I started writing this column a little over four years ago and from day one the comments section has pretty much been a three-ring circus.
Belittlement, narrow-mindedness, attacks on character, and blame for all the world problems have been shot back and forth like flaming arrows from the bows of angry, fearful, judgmental and stubborn men and women. And no, my Christians brothers and sisters, it hasn't just been the "militant" gays and unbelievers spewing hateful words. Everyone has been involved in the warfare – Christians included.
The incessant hostility eventually got so bad that I disabled the comment section on my website for about six months. Nothing fruitful or beneficial taking place in that space. Conversations weren't being held. Reasoning wasn't taking place. It was just a bunch of empty yelling and screaming into the air. And sadly, the comments section on my website is a pretty accurate representation of the type of dialogue taking place in our broader culture when it comes to the issues of homosexuality and religion.
Earlier this year, after what I felt like was hopefully a long enough cool down period for all the commenters who'd been letting their fury fly unchecked, I decided (at the risk of my own sanity) to again enable the ability for readers to dialogue on my posts. And thankfully, things have been a lot less contentious. But that's mostly owing to a decrease in dialogue on my posts. I suspect the most combative "conversationalists" of years past may still be unaware that they can now comment. And I'm not too terribly keen on many of them discovering otherwise, although this post is basically a big neon sign drawing them back in. Oh well!
Although I'd seriously considered doing away with the commenting feature on my website forever and have even gone back and forth about it since reinstating it, today I am glad I didn't. Not to be too terribly dramatic, over the last few days I have witnessed what I would call a phenomenon. Two men – one openly gay and one biblically orthodox – have been holding a conversation under my most recent column in which they've explicitly expressed their conflicting beliefs . . . in a way filled with kindness, respect and genuine friendliness.
I've been reading things like:
- "my heart goes out to you"
- "I am sick of the us vs. them mentality"
- "I can't condone your sexual preference, The Bible calls it wrong. But your homosexuality does not, and will never stand in the way of my considering you a friend. Jesus calls me to love my neighbor as I love myself. And that means all people, not just the ones who look and act just like me."
- "I appreciate your thoughtful response. I totally agree that the "us vs them" mentality that pervades thinking is so very sad and hurtful to true communication and reconciliation."
- "Thanks for engaging!"
- "it's so refreshing to hear someone like you with a soft answer."
I wish this type of communication around this issue wasn't abnormal to me, but it is. I am floored. I can't tell you the last time that I've seen two people with such contrary positions engage with such a calm, cool demeanor. Neither of them have minimized their beliefs or sacrificed their convictions or affirmed the positions of the other man. Yet they've maintained a beautifully respectful and cool-headed tone. Their conversation is still ongoing and I would highly encourage you to go read that thread.
I think we can all afford to take a cue from these two guys. Rather than continuing to treat this conversation like a war we have to suit up for, I think we should all take a moment to pull out our dictionaries, turn to the T's, and freshen up on what it actually means to be tolerant. (I'll define tolerance shortly; bear with me.)
As of late, it seems as if many of us have absolutely lost our ability to hold a civil conversation when it comes to the subject of sexuality. If a Christian doesn't agree with a gay person's sexual ethic, then – oh my goodness – they must all loathe gay people and want them imprisoned or executed! And likewise, some Christians have this idea that all the gays are trying to "take over" our country, brainwash our children and destroy everything we hold dear.
No. No, no, no.
I do understand that there are well-heard voices out there, like Westboro Baptist and Dan Savage, who are trying to violently squash out the "other side" completely. Sadly, these are the guys that the media gives a mic so that they can amplify their inconsiderate barbarism. I also understand that there are very real movements taking place in our culture in which the biblical worldview is being pushed out and relativistic ideologies are being ushered in – especially in our schools. I'm not sticking my head in the sand and trying to pretend like everything is okay and nobody has an agenda to shut down the influence of the Christian faith in our culture as forcefully as possible. There is very real spiritual warfare taking place in our society right now. There is taking place a massive movement away from Christ and his gospel and it's being propelled by certain group of people with certain goals in mind; like sexual liberty. I'm fully aware of all of this.
What I'm trying to do in this post is bring our focus away from the broader picture (which is important, don't misread me) and bring things down to the individual level. I want us to step away from Fox News or CNN and stop gazing upon the "culture war" and look at our real, in-the-flesh relationships with individuals. I want us to examine the way that we engage in these controversial conversations with them. I think we'd all have to admit that most of the gay people and Christian people we know in our immediate lives aren't consciously trying to "take over" or imprison anyone or discriminate against anyone. Non-Christian gay men and women believe their sexual orientation is good or morally neutral and therefore there's nothing wrong with acting out on it or desiring the benefits of legal marriage with someone of the same gender. So they express those beliefs and try to persuade others to join them, for what they believe is the common good. Christian men and women believe that God defines both the confines of our sexual lives and marriage. So we express those beliefs and try to persuade others to join us, for what we believe is the common good.
Obviously both sides aren't right in what they believe. Someone's wrong. But until Christ returns (did I give away which side I think is right?) and everyone is put onto the same page, conflicting systems of beliefs will exist. There have always been, and will always be, disagreement on these matters because there have always been, and will always be, different lenses through which people see the world. And this is where tolerance comes in.
Lately, this thing we call tolerance is inaccurately defined by our culture as the total submission to and support of a moral position or belief system. But in all actuality, extending a tolerant attitude to those on the other ends of our spiritual, philosophical and ethical spectrums does not mean that we must affirm their beliefs to be just as good or "right" as ours. The whole idea of tolerance is predicated on the ongoing existence of disagreement and conflict in perspectives. True tolerance doesn't say, "Submit to my belief system or else." That would be ISIS. A perfect example of intolerance. True tolerance says, "I disagree with you whole heartedly and I believe that your position is both harmful to yourself and to those around you. But I respect you as a person and no matter how passionately I disagree with you, I will not attack you, shame you, insult you or force you to bow down to my positions on things."
As the two men in the comments section of my column are at this moment demonstrating, it is absolutely possible for people to hold differing views on sexuality and communicate those views in a way that doesn't demean the other person. Now there will be many in our day that say that our inability to support someone living a specific lifestyle is demeaning. And at that point our hands our tied. We can only hold firm to our position and communicate our stance as gently and respectfully as possible, but we can't force someone to realize that disapproval does not equate to hate, discrimination or intolerance.
We – the readers of this column and myself – can't control what goes on in the media or political spheres, but we can control what goes on in the spheres of our individual lives. We can choose to adopt the antagonistic, mean-spirited attitudes representing our "side" in the media, or we can choose a different path – a better path. A path that respects and extends genuine kindness to every person we engage, no matter how passionately we may disagree with their beliefs.
Feel free to leave your thoughts or insights in the comments section below. But please, be respectful.