- Is it possible that members of religious conservative and LGBT communities can have vibrant, affectionate relationships where they enjoy each other and learn a lot (while still holding some irreconcilable differences on various important questions)?
- Could individuals from these two groups agree to speak about their disagreements in a way that represents differing perspectives fairly – thus providing more of a clear ideological comparison on which others can make their own decisions about what to believe?
- Is it possible for those who experience same-sex attraction, but do not identify with it as the primary, defining element of their identity, to still relate to that meaningful aspect of their life and experience in a gentle, compassionate, and mindful way? If so, ought that to be respected as a viable life pathway for those trying to reconcile faith and sexuality?
- Given the strong evidence for both sexual conditioning and sexual fluidity, could individuals within Judeo-Christian faith communities also be respected in retaining hope for ultimately pursuing a vibrant orthodox marriage relationship in the future (and a vibrant relationship with their own faith community)?
- Could it be that voices insisting that celibacy is the only option for gay/SSA individuals in faith communities (and portraying orthodox marriage as inevitably miserable and impossible) could be significantly aggravating the distress of this community?
How do we typically answer these questions (if they get asked at all)?
No way. Ridiculous. Clearly not educated enough about gay issues…Maybe even dangerous?
Why? Because one way of thinking about identity, sexuality, the body, choice, change, rights, religion, law and God has become so dominant as to render other options illegitimate and unthinkable.
Proactively working toward a better conversation. The beginnings of a truly productive conversation starts with a willingness to make space for these different perspectives in the first place: We’ve got some pretty enormous disagreements about the “public good” (and bad)…Can we talk about them?
It would also help being willing to describe each others’ positions fairly and honestly:
- A Plea for a More Honest + Less Despairing LBGT-Religious Conservative Conversation
- Misrepresenting LGBT/Religious Conservative Disagreements: Pleading for an Honest Conversation about What (Really) Divides Us
As my co-author on A Third Space, Arthur Pena, taught (and convinced me), this is not where the larger conversation is going: Question from Arthur – Is peace even possible or are we in the middle of an irreconcilable war?
Sweet possibilities amidst deep disagreement. Those dire realities Arthur describes doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t stop) us from doing whatever we can to cultivate that space on our own. One of the most delightful conversations I’ve ever had is an ongoing exploration with a sexually and politically diverse group of friends (that we now call the “Sextet”): Is it possible for people who disagree about identity, sexuality & God to have vibrant, endearing (and ENJOYABLE) relationships?
As reflected in that piece, our resounding answer is: YES! Tracy and I wrote this up for the Huffington Post after some Living Room Conversations together: Eating Hummus With the ‘Enemy’: From Aversion to Affection
I would do about anything for that woman – she is dear to me! (and is currently working on a book of her own about her own dialogues with religious conservatives, as she can’t seem to get away from us! I’ll post her book here as soon as it’s out).
For those who have not experienced this for themselves, it comes as something of a surprise that someone on the Other Side can be equally thoughtful and good-hearted. In an attempt to help awaken people to this possibility, we’ve started mapping out some of the key positions on core disagreements, like this:
Seeing common ground clearly. It’s more than just disagreements that are clarified, of course. There are also surprising and heartening areas of common ground discovered: Ten Areas Of (Potential) Common Ground in the Conversation about Same-Sex Relationships
Not all areas of common ground are equally important, of course. Two of the most foundational and powerful areas of potential unity, as my conversation partners and I have explored, are:
- An appreciation of underlying wholeness and beauty: Is there common ground both sides might hold to be precious…or not?
- An insistence on maintaining sufficient space for people to be able to choose for themselves: Proposing a new (common) agenda for LGBT-RC conversation: Multiplying space & freedom & What motivates this dialogue project? Freedom to explore
Discovering the third space. From my past experiences in this area, I once wrote up a proposal for something that Mark Foster and I (in our Mormon/Post-Mormon Conversation) came to call a “Third Space”: Proposing a Third Space in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Back-and-Forth
After this initial blog post, I reached out to my gay Christian friend Arthur Pena – one of my favorite dialogue partners in the whole world – who helped assist me in writing up a larger survey on the same topic:
A Third Space: Proposing Another Way Forward in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Impasse (Disagreement Practice, Treasonous Friendship & Trustworthy Rivalry in the Face of Irreconcilable Difference). You can download a complete outline of all the book, linking to each of the chapters here. Or you can link to them directly below:
1. Dreaming A Fundamentally Different Kind of Relationship Together?
2. Doubting An Absurd Idea or a Refreshing Possibility?
3. Creating The Infrastructure for a Productive Exchange
4. Diving In Fifteen Questions at the Heart of Diverging Realities
5. Pressuring Who’s Imposing on Whom?
6. Clarifying An Honest Conversation about What (Really) Divides Us
7. Studying The Research Proves MY Side is Right…RIGHT?
8. Learning (More) Escaping the Echo Chamber
9. Allowing Can We Disagree on Who We Are Without Becoming Enemies?
10. Scrutinizing The Case For Investigating Religious Authority
11. Deciding Which Narrative Do You Accept As True?
Conclusion: We Can Do This!
Possibilities and controversies. As you can see, there are many exciting possibilities in this approach: Positive Possibilities Arising from LGBT-RC Dialogue
Even so, for many reasons, it remains controversial: Major Objections to LGBT-RC Dialogue
[These were previously organized in a white paper jointly with the Sextet called, “A ‘ridiculous idea’ or a ‘refreshing ray of hope’? Diverging evaluations of conservative/LGBT community dialogue.” I also touched on these themes earlier in October, 2014 as part of the Diversity & Social Justice Education Lecture Series in a talk entitled, “Unique barriers and challenges facing dialogue between the LGBT and conservative Christian communities.” Sponsored by the Office of Inclusion and Cultural Relations, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign].
Here is one example, from Village Square Utah’s Inaugural Event focused on Sexual Orientation and Faith Conflicts (highlight version):
(Full event, part one)
(Full event, part two)
And here is a more intimate example of a Living Room Conversation focused on different perspectives over gay rights and marriage (highlights):
(30 minute version)
(full version - 55 minutes)
As you can see, this is something you can try for yourself, in your own home and community: Something you can do TODAY to promote more Gay/Mormon affection and understanding
Turning toward the harder questions. Even with this possibility being real, there are major barriers and fears that keep people from it. As an attempt to help people overcome these fears in small morsels, I launched a blog called Flirting with Curiosity a few years ago, dedicated to trying to open up this space and provide “dialogic text” to help support people exploring important questions across these disagreements. The blog centered around key questions across a variety of areas, summarized below:
Key questions taken up on the blog include:
Additional articles are thematized according to different key areas of the public conversation:
Explorations of identity:
Mormonism and sexuality:
Video: Tribune forum explores impact of Mormon policy changes on churchgoers The Salt Lake Tribune’s Jennifer Napier-Pearce will lead the discussion with panelists BYU professor Roni Jo Draper, Erika Munson of Mormons Building Bridges, Darius Gray of LDS Genesis Group, Jacob Hess from Village Square, and Rod Olson of North Star.
Different videos of “acceptance” and other alternatives to “fighting/forcing”:
One man published a piece about accepting himself – I responded: Does God Love Us Just as We Are?
Love, compassion & hatred:
World Congress of Families as an Opportunity for Dialogue Jacob Hess, Living Room Conversations & Kendall Wilcox, Empathy First Initiative.
Did Something Really Good or Really Bad Just Happen in Utah? (A dialogic history of Sb 296)
Hess, J. Z. & Verona, E. (2007, April). Editorial: The next casualty of the culture wars: Good science? Inclinations: Clinical/Community Psychology Newsletter University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana 27(1), 9-11.