Jun 25

Synchroblog Review

btg cover.gifNow that it’s past, I thought it would be good to do a review of yesterday’s synchroblog event.  It was an excellent experience and overall, I felt it went quite well.  Wendy and her sponsors did a fantastic job putting it all together and the participants wrote some wonderful posts, some of which I will highlight in a moment.

The one thing I was somewhat disappointed in was the fact that despite the efforts of a couple of us (including Wendy), the event seemed primarily geared towards Christians.  As far as I know, Christine Bakke, YewTree, and I were the only three non-Christians who participated.  This is probably due to a number of reasons.  For one, those who sponsored this event were Christian and therefore had the most Christian contacts.  Then there’s also the fact that it’s much harder to convince a non-Christian to participate in an event to encourage Christians and gay people to talk to one another.  On the whole, we non-Christians probably don’t see as big a need for such conversation.

More troubling, however, is that I did feel there was a certain undercurrent even among many of the participating bloggers that this was about gay and straight Christians talking with each other.  I saw more than one post in which the sentiment seemed to be that the foundation for such conversation was the fact that those involved were all “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  While this is a fine sentiment and I’m glad that some people were able to find that common ground, that doesn’t extend the conversation to the rest of the gay community — those of us who don’t consider ourselves “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  So perhaps it may be a while longer before the entire gay community will find a welcome in the greater community.

Having said that, I wish to be clear that I don’t mean to be too critical because of this.  I think that this synchroblog was a great next step in the overall dialogue process.  And I have confidence that even my concerns can be addressed as that dialogue continues.  I think we all just need to keep plugging away with patience, compassion, and a bit of understanding.

One of my favorite posts was over at Focused Conversations, which demonstrated a deep and practical understanding of the Golden Rule.  Sandy tells of her own wedding and the people who supported her and helped her with her wedding, despite the fact that they felt she was making a bad choice.  In retelling that story, she comes to a conclusion which she applies to same sex marriages:

I understand the desire to declare your commitment to your loved one in
a formal ceremony. Whether or not I think it is the right thing doesn’t
take away from that. As a Christian I live with that tension.

It sometimes takes a special person to realize how her own situation at one time mirrored that of another person’s and to place herself in that person’s shoes.  Sandy’s willingness to be such a person spoke a lot to me.

Over at Based on a True Story, Nathan takes a similar approach and draws parallels between his own relationship with his wife and same-sex relationships:

My relationship with my wife runs very deep and there are plenty of
factors that play into it. If my relationship was all about sex, it
would not be much of a relationship. We know though, that a part of
marriage and relationships runs a lot deeper than just what happens
with our bodies. One of the more beautiful parts of a marriage is the
commitment and covenant to each other no matter what life brings. We
should be affirming and blessing mutual covenants of love between any
person and not denying them of a basic human need. We need to focus on
what we affirm rather than what we want to get rid of. Why are we so
bent on taking away all the good in a relationship? Is it just to prove
our theology? Is it just to satisfy our own desires for holiness to be
met around us?

In doing so, Nathan actually attacks one of the most damaging stereotypes about gay people:  The idea that our relationships are just about sex.  Nathan’s willingness to challenge that stereotype and then ask very hard questions about the implication of opposing relationships that clearly have a lot of good in them is superb.

Of course, not everything was perfect.  Despite some great posts, there was the occasional argument in some comments.  Some people wanted to argue over what constituted compromise or capitulation, while others wanted to discuss who (usually the other side) needed to do what in order for their to be dialogue.  Some even questioned if dialogue is possible in the end.  But that’s okay.  This conversation is long overdue and it’s the kind of conversation that is never going to go perfectly smoothly.  And that’s okay.  The important thing is that people are still talking.  Hopefully, that will remain the case.

And hopefully, people will continue to listen.

Jun 24

Bridging the Gap: Dialogue is More Than Debate

(This post is part of the Bridging the Gap Synchroblog which I mentioned previously.  I’d encourage all readers to check out other participants’ contributions to this event.  Links to appropriate blogs can be found at the BTG blog.)

pride-flag.pngAlmost a decade ago, I joined a Telnet-based BBS(1) called Jungle.  It was hosted on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois, though the BBS itself and the machine that ran it was privately owned.  I first created my account at Jungle when I was still a Christian, but after I came out as a gay man.  I made a lot of friends there (a few of which I still have some contact with), and had a rather positive experience as part of that online community — a state of affairs that continued even after I embraced other gods.

Although my experience with Jungle BBS was mostly positive, there were the negative experiences, too.  I had — and started — my share of arguments and tense moments there.  I particularly remember a lot of arguments with one particular user, a young man (in his late teens, if memory serves) who went by the username Thyle on the site.  Almost every time Thyle saw me online, he’d send me an express message(2) and engage me in the same old debate.  He’d spend the rest of his time online trying to convince me why homosexuality was a sin and why I should try to become straight.  The arguments were endless and repetitive, and I can’t remember how many times we rehashed that same conversation over those early months.

One evening, when he sent me a message to initiate the same old routine, I decided that I wasn’t in the mood for it.  As I sat there for a moment, I decided that our conversation was going to be different that night.  I decided we were going to talk about something else.  So I started steering the conversation in various directions, such as what I had done earlier that day.  I also asked him about his day and various other questions.  As a result, we had a twenty minute conversation that night that was completely debate-free and even a little pleasant, if somewhat forced.  The conversation ended when Thyle said he needed to go and we exchanged pleasant goodbyes.

I can’t remember if Thyle and I ever talked after that evening.  If we did, it was only a few times.  Effectively, after that night, our debates came to an end.  Unfortunately, we never really developed a friendship, either.  I have no idea what happened to Thyle or where he is.  I hope he is well.  But I learned a lot from Thyle and that one evening we had a non-debating conversation.  I learned that it takes two people to debate, but often only takes one person to redirect the conversation away from that debate.

I think that often, we like to think of the constant debates as being at least mostly the fault of the other person in the debate.  We like to tell ourselves that if only they’d stop — or come to agree with us — the debates could finally end.  The truth is, however, that the debates could often end simply if we choose not to engage in them.  Granted, that might mean swallowing our pride and even letting it seem like the other person “won” because we’re choosing to bow out.  But I personally think that there are times when getting past the debate is far more important than “winning” it.  Because what comes after the debate can often be far more interesting and rewarding.

I’d say that’s one of the biggest challenges to dialogue in general and the dialogue between (Side B) Christians and gay people in particular.  Too often, we allow the debate to consume the dialogue, choking out everything else that matters — including those things that may be more important.  My experience with Thyle that one evening gave me a glimpse of that reality.  It let me know that there’s more for gay people and Christians to talk about than whether homosexuality is a sin.  And I think it’s important to have those conversations.

Truth be told, like most people, we probably have a lot more in common than we have differences.  Finding, acknowledging, and embracing that common ground is an essential part of dialogue.  I allows us to see each other as more than debate partners.  It allows us to become if not friends, friendly acquaintances.

This isn’t to say that there’s no room for debate, or that we should avoid those hard questions and tense moments.  Instead, we simply need to move away from the current model where they take center stage and push everything out into the wings — or out of existence altogether.  When we force the debates and disagreements to take a more appropriate place amidst all the positive interactions a group of people can have, there is room for a beautiful picture to emerge and develop over time.

It’s my hope to help make that a reality.

Notes:

(1)  I suspect that these terms might be complete gibberish to some of my readers, especially those who came to the Internet and computing after the World Wide Web all but replaced Telnet, Gopher, FTP, and other services as the preferred method of communicating and getting information on the Internet.  To put it simply, Telnet-based BBS’s (and their own predecessors, dial-up BBS’s) were the precursor to message forums.  Instead of using a web page and clicking links and filling in forms, BBS’s used a simple terminal interface with a menuing system.  You’d press keyboard keys to tell it what you wanted to do and it would respond with the appropriate information and prompts.

(2)  Think of it as a type of instant message within the BBS system Jungle used.

Jun 03

Upcoming Synchroblog: Bridging the Gap

profile pic.jpgFor the past month or two, I’ve been following the Bridging the Gap
blog.  I’ve also been publicly commenting there and privately
conversing with Wendy Gritter, the woman primarily behind the blog. 
Wendy is a wonderful woman and I’ve been blessed with her friendship.

A while back, Wendy told me about a synchroblog that New Direction and the BTG Project are sponsoring on June 24.  The press release for the event describes the event as follows:

New
Direction has been seeking to foster safe and generous space for
authentic conversation about faith and sexuality. We have committed
ourselves to building bridges. But we cannot do it alone. We need other
Christ-followers: gay and straight and everything in between, to speak
up and join the conversation, to share the heart of the gospel in the
midst of this conflict. We need those beyond the walls of the church:
gay and straight and everything in between, to speak up and join the
conversation, to share their thoughts on how the church can reach
across the divide and build bridges.

In light of her desire to get people of all walks of life
to join in the conversation, Wendy has asked me to participate in this
synchroblog.  As a friend and someone who believes that this dialogue
is an important one, I have graciously (at least I hope I’ve been
gracious about it) accepted her invitation.  I would like to invite any
of my other readers — regardless of sexual orientation or religious
persuasion — to also participate in this event.  It’s only through the
addition of a multitude of voices that a real dialogue — or rather a
harmony of related dialogues — can emerge.

Some may wonder why
I would choose to participate in such a dialogue or encourage others to
do so.  After all, they reason, it’s clear why Christians would wish to
engage in this dialogue in order to gain converts — though I
personally do not believe that’s the only reason Christians choose to
enter into this dialogue.  But what possible reason could a
non-Christian — especially one who has been hurt by Christians in the
past — have for entering into such a dialogue?  What do I hope to gain
from it?

Surprisingly,
the question contains its own answer.  I choose to participate in this
conversation because I’ve been hurt by Christians in the past.  To me,
reconciliation is an important part of the healing process.  Conversing
with Christians — even Christians who theology and sexual ethics
differ greatly for my own — gives me another opportunity to make peace
with my past.  It gives me the chance to realize that while I’ve been
hurt in the past, other Christians really are decent and loving.  It
also allows me to regain the love and dignity that was stolen from me
by those past experiences.

Participating
in such a dialogue also gives me the opportunity to tell my story and
serve as a representative for all those others who still might be hurt
by some Christians.  It enables me to raise some Christians’ awareness
of just how little it takes to create great pain for young people
struggling with a sexual orientation that their friends, family, and
church says is bad.  If offering my story will help one Christian
better reach out to and support another gay person when they
desperately need it, then my participation in this dialogue is well
worth it.

btg cover.gifI also wish to participate in such a dialogue because
that gay person sitting in the pew may need to hear my voice and know
my story.  Sadly, far too many Christians have a very stereotypical
understanding of gay people.  Too often, being gay is equated with
having multiple sexual partners, abusing drugs and alcohol, and
engaging in several other destructive behaviors.  And while I do not
deny that some gay people do engage in these and other behaviors, it is
not as universal as some Christians might believe or pretend that it
is.  As a well-adjusted — in my opinion at least — gay man with
relatively healthy sexual ethics, my participation in dialogue with
Christians serves as an opportunity to demonstrate first-hand that gay
men like me exist.  Coming to the table provided by folks like Wendy
provides me with an opportunity to demonstrate to conflicted gay
Christians with evidence that they have more choices than the dismal
options that others have painted for them.  (And I admit that I admire
the integrity, confidence, and grace of people like Wendy who are
willing to give me that opportunity despite their own desire to see
people make a different choice than the one I have in regards to
sexuality.)

Finally, I choose to participate in
such a dialogue because in the end, it is in my best interests to do
so.  To be honest, there are many Christians — including Christians
who believe that people should not get involved in same-sex romantic
relationships — that are in my life.  These people are my friends, my
coworkers, and my family members.  They are not going to change their
beliefs any time soon, nor are they going to disappear from my life
anytime soon.  So I can either choose to live a life where we are
distant from one another and suspicious of each other.  Or I can choose
to enter into dialogue in an attempt to find mutual understanding and a
better sense of peace despite our differences.

To me, the choice is obvious.

(The images in this post were provided by Wendy Gritter and used with her express permission.)