“Coercion cannot but result in chaos in the end.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“It is indeed probable that more harm and misery have been caused by men determined to use coercion to stamp out a moral evil than by men intent on doing evil.” – Friedrich August von Hayek
No matter one’s background or perspective in the LGBT/religious conservative conversation, force, coercion and freedom are probably issues of real concern.
A fight between freedom fighters. On one hand, those fighting for gay rights often speak of their movement as an attempt to push back against others’ desires to control and interfere with their freedom – e.g., see these comments in relation to the legal battle over gay marriage:
As the legal battle over gay marriage has been won by progressives, similar coercion-concerns have arisen from religious conservatives seeking to defend their own freedom. As reflected in these public comments, the formerly dominant position is now raising concerns that ‘we’re being forced now’:
As one author describe it, this is “a matter of absolute importance to the most committed on both sides” – and a conversation that “raises acute questions about liberty and its limits, because here absolutes indeed clash – and both sides are deeply uncomfortable accepting liberty for the other side.” Douglas Laycock, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law affirmed that the problem right now is that each side wants liberty for itself but nothing for the other side, which not only prevents progress, but also creates bitter feelings.
Is this how it has to be? If freedom and coercion are issues of concern for all sides, it begs the question: couldn’t this be a ripe area of common ground in this conversation?
Our answer: You bet! For sure….let’s shake on it! Why not?
Even if this seems kind of a no-brainer, people on both sides have continued to push back at the notion – especially out of a sense that their fight for freedom is fundamentally (or somehow) quite different than the freedom the other side seeks.
Are religious freedom concerns over-stated? For instance, prior to the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, a number of amicus briefs from religious conservative institutions detailed concerns at what gay marriage might mean for religious freedom over the long-term – especially if the Supreme Court rules that “traditional marriage laws are grounded in animus” (or hostility). These concerns included worry that such a decision could demean religious belief in a way that “would stigmatize us as fools or bigots, akin to racists” – leading to intensifying “assaults on our religious institutions and our rights of free exercise, speech, and association.”
This, then, represents one fear of freedom-being-restricted – one that motives religious conservatives to fight for religious freedom. It is one that seems kind of a no-brainer for religious conservatives…
From another vantage point, however, it may not be experienced as so much of a no-brainer. In particular, given the history of stigma and hostility against the LGBT community, religious conservative concerns about new stigma and hostility mounting against them can feel hollow and disingenuous – ‘really? You’re worried about a little push-back…compared to what WE’VE been through?’
At best, religious freedom can be seen as a distraction from more important issues – and at worst, merely an attempt to fight against others’ rights and preserve the status quo.
Either way, some insist that worries about religious freedom are overstated, telling religious conservative communities essentially, ‘You’re still free to do and believe what you want’ – e.g., “Even if we have this freedom – you are still free”/”I’ll be the 589th person to say that no one – including the Supreme Court – is stopping you from expressing or obeying God’s commandments.”
There is definite fear among many religious conservatives at how this all develops. As one individual said, “I hope that this doesn’t mean that those who believe in gay marriage can force priests or bishops to perform a gay marriage. Are we going to have the National Guard show up at some cathedral or church building and force the minister at gunpoint to do something against deeply held beliefs? We’ll soon see I suspect.”
Others insist that first amendment protections in the U.S. were and remain strong (enough), and that even with a shift in marriage law, churches will never conceivably be forced to do something like marry a gay couple nor will they be forced to stop preaching that homosexual activity is a sin. In a dialogue prior to the Supreme Court decision, one of our mutual friends Kendall Wilcox emphasized that first amendment protections in the U.S. were strong. Even if it took a few years of realigning some legal standards and some ugly debates, but ultimately felt confident that we would ultimately find a way to get along just fine.
He later underscored that this need not be a zero sum game – and that even with a shift in marriage law, churches will never be forced to marry a gay couple nor will they be forced to stop preaching that homosexual activity is a sin. Robert Schapiro, dean of Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, similarly stated “I think some of the concerns expressed will turn out not to be serious issues over time, as it becomes clear that no church or synagogue is going to be required to allow same-sex marriage, nor will any pastor or minister be required to perform them.”
From this perspective, religious freedom is receiving too much attention – and really shouldn’t be a big deal (compared to LGBT concerns, for example). For some, it can be hard to understand any reason why it should be a part of the conversation. As one person said, “Logic easily invalidates the freedom of religion argument.” One person said, “The ruling…has ZERO impact on your ability to continue in your beliefs.”
Butt out. As reflected earlier, some commentators go out of their way to underscore the freedom religious conservatives do have (and presumably will always have). For instance:
Others take some offense that religious conservatives would even care so much about the questions:
Another person pointed out, “I think [religious conservatives] probably see state-sanctioned homosexual marriages as part of their business, rightly or wrongly, especially when they add their religious beliefs and values into the mix.”
And yet, many remain baffled at why this should concern religious conservatives at all:
All of which can lead back to teasing like this: “Wait, you mean this ruling doesn’t mean we all have to get gay married?” or the line mentioned earlier: “If you don’t support gay marriage, don’t marry anyone of the same sex. Problem solved.”
Thus we see that progressive Americans may not always see how conservative concerns hold the same level of relevance or legitimacy (or hold any water at all). As described later, conservatives hold similar views of progressive concerns – underscoring the following basic question: “Whose claims to freedom are more legitimate? And who is exaggerating their loss of freedom?”
Live and let live. It’s an attractive idea that we could just let each other do our own thing – and not bother…walking away from attempts to push someone else our direction. For instance, these public comments:
This basic freedom-to-decide-my-life has been a central argument of people against religious conservative concerns:
Once again, we see a sense of bafflement – e.g., “Why not just be okay with this? I wonder why opponents of same sex marriage don’t just stand up, brush themselves off, fold up their tents of exclusion and say, ‘Other people’s desire to enter into a committed union, respected by government, is no skin off my nose.’”
Another person said, “I have a hard time seeing how this would affect your marriage, or any part of your life, for that matter.” And responding to a religious conservative with concerns, another individual said, “Hey Vern, nobody is saying you have to go marry a guy. If you think it is not right for you, then don’t do it. However, you cannot try to impose your religious values on those who choose a different path, and pose no threat to you. Live and let live Vern.”
As reflected here, “live and let live” has become a motto for many in the world – e.g., “just let us enjoy our own lives:”
The only problem is: it doesn’t seem to be working…at all.
For whatever reason, as we’re pointing out, passionate advocates on both sides don’t seem satisfied by the “live and let live” conclusion. As we explore in the last chapter, a person’s narrative can not only make it difficult for to grasp how another sees things – but almost compel us to try and change their views. Those living their own version of freedom, then, subsequently often become compelled to FIGHT against the freedom espoused by others…
Perhaps this partially explains the frustration, anger and mounting pressure in this present conversation.
Open derision, scorn of others. The frustration is evident on both sides. We start with the progressive frustration:
It makes sense you would seek to scorn, ignore, deride and ‘educate’ others if you really believed they saw a certain group as inferior and were fighting against their basic rights (both of which represent the progressive narrative).
In some sense, it’s even effective to pursue such a campaign. As Ross Douthat of the New York Times writes, “If your only goal is ensuring that support for traditional marriage diminishes as rapidly as possible, applying constant pressure to religious individuals and institutions will probably do the job. Already, my fellow Christians are divided over these issues, and we’ll be more divided the more pressure we face. The conjugal, male-female view of marriage is too theologically rooted to disappear, but its remaining adherents can be marginalized, set against one other, and encouraged to conform.”
Of course, aggression is not unique to one side. All sides have their examples of it. One man spoke of witnessing “not only the aggression of the extreme Christians, but the aggression of the extreme LGBT people.”
In the current cultural environment, however, fresh pressure seems to be coming from the left – directed at the right. As one person warned “The Mormons always talk about baptism by fire. They have no idea.”
Or maybe they do.
Indeed, religious conservatives are picking up on the hostility fine – recognizing with concern what feels like, to some, a case of “you’d-better-agree-with-us-or-else.” As one person shared in reflecting his feelings about some activists: “Most people have the good grace and intelligence to agreeably disagree on such polarizing issues. Not these people. Oppose them, as many have the right to do, and suffer a withering blast.”
None of this is all that surprising to Christians…
Biblical prophecies coming to pass? Fears of the gay rights movement being “shoved down everyone’s throat…without anyone being able to object” are now common in the religious conservative community. As one conservative political scientist wrote in 2013, “In America, this issue is an absolute juggernaut, threatening to crush faithful Christians who stand in its way. Make no mistake: This will become a fierce threat to our religious liberty as faithful Catholics and Christians.” Another person wrote:
I predict that same sex marriage is going eclipse anything we have ever experienced in our society…in a very ugly and negative way. Just wait. Those who fear that BIG GOVERNMENT and activist judges are going to force core Christian principles to be discarded and do so in a heavy handed way are right to fear. Right now people are going on with their lives and not really feeling the soon to come after shocks of this decision and almost certain other court decisions which will follow.
It all starts to feel like persecution long prophesied in the Bible: “The issue you do not see is that this isn’t about homosexual ‘rights’ as much as it is anti-Christian…this is a laying of the foundation for systematic persecution.” Another person writes:
I know God loves “gay” people…and I do as well. [But]…it is heartbreaking. The hate…will get worse from those who break with God’s will…and that has been foretold for many centuries. We will be persecuted and mocked…and killed for believing in God, because evil is an active force who hates humanity. It is really that simple…but, some are not capable of seeing the truth, and that is truly sad.
For those who see this as exaggerated, consider how it feels to religious conservatives to see someone ‘outed’ as an orthodox Christian in a public leadership role – and then promptly fired (see USOC official Peter Vidmar resigns after anti-gay marriage actions or the former CEO of Mozilla). In a day when conservative leaders have been pressured out of their jobs and continue to face heat for speaking out on marriage, concerns seemed at least justified. I myself have wondered whether I will ever be able to find an academic job as an openly religious and conservative scholar.
On the day the Supreme Court decision happened, another person said, “The LGBT activists will not rest until…all religious liberty is stripped away in the name of ‘equality.’ Sad day today.”
The Solicitor General of the United States had also admitted in oral argument that religious schools could lose their tax exemption for teaching against gay marriage. So it remained an open question for many of us: how far might limitations on religious freedom go in the U.S.? Some expressed uncertainty at how strongly existing religious protections would come into play – and pointed out instances of pastors being jailed in other countries for preaching against homosexuality (admittedly where religious freedoms are more limited).
As one person commented: “If these cases were simply about two adults choosing a particular lifestyle, it wouldn’t matter to me. However, we are already seeing lawsuits against people who don’t want to support gay marriage. The State of Washington is suing Barronelle Stutzman because she politely declined to sell flowers for a friend’s gay marriage. Another church in MA is being sued because it declined to be rented for a gay marriage. The list goes on.”
After reviewing the history of sexuality conflict in relation to Christianity, one author acknowledges a current cultural resistance to “a live‐and‐let-live relationship with Christianity” and a growing willingness to pursue “prodding” in order “to get Christianity to cave in.”
Disagreements will continue to exist on what lies ahead – including among conservatives. While many assume there’s a line that will be drawn, the Catholic Archbishop Father George is quoted as saying: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
Is this specter simply an over-dramatized, over-blown fear? Or on a philosophical and cultural level, are we experiencing what one Christian gay friend calls a “fight to the death” – with one side or the other necessarily vanquished in the end?
And once again: is religious freedom a real issue of concern – or not? Has it been inflated? Or are the freedom claims of gay rights similarly inflated?
For religious conservatives actually holding the fears, these concerns are anything but an obfuscating distraction. They are very much real to them – just as real-to-them as the concerns raised by the gay community are for them.
Rather than seeing how the other side experiences their concerns as equally real, we’re back at the more common insistence – you’re the one imposing on me! As one conservative wrote, “You are arguing that as a business owner I should be forced to do what someone else thinks I should. Regardless of the belief system that motivates you, this is wrong. You are using power of government to force your opinions and beliefs on me.” And as a liberal wrote in response, “If the opposite ruling were to have been made, those individuals who have different beliefs from yours would have not been legally able to practice what they believe to be “right”, and would therefore be discriminated against.”
Civil rights tipping the scales. As reflected here, one reason why progressive concerns are often experienced (and portrayed) as more legitimate than conservative concerns is the larger justification of civil rights itself. As explored in another part of the book, all of these questions are tied to the 1960’s African-American civil rights movement – taken for granted as a fitting and logical analogy. For example, one individual responded to a conservative concern about religious freedom of businesses by saying, “Some lunch counter owners used that same argument a few years back.” Another said, “I grew up in Mississippi and Louisiana at a time when the school districts were being forcibly integrated. Your argument is the same they used then to deny service to interracial couples, buses to black students, and books to black school districts.”
One advocate added, “We settled this question in the country decades ago when businesses were saying ‘We don’t want to serve blacks or Jews, Latinos, Mormons,’ and (the country) said ‘No, when you’re a business opening your doors to the public, you have to serve everyone. That’s (called) non-discrimination in a democratic society.'”
To that conclusion, another commentator suggests the civil rights analogy being made is limited – and perhaps overstated in this case. This woman writes, “But now, the issue is much broader than just getting lunch or a ride — it’s about defining marriage, a topic that evokes deeply held religious beliefs. So, if someone doesn’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding, whether they’re a baker, a photographer or a town clerk, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re anti-gay…it just means they have religious objections to participating in, and by extension condoning, same-sex marriage.”
Fighting for Christian conscience. At times, it feels to conservatives as if (any) messages in line with the dominant progressive views (narrative A) is favored, while anything that challenges it is immediately attacked. That’s pretty much how it feels to religious conservatives these days – seeing people shocked and outraged at their own questions. As one person said, they are “enraged when their understanding of reality is questioned…literally fly into a rage.”
Against this pattern, there is an understandable push-back:
One conservative leader stated, “Our nation, for a very long time, has treated with great deference and respect the views of people who believe in traditional morality, but now they’re no longer being listened to or treated like they’re fully capable of participating in the national debate in some way.”
To conservatives, what is happening is not insignificant or minor. After the World Congress of Families was protested in Salt Lake City, Jacob had a conversation with Kendall Wilcox where he explained that each new attack and suspicion of conservative organizations and groups starts to feel like a “piling on” – this, in the very moment that conservatives feel absolutely bludgeoned and pummeled culturally and emotionally – and with no end in sight. For conservatives, it starts to feel something like, “can’t they just let us have one freaking conference on what WE believe – without relentlessly attacking us?”
Cardinal Dolan added the following on Face the Nation, “The public square in the United States is always enriched whenever people approach it…inspired by their deepest held convictions. And on the other hand…I think the public square is impoverished when people might be coerced to put a piece of duct tape over their mouth, keeping them from bringing their deepest-held convictions to the conversation.”
Of course, as those who know convicted religious conservatives, not even duct tape would stop them from sharing for long.
Not going away. As one Southern Baptist leader, Russell Moore stated, “a Supreme Court ruling might be the last word in legal terms, but it is hardly the last word in cultural or spiritual terms.”
Prior to the court’s ruling, Moore said that Christians should “be ready to offer an alternative vision of marriage and family.” He continued, “We must articulate these truths about marriage in our gospel witness, and we must embody these truths….teaching our children a countercultural [message] about what it means to be men and women, about what marriage is, etc.”
Another individual added, “We will respect the law. We will respect your right to live your life peacefully, just as we always have. But we will continue to proclaim the difference between moral and immoral, right and wrong, the ideal and the counterfeit. Ignore us if you like.”
“We’re not giving in to the secular agenda,” Cardinal George Pell, an Australian archbishop now serving in the Vatican, told the Catholic News Service. “We’re not collapsing in a heap.”
As conservative commentators wrote, “It is vital… that religious, educational, and other social institutions continue to preach, teach and nurture the ideal of children raised by their married mother and father, despite the perceived realities that might make such hopes seem impossible.” Another said, “In spite of the failure of our court system to uphold the voice of the people regarding the legality of SSM, those who believe in the importance of traditional family should boldly (and compassionately) maintain that marriage between a man and a woman is the best for children and for society.”
For those who see conservatives as already dominating the world, it can be hard to understand why religious conservatives would be so insistent on continuing to share their message. As one person asked Why do you feel the need to promote ‘traditional marriage’?” continuing, “What good would come” from what seemed to be simply “continually restating what the church has said.” This individual continued, “There’s no need. It’s been rammed down our throats plenty of times.”
For religious conservatives who feel relegated within a cultural juggernaut, of course, there is every reason to want to preserve space and voice to speak.
Two moral positions battling for dominance? It all starts to sound like an ongoing battle between competing moralities.
Although one or both attempts to portray itself as inherently superior in its morality (and thus, deserving of vanquishing the other side), it seems clear that neither is going away. And both reflect competing moral claims – e.g., on what is the good path to follow.
If that’s true, what would it mean to make space for that contest? And not try to shut it down?
Wouldn’t that hurt the possibility of YOUR agenda winning?
Maybe that’s essentially why both are saying that ‘your concerns aren’t as valid as mine’…with the power-plays continuing.
Our vantage points are so different that almost everything looks disparate from the different standpoints.
Indeed, depending on where you sit, there are very different perceptions of ‘who is in power.’
Who has the power? Central question becomes simply, ‘who is the dominant voice in the conversation’? Or in other words, “Who is threatening others with their power? Who is forcing who?”
This question is often taken for granted – but is, in fact, very disputed!
On one hand, conservatives are experienced (and portrayed) as holding the power of a ‘heteronormative society’ – reflecting a conservative domination: “I’ve had it with these backward, religious right-wingers having their way.”
Others similarly added:
As reflected here, conservative concerns are experienced by some as largely an attempt to deny others rights and opportunities by the culturally dominant position.
In sharp contrast to this, liberal interests, institutions and voices are experienced by many conservatives as clearly culturally dominant in the current conversation. **
Depending on who is seen as dominant, people may have very different emotional experiences in response, and very different ideas of the right course of action.
Your precious beliefs threaten me. For instance, throughout the conversation, what has been precious to one side is often experienced as a weapon to the other. On one hand, religion has been framed as a convenient weapon: “You don’t get to impose your religion on everyone else by force of law. No one is forcing you to marry someone of the same sex. You are just upset that you can’t deny others that same right.”
On the other hand, one man suggested, “(This) whole concept of discrimination … is being used as a weapon to silence people who have differing views on hotly contested cultural issues.”
The constitution itself has also been used on both sides to apply pressure. On one side, you hear, “there is no right to same-sex marriage in the constitution” – and on the other, this comment following the SCOTUS decision: “No, this is constitutional, so you can’t be raising that question!”
And on both sides, research itself can become a kind of power-play – effectively silencing certain segments of the conversation (see Chapter 7, Weaponization of Research).
Rather than both turning to the weapons of coercion and power-play, what if we both turned to the comparable fears we are raising? What if we acknowledged the basic parity of fear we’re all experiencing? That doesn’t mean people will agree on the seriousness of religious freedom concerns, nor on the seriousness of fighting for greater freedoms in the gay community.
It means perhaps we can agree that freedom and space are generally important. If so, maybe we could then talk about way to deepen the space.
Holding space. Clearly, not just religious conservative folks are troubled by the lack of freedom and space for dialogue. As one gay columnist writes, “Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them? Why do we dismiss, rather than engage them?”
Tough question for proponents of the gay rights movement – should we encourage these tactics for the movement sake? And more broadly, how much disagreement can and should be allowed?
There are two lines of thinking on the question of how much space is there to disagree when it comes to LGBT rights?
These two views lead to very different places – representing fundamentally different mindsets. The key point remains whether or not individuals (on all sides) are given the basic space and respect to be who they see and experience themselves to be. More broadly, there seems to be an insistence from a few on all sides of these questions that the other viewpoint does not deserve a legitimate hearing.
Is there space to have different views on these questions and still live alongside each other well?
Empathy for the enemy. Rather than simply dismissing the concerns (of either side) as mere rhetoric, maybe it’s time to hear each other’s concerns more deeply – and to begin seeing other’s fears, as C. Terry Warner states, “as real as our own.”
As any good therapist knows, acknowledging another’s fears are not the same as agreeing with them. But the empathy created in hearing each other out more fully, can lead to other, more practical cooperation – such as the 2015 Utah legislative compromise that incrementally advances gay rights while simultaneously affirming religious freedom.
Religious conservatives have often been criticized for the absolute certainty of their views – views that don’t always seem to make space for others to disagree…views that reflect a sense of superiority or judgmental attitude towards others. But progressive folks could also be asked, can we at least acknowledge this is happening on both sides? Can you appreciate that we religious conservatives are doing the best they can – navigating a world increasingly shaped by the passionate progressive convictions as to the righteousness and superiority of your own cause?
And on the other side, perhaps religious conservatives could acknowledge that progressive individuals are doing the best they can to live out their own sense of what is right – even in the pressure they sometimes exert on conservatives. We’re both doing the best we can from our differing narratives, and we could both appreciate that the other feels a similar sense of strangulation.
Up next, here’s a second question: Are we open to the possibility of a group of people who are (pretty much) loving and thoughtful folks – but who happen to believe different things than you do about identity, sexuality, the body, attraction, choice, change, acceptance, love, justice, equality, rights, laws, religion, God, eternity, family, marriage and even the ultimate well-being of children? In other words, are you open to the possibility that someone could disagree with you on any (or all of these) and not be stupid or hateful or evil or demonic?
Empathy alone can be powerful. As Kendall Wilcox, a man who identifies as both Mormon and gay, once said in a dialogue, these fears of conservatives are real and “not simply facile contrivances that they were echoing from their favorite television pundits.” It reminded him, he added, that no matter where the fear was coming from and how true or false they turn out to be, “these worries are real to those who feel them and it is my duty to them to respect that real emotion and consider it more carefully when responding to them.”
This kind of empathy hard to come by when anger has taken hold. Part of that seems to be the psychology of how anger shapes our perceptions: a pattern on display in American politics these days.
In this kind of environment, even positive compromises and common ground can be seen with profound suspicion – such as that same Utah bill evoked (see Did Something Really Good or Really Bad Just Happen In Utah?)
Interpreting disagreement as desire-to-hurt. Describing the mindset of his clients being sued for turning down business from a gay couple, one lawyer said, “They are just trying to live their lives according to their Christian convictions. They are not on any sort of crusade to hurt anybody.”
This turns out to be remarkably hard to believe for many progressives. Are those who disagree with our stances trying to hurt us? I asked this of a gay rights leader I respected, and was surprised to hear his insistence that religious conservatives were trying to hurt people. It is surprisingly common to insinuate a malevolent intent behind actions, “Anyone who created this law HAD to be evil, since it was intended to “demean and humiliate” someone else.
Justice Anthony Kennedy himself insisted in rejecting DOMA that defining marriage as the union of a man and woman – as nations have since the beginning of time – is “to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”
It is one thing, Justice Antonin Scalia retorted, “For a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it [are] enemies of the human race” by formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency. Chief Justice John Roberts agreed, writing that the definition of marriage wasn’t driven by a “sinister motive” but by its “role and function throughout the history of civilization.”
*Beyond mere hate, others see religious conservatives as simply pursuing self-interested motives – even seemingly mindlessly aggressive in reaching after self-serving goals: “the Christian Right is willing to do ANYTHING and use any tactic necessary to achieve their goals.”
As we portray our opponents as less rational and negatively motivated, it becomes easier to pursue pressure and coercion, in several forms.
But what if we find our opponents different than this?
So maybe it’s important to keep talking together, then? Self-guided models such as Living Room Conversations and Circles of Empathy are ready to be applied in virtually any community, by anyone seeking a more extensive and productive conversation.
The difficulties in this conversation reside in more than just the power of anger, to be sure. As explored in the last chapter, it’s also a reflection of the power of stories.
Inadvertent narrative constraints in the conversation. As illustrated there, if you really, really believe X – and live it out in your life, you stand a good chance of exerting some kind of pressure on people (even if only rhetorical).
Much of this exploration is around how narratives operate when unquestioned and not seen as narratives. Both progressive and conservative narratives can definitely throw their weight around….
The good news is that with enough awareness and willing intent, it is possible for that fight to be principled and productive. But without an awareness of the influence of our stories on our lived reality, the whole thing turns into something very different.
In our minds, the current conversation is what effectively limits freedom – interfering with and controlling people’s lives in subtle, but significant ways. In both the broader framing of the conversation – and how we end up engaging it – everywhere we look, we find a high-pressurized vacuum that seems to be working against freedom (for all sides).
If that’s true and if we want to preserve (and grow) people’s freedom to choose what is right and best for them, I (Jacob) am convinced we need this kind of a conversation-about-the-conversation. Even if you disagree with my own views, I’ll bet we agree on some of the larger trends in our nation’s public discourse.
Almost nowhere is there given any consideration to fundamental disagreements that do exist. From the conversations going on, it has become exceedingly difficult to even consider anything other than one way of thinking.
But once again, hasn’t this been effective? Suppression of disagreement and distraction from deeper questions is a great way to push your own agenda. As one scholar writes, “The most powerful means of maintaining the moral hegemony of the dominant gender ideology is that the process is made invisible; any possible alternatives are virtually unthinkable.”
Sometimes, as we pointed out earlier, this strategy appears to be effective in moving people to another place…but we would argue when people do change-through-pressure, that “conversion” is inevitably (and merely) superficial.
By bringing consciousness to the conversation and narratives, in contrast, maybe we can help people make decisions and pursue (real) changes that feel right, without having to face either dehumanization, pressure or manipulation.
What are the chances we could do this as a society? “We’ll have to see how gracious or vindictive voices within the LGBT community are in their responses,” a conservative commentator said. “Will they become a live-and-let-live movement or a stamp-out-dissent movement?
Christians are planning for the latter, while holding out hope that there will be enough who advocate for the former – that they will at least allow them to have space to live what they believe.
Space to live differently. In the end, perhaps the most basic issue remains whether or not we can talk together openly and lovingly about deep differences in our communities.
Like with abortion, given differences that seem to be “irreconcilable” at some level, at a minimum, perhaps individuals can move in the direction of Palestinian and Jewish neighbors who are increasingly realizing that neither community will just “go away”—and that, if nothing else, they need to at least acknowledge the others’ “right to exist” unmolested (Abu-Nimer, 2004).*
More and more Americans are expressing interest in more spaciousness:
One national conservative leader said, “We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law. I hope that we can also show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”
As one author summarized, “I assert that the millions of traditionalist Christians who believe that their God/faith requires them to a) maintain the conviction that all same-sex relationships are sinful, and to b) refuse participation in any activity that might compromise that conviction, are entitled to that conviction and to a reasonable (not unlimited) range of actions that follow from it. It is appropriate for those who disagree with them to offer good reasons and to participate in civil dialogues aimed at changing such beliefs and practices, but not to use coercive power to change those beliefs and practices.”
Douglas Laycock, the University of Virginia School of Law professor who said the problem right now is that each side wants liberty for itself but nothing for the other side, went on to say, “so rather than holding out for a total victory, both sides should look for ways to give and take.”
This is what participants in the Utah Compromise called, “Fairness for all.” In the end, both sides should be in favor of protecting liberty and the rights of conscience, says Thomas Berg, a professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas School of Law at Minnesota. After all, he continued, same-sex marriage supporters are asking that society “make room for people to live consistent with their identity and not just do it in the closet.”
Co-existing well – or fighting forever? It’s been common to hear hopeful sentiments during the public debate on gay marriage emphasizing ways that religious freedom and gay marriage can get along together just fine. One marriage equality leader argued that “protections for gay and transgender people in housing and the workplace can gracefully coexist with the rights of people of faith. One does not exist at the expense of the other.” Kendall Wilcox similarly pointed out, “the issue of religious liberty need not be one that pits people of faith against LGBT people, but rather brings us together in dialogue and reconciliation.”
Jacob himself hoped in the past that a final decision regarding gay marriage would actually allow the various communities to move forward and focus on learning to live together.
A surprising consensus in our dialogue about the topic, however, was that the conflict would likely worsen – and even get “ugly.” An illustrative brief from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops predicted that the Supreme Court decision affirming gay marriage would “create church state conflict for generations to come.”
Some see these conflicts as necessary to move forward – kind of like growing pains required for society to move to a better place. Others see them as unnecessary pains that need to be moved beyond.
Whether there is a mutual resolution is also contested. It’s factually true that many people can and do anticipate a final winner sometime in the future – including both Christians looking to Jesus’ coming and the gay activists seeing a new society realized.
Whatever happens long-term, our work now is finding a way to move forward together. And there’s a lot to figure out!
In this way, we can turn our attention to the many important questions – with complex and rich conversations waiting. In reference to civil disobedience by religious individuals and the law of the land, one columnist writes:
These are just some of the questions that have been left unanswered. Make no mistake – there are people on both sides of each argument who are certain they have been answered, but they are just not listening. The arguments for and against, while grounded in principle, are not as black and white as some people like to believe they are.
 As explored in the interpretive maps on marriage and social change/progress (to be released later), this is a point of wide and profound divergence. On one level, is this change a positive thing for society, with benefits obvious to everyone? And on the other, are there any specific effects from the legalization of gay marriage on individuals and families today that are concerning? Depending on your own narrative, answers to these questions diverge powerfully.
 http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-30562505 [more comments here]
 Paradoxes of Gender By Judith Lorber p. 26
 On issues such as: Offering support to those whose who want to move in another direction, for instance, or simply believing in a God who ordains man-woman marriage as unique and central to the divine plan for humans.
 Berg added, “Marriage is really a recognition of a right to live out your identity in public. The religious objector makes the same claim; they don’t want to be limited to following their faith in the church.”