In parallel with the list of concerns and objections, in what follows we catalogue and collect various benefits and positive possibilities others have associated with dialogue practice. Elsewhere, Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess have written about additional reasons people have for pursuing cross-boundary socio-political conversations more broadly.
- Pioneering and opening a space:
- “What [the dialogue organization] is trying to do: to give people on “both sides” (e.g. traditional-minded Christians and people in the LGBT community) a place where they can come together, learn more about each other, and change for the better based on their increased understanding. (10)
- “Few can argue with the fact that [the dialogue organization] has enabled many conservative churches to begin open discussions about sexuality for the first time. And there is little doubt that the relationships that he has built between Christians and gay people in Chicago would, for now, be unimaginable in many cities around the world – and may just offer a hopeful model for the future” (Landau, 2011)
- “What this organization is doing is bridging a cavernous gap between two groups of people who have struggled for years to find any common ground” (10)
- “What I found was a group of gay and gay supportive Christians, dedicated to nothing more than creating a dialogue between the LGBT and Evangelical Christian communities. They occupy a very tricky space – but it is a space that is missing from the ‘cultural wars’ – a space where people with differing viewpoints can come together for respectful discussion on controversial social issues. Period. They transcend the shouting and the pedantic in order to attempt to bridge what is thought to be an impossible divide. I find that a noble effort” (7)
- “[This dialogue organization] is doing the necessary work of bringing together people who identify with the LGBTQ and church communities to discuss issues that aren’t going away and don’t have easy answers. Participants have cultivated real relationships and have created safe environments in which people can express themselves and be treated with respect. In a polarized culture of angry sound bytes, [this dialogue effort] is a breath of fresh air. I always grow as a result of spending time with these wonderful folks, and I can’t recommend this organization highly enough!” – Stephen Fincher, Candidate for Ordained Ministry, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
- People don’t always agree, but agreement isn’t the objective. The dialogue itself is the objective; building relationships that might not otherwise ever exist. (Marin, 2013)
- Prompting greater vulnerability and open sharing – alongside authentic listening.
- “I have some conservative friends who subscribe to the “love the sinner hate the sin” philosophy and are at best hesitant about what the [dialogue organization] does. I have other friends who are gay Christians and disagree with them because they don’t take a strong stand rejecting the conservative idea that same-sex attraction equals sin. I wish that all of those friends had been with us that night. In that tiny room in a hot church basement, I saw something that I have never seen in a church small group before. People were being honest and vulnerable with each other as they stripped away pretense and shared about their true struggles…[struggles] that have typically been top secret in other small groups I’ve been in. They talked about things that we typically consider impolite church conversation. People shared about sexuality, violence, prejudice, hiding their true identities in the Church, being asked to leave the Church, being burned by the Church, and being marginalized by Christians. There were also stories of hope and faith. Stories of self-discovery and embracing the process. There were stories of confession and reconciliation that were equal parts tragic and joyful. It was the kind of true, raw discussion about God, life, and spirituality that I’ve never experienced in other, more programmed Christian gatherings. And I think that was what was so startling to me” (Marin Foundation, 2010)
- “He is attempting to highlight conservative Christianity’s need to LISTEN to the GLBTQ community with no agenda. He asserts this repeatedly: listen with no agenda except to learn” (7)
Elsewhere, we have written about the value of:
- To (Really) Be Heard Yourself. In addition to deeply hearing out your political opposite, it’s also surprisingly refreshing to have someone do that for you too – especially one of ‘those people.’ This starts, ironically, by making a shared commitment to seeking to understand each other as the first priority.
- To Hear it from the Horse’s Mouth. While some people seem increasingly satisfied with a daily download about what-those-dumb-people-are-up-to-now, others are hungry for something more.
- “When my like-minded friends all share the same talking points,” our colleague Debilyn Molineaux writes, “I start wondering if there isn’t more to the story…” Is there? Well, there’s one sure-fire way to find out.
- Personalizing and humanizing individuals on both sides.
- “So many people’s prejudices melt away when they actually get to know the human being behind the stereotype they’ve been stoking” (1)
- Rather than just a “gay issue” it becomes “the guy I had coffee with,” wrote Heidi Weaver-Smith from LoveBoldly.
- Dialogue efforts may more effectively melt prejudice “more quickly and with more long-lasting social coherency than robust argument can” (1)
When done right, this involves recognizing others’ basic humanity. One man who identifies as gay and Christian writes, “Once I uplift their humanity, I am then on a journey to them recognizing my own – no matter than timeline – and the later opportunities to lovingly engage and grow from each other. Is the journey always quick and carefree? Hardly. Living in the tension can be trying. Yet I have always found it to be more fruitful and beneficial to all involved than the us v. them mentality” (Marin, 2013)
Note: This isn’t the same as reinforcing and validating who and what and where different individuals are – which is a benefit often presumed to be associated with dialogue.
- Reconciling and cultivating friendship.
- “The Marin Foundation is a Movement shaped by bold individuals of reconciliation; whose orientation is one of love, who live in the tension and refuse to allow hate, disagreements or past experiences cause division in any community” (Marin, 2013)
- “They are trying to help an angry, frightened church, and an angry, wounded gay community see eye to eye” (7)
- “Through this process we have seen almost unthinkable organizational partnerships, individual relationships form, and reconciled disconnects between parties holding polar opposite moral, ethical and social filters. I genuinely believe our country is worn out by the culture wars. People want peace in their life. A new generation of activism is afoot—love over agreement. building bridges over building armies” (Merritt, 2013).
This kind of a realization is no small thing. As Arthur characterizes it, this can be a “revolutionary world-shattering world-renewing dialogical shock of finding Christ in the very heart of one’s traditional enemy who represents the apparent death of all one holds dear)…the jolt, I think, must be prepared for.”
- Practicing healthy disagreement.
- “The thing that confuses me is, why then, do the people who promote such pluralism get upset when there are others that don’t agree with them? Isn’t that the point of a high functioning pluralistic culture? The biggest misnomer in contemporary society is that everyone must agree in order to love each other well. Fighting for an end result of ‘agreement’ is called a dictatorship, not pluralism” (Marin, 2013)
- “The main question today must be how we relate to each other with strongly held convictions, rather than continually try to force everyone into theological, social or political alignment” (Marin, 2012).
- Providing compassionate, authentic space for exploring one’s own personal experience.
One woman writes, “LOVEboldly helps those people who are caught between two worlds of thinking and can’t find a home or a way in either opposing viewpoint.”One man in the LGBT community writes, “I’ve managed to find my way on this journey because of organizations like LOVEboldly that give people space to sort various puzzles posed by the intersection of faith, sexual orientation, and gender identity without presuming that these puzzles match to cookie cutter thinking” (Love Boldly, 2012)
This involves creating space for critical thinking and self-examination that allows real choice –
- One man in a dialogue organization writes of witnessing many people in the organization “who are trying to figure out what they believe about their sexuality. It is important for us to create a safe space with a variety of resources where they can question and critically think about their sexuality to come to a conclusion, whether it’s a more traditional or progressive interpretation of scripture on the matter” (Marin, 2013)
- “The friendships I’ve experienced through LOVEboldly have been some of the most important factors in my coming to peace with my sexuality (gay and side-A affirming) and my faith. When nowhere else seemed like a safe place to be myself, I was welcomed with open arms free of agendas and free from the threat of my story being co-opted to serve some political purpose” (Love Boldly, 2012)
- Internal reconciliations – “I am a side A, fully affirming lesbian who does not think celibacy is the only option for LGBT folks and I have worked with LOVEboldly closely. I support full equality and gay marriage, but I also support those who choose or believe something different, and I never push people to form the same conclusions I have. My main goal is to make sure people know they are loved by God, wherever they find themselves on their journey, and I work with people who reach out to LOVEboldly seeking help in the reconciliation with their faith and sexuality.”- Anonymous: Lexington, KY (Love Boldly, 2012)
One gay Christian man writes, “the fault lines of the culture war run straight through my heart. And I find I have no choice but to seek dialogic bridges over those fault lines, in order to heal my own fractured soul…and maybe, just maybe, even get a glimpse of some real truth.”
7. Improving our mental and emotional health. Have you ever met someone so full of political resentment that they are hardly able to abide the presence of ‘those liberals,’ or ‘those conservatives’? What does this level of hostility do to the body?
In 2007, researchers at Washington State University documented calcium deposit buildup in the coronary arteries of people who often express intense anger. Seven years earlier, a large–scale study showed that those who had developed a consistent habit or “trait” of anger (even with otherwise normal blood pressure levels) had roughly twice the risk of coronary heart disease and almost three times the risk of heart attack compared to those with the lowest levels of anger.
While anger is clearly not a ‘bad thing,’ when it becomes chronic, its impact (similar to stress) can be toxic.
Avoiding and suppressing our frustration, of course, doesn’t help either. This kind of emotional micro-managing has also been linked to increases in blood pressure and heart rate and is showing up as a risk factor in the development of some kinds of cancer.
So what’s the alternative? Like mindfully approaching pain in the body (as a way to reduce that pain), what about turning towards what hurts in our body politic in order to create the kind of time and space needed to allow that hurt to evolve into something else?
The root of physical illness, according to Chinese medicine, is constipation and blockage. By simply prompting more free-flow movement in our body politic, we’ve observed tension dissipating dramatically.
This includes changes between groups as polarized as conservative Mormons and their gay neighbors – after a single evening together in generous conversation.
- Having a Good Time. This kind of open and vulnerable exploration, many are finding, can be invigorating, refreshing, and yes…even fun. (Hey, it beats stewing in our resentments!)
- Learning this Thing Called Co-existence. Benefits go beyond personal insight and enjoyment. On a very practical level, these conversations can also help us learn how to live together.
Recognizing that a Supreme Court decision doesn’t make conservative concerns about gay marriage suddenly dissipate, LGBT activists like Tracy Hollister and Kendall Wilcox are proactively seeking to bring hearts and minds together in greater empathy. Rather than attempting to “vanquish” or “shame conservatives to the fringe of society,” these individuals insist on allowing their political opposites a place to stand and a “right to exist.”
10. Learning More Truth (That May Otherwise Be Closed Off to You). This one is described in more detail in the manuscript itself.
11. Prompting a ripple effect of decreased prejudice and changed behavior.
“I’ve found that when I have the freedom to think for myself, and to dialogue within a safe and non-critical atmosphere, I change, my heart changes, my views will change. I believe these changes are most often for the better in my own personal life and hopefully the changes will spill over in my ability to love people better” (11)
This also involves an acknowledgment of the limitations of force to reach people’s hearts – “While I am absolutely proud to stand for my beliefs and to fight for what I know as right, we must be respectful of the opposite end of the spectrum. You can’t expect opinions to be changed and hearts to be softened with the tactics of demands and force” (15)
- Offering a means to reach broader goals
For LGBT community, equality – “Even if we start with goal of full equality, you might ask whether it will achieved by ” head-on confrontation solely, or whether there is a place for bridge-building.” (1)
For religious conservatives, sharing the love of God
Also, this can potentially represent initial steps to bigger change – “How on earth could a group like this be considered “bad for the community”? We will not see ANY change if groups like this don’t exist. Members of the church and the church itself are not going to flip a switch and feel differently without ways of easing into it. It’s how it begins. I think having an attitude of gratitude for people even willing to speak up and support something like this goes a lot farther than slamming it and demanding more” (15)
“There are those at the front steps protesting and then there are those of us who actually are let in the back to sit down and have safe, sane conversations” (7)
Elsewhere, we have written about:
- Talking Lead to Other Joint Action. These kinds of connections often set the stage for joint action that would never have been possible – let alone imagined – before the conversation. What might we be able to do together once we connect in a new way?
- And talk as a Form of Action. What can ‘just talking’ accomplish, then? A lot! As Hans Georg-Gadamer argued, the act of opening oneself to seek understanding involves an intrinsic change in our very being. Done right, then, this can change both who we are and how we relate, and sometimes do so in profound ways.
Ultimately, this points towards the possibility of supporting a more sustainable and integral cultural shift:
- “It has been sociologically, diplomatically and anthropologically proven that sustainable cultural shifts can only happen when [both sides in a fight] are an equal part of the shift. If only one population dictates the shift, a change might indeed happen in the short term, but it will only rally the base of the ‘losers’ to fight even harder to overthrow the new population in power. And thus, the cycle continues” (Marin, 2013)
- “By creating intentional spaces to live in the tension of what theologically, socially and politically divides us, we continually seek productive means that carve new paths forward” (Marin, 2013)
Sources and Citations
(1) Public comments in response to: Andrew Marin, April 14, 2013, My Response to Dan Savage’s Accusations about The Marin Foundation in the New York Times
(2) Public comments in response to: Tony Jones April 15, 2013 Dan Savage vs. Andrew Marin
(3) Public comments in response to: Jim Burroway April 15th, 2013 The Problem Of Lukewarm
(4) Public comments in response to: Hemant Mehta April 14, 2013 Why Straddling the Fence on LGBT Issues Doesn’t Work: Andrew Marin’s Response to Dan Savage
(7) Comments on: Cohen, Ego (July 14, 2010) The Marin Foundation – still banging.
(10) Public comments in response to: Heidi Weaver September 25, 2013 A Response to Our Critics
(11) Public comments in response to: Heidi Weaver Sept 27, 2013 A Response to Our Supporters
(15) Public comments in response to: Jonathan Adamson Oct 10, 2012 “Mormons Building Bridges” is bad for the LGBT community
(16) Reddit comments “Mormon‘s Building Bridges” organization turns out to be not so great.
Adamson, Jonathan (October 10, 2012). “Mormons Building Bridges” is bad for the LGBT community
Adamson, Jonathan (October 20, 2012). Mormons Building Bridges Revisited
Badash, David (October 8, 2011). Dan Savage Does Not Hate You. Gay Agenda News
Gagnon, Robert A. J. Truncated Love: A Response to Andrew Marin’s Love Is an Orientation
LaBarbera, Peter (March 22, 2014). Chick fil–A CEO Dan Cathy Sells Out – Heeds Advice of ‘Gay’ Activist to Retreat on Pro–Natural–Marriage Advocacy
Landau, Christopher, (September 24, 2011) BBC World Service, Chicago Why conservative Christians flock to a Chicago gay bar
Love Boldly (2012). Love Boldly Testimonials
Marin, Andrew (July 15, 2010). Part 3: Note to Skeptics
Marin, Andrew (August 3, 2012) My Quick Thought on Chick–Fil–A. Red Letter Christianity.
Marin Foundation (2010) “Get involved”: Living in the Tension Gatherings.
Marin Foundation (2010) Guide to Creating and Sustaining The Marin Foundation’s Living in the Tension Gatherings 2nd Edition
Merritt, Jonathan, (June 24, 2013). Christians, sexuality, and the exodus of Exodus: An interview with Andrew Marin.
Shore, John (June 10, 2012). “It’s no sin to be gay.” See how easy that was, Andrew Marin?
Shore, John (June 11, 2012). Christians and LGBT Equality: There Is No Middle Ground
Signorile, Mike (July 13, 2010). More on False Prophet Andrew Marin, The Gist
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