Posted February 27, 2014 by Marg Herder
I often say how important it is for LGBT people to share stories with those who are uncomfortable with our homosexuality. Sharing stories precedes reconciliation, because it enables us, regardless of orientation, to stop thinking of each other in abstract terms and start feeling compassion for each other as fellow human beings.
Participating in the Oriented to Love dialog helped me to gain a better understanding of why this practice works so well.
How Momentous the Misunderstanding is
We’ve got a mess on our hands. A huge knot of misunderstanding. People are digging in their heels and getting puffed up about issues other people can’t begin to understand. It’s gotten so bad that people who are not LGBT, but who still feel called to start trying to untie the knot with kindness and compassion are regarded as heretical, some even being dismissed by their denominations. People with the courage to stand up and suggest a way to move forward, to get along, are shouted down by people who refuse to frame this in terms other than victory or loss. To some this isn’t a knot of misunderstanding but rather a call to battle.
The People Who are Uncomfortable with Our Queerness
I think that many people who are uncomfortable with our queerness feel attacked and unfairly judged, so they react as though that is true. They are as irritated with what we seem to be trying to do to them as we are with what they seem to be trying to do to us.
They don’t want to be thought of as judgmental, as prejudiced, as bigoted, as homophobic. They don’t think of themselves that way. And when we slap that label on them it simply pushes them farther away from the place of reconciliation we desire. The people who are uncomfortable with us, I think, just want to be thought of as people with specific standards of good and bad behavior and a deeply held religious mandate to uphold them.
It has been my observation that many people who are uncomfortable with us are certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the problem with being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is a matter of how we choose to behave. They don’t understand why we refuse to see our behavior as sinful. They don’t understand why we don’t just stop creating relationships with people of the same sex. They see their words and actions regarding LGBT people as efforts to stop the spread of bad behavior, certainly not as an attempt to hurt people.
I think many equate the pull we feel to create loving same-sex relationships with the pull toward adultery that, dare I say, most, if not all adults, may feel at some time during their lives. A lesbian or gay person wanting to create an emotional and physical relationship with someone of the same sex is viewed as being pulled toward the same error, the same type of sin, as a person wanting to create an emotional and physical relationship with someone with whom they do not share a committed, sanctioned relationship.
In this way of reasoning, people might be pulled toward committing adultery, but good people don’t succumb to the pull. Gay and lesbian people are pulled toward same-sex relationships. Good people don’t succumb to this pull either. They don’t act on their feelings.
Furthermore, good people certainly don’t commit these sins and then walk around bragging about it, or walk around wanting the state to condone or “normalize” it. Like we do.
To an LGBT person the difference between an adulterous relationship and the type of monogamous relationships we participate in is glaring. To someone uncomfortable with homosexuality, it is not.
The people who are uncomfortable with us simply want us to make different choices. They repeat it over and over. But since we don’t feel that choice plays into it—since we don’t understand our being lesbian, gay, or bi as a function of behavior— what they keep saying to us makes no sense. We shake our heads in confusion and irritation and basically ignore them.
The Real Choice
Because we have a clear understanding of our same-sex orientation as a fundamental aspect of ourselves, because we understand the impossibility of trying to change it, the only choice involved is deciding to be celibate or not. The only choice is to either live the same kind of partnered life of love and intimacy as most of our straight counterparts live, or choose to live a celibate life. That’s the choice.
For gay male Christians there are about eight ostensibly prohibitive scriptural passages to consider. If you’re reading the Bible fairly literally, there’s really nothing specifically prohibiting female same-sex relationships (although some might interpret Romans 1:26 in such a way).
Each Christian person examines these passages and comes to a conclusion about how these apply to our own lives. Certain interpretations lead some gay Christians to live lives of celibacy. Many straight Christians insist that all LGBT people should live this way. Other interpretations lead some LGBT Christians to live partnered lives, basically believing that the prohibitions are cultural and do not apply to a type of relationship that was not known or addressed thousands of years ago. Most straight Christian allies interpret scripture this way as well.
Seldom though do we even get this far in the discussion, to the point of truly listening and hearing each other so that we can examine the real disagreement. Instead, almost always the confusion, shaming, and isolation precludes communication long before we are willing to even consider viewing the issue another way.
A very good Gay Christian Network video makes the point that we aren’t even talking the same language.
Everyone is talking over everyone else. No one is listening.
The Sustaining Force – Isolation
I think for so many of us it’s just too damn wounding, too damn scary, too damn hard to even try to be around each other, let alone listen to each other, let alone try to learn the same language. It was for me until I went to the Oriented to Love dialog. Now I know I can do it, but it still feels dangerous, scary, and difficult.
Of course, for all of us, the path of least resistance is to isolate from each other. Both groups, those who believe in our equality and those who do not, are most comfortable when we don’t have to deal with each other. At all.
But here’s the problem. Isolation reinforces the misunderstanding. The less we have to deal with each other, the easier it becomes to think of the other in ways that dehumanize and oversimplify.
Talking about gay marriage as evil is a whole lot easier when you aren’t looking into the eyes of someone who is worried about what will happen to her kids if her partner dies. Talking about “homophobic haters” is a lot easier when you aren’t face to face with someone who honestly thinks their own kids are endangered by what they see as a threatening cultural shift toward promiscuity and adultery.
What if We Tried Something Different?
All of us know how easy it is to make unfair generalizations and put other people down when we are alone with the people who agree with us. But hardly anyone knows what happens when we all sit down together, intentionally humble and vulnerable, seeking reconciliation.
All of us know what happens when we let our entire dialog play out in the media, where words are carefully selected based on dramatic impact. But hardly anyone knows what happens when we let our dialog play out in small, intimate forums where words are carefully selected based on their ability to heal and strengthen the flow of love.
Some of us are prepared to stop thinking of each other as adversaries, prepared to consider the possibility that there is no adversary; there is only a humanity we share.
Some of us are prepared to consider the inevitability of reconciliation, prepared to take the next step to move toward it.
Some of us are not. We must let them go for now. We must let them go with love. The people who are unable to move toward reconciliation will suffer from increasing isolation. We can pray for their release.
For those of us who are prepared to move toward reconciliation, how do we start to unravel the huge knot of misunderstanding?
I think the only choice is to find a loose end, sit down with whoever will help, and start untangling the mess a little bit at a time. And this is exactly what the Oriented to Love dialog program sets out to do.
Oriented to Love brings the people together who are willing to move beyond the adversarial paradigm, who are willing to accept that reconciliation might be possible, and willing to sit down in a room together to begin the slow process of untying the knot, one strand at a time.
There’s no other way to do it.
Posts inspired by the Oriented to Love dialog by Marg:
Introduction to the Series
Of the Mystery and Miracles
Questions and Consequences
All these Words
What Am I Really Afraid Of?
The Huge Knot of Misunderstanding
The Unbelievable Bottom Line (on the Evangelicals for Social Action website)