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Five Tips for Having a Rewarding Christian Dialogue with an “Adversary”

7/1

I love having a good conversation with someone who disagrees with me. Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of these types of conversations – mostly with colleagues in the church who disagree with me about the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender faithful.

Though I don’t know many people who share my joy in opening up a dialogue with those who they might call their “adversaries,” I believe those conversations are critically important for us to have. This is especially true if we are to better understand and eventually open our neighbors’ minds to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our churches.

So, with the hope that this will inspire you to pick up the phone, and invite someone you currently think of as an “adversary” to talk, I’d like to offer five tips on opening up a rewarding Christian dialogue with a person in disagreement with you.

  1. Approach the other person as a beloved child of God. See Christ in the eyes of the other person. Set aside every presumption you may have about him or her except that God loves this other, just like God loves you. This is often a mystery for me that our talk with help solve.
  2. Trust deeply that the Holy Spirit has a word for you both. Watch carefully for the gift God has for you in your exchange with this other. It probably will not be the same gift for both of you. It will most likely be a still, small voice so you must listen hard for it.
  3. Try hard to see things from the other’s point of view. Ask questions like: “This is what I hear you saying, is that correct?” or: “I want to make sure I get what you mean, is this what you said?” My own convictions have been strengthened many times by testing them against the other’s heartfelt words.
  4. Watch for those things upon which you both agree and highlight them. This can often lead to some struggle because being in agreement is foreign to us and we resist it. Still, it can be very healing to get up at the end of your conversation to go your different ways having acknowledged some things upon which you agree. It’s also a great way to start an ongoing dialogue. Can we agree that our goal is Loving God, or Loving Neighbor? These are the seeds from which further discussion can blossom.
  5. The goal is to keep the conversation going. Talking shouldn’t be seen as a means to an end. Talking is a sole purpose in and of itself. For this reason, I often do not share my position with the other person (Its well known anyway). I simply take in what the other is saying and seek the best way to prompt another response from the other by sharing of my self or asking a question that has occurred to me.

There is one crucial dynamic in all of these tips required to make this work: Nothing that the other says to you is about you personally. The other person speaks only from his or her ideas and so you need not take anything that person says as true about you. I am often disappointed and challenged by what the other says but I am usually not hurt or angered by it.

I pray for that same godly protection for you as you join in a conversation that I hear God calling us all to.

Peace,

Reverend Janet

[You can also find this crossposted at the Huffington Post.]


37 Responses
  • Jeananne Stine on July 1, 2011

    Janet, you are such an inspiration as a disciple of Christ! I have been telling people about your ability to have these truly caring conversations. I have witnessed you having them with severe adversaries and I am always impressed at how calm and gentle you remain. Thank you for sharing your suggestions for how to have these conversations. I am sure that you will promote more positive communication as a result of this posting. Jeananne

  • Silva Theiss on July 1, 2011

    O Divine Master,
    grant that I may not so much seek …
    to be understood, as to understand

    Wow. I am impressed. How very grown-up of you – and I mean that seriously. We are so often conversational narcissists. I found this particularly interesting: “Talking is a sole purpose in and of itself.” I had never thought of it this way – and as an introvert it makes me somewhat uncomfortable! – but I think that is quite profound. The sort of talking you mean is the glue that holds relationships and organizations and societies together. There should be more of it.

    A small quibble with the post: I think you skipped a few steps getting from there to “…eventually open our neighbors’ minds to the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our churches,” though. As stated, it makes it sound like the talking is very much just a means to an end. I believe what you mean is, a person who feels understood is going to feel more inclined to be understanding. Further, even if you *never* agree on this particular point, you will have found points on which you do agree which will serve as a foundation for your future relationship and prevent either of you from demonizing the other completely. But talking was good even if the Angel Gabriel came and told you the person would never change his mind about full inclusion, for the other reasons you gave.

  • Donna on July 1, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    Great post and advice, and it gels with what I’ve learned from Stephen Covey, who teaches about honest communication and listening until the other person feels that they’ve been heard (not until I think I’ve heard them). Personally, I think it’s a practice that’s easy to say but hard to do, like when someone starts calling you (you yourself) names. That makes it personal. What do you do then? Ignore it? I find I just don’t have the patience for that and get defensive, or stop communicating. It doesn’t seem to be worth the effort or time.

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on July 1, 2011

    Dear Jeananne, Silva and Donna,

    Thanks to you all for your encouraging words!

    Donna, some things like name calling make me defensive as well. What I am grateful for is being able to feel that I am getting defensive. Then I am able to consider options for how to respond rather than react directly against the offense. This is a situation where being a slow feeler is an asset.

    Silva, for years I prayed St. Francis’ prayer which you quote here as I dressed for the day in the morning. You help me see that this part of the prayer was answered–amazing. I agree with your take on understanding growing from being understood.

    And you are certainly right: I undermine my own claim that the conversation, itself, is the success when I suggest that opening the other’s mind is, indeed, a goal. Experience has taught us that relationships are the single best means for inspiring a willingness in Evangelicals to shift in their interpretation of Scripture to seeing God’s love for all as the central meaning there. So I guess there is a logic in which conversation leads to relationship which leads to transformation. But in the moment, the conversation is all that is. I hope that makes sense to you.

    Jeananne, you and others have intimated to me that not everyone has the ability to converse in this way with “adversaries.” I do think everyone I know in the church can implement these five tips for a good dialogue. We all can learn to detach so that we do not take comments personally even though they may be meant personally. That is, I think, the key to staying calm and gentle. Do you agree?

    I hope you all come back to share your further thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

  • Bob M on July 1, 2011

    Truer words were never said. I have been at every presbytery meeting where the same subject we have finally approved (10A, and G:what ever the citation is)
    The first time everyone took everything personally. The lady sitting behind me kept muttering under her breath something about abomination, it was not nice. The conversation has changed through people like you who approach these conversations this way. It is not our job to change people’s minds, that is the work of the Spirit and God.
    I was also privileged to have worked with our Presbytery Meetings and Worship committee as we planned for the last two votes. We sought to make a listening place, where we encouraged respect to our brothers and sisters. Unlike the time when g:what ever was voted in, no one stomped out angry this time. It was even deemed a “good meeting”
    (sorry, I could never remember the citation for G-….. just knew it was there. )

  • Janet Edwards on July 2, 2011

    Dear Bob M,

    Thanks, Bob, for your affirmation!

    You have helped me to see that our job is to obey the Great Commandments to love God and our neighbor. And I experience these kinds of conversation as fulfilling both of these. By connecting with Christ in the other, I am loving God and by listening (taking) and speaking (giving) to the other person, I am loving my neighbor. I expect this is one reason I find such joy in these dialogues.

    It has definitely been a learning process for the church as we have developed through these years what some call “gracious conversation.” I am really glad your presbytery found its way there. I know that will serve it well in all kinds of ways into the future but certainly in the days to come as the new G-2.0104 goes into effect–that is the Form of Government number now.

    I hope you are inspired to write again.

    Peace, Janet

  • pennyjane hanson on July 4, 2011

    well, for me at least…it is personal.

    i take it personally, and react personally.

    when someone says, “homosexuals are an abomination before the Lord,” i hear, “YOU are an abomination before the Lord.”

    it’s no less personal than is the fact, I am homosexual and therefore “an abomination before the Lord.”

    can’t get much more personal than that.

    it’s not hypothetical, ambiguous or theoretical…when i hear that said of “them” i want everyone to know that i am “them” in the flesh…when you say that homosexuals are perverts you are calling ME a pervert.

    i take exception to that and it’s personal exception. if i am in the room be prepared to defend that statement personally.

    i think gtbl folk have more than a right to the same personal dignity as our heterosexual brothers and sisters, but we have an obligation to our God and to our society to demonstrate that human dignity, to profess it in all it’s forms. i am one of our professions.

    that’s not to undermine or disrepect the “turn the other cheek” philosophy. that is one of God’s ways as well, and in certain circumstances it’s most effective: certain people can be reached in that manner.

    it is right, i think, that we each bring our own revelation and approach to what is an eternal struggle…or at least always has been and shows no sign of ending. we insist upon our human dignity in all it’s forms and relationships. if you attack me i will stand for the truth right here and right now, nothing oblique, considered, politically optimum or colored in any way….”just the facts, ma’am.”

    if you call me a perversion because of what i was born, i will call you a bigot because of what you have made of yourself. you are wrong…no if’s, and’s or but’s…and i will let you in on it.

    i provide the truth as i know it to be, as revealed to me by God…whether or not you accept it is between you and the grace of God. i can’t sell you the truth i can only give it to you free of charge, free of any encumbersments, unabashed and unashamed…just the simple truth, you are no better than i am. God loves you no more than He loves me. i am as inclined to heaven or hell no more or less than you are…God will judge us both.

    we have seen in this blog, you cannot reason with unreasonableness, you cannot intellectually overcome the anti-intellectualism of those whose positions are not defensible intellectually. if the frank’s and bill’s of this world are to be converted to truthfullness, it will come by the grace of God, no less power can make that happen.

    i choose to put the human face on those who these bigots oppress. i choose to stand up for those who these bigots murder. i am one face of strength that stands for those who can not stand for themselves…those who have been destroyed, banished to darkness or outright death at the hands of the bigots.

    as sure as i am that there is a Living God, as positive as i am that Jesus Christ is that Living God, i am just as sure of the fact that He don’t like bigots, and He don’t like them having power in His world.

    a great prophet who can’t be swayed? perhaps i should plead guilty. i do not think there is one single negative condition in the human experience that would not necessarily be made immediately better by a final confrontation with bigotry, by eliminating it from our lexacon. it won’t go away by asking it to leave, it will only go away when defeated. God will do that if it is to be done, i will only trumpet the truth as He has shown me…and i will suffer the consequences…by His grace, to the cross with Him.

    hate me frank, i am “obnoxious”. hate me bill, and then lie about it. hate me world, all you bigots…you honor me before God with your insidious hatred for me.

    personal? yes, my God is quite personal.

    much love and hope. pj

  • Janet Edwards on July 4, 2011

    Dear pj,

    THANKS for your honest comments on how you respond to an “adversary.” Your experience and approach is crucial for us all to hear, pj, and to think prayerfully about.

    One thing is clear to me–correct me if I am wrong–you have no interest in a dialogue with someone who disagrees with you regarding the place of LGBT people in God’s eyes or in the church. Of course, there are many who share your stand. Bishop Shelby Spong declared himself done with dialogue recently. It is good to know what one can and can’t do.

    I have complete appreciation for the courageous lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, in general and specifically in the church, who have argued and fought for a rightful place at the table in our culture and in the church. There is a time to fight.

    And there is a time to embrace. In the PCUSA, fighting only got us so far (and there are pockets in the church, perhaps, where fighting is still the needed response). One of the reasons ordination equality has become a possibility starting July 10 is because we added dialogue to the way we approach those who disagree with us.

    This does not mean that everyone has to be willing or is able to engage in conversation. There is a difference between a comment being “made personally” and a comment being “taken personally.” I have found, for a dialogue to happen with an “adversary,” I must choose to NOT take the other’s comments personally even if they are meant for me personally. This is a choice I can make for the sake of the dialogue because such conversations help people see things differently–that is what we desperately need. I hope that makes sense.

    More could be said but I hope that is enough to prompt yours and others’ response.

    Peace, Janet

  • Silva Theiss on July 4, 2011

    From what I have seen of your writings and what others have written about you, Janet, you are surely an instrument of God’s peace. I think you are doing an excellent job living the prayer. Most of the rest of us, well… the rest of the band is often playing a little flat. Or perhaps sharp — that’s what a lot of instruments do when you apply air with too much force! (Okay, I *know* that’s not the kind of instrument that was meant, but I couldn’t resist.)

    Seriously, though, it’s often a struggle for me to approach a conversation about ideas as anything other than a debate to be won. This doesn’t occur just with “adversaries,” but any time there is a substantive difference of opinion. I enjoy debating. This works as long as the person I am conversing with also enjoys debating. But some people do not and it can lead to hurt feelings, and it certainly doesn’t have the potential to destroy enemies by turning them into friends, as your approach does.

    I admire your ability to identify in real time when you are becoming defensive. So presumably that gives you the space to *not* say, “I am not either an abomination, *you* are the abomination,” but what do you do instead?

  • pennyjane hanson on July 5, 2011

    dear janet.

    of course you make sense, you always do.

    i hear you when you say that you CHOOSE not to take things personally even when in fact they are intended personally. i understand and respect that position, and i can’t say that i always choose the opposite, especially when i’m sure the attack is personal.

    in fact, it has been my personal experience that when an attack comes personally over being gay, it usually has it’s basis in something else entirely, being gay is just a handy excuse for an attack. in that instance i usually have a pretty good idea where the real attack is coming from and will address that…according to the circumstances.

    i am more likely to express personal injury when the attack is clearly NOT personal. an example: in this blog bill compared being homosexual to being a rapist or pedophilia. i took that personal and pointed out to him (and others listening) what a vile and disgusting insult that was. bill’s response…”it never occurred to me that comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and rape might seem insulting to anyone.”

    so, by taking this personally and exposing it….bill demonsrated for the world what a fool he is, thus deminishing his credibility across the board. he became (hopefully to all children) just a simpleton worthy of laughing off, instead of being worthy of serious consideration for what he says.

    i didn’t make bill look foolish, i just highlighted his foolishness for all to see, by taking his mindless insult PERSONALLY. if i hadn’t done that, his insanity would still be standing out there alone and unchallenged…it seems as if i was the only one who heard it, not only took it personally.

    so, while i take your approach seriously and have great respect for your ability to pull it off, i don’t think it’s the only approach, the ONE solution to all problems and all circumstances.

    i know there were good, powerful and wonderful people in the aftermath of stonewall who were horrified by the uprising. “now,” i’m sure the conversation went, “we’re alienating kind and loving people (like frank) by being “obnoxious”. (personally i celebrate that i, too, was elevated to a position of “obnoxious” in frank’s eyes.) if i am obnoxious in frank’s eyes i’m succeeding at least on one level.

    the incredible people who got “act up” going had as a part of their mandate being “obnoxious” to frank. i celebrate them. by taking government and mainstream inaction on the aids front PERSONALLY, they made change happen. without them we’d likely still be respectfully listening to all the stupid and evil arguments against confronting the desease, and God only knows how many lives have been saved as a result of their “personal” confrontation with said stupidity and evil…(bigotry)

    it takes a village, each according to her own gifts and her own revelation from God, the Creator, and in communion with the Holy Spirit who lives in all believers.

    much love and hope. pj

  • Donna on July 5, 2011

    “This is a choice I can make for the sake of the dialogue…” is a great practice for an unselfish purpose, Janet, and it obviously works. You must be very disciplined to be able to keep to it. I try and fail, knowing that the only thing I can do is try. In a world enveloped in a punishment mentality, only love provides the answer.

  • Janet Edwards on July 6, 2011

    Dear Donna and pj,

    Thanks to both of you, once again, for giving of your time and your selves to share on this blog.

    Donna, all I do is try, as well. Of course, experience gives me some protection because I have often heard what the other is saying before. That helps me detach. Another thing that helps me is this wisdom: “I can do for an hour what would drive me crazy if I had to do it for a lifetime.” When lunch or coffee is over we part and I can regroup after an encounter with a more contentious “adversary.”

    pj, I trust you got the message from me that I understand there is a time to fight. I do not think this is a situation of either/or. And I am also not speaking about all time. I am speaking about right now. Right now, in the PCUSA–can we agree on this, pj?–the 45% of presbyters who voted against 10A are not all “bigots” against whom fight may be necessary.

    I can not think of a place or pocket of the PCUSA right now that is comparable to the Stonewall Bar or the egregious silence in the face of the AIDS epidemic. Fight proved effective then and More Light Presbyterians has done its share of fighting in the PCUSA over the past 30+ years. I am interested in any one, including you, pj, sharing with us where you see fight appropriate right now in the PCUSA.

    I think it is clear to all who participated in the past six years on ordination that gracious conversations in hundreds of church suppers and session meetings and coffee hours among all kinds of Presbyterians made the difference in gaining a majority of presbyteries to support the possibility of ordination equality. With 45% of the presbyters voting No on 10A this past year, there is obviously still a lot of work to be done. I would say, “fight” will have little place in the days to come because the “bigots” will resist it and the middle people will be repelled and frightened by it.

    So right now does not seem to me to be the time to fight. I am interested in what you, pj, and others see.

    I hope to hear from you. Peace, Janet

  • Donna on July 6, 2011

    I think the two most “frightening” experiences I had in support of this work were 1) when I making some phonecalls and one woman screamed at me, screech might be a better word; and 2) when I was sitting at a lecture on glbt inclusion in a PC(USA) church and an older gentleman stood up and said “What do we do with gays? We drive them out!” You are right, Janet, that kind of behavior frightens people, like me, who was interested in being a part of the PC(USA). It has me thinking that anywhere there is a strong conservative presence, there will be an effort to drive glbt people out. It’s not make-believe on my part. It’s a real presence. I know you know that, and that the energy it takes to continue to generate love toward such a negative energy is exhausting. I don’t know how you do it, and admire your endless faith and optimism.

  • Donna on July 6, 2011

    oh, I meant to add that “in-your-face” fighting back only makes it worse. If love and gentle conversation prompts an “in-your-face” negative response, responding in kind only makes it worse. It is a cross to bear.

  • Janet Edwards on July 7, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Oh my, Donna, you remind me of how much hurt the PCUSA has to answer for from our behavior toward LGBT people over the past 35 years.

    It is a hugh shock for me when I think I am in a mutually respectful conversation only to find that the other person is attacking with verbal fisticuffs. If the other person wants to drive me out in some fashion then it is a definite success for me if I am able to continue the conversation in some fashion.

    There will probably always be what pj calls “bigots” in the PCUSA. What is happening right now before our eyes is that they are losing their power to set policy or influence the center of the church. This is a process which is not complete but the trajectory is clear and, I think, irreversible now.

    This means that this voice (a lot like the racists that are still among us) will weaken to the point of silence. And we can hasten this day by refusing to give them any power at all. And I think our responding to them gives them some power that we do better to keep for ourselves.

    At the same time, our lifting up to the church and the world the gifts LGBT believers are eager to share diminishes, by example, the force of the contrary opinion. I think this is the most powerful way to counter our most vociferous “adversaries.”

    I hope that makes sense to you all and I look forward to your further thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

  • pennyjane hanson on July 7, 2011

    good morning janet.

    well, i guess i kind of feel like i’m beating a dead horse around here these days….so with this last smack i’ll leave the poor thing to posterity.

    this “fight”, for me, will be over when the last child is turned away from God’s house (by force or by coersion). when bigotry (discrimination against btgl folk, for instance) has been kicked out of God’s house for good. how i engage that “fight” will always be dictated by circumstances.

    i think, as i said…it takes a villiage…it takes us all, it takes a callage of different messages and methodologies. i am beginning to resent the “holier than thou” implications from certain poster in this blog. i do not think we should denounce or demean the efforts of others. eventhough your way is not my way, i respect your way and i support your efforts. but, there is more than one way…..isn’t that really at the root of what you profess?

    “holier than thou”….hmmmmm….isn’t that the problem? how can one such as that make themselves a part of the solution? isn’t that the essence of bigotry itself?

    to those bigots who would mindlessly discriminate against tgbl folks based on facts of our birth i say…yes, you are a bigot. the 19th century is in our past…we are now in the information age. if anyone has a question about homosexuality there is a wealth of information available to them. there is overwhelming evidence open to anyone with two brain cells to rub together and anything like a christian heart that homosexuality is not a perversion, is not a “lifestyle” is not a choice and is not “wrong”. if people choose to insult our dignity as children of God or discriminate against us based on who we love…in the face of all evidence to the contrary…they are bigots, willfully ignorant and evil in that they needlessly harm people for their own selfish and greedy purposes.

    this is what i believe, certainly more than certain poster is interested in hearing….but, we all have our problems and limitations.

    much love and hope. pj

  • Donna on July 7, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    Well, all is forgiven in my heart, and I wonder that my whole story in this regard is as yet unwritten. Only God knows the things to come, and it is true what you say, that progress has been made. I guess I don’t pray for bigots to be silenced, or to leave, but rather to be touched by the Spirit, even just enough to be able to be an honest part of “One bread, One body.” Know what I mean?

  • Donna on July 9, 2011

    Hi Silva,

    This is my question, too, because even in a website conversations, which gives ample opportunity and time for reflection as Janet suggests, it is difficult to continue conversation with someone who has demeaned you with a label like “abomination” or “liar” or whatever else. In a way, it is a form of verbal abuse. Perhaps when someone would otherwise physically hit, they will use name-calling to injure? How do you converse with someone who has moved from the rational to the irrational, from sharing to verbal attack? The shift, it would seem, is a defense in itself, evidence that the name-caller’s logic has been shaken and found lacking, that they have perhaps realized a truth to which they are not willing to submit. It is a fragile situation, I think.

  • Janet Edwards on July 9, 2011

    Dear Donna and pj,

    I am very glad that you have each had your say here. Both of your perspectives are valuable and important for us to ponder upon.

    You lead me to a question and a comment.

    My question is, How does the Holy Spirit touch the spirit of those who read Scripture in a way that leads them to continue to place LGBT people under particular judgment? I am interested in your answers.

    Here’s mine and my comment.

    Even more effective than information widely available in our time is having actual relationships with LGBT people. This is why the courage of out LGBT Christians is, for me, the single most important contribution of these past decades to get to this moment and remains the most important element into the future. Being willing to be with others in the church so that we all know that we know LGBT people is awesome especially in the context of so much adversity.

    I agree with you, pj,that it takes a village–all kinds of voices. Real people in the real world building relationships with one another in Christ. This is how the Holy Spirit moves us, in my opinion.

    Thanks in advance for any who choose to share yours here.

    Peace, Janet

  • Donna on July 10, 2011

    Hi Janet,

    Like with the Ethiopian Eunuch, only through teaching and learning (either in Bible study or conversation) with others.

    Honestly, I wonder that those who react violently to glbt inclusion are insecure in their faith. Why do I say that? Because of my own experience in a situation that included discussion of Romans 1:24-27. In a situation where I could have reacted, or at least interacted, I was silent. This is my own cross to bear – I am yet inexperienced and ignorant – and it shook my faith. The only thing I could do was pray about it afterward and seek God’s answer. And that answer rests in God-given “natures” or as it is called: the continuum of sexuality. I could have reacted violently and named it bigotry, but I don’t believe that is the case. People are taught and accept what they are taught without seeking God’s or others’ input. How often do we hear in the Bible, God saying, “consider this” or “remember…” He puts questions before us as we walk with Him, but the essential in the relationship is our faith, regardless of which side of an issue we are on. We are not to shake or disparage each other’s faith but to build each other up. Because of this experience I am better prepared to offer insights in that particular text, but not in order shake anyone else’s faith, or to condemn or demean anyone, but to “consider” and “remember” as God recommends us to do.

    My walk with Christ continues to be an ongoing challenge. Where the church would call me ignorant, and even I use that term, the reality is that my walk with God is one of great faith and depends solely on Him for insight. Would that I had a mentor in this walk. Unfortunately, it is and therefore I am quite feral in this regard.

    Your walk is quite the opposite, but we agree regardless.

    Donna

  • Bill on July 17, 2011

    I thought I’d drop in a see whats new….
    Its really tool bad that this blog only has a few people on it. Some that seem to genuinely beleive in Jesus’s way of teaching with kindness, others that just want to call names and beat the opponent into submission.
    For what its worth I was way more inclined to listen and serious contemplate the other point of view when kindness was presented ( The Jesus way). But the in your face, bullying, method was applied I stopped trying to understand…….it might be something to think about. Do you want to win hearts and minds ( gentle, like Christ) or do you just want to drive people away…..
    Bill

  • Donna on July 17, 2011

    Hi Bill,

    I know your post was directed to Janet, but I’m glad you checked in. To be brief, I think the point of the website is to share ideas in a friendly embrace. (See my comments above). “In-your-face” cyber-bullying doesn’t work, regardles of the “side” someone is on, and it defeats the purpose of the site.

    I hope you do more than check in, Bill, and wait for the gentle responses.

    Someone reminded me this weekend of some resources you and others might be interested in: the movie, “For the Bible Tells Me So,” and a book by Peter Gomes, “The Good Book.”

    Donna

  • Bill on July 17, 2011

    Hi Donna
    I just went to amazon and oredered it..thanks

  • Bill on July 17, 2011

    I still need to learn to use spellcheck it seems…or proof read my own posts….LOL!

  • Donna on July 17, 2011

    Bill, don’t we all… :) … I think it’s just a matter of typing as fast as one thinks. I tend to leave out words.

    I hope the book and movie prove helpful, and I hope you share your thoughts here.

    Best,

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on July 17, 2011

    Dear Bill and Donna,

    Good to hear from you both here! And I hope you continue to share your thoughts here.

    I was touched by a wonderful sermon today on forgiveness. One of the things I took away from it is the way in which forgiveness blesses the forgiver with transformation just as much as the forgiven. It renewed my commitment to the spiritual discipline of forgiveness–something you both seem to understand.

    I trust that there are more in our community on this site than those who write, also that no one person, including me, constitutes the whole of the ideas here and that all are invited to share as long as what is said is meant to build us all up. So far, as I see it, everyone has meant to do that.

    Peace be with you all, Janet

  • Laura on July 19, 2011

    When it’s my life, my family, my faith – it’s not an objective topic of discussion. If you don’t hold the person accountable for their bigotry, whether they ‘know now what they say’ or particularly if they’re intending to break you down, then you do neither them or yourself any services. Don’t ask us sweetly nod and grin anymore.

  • Janet Edwards on July 20, 2011

    Dear Laura,

    Thanks very much for adding your passionate thoughts here.

    There is always, of course, the need to stand strong against threat and to break down bigotry.

    The question that confronts me is this one; What is the best way to break down prejudice or to defend one’s self or one’s loved ones against it?

    I heard a great sermon on Sunday on Luke 6:27-37 which certainly challenges us with its teachings.

    And, Laura, I see lots of possibilities that are different from a sweet nod and a grin but also are not a counterattack against another person. Perhaps you do to.

    I look forward to hearing from you again.

    Peace, Janet

  • Jodi on July 20, 2011

    I read your blog post in the Christian Century and really appreciated it. I attend a downtown church whose members represent quite the full range of political opinions and activism. We are very engaged folks who love adult Christian education but we often get into dicey and unpleasant conversations. I’d like for us to be better. I thought your points were excellent, not just for conversations about LGBT/church issues, but for all kinds of things that divide us: Republican/Democrat politics, our views on the purpose of government, our views on things like the State education budget, the role of unions in a manufacturing economy, the responsibility of a church to serve the poor and HOW that should best be accomplished, women in ministry, abortion, etc., etc.

    I just want to say that some people on the conservative side of these issues also feel hurt by labels and by the negative feelings that come from trying to engage in honest, real conversation. Having had many gay friends and also a deep interest in theology (on top of a pretty conservative upbringing) my feelings on LGBT/church issues are complex and not at all settled. I do resent being labelled a “hater” or a “homophobe” or “ignorant” (the most offensive of all!) if I dare to reveal that I have a few questions about, say, the doctrine of Creation or what Leviticus or Paul or Jesus said and did not say.

    I work on a college campus, and you can believe that most professors or academic writers will immediately regard you as an ignorant rube if you dare express any discomfort with their opinions or fail to join the latest community demonstration.

    I am quite well-read, my faith is strong, my wonder at God is great, I appreciate mystery, I’m able to say “I don’t know, but God does,” I pray fervently, I actually know gay people, I know some theology, and my heart just isn’t completely comfortable with the liberal views on LGBT and other issues. Your suggestions for conversation give me hope that even a person such as I might be tolerated in a productive conversation with some of you. I wish more of the communication between the LGBT community and the conservatives who are “still there” in their congregations (and have not left in disgust for the more conservative splinters off the mainline denominations or the tea party) could be conducted in this spirit. I think you might be surprised how many of us are out there who do not hate old people, want to starve children, ruin teachers, shun people of other cultures and hoard our money. Who are willing to break bread, worship, sing and serve with gay friends while we figure this out. We’re quiet because we’re embarrassed by both sides and we’re sick of being made to feel stupid. We long to “coexist,” but unfortunately it often feels like we have to totally agree with you in order to be included as a group represented by one of those little symbols on the bumper sticker. Thank you for reading, listening. God bless.

    –Conservative, but not a Hater

  • Jodi on July 20, 2011

    How I wish I could remove that comment about the tea party. I have just done to them what I’m complaining has been done to me! I am sure there are thoughtful, prayerful, tolerant people who are involved with that political movement. Shame on me.

  • Bill on July 20, 2011

    Jodi…well said.

  • Laura on July 20, 2011

    Jodi, as a queer Presbyterian woman, my major hope comes from hearing more and more comments like yours. I really appreciate when people ask questions when they want to know how the “other side” (gay people) live. I just hope that when the conversation comes up, that you would be respected for where you are on the issue and not pigeon-holed as hateful, but also that you would respect that the conversation is harder for the gay person because the question being discussed is their personal legitimacy, their individual worthiness before God, etc.

  • Janet Edwards on July 20, 2011

    Dear Jodi,

    Thanks so very much for introducing yourself to us, especially for your honesty about the dilemmas you face bringing your faith and your experience together. I know you speak for many.

    I wonder whether you have seen the very helpful book by Rev, William Stacy Johnson Ph.D., A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics? He lines out seven different Biblically rooted positions on same-gender love. I trust you will find among them your faithful position, along with some of its particular consequences. And you may find the summaries of the others clarifying.

    I hope that you may find ways to share the tips for dialogue in the different groups you are part of, particularly your church. I know the Holy Spirit will bless such an effort.

    Peace be with you, Janet

  • Donna on July 20, 2011

    Hi Jodi,

    I am so glad you spoke up here! I’m of the opinion that people who are not gay have no reason whatsoever to know what gay people know about gay culture. Why would you? That doesn’t mean ignorance. Not everyone is gay just as not everyone is a doctor or lawyer or plumber or waitstaff.

    God Bless,

    Donna

  • Jodi on July 21, 2011

    Thank you for your gracious replies. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to look back here and began to regret speaking up. Now, I feel glad. I will certainly take a look at the book Janet mentions. More information is always good. Blessings to all.

  • Jodi on July 21, 2011

    Speaking of books, a few posts back Donna recommended Peter Gomes’ book to Bill. I found that book helpful in many ways, but did not necessarily agree with the way he presents LGBT/church issues as similar to the issues surrounding women’s ordination (recent decades) or drinking of alcohol (120 years ago) or slavery in America(150 years ago). There are similarities, of course, in the way Christians responded in each of these situations over time, but I think the root issues at stake were actually quite different and in the end–for me–I didn’t find the comparisons useful. I found myself feeling resentful that a sweet and faithful man such as my own father (who was very much opposed to women’s ordination but who I knew had genuine concerns coming from the way he had been taught to interpret the Bible) was lumped in with the slave owners and the tee totalers who invented the “two wine theory” in order to get around very obvious references–in the Greek, no less–to Jesus using wine in the New Testament. But I’m glad to have read Gomes’ book. Though I didn’t like his comparisons, it went a LONG way in helping me to understand. It’s a good book. (Ha ha!)

    A personal note for those who might be interested since I am a stranger to this blog: I belong in a denomination, RCA, that has ordained women for about 35 years now…not as long as the PCUSA, but longer than some other bodies in the Reformed tradition. We seem to be twenty years behind the PCUSA on most of these policy issues. I have also been a member in PCUSA churches and am quite familiar with the proposals that have been brought to their general synod by the LGBT community over the last 15-20 years.)

    I have recently been ordained as an Elder in the denomination of my childhood, and the aforementioned curmudgeon, my father, came forward with tears in his eyes, to place his own hand on my head in blessing. It was quite emotional. It is not the “fighters” who have changed his heart over 20 years (when he refused to allow my mother to stand for nomination); it is those women who have been willing to share a pew and somehow still admire the faith of this old-fashioned guy and continue to break bread together while disagreeing with him, who have allowed him to stop his own “fighting” and open his heart. It’s the women who were able to listen to his real concerns and stand firm while showing compassion and friendship and toning down their constant “agenda.” It’s the female elder several years ago who first called to ask him if he would accept a hospital visit from her or if he would prefer that she arrange a visit from a male elder instead? Just because of her courtesy, I think, he did accept the visit. And he told me later that the prayers of this woman elder were some of the most profound he had ever experienced and that he felt she truly understood her calling. From a man who takes the office very seriously, I knew then that something was happening.

    Obviously, LGBT/church issues are something a person like my father can barely think about. Unlike me, he has no context whatsoever for the gay experience. He’s not a bad man. The point is, he is making progress in his faith journey, and tiny progress in expanding his worldview is worth something even if he does not live long enough to ever improve his understanding on the gay issue. But his daughter is getting there! I have known “fighters” in the church who seem to reject partial progress as not worthwhile. We have had so many female pastors in our denomination who operated this way–and I did not see that this was helpful at all except with a very few people who shared with these leaders that personality trait or temperment that works out faith in the fervor of activism. In fact, I’m not sure their efforts didn’t result in more damage to their cause. Quietly conservative people need information and compassion and friendship.

    This whole thread seems to be about whether to “fight” or not. I, for one, appreciate the “non-fighting” approach and can testify that is does indeed bear fruit with some of us. I also understand that we need the “fighters” in the early days of any movement to pave the way…I would not be an elder today if it were not for the brave women who went before me to enroll in seminary classes in the 1970′s. I get that. I realize that I benefit from belonging to the second or even third generation of female leaders in my denomination and therefore I have the luxury of not “fighting.” Someday, I suppose we will be there on the LGBT issues too. But it’s not going to be because you’ve finally driven out or beaten down the conservatives. And in the same spirit I honestly do not believe that our LGBT friends should be driven out either. Jesus came for all, healed all, prayed with all, associated with all. I sometimes wonder if Jesus doesn’t actually expect or want us all to “agree”, but instead to commune together while in the very midst of our disagreement. I wonder about this when I try to reconcile conflicting passages among the gospels, or conflicting sentiments from the mouth of Paul, or seeming contradictions from Jesus himself as he offers different kinds of living water to different kinds of people. The point (I surmise) isn’t for all these Bible passages to agree or for all humans on the earth to have the same mind. The point is for us to receive the whole thing as God’s Word and to love our neighbors while trying to comprehend it. And that must mean that conservative pastors and conservative professors and conservative women in ministry get to stay at the table too. If and when they can also behave in a loving manner. I work on this every day. (Some of you would say right there that makes me not a normal conservative. But I resent that and don’t think it’s true.)

    I can’t believe I stumbled into this blog–I love Janet’s kind words and gracious encouragement to continue to improve our understanding of each other. Obviously, I needed a safe outlet; I feel like I can never say anything at all without causing offense. Thank you so much.

  • Janet Edwards on July 21, 2011

    Dear Jodi,

    Thank you so much for your kind words and for your willingness to share where you are as a Christian with us. I know it takes a great deal of courage and a strong faith because it is risky, as you say.

    Your account of your father’s faith journey left one question in my mind. Has his understanding of Scripture with regard to women in leadership changed in some way for him to give his blessing to your ordination as elder?

    I confess I am assuming it must have but I would love to hear the details, or perhaps I am wrong about that. Perhaps he accepted your ordination because his love for you in particular even takes precedence over his reading of the Bible.

    Definitely, the transformation you describe coming to your father is one that is familiar for conservative Christians when their views change toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The first step is knowing and coming to respect and love an LGBT person. This prompts the bringing of new eyes to Scripture so that the passages supporting inclusion come into focus. So the second step is a reinterpretation of Scripture (not a rejection of it).

    I look forward to hearing whether this kind of new eyes for the place of women in Scripture happened for your father.

    Peace, Janet


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