The Future of the LGBT Controversy will Depend on Who is Given a Voice

 In the concluding chapter of my recent book Respectful LGBT Conversations that emerged from my eCircle on human sexuality, I propose some concrete steps for a “Way Forward” for Christians, churches, Christian colleges and denominations currently struggling with issues related to human sexuality. A common element for many of my proposed “next steps” is the need for ongoing respectful conversations among those Christians who have strong disagreements about these contentious issues.

This leaves unanswered the crucial question as to the results that may emerge from such ongoing conversations. Ignoring the suggestion of a number of my conversation partners for this eCircle that it is folly to attempt to predict this future, and tempering my own favorite adage that “you cannot predict beforehand the results of a respectful conversation,” some of my experiences since the publication of my book embolden me to peer a bit into that future.

The context for what I envision for the future is set by two of my proposed next steps for a Way Forward. My primary proposal is the need to Build Relationships of Mutual Understanding and Trust with those with Whom You Disagree (279-282). A second proposal that is a “means” for building such personal relationships of mutual understanding and trust is the need to Listen to the Stories of Your LGBT brothers and Sisters in Christ and Listen to Those Who Disagree with You About LGBT Issues (265-266).

Given that context, two recent sets of experience in my local setting prompt my audacity to predict two directions for what may emerge in the future.

First, I have found it to be a challenge to gather together into the same room for conversation those Christians who embrace a “traditional” view of marriage (reserved for a man and woman) and those Christians who embrace a “non-traditional” view of marriage (God will bless a monogamous, life-long marriage commitment of same-sex partners).

What I have generally found is that the non-traditionalists are anxious to talk, while traditionalists have much less interest in talking with those who disagree with them about same-sex marriage. I think I understand somewhat the reason for such reluctance to engage in conversation on the part of many traditionalists. The non-traditionalists are calling into question the status quo (the traditionalist view) in many churches and denominations. What is to be gained by engaging them in conversation? To do so could upset the status quo. 

The context for a second set of recent local experiences is that my calling for “listening to the stories of your LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ” in one of my proposed next steps had two sources. The first source was the regret expressed by the leaders of my case studies for two churches and a Christian university that a significant deficiency in how they attempted to navigate strong disagreements at their institutions was that they didn’t adequately listen to the stories of the LGBT individuals within their churches or on their campus (238-242).

The second source of my call to “listen to the stories of your LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ” was the powerful effect on me of hearing first-hand stories of how LGBT individuals were seeking to faithfully live out their commitments to be followers of Jesus, and how difficult and painful that has been in their church and denominational settings.

Well, since the publication of my book, I have listened to a few more of these moving stories from LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ, which has amplified the urgency of my call for inviting them to recount their personal stories and for those of us who are not LGBT individuals to listen with great empathy.

My conclusion from these two sets of recent experiences is that the results of my proposed steps for a Way Forward will depend on who is given a voice in future conversations and two distinct directions will emerge, which I will now seek to describe.

One direction that I believe will emerge will be for an increasing number of Christians to create venues that will enable our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ to tell their stories, whether in churches, Christian educational institutions, denominational meetings, or local coffee shops.

To create such safe and welcoming spaces where LGBT persons are given a voice will require a significant measure of courage on the part of Christian leaders; especially those whose constituents will threaten to withdraw institutional support if LGBT members are allowed to speak up.

When LGBT Christians are given safe and welcoming spaces to tell their stories of how they aspire to faithfully live out their commitments to be followers of Jesus, I believe that all who listen carefully to their stories will be open to taking a fresh look at the Bible, rethinking possible interpretations of those specific biblical passages that appear to clearly condemn same-sex relationships in the context of the overall message of the Bible, similar to what was done in the late nineteenth century relative to those biblical passages that appear, at first glance, to condone the institution of slavery. 

I believe that the hermeneutical conclusion that will be reached by many members of this segment of the Christian church is that the context for those biblical passages that appear to preclude any same-sex relationships is not that of same-sex couples wanting to enter a monogamous, life-long marriage commitment and, therefore, these biblical passages do not preclude such a covenant commitment.

If this interpretation that these particular biblical passages are “silent” relative to the sanctity, or not, of a monogamous, life-long marriage commitment, is the most adequate interpretation, how does one proceed? Members of this segment of the Christian church will typically argue that Christians must discern what the overall message of the Bible is relative to the possible sanctity of such a lifelong commitment. A common persperctive is that the Bible teaches that every human being needs to experience intimate relationships with other people characterized by enduring commitments to give and receive love that seeks to foster the well-being on the other and that for humans who have not chosen their sexual orientation, this means that God will bless a life-long marriage commitment of same-sex partners.

Of course, I am only predicting here that this is one direction relative to human sexuality issues that will emerge among Christians; a direction that will emerge when our LGBT brother and sisters in Christ are “given a voice” in a safe and welcoming environment. 

I believe another direction will emerge. A segment of Christianity will continue to hold strongly to a traditional view of human sexuality without providing their LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ a safe and welcoming space to express their commitment to a non-traditional view.

Evidence for this second direction includes the challenge I have experienced  when trying to get those who hold a traditional view of same-sex marriage into the same room to talk with LGBT Christians and their allies. This stance on the part of many traditionalists amounts to “silencing” their LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ; not giving them a “voice.”

Such “silencing” is not unique to my experience. I know it to be the case within some Christian institutions of higher education, where the existence of a group of LGBT community members is acknowledged, but they have been effectively “silenced” in the larger campus community (e.g., since they are not an officially sanctioned campus organization, they are allowed to hold meetings, but such meetings cannot be officially advertised campus-wide).

In conclusion, as I peer into the future, I believe that the distinction between giving our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ a “voice,” or not, will lead to the emergence of the two directions I have described, which will co-exist without significant respectful engagement between Christians in the two camps.

But having said that, I believe that those Christians who opt for giving their LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ a “voice” have made the better choice from a Christian perspective. I base this assertion on my belief that all Christians are called to love others, and you do not love someone who you have silenced.