How to have a dialogue.

This post is for subscribers only. You are welcome to share it if you feel really compelled, but I’m not going to be promoting it on facebook myself, because I’m hoping to avoid panic by certain people on my newsfeed who, bless them, probably just wouldn’t be able to keep themselves together if I advertised that I was discussing gay marriage.

I have avoided the topic on this blog thus far, not out of embarrassment or shame or squeamishness (I have probably at least 30 pages, single spaced, written on the topic, sent to various friends and blogs and archived in some Word documents), but because I am keenly aware of my own capacities and limits in the way of comment moderation, and frankly I haven’t had the energy to risk having to put in the effort. I have these conversations privately, in pairs or small groups, usually via private message, or in person, or sometimes I’ll dive in on someone else’s blog, where I am only responsible for my own comments and can easily walk away if things get too ugly.

I’m a slacker that way. But I felt that I owe those of you who have email subscriptions an explanation for my long silence this month. Here’s the thing – I’ve actually been writing prolifically. Not even counting the play I wrote, I’ve written probably enough for several blog posts, probably at least two month’s worth of blog posts, but all of it has taken place over at a website called Soulation. The author of the sub-blog, Ruby Slippers, one Jonalyn Fincher, wrote a piece entitled “Gay Marriage: Lessons for Christians on Both Sides.” A friend of mine pointed me in that direction and said I might find the article and the comment threads interesting. So I clicked the link, read everything, and left my first comment.

That was on May 8th. Since May 8th, I have watched the most amazing conversation I have ever had on this topic unfold in the most amazing manner. Usually, even when these kinds of articles start out being thoughtful and respectful, they quickly devolve either through the participation of “trolls,” who drown out all the reasonable people and start flame wars over tangential issues, or, even if the conversation remains relatively focused, all the active commenters get fatigued and walk away from the table at just about the point that the pro-gay marriage people are shouting “Golden Rule – cultural relevancy – science – hermeneutics!” and the anti-gay marriage people are shouting “scriptural authority – Adam and Eve – tough love – hermeneutics!”

[hermeneutics, in case you’re not widely read in academic theology, is the theory of text interpretation – the lens through which we interpret scripture, the “rules” about what we can and cannot interpret from sacred texts, and the gay wars in Christianity do often come down to matters of hermeneutics].

But none of these things happened in this exchange. There are four main commenters:

Jonalyn, the author

Dr. Ralph Blair, a relative of Jonalyn’s and a practicing professional in the area of mental and relational health

Jean, a seminary student, or professor, or in some other way deeply immersed in questions about things like hermeneutics and the definition of sin

– and then little ole me. In the beginning, another big commenter was my friend Mindy, who sent me over to the website to begin with, but she specifically requested that she not be drawn into long debates about scripture because she does not think them life-giving, and I believe we respected her wishes. For the past month, these people have been having a sustained, respectful, personally vulnerable, deeply researched, thoroughly reflective dialogue about the issues embedded in the debate on the equality of gay love and sexuality from a Christian theological perspective. There are, to date, 127 comments, most of them from those five people, plus a few others. Many of the comments would be pages long if they were cut and pasted into Microsoft Word. There’s probably 50 pages worth of material over there. At least.

So anyway, I just wanted to say that if this is something that interests you, click the link and take a look. The comments are roughly in reverse chronological order, so if you want to read the beginning, you have to go all the way to the bottom. Please, for the love of all things holy, if you’re going to comment over there, please work hard to maintain the respectful tone that has been so carefully cultivated by Jonalyn et al, because I would feel really awful if I found out that someone had gotten to the article through me and had started abusing people on the thread or getting reactive. I hesitated for a week about posting this at all, because part of me wants to preserve the conversation as it is right now, between the five of us, and so I didn’t want to risk advertising it to others, but it was just too remarkable not to share.

It’s like the unicorn of internet exchanges. I don’t want to scare it away, but how can you not tell people?

One of the things that really hit home for me over the course of this process has been the conviction that there really are well-meaning, intelligent, genuine people on both sides of every big question. Which I already knew, but I know it in a deeper way now. There are crazy nutters shouting on the fringes of every major question, too, but they are never representative of the best of that perspective.

Jonalyn, the author of the blog, and I are on opposite sides of the gay-sexual-equality issue, and after a month of dialoguing, I’m not sure we’re any closer to coming to agreement, but I’m pretty sure that I genuinely like her as a person. Which I have trouble saying about people that I have openly disagreed with on this issue, because I see that kind of theology as being inherently harmful to real people, friends of mine, and I feel the need to defend and protect them with whatever words I can muster. It would be so much easier if life imitated Lord of the Rings, and the people espousing harmful doctrines resembled orcs and were unambiguously evil. But they’re not. I’ve been poking around the Soulation website, and they have some really great stuff about spiritual abuse and sexuality in general. We are allies in many areas, just not this one. I can’t agree with her in this area, but I can’t paint her as an enemy either. I have come to see that Jonalyn also sees herself as a defender and protector of people who are being harmed, and I don’t think this is pretense. We are on the same team, we just understand the mission very differently. And this is where dialogue becomes very, very important.

At the end of the day, we’re all trying to offer our best ideas for the world.

So anyway, head on over there if this is a conversation that would interest you. Here are a few highlights (in no particular order):

Jean – “I think one of the key problems in the current debate of gay marriage, has to do with our definition of “sin”. If we approach Scripture with an interpretive framework that defines “sin” in a propositional and moralistic sort of way … we will certainly be able to contend that ‘gay marriage’ is not acceptable from a biblical point of view. However, if we digress from this overly ‘greek worldview-based’ interpretive framework and instead define sin relationally – as that which breaks our relationship with ourselves, God, others, the environment and the systems that order our life together; as that which hinders us from experiencing wholeness/holiness in life by making us miss our God-intended purpose, vocation and identity (which I believe is how Genesis 1-4 tends to understand “sin”) – then the question is no longer as clear-cut as Gagnon et al. would have us believe.”

Jonalyn: “And even within marriage, we must cultivate our memory and our capacity to find our spouse beautiful. It’s a skill that goes unrecognized, this cultivation of desire. If we went by the movies we’d think romance just “happens”, sexual bliss just unfolds without anyone communicating, sexual desire just keeps amping it up year after year. I beg to differ. I don’t agree that desires are so unwieldy a thing. In fact, I believe we indirectly change our desires like we change our beliefs, by attending to different things.”

Dr. Ralph: “The most extensive historical analyses of sexual orientation understands that it is the product of both nature and nurture, intrinsic sexuality in a context of social construction. Throughout most of history, male dominance over females in terms of gender assumptions and social institutions, for a man to take another man as a “wife” would have been a terrible insult. Men used young males (e.g., w/ no facial hair) as a wife substitute on the road as it were, such as in the case of the Roman centurion whose “boy” (pais) Jesus healed. This custom was common. But as these youths matured into young men, such relationship was ended out of respect so that he’d no longer be treated as a lowly female. After the early Middle Ages, the influence of the Romantic Age and into the Modern era, covert same-sex relationships were not uncommon (as trial documents show) but these men risked prison and death penalties if exposed. So it’s no wonder that there was secrecy, hiding and not what we see today under more enlightened response.”

Jonalyn: “I believe there is a deep need, a deep ache (and by this I don’t simply mean this sexually or romantically) men and women have of each other. The same sex union seems to challenge this at some level.”

Jean: “For one, I have come to regard a good amount of Christian sexual ethic suspiciously. At least the way this ethic is being communicated. Not that I disagree with its intent and even its content. In fact, I continue to believe strongly in the idea that healthy genital sexual expression should happen in committed monogamous relationships, since it is in the “being fully known” that we grow into our full self. In that sense, I uphold much of Christian sexual ethic – where the intent is for us to live life healthily, God-honoring (which means in accordance with Shalom), fully/wholly and joyfully. Therefore, I don’t believe in sexual relativism, though I do believe that some things “work/are good” for some couples but “don’t work/are not good” for others. However, I’ve become deeply suspicious of the hermeneutic and delivery of the Christian sexual ethic message – since I see it creating as much pain, struggle, wasted energy, confusion, sexual dysfunction, and relational disconnectedness as it decries is the result of sexual libertinism. While in the latter we often have a compulsive obsession with sex, in the former we often have a compulsive obsession with sexual sin. Both are addictive. Both are anti-Shalom.”

Jonalyn: “So, I believe when modern culture elevated sex (for pleasure), then unhinged sex from marital commitment, and then elevated marriage as a fast track for respect, holding public officer, eldership, pastorship, societal approval, psychological satisfaction, tax benefits, pooling of assets and spiritual growth, we’ve created a perfect storm.

If gay people want to feel fully human, we’ve taught, they must be permitted to marry.

I am challenging the marriage narrative, the sexual libertine narrative and the friendship narrative.

No wonder I feel exhausted. ;)”

Me: “Where I think I disagree with you is in the necessity of a two-gender system in marriage. I believe that the different genders are significant – I think that God intentionally stamped the gender differences into us in the beginning in order to make it perfectly clear that humans are

1. different.
2. interdependent.

Different and interdependent (unified) is a mirroring of the Trinity relationship. But the Trinity is not a binary relationship, and while I think the male/female difference is important to note, I don’t believe it is the only path to full shalom. …. I think the full expression of that different-and-interdependent dynamic is found in Paul, when he’s talking about how the eye cannot say to the hand “I don’t need you!” And how in God, there is neither male nor female, slave nor master, Jew nor Greek, etc. The male-female duality is the most basic, but not the only expression of this different-and-interdependent dynamic.”

That’s all for now folks. Happy reading. 🙂

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12 Comments

Filed under personal, religion

12 responses to “How to have a dialogue.

  1. Just last week I listened to a very engaging and civil debate on the topic which you might find worth spending an hour listening to: http://www.onbeing.org/program/future-marriage-david-blankenhorn-and-jonathan-rauch/4883
    It’s actually more an exploration in how to have an argument than an exploration of the gay marriage issue.

  2. I wish I had time to enter any debate about this subject. I don’t, unfortunately. It is an issue (along with abortion) where people only seem concerned to hear their own voices.

    I’m gay. I attend a small church, little more than a handful of people, which does not witness the marriage of two people of the same gender. Why do I attend this Church? Because I acknowledge that there may be things which are more important than the way I see the world. Because these people are largely humble, rather than dogmatic, about their testimony; because they feel genuinely led; because they genuinely feel, having tested the issue in prayer, that to witness the marriage of two people of the same gender would break the peace of God in their consciences.

    Do I feel conflicted in this? Yes, absolutely. Do I walk away from this? No. Why not? Because I feel genuinely led to add myself to their discernment of this among many other things. I sometimes feel uncomfortable, sometimes feel that I am wrestling with an angel and will be marked on my thigh for doing so; but on the other hand, I know that a church where I feel ‘comfortable’ would be a treasure upon earth, and not to be stored up.

    • I am really moved by your strength and integrity in living the questions like that. It’s no easy thing to hold something like that in tension over an extended period of time. I’m also thankful for your vulnerability in sharing that part of your story here. Thank you.

      I love that last sentence, about a church where I feel “comfortable” being a treasure upon earth, and not to be stored up. I’m still wrestling through a discernment about, well, what to do about church, and this is one of my big questions. I have one faith community where I am often challenged and uncomfortable, but where I also feel that I am fundamentally safe. I can be uncomfortable and disagree, and challenge back, and there is genuine dialogue. If I could have that all year, I would take it, no question. Unfortunately, it’s a once-a-year gathering, not an on-going community. Among my local communities, there is one that I find very nourishing and comforting, but I wonder if they are too comfortable for me to make them my primary spiritual home. And then there’s one that would be more challenging, but I don’t really feel safe there, when I’m honest. And I wonder if that’s reason enough to leave, or if God has some purpose for me there. I don’t feel led very clearly in one way or another, so for now I’m just waiting it out.

  3. Pingback: Coffee Shop Conversations. Or, How to Talk Intelligently About Jesus Without Being a Jerk. A Book Review. | FairyBearConfessions

  4. Stephen River Smith

    Having read, so far, only this blog, I am moved by the dialogue, by the honesty. It seems to take me mere seconds or minutes to recognize the thing I waited for all my life, (or the thing(s) I ran from to preserve what little dignity I felt I possessed as a human). When I read words likes these, I feel uncomfortably comfortable–and know that being alive today is a privilege.

  5. Tim

    Great job keeping the dialog going. I read Jonalyn’s piece back when it first posted (she and I subscribe to each other’s blogs anyway) and – like you – I was impressed with the irenic nature of the discussion in the comments. I’ve written about relationships with my gay and lesbian friends as well on my blog; it’s an important topic for Christians to come to understand in light of God’s word in this world he’s placed us in.

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