see the practice as an offensive, old-school sales pitch, with one person pressuring another to convert. That would make evangelism antithetical to dialogue.

It would, that is, if we defined evangelism exclusively as a one-directional hard sell. But could it possibly be that simplistic? My attempt to think it through led to my recent article in Next-Wave.

Since that article appeared, I’ve heard from several Christian leaders who are also working to redefine evangelism. In the process, they may have something to say to those among us who find the traditional model reprehensible.

One of those leaders is Jeffrey Johnson, who’s come out with Got Style? Personality-Based Evangelism. His thesis is that Christians, while all called to evangelism, must approach it according to their individual personalities. If, for instance, you’re more relationally based, you might focus on nonverbal evangelism, rolling up your sleeves and helping your neighbors. If you’re more analytical, perhaps you engage others in thoughtful discussions of certain topics. (Hmm. Sounds like dialogue, yes?) While allowing that a few Christians are hard-wired for assertive evangelism, he questions the overall effectiveness of this approach in a skeptical and diverse society.

So can dialogue and evangelism peacefully coexist? That’s what we aim to find out. Next week, Johnson comes to The Dialogue Venture as part of a blog tour to promote Got Style? I have questions for him, but I’d like to include yours as well.

If you have a question or two, please send them along before Friday noon (Eastern Standard Time). You can use the comment space on this post or just contact me directly. While I can’t guarantee I’ll use every question (especially if we get tons of them), I’ll include as many as I can.

This could be an opportunity to pick the brain of someone who’s trying to break down a few old walls. Help me help him do that. Think up some questions and fire away.

Surrender Your Values to Dialogue With Others?

Do we have to give up our beliefs before we engage in dialogue?

I thought about this when a Religion News Service article led me to the Civility Project. Co-founded by a Democratic consultant and a Southern Baptist adviser to Mitt Romney (that combination alone should get your attention), the project sprang from a frustration with the shouting that currently passes for civil discourse. Central to the project is the Civility Pledge: a promise to be civil in public discourse and behavior, respect others regardless of their position, and stand against incivility.

What a great idea. Others have worked on civility for considerably longer and explored it more intently—P. M. Forni’s Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins is especially notable—but it’s wonderful to see a call for civility from the grass roots. The more, the better.

Two items on the Civility Project website, though, brought the belief question to mind. One page states that the project does not involve “a surrender of personal beliefs, convictions or ideology.” Meanwhile, a poster comments that civil dialogue is impossible until fundamentalists stop preventing civil marriages for GLBT people. This expresses her personal conviction, and she has made it a precondition for civil dialogue.

Can you actually be civil and not surrender these things?

I think you can—but not by leading with “never surrender.” That orientation almost automatically puts us on the defensive, listening to the other not so much to truly understand her but to find the holes in her thinking. If the other person realizes we’re doing this, she’ll perceive herself as vulnerable to attack. She too becomes defensive, we learn little about each other, and the dialogue has no value.

So how do we go about this? I think the key is not to surrender our beliefs, but to set them aside for purposes of the dialogue. In doing so, we clear our mind to consider the other’s perspective from the inside out. We can hear her logic, her passion, her values more clearly. As a result, we connect more deeply, build trust, and open up an opportunity for deeper dialogue. This gives us a richer understanding of the other perspective, which we can then explore from our own value system. 

Imagine if we tried this with, say, gay marriage. GLBT people might find that conservative Christians are not necessarily homophobic, but rather trying in good faith to see the issue from their biblical worldview. Conservative Christians might hear the life stories of gay people and realize that being gay is not a choice, but rather who they are at their very essence. 

At the end of the dialogue, conservatives might still conclude that homosexuality is sinful, and GLBT people might still be frustrated with them. But they have understood the opposing perspective more deeply. More important, they have seen the human being behind the perspective, and that can lead to something bigger than dialogue—compassion and peace across the ideological divide.