Posts Tagged ‘lesbian’

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.

The Conversations That Made Same-Sex Marriage Happen in New York

(Dear Reader: Yes, I have been absent from these pixels the past few weeks, and not by choice. Work and family obligations kept me away from stringing two thoughts together, let alone two words. Just before the interruption, however, I started work on the post below, so it seems a good place to pick up. My apologies for the hiatus.)

Almost two weeks ago, The New York Times printed a well-researched story by Michael Barbaro on the passage of marriage equality legislation in New York. “Behind N.Y. Gay Marriage, an Unlikely Mix of Forces” reports on the various maneuvers, lobbying efforts, and conversations behind the scenes.

As you might pick up from that last sentence, some of the effort was classically political. Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to the article, organized contentious gay-rights organizations to present a united front to the Legislature. There were postcard campaigns, phone calls to legislators, promises of political cover.

I was more taken, however, with other dimensions of the effort. Here are two:

1. The personal dimension. Barbaro’s story mentions many personal connections between the players in this drama and LGBT people. Billionaire Paul Singer, whose support Cuomo requested in an effort to persuade Republicans, has a son who is gay. Cuomo’s own partner, Sandra Lee, urged him to push through marriage equality at least in part because her brother is gay. The cantankerous senator Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) had watched his family come apart because of his no vote two years earlier: his partner’s nephew, a gay man, refused to speak to him thereafter. Constituents repeatedly approached the governor and legislators with their own stories.

Here’s my takeaway from this: I’ve long believed that the best way to clear away our stereotypes is to spend time with someone we’re stereotyping. In this case, some people changed their minds on same-sex marriage because they knew, or became acquainted with, GLBT people for whom same-sex marriage is a life-changing issue. This is one great advantage to dialogue across divides: it puts us face to face with people we misunderstand. As we hear their stories—and spend time with the human beings behind the issues—our preconceived notions give way to a more nuanced picture, and we begin to see our dialogue partners for who they are.

2. Then there’s the issue of confidentiality. Many of these conversations were held in strictest secrecy, and I believe that’s appropriate. Sometimes confidentiality can create a space for people to give and take, try out new ideas, suggest half-baked proposals, and generally fumble along, free from concern that any given line will be taken out of context in our always-on, media-saturated public square. In this confidential space, people get to put their heads together, and better ideas generally result. Clearly, secrecy can be miserably corrosive in other contexts—secret prisons, anyone?—but I think it serves a good purpose here.

There’s more to be said on these issues, but I’d rather hear from you. What lessons do you draw from the process behind this legislation? What best practices (or pitfalls) do you see that could make our dialogue better?

Dialogue by Being There

Can you start a dialogue just by showing up?

Miki Kashtan’s friend did. At a conference on reconciliation, this friend realized with despair that there was no exploration of gay issues on the agenda. On the third day of the conference, after praying and wrestling with the omission, she stepped to the microphone, announced to a conservative audience that she was gay, and simply made herself available. And people started coming. She didn’t try to change their mind; she just listened. (Miki puts this much more eloquently than I ever could; you’ve got to read the post.)

In short, Miki’s friend was present, in her attendance and her few words.

This past weekend, I attended the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. Before us was a contentious resolution that touched tangentially on GLBT issues: the endorsement of a formal covenant for the worldwide Anglican Communion. For several weeks I had studied the issue, solicited opinions, reflected, and prayed; from that work emerged a position that could respect the covenant’s supporters while saying no to the covenant itself. On Saturday, I articulated these thoughts in 90 seconds from the floor of the convention.

In short, I was present, in my attendance and my few words.

And people started coming. One first-time delegate, who had no idea how conservative the diocesan leadership was, expressed relief at finding a kindred spirit. The head of a progressive organization in the diocese thanked me for speaking up. Yet so did the diocese’s conservative firebrand, who generally brooks no nonsense from “liberals.”

Experiences like these leave me with so much hope…and a few lessons. One involves the timeframe of dialogue. I have no illusions that one 90-second speech—or a boatload of 90-second speeches—will change the basic mindset of 400 convention delegates. Neither will they inspire all of us to listen respectfully and dialogue civilly all the time.

But each time we do something like this, we give people a glimpse of the flesh-and-blood on the “other side.” We reveal that we’re human, use logic, and come to our positions in good faith. Then, the next time we do it, our listeners might be a bit more accepting of us, a bit more willing to listen, whether they agree or not.

The other lesson is like unto it. It’s easy to think of dialogue as this intense, formal, sustained effort, with facilitators and flip charts and study circles and such. Those efforts are worthy of applause. But right in the midst of our daily lives, we can move dialogue in seemingly tiny ways, like presenting oneself at a convention.

When we do, people will come.

Have you ever started a dialogue just by showing up? Did simply expressing who you are draw people to you? What happened?  Please share your experiences by clicking on the Comments line below.