I wrote this article two months ago for the Huffington Post and was told it wasn’t “gay enough” to be posted on their Gay Voices page. On some level I understand. Maybe it’s not. And that’s okay. But at the same time, I feel like this is indicative of a posture coming from both conservative AND LGBT communities. A posture that is contributing to and reinforcing our inability to speak with one another across our differences – gay, straight, trans or cisgender, Christian, atheist, agnostic, democrat and republican.
Reconciliation, Not Racy Headlines: Make Way For A New Public Discourse
Our country lives like junkies, surviving on the adrenaline rush from one highly politicized moment to the next. DOMA is overturned, Detroit files for bankruptcy, Snowden escapes to Russia, Zimmerman is not guilty, and President Obama makes a speech about race. All the while we voraciously check our newsfeed anticipating the next emotionally charged post.
Racy headlines lead to angry blog posts. The issues, though not our divisions over them, disappear with the next headline and our momentary outrage fails to adequately address the problem. Months later, we are shocked when similar headlines resurface; violently ripping off the bandaid of those angry blog posts, leaving us vulnerable, afraid, and even more angry.
I believe there must be a better way to engage the social, religious, and political convictions that enrage and divide us. Whether it’s race, sexuality, guns, the environment, war, or immigration, there is a constant stream of polarizing issues that emerge and too quickly disappear in the wake of the next breaking news cycle.
To be heard in the midst of such polarized chaos you must shout. Dig in your heels. Debate and—if the offense is egregious enough—demonize the other side. The volume of your voice equals the passion of your commitment. The other option is to bury your beliefs. Remove yourself from the conversation. Lay low. Remain apathetic and uninformed. These are the only options of our current public discourse: go down kicking and screaming or go down not caring at all.
In an unexpected turn of events, I—a straight woman—was asked to become the first co-president of Fuller Theological Seminary’s LGBT student group. We attracted national attention when we hosted the first faith-based, LGBT film festival in the world. You can imagine the raised eyebrows of skepticism on the faces of liberals and conservatives alike when Oscar-winning writers and directors came to dialogue with seminary students at the intersection of faith and sexuality.
After graduating from Fuller, I started a non-profit organization called Level Ground. We are working in one corner of the “racy headline problem” to create safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality. Level Ground specializes in curating art to bring people together across social, political, and religious differences and disagreements. Believing there are more meaningful ways to engage in public discourse, we are working with how the faith and LGBT communities dialogue with one another.
The name Level Ground comes from Isaiah’s prophecy: “Every valley will be lifted up, every mountain made low. Uneven ground will become level and the glory of the LORD will appear.” (Is. 40:3-5). Rather than scream and debate one another from mountains and valleys (words which rarely make it to the ears, let alone hearts, of those above or below us), I believe there is a more sustainable, gentler, and yes, more complex alternative. It means, however, both mountains and valleys submitting their comforts, fears, and assumptions to one another.
This is the daily work of reconciliation, not racy headlines. It is not a convenient, or even comfortable way of communicating. Coming to level ground means learning to disagree with a better rhetoric that maintains relationship over ideology. It means listening first and acknowledging that you could be wrong.
In the midst of angry blog posts and heel digging, we have lost the ability to listen and speak across our differences and disagreements. We have forgotten the art of nuance, complexity, and dialogue in favor of outrage and division. Our country has a tough and slow work ahead of us, not only relating to race or the LGBT community, but each of the issues gracing headlines today. If you are a skeptic, you are not alone. This is not reason to give up, however.
I encourage you to continue this new, perhaps counter-intuitive way of communicating by creating some level ground of your own. Find a neighbor, a friend, or a member of your church who you disagree with. Buy them a cup of coffee and hear his or her story. Go see a film together and have a sincere conversation about what you saw. Attend a different church for a few weeks and really listen in order to learn the faith of the people there.
We do not have to let differences silence us or disagreements provide ammunition for a war of words, bullets, or Bible verses. Instead, we can become more human, and better Christians, as we open ourselves to exploring the differences, disagreements, and complexity inherent to the human condition and the Biblical faith we profess.