Thursday, November 8, 2012

Building Spaces Building Bridges

While I'm at it, I put this together this past summer, kind of a collection of interwoven blogs, an attempt at dialogue between conservative religious minorities and the gay community.  Here's hope-in.'


GBLT Rights, Religious Rights: towards dialogue


In Building Spaces Building Bridges Margaret Ann Harvey attempts to look at a very controversial issue while being fair to both sides. There are two rights groups here, Harvey asserts, who need to respect each others space. Harvey, a theologically conservative Christian, who initially in her words, was “dead set against same sex marriage,” gradually began to understand where the gay community was coming from, and became a supporter. She attempts to bridge the distance between secular and religious, conservative and liberal, offers clarification of what she sees as perceptual differences that divide, and offers suggestions on how the gay community and religious minorities can better dialogue and begin to understand each other, allowing each other the space to disagree, while supporting each others basic human rights.

 Confessions of a social conservative:

It was the spring of 2005, Geoff and I had just been married the year before. I remember being busy that Saturday morning in late April, being conscious of things I needed to do around the house, and knowing that we had made plans to have company over for dinner that evening. But something was churning inside of me, and I was consumed, a feeling that would become very familiar in the years to come. A letter I'd read in the paper, about how the “good old Romans had it right, and we should start throwing Christians to the lions again.” Then there was the conversation I'd had with a close family member, where I had been very directly informed that I was a “very hateful person.” I felt, but could not articulate the sense that I was being personally attacked in the growing divide between secular and sacred, like my deepest and most cherished beliefs and values were being hacked up and spit on the sidewalk. And so I felt the need (despite my lack of time and previous protest credentials), to make time for the pro-traditional definition of marriage rally that I knew was happening in downtown Ottawa that afternoon, where Geoff and I had met and presently reside.

I arrived on my bike, from the west end of the city, frustrated, alone, and stood at the back and watched the developments. Bus load after bus load of people arrived at Parliament Hill, pouring out onto the lawn and clamoring in front of the peace tower. Many carried signs, “one man one woman,” alongside “a child needs a mother and a father.” They were countered by signs that read, “should blacks and whites marry?” I hadn't been there long, when not far from me in the back, apart from the crowd, I noticed a little circle of rag tag looking people. My first thought when I saw them was how small they looked, against that great throng of people. One had a sticker on his back pack, “God save us from your followers.” I stood there uncomfortably, watching them, watching the crowd. Another held a drum, thump hump...thump thump, they pounded incessantly, against the speeches that were being blared in favor of social norms and stability. Then they began to chant, repeating over and over, before finally beginning to walk away, “stop the hate.” I stared at them in disbelief. Is that what they thought?

The next day the papers showed a handful of counter-protestors, and ignored the mass of people, which really really ticked me off. Didn't they see how many people were there? Didn't they understand? What happened to majority rules? We have to save marriage! Children need a mother and a father. What will happen to western democracies if we abandon the cornerstone of society, the time cherished nuclear family? Several months later, Canada became the 4th nation in the world and the first in the Americas to pass same-sex marriage. My memory is that it was put through right before Canada Day, which left me in a very un-celebratory mood. Could I ever celebrate Canada Day again? Could I ever say I was a proud Canadian? Did I even fit in anymore? What was happening to my country? What was happening to society? Will the sexual revolution ever ever end?

Where I'm coming from:

I grew up in a small town in northern Nova Scotia, the youngest and smallest of 4 children, born to a working class family. Neither of my parents had a lot of education, my father's mother, who I am named for, died when my father was young, I've heard 4, I've heard 6, and he grew up in foster care. I remember seeing my father struggle to write bills for his customers. He worked in forestry, he also had a small trucking business where he would do deliveries for people, collect garbage and recycling; he may have had grade 5 or 6. My mother, who terrorized me for twenty one years until I left after my father died, got as far as grade 8 when she quit school to begin working. Both of my parents worked very hard to make sure we always had enough to eat and had a roof over our heads, but neither had much to offer in the way of emotional support, neither had the communication skills that would be required to sustain the difficult years of our growing up. And so I remember realizing as a pre-schooler that I was on my own. I became much like my parents in a way, a workaholic, afraid to stop for fear of what would happen to me if I did. I started work at McDonald's as soon as I was legally able, and worked to put myself through school, becoming the first person in my family to earn a university degree. It was shortly after graduating, and my father's death several months later, after being fired from Tim Horton's because I was too slow, which I'd been told all my life, that I began working with the mentally disabled. It was the first time in my life that I experienced grace, both from the individuals I was caring for, and from the people I was working alongside. For the first time in my life I felt like I was part of a group of like-minded people. They understood me, I understood them. I was giddy with enthusiasm. With the exception of a couple of years that I worked in childcare when I first moved to Ottawa in my early twenties, I have worked with the mentally disabled ever since.

And so it was against this backdrop that I grew up, feeling like an out-sider wherever I was, feeling like I didn't fit in anywhere. I was terrified of people, truth be told, and nothing could have prepared me for some of the things I was exposed to as a young person. I didn't trust anyone. I was seventeen before I realized that I was finally beginning to actually trust someone, and that person remains one of my best friends to this day. I'd always believed in God though, despite the ugliness of my surroundings, despite the ugliness I felt inside, that there must be something terribly wrong with me. But it was this presence that I felt, surrounding me for as long as I can remember, that became tangible when at the age of 11, I gave my life to Christ. But the abuse continued, my brokenness complete, in realizing that Bob Dylan really got it right when he said “everything is broken.” And somehow along the way I must have become very conservative, because I came to believe in everything that I didn't have, the catalog with the perfect things and the perfect family to go with it. One day I would have that, one day everything would be perfect and I would be happy. God promised me so, at least I thought He did.

Church didn't help, I should probably mention. I got very mixed messages as a young kid about religion. My family background was Roman Catholic, and it was important to my mother that we went through the sacraments, in my mother's words, so that when we died they would have a “place to bury us.” My mother was very practical. I went to a Baptist summer camp as a kid for a number of years, which my mother had allowed because her own mother had been raised in a Baptist orphanage after her mother's father had been killed in the Halifax explosion. It was there, at this God fearing hellfire and brimstone camp, that I had a conversion experience, which to me was very beautiful. After repeating the sinner's prayer and asking Jesus to come into my heart, in my mind's eye I saw a single red rose open, and that's how it felt. The Bible came alive to me, where before it had been like reading a foreign language, and seemed to speak to me personally. But I heard nothing about grace. The side message I got was dress like this, be like us, or you're not a real Christian. So between the legalism and being told that all Catholics are going to hell (which was almost everyone I knew and cared about), only to go home to my mother who by then was yelling at me that I was being brainwashed, I didn't really feel like I had anywhere to turn. Music had always been my comfort, my first love, and when I no longer had that because rock and roll was a one way ticket to hell (don't you know), I turned to an inner world of fantasy and escape, imagining again how perfect everything would be when all this was over. We lived in rural Nova Scotia by this time, and I remember thinking one day that I just wanted to end it. I just wanted to be with Jesus, to have the pain end, and I remember wandering through the woods in the frozen of winter with my coat open, trying to find the old mine hole, now filled with water. When I finally found it I remember sitting there with my legs dangling, staring down at the partially frozen black water but I couldn't move. It was like that presence just stayed with me and I couldn't move. Finally I got up and made my way back home. By then I think my mother had stopped yelling about the old mine hole that no one had told her about when she'd bought the property.

So why did I feel this rage, this deep down gut wrenching rage that continued for years and would not let me go? And why did the issue of same sex marriage bring up so much emotion for me? Did I hate homosexuals? No. Why on earth would I hate homosexuals, I asked myself. Until slowly I began to realize that the depth of emotion that I was feeling in regards to this issue was not the issue itself, but was everything that it was triggering for me personally. How little Margaret Layes felt, growing up in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, how I was told day after day that I was no good, that I would never amount to anything, that I was a bad person, despite how hard I was trying to be good. It was triggering a well of pain, and now the whole of society seemed to be thinking the same thing about me, that I was no good, that I didn't belong, that it would be better if I wasn't around at all. And all of this began to take center stage politically, just as I was, for the first time in my life, beginning to experience some of the blessings that God had promised me so long ago. It wasn't perfect, but it was real. My relationship with Geoff was real, he had become my best friend, my equal. I had some good friends, a church I finally felt at home in, work that I found meaning in, and now I felt like I was being personally attacked by a brave new world that sought to make religion and religious people the big bad, the poison that needed to be eradicated from the earth. Now, despite a lifetime of trying to better myself, my personal faith having made all the difference, I was a bigot, a hate-mongerer, an ignorant Christian slave Nazi Hitler without the gas chamber.

Where Social Conservatives are Really Coming From:

Please allow me to clarify, lets get this out of the way. Social conservatives do not hate gay people. Let me say that again. Social conservatives do not hate gay people. It has nothing to do with hate, minus the odd nutbar here or there. Social conservatives believe in the traditional family and in traditional values, firstly for themselves, secondarily as a need for the greater society. When a social conservative says that young people should wait until marriage or struggle to remain married, it is not because they hate single mothers or divorced people or gay people. It is because they sincerely believe that this is something that society needs, and lets be honest, it is something that society needs. For every child that is born out of wedlock, for every divorce, for every extra-marital affair, for substance abuse, for just about every deviation from traditional cultural norms, there is a price tag for society. Does that mean that social conservatives hate people who are outside of this circle? Of course not, but Christians (I say Christian because I am one as opposed to another religious minority) are human and sometimes fall short of the ideal of loving your neighbor as yourself. Sometimes as human beings it is difficult to separate a behavior from the worth of the person. Add to that that there are perceptual differences between liberal and conservative minded people, and differences of emphasis, and sometimes those lines become electric fences. But the traditional family was the social safety net before there was a social safety net, and religions are often the fabric that binds that which is needed by the greater society. If we are ever to get anywhere in this discussion we need to stop falsely accusing entire segments of society in favor of understanding where people are truly coming from and acknowledging that they might just have a point. I believe it is then that we can begin to find more effective means of dialogue, in understanding our differences. So please understand that when I was protesting the change of definition of marriage, it had nothing to do with homosexuals (in my mind), and everything to do with what I believed to be in the best interest of the larger society. I wasn't thinking about it from the perspective of what it felt like to be outside of that circle. 

Winning the argument:

I'm a simple person with a simple faith. When I die, I want my tombstone to read, Margaret....walked by faith. Deep down I've never changed, I'm still that young girl with a child's faith from a small town. But as I grew up I got the message that my personal testimony would not be enough for some people, they remained unconvinced. And so I learned to play the game by their rules, I thought that's what they wanted. They wanted reason and I was going to give them reasons. And after some time and much thought I was winning arguments. I had it all so neatly wrapped up in my head, why society needed traditional marriage, why this was good thinking for the long term, and I remember one day I was debating a secular friend online and he said to me, when I thought he should finally be admitting that I was right, “Marg, you don't have to win.” And that really ticked me off because I thought I was giving him what he was asking for, rational arguments. And then, when I really had him in a corner, he said in frustration, “no wonder nobody wants anything to do with your faith.” That was the part that really hit me. But I was winning! I was so frustrated that he couldn't admit that I might have a point, and it was then that I was reminded of the words of a wise person who had once said to me, “ Margaret, you might find that you win the argument and lose the audience.” I had won the argument and lost the audience. The last thing an evangelical Christian wants is to lose their audience.

Diapers and culture wars:

I think I'll look back at my thirties as the diaper decade. Well, that's a simplification, but there's some truth to it. The years that followed my wedding at the age of thirty were a haze of diapers and bottles and nursing and colic and laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. And dishes, can't forget the dishes. And as I wrestled with the laundry and the diapers and the dishes, I was struggling with these very controversial issues. Many nights I would wake up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep, dark night of the soul to finally drift off just as a baby was waking up. The first of our children were twins, preemie colicky twins. We almost lost them. I had a very modern surgery when I was five months pregnant with them to correct a problem with their shared placenta. All I can say is, it left me very grateful both for modern medicine and socialized medical care. All I paid for was the parking, and my taxes of course, but I know I've gotten my taxes worth on my taxes for some time to come, if not for a lifetime. But I digress. The twins, Bethie and Laura were followed by Susie and finally Julie. We are now in the process of adopting our infant nephew as I am writing this. 5 kids in 6 years. Whew! I did not stop, except to eat and sleep for years, I kid you not. It was when the twins were 6 months old that I realized (after 10 years of trying after I left home), that my family and I just didn't see eye to eye and that I couldn't do it anymore. I had to have my head screwed on straight to work and take care of my young family. It wasn't fair to them, that I was upset, constantly digging myself out of a hole after dealing with my family. And so I have been estranged from them ever since. Perhaps it has been those experiences that have shaped me in my adult life, the realization that the only person I can change in this world is myself. And perhaps it was those experiences too, that began to shape my perception of the present culture war, with two sides that seem hell bent on changing each other.

All the things we're not supposed to talk about:

Two things you shouldn't take too seriously, politics and religion, my mother would say. I guess I didn't listen. Because it seems to me that all the things we're not supposed to talk about, are all the things we need. The issues that divide do so because they cut to the heart of the things that really matter to people, and in an increasingly complex global world, dialogue is more critical than ever before. I'm a Canadian, as you've probably realized by now, in my late thirties, female, shy, if you can believe it, someone who hates conflict, but yet I seem to be drawn to it. A somewhat amusing thing to me in a wry sort of way is how it almost seems like in the US, you have to be a Christian to get elected, and the brand of Christianity that you represent is very important as well. They look into it, and critically evaluate your Christian credentials. It's not quite done like that here, it's more like, if you're an evangelical Christian who decides to run for office (case in point Stockwell Day's experience a number of years back), good luck to you. Pray that you don't get run out of town. So, the Christian Right does not have the same clout here as in the US. With politics shifting to the oil rich conservative west that may be changing, but I doubt it, not for some time. But more important to me personally in all of this, despite political landscapes, is my growing realization that my faith is somehow being cheapened by this conflict, by the wall that is being built along the dividing line of religious and secular. All the more because I know as a Christian that the deepest desire of sincere Christians is not to subjugate, but rather to reach out to all people with the love of Christ. Yes, I know there were the crusades and witch burnings and power hungry popes. There are plenty of examples where Christians have missed the mark, but love remains the desire of sincere Christians who like myself, have seen their own lives transformed by Christ's love, and desire to offer the same hope to other people. The heart of evangelical Christianity, more specifically, despite political divisions and culture wars, remains to reach out to people with the Gospel message. It's not to hate or exclude anyone, but to genuinely love and support people. I feel the need to be upfront here. I am a religious conservative. My own personal beliefs have changed very little in the last number of years, and I doubt they ever will. What has changed is my approach and my emphasis, in beginning to ask myself the question, is more harm than good being done to Christ's message, in trying to force our values on people who do not share the same outlook?

Changing my mind:

So, what happened to get me thinking about this issue differently? What changed my mind? As mentioned, I have an interest in Christian apologetics, history, theology, philosophy, political science, etc. As a mom with young children, I don't have a lot of time to sit down to read, but I like to listen to podcasts, makes housework a lot more fun. One of my favorite sites is that of the Veritas Forum. One day I was listening to a Veritas forum lecture given by Christian academic and philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff on the Christian foundations for political liberty. Wolterstorff, convincingly in my mind, made the case that the western ideal of equality for all people is of Judeo-Christian origin. It was in understanding the history of how rights were gained in the western world, that got me thinking about this issue in a different way. The concept of the Imago Dei, that all human beings are endowed with an intrinsic worth, because they are created in the image of God, regardless of their social status. That this foundational concept, coupled with the European blood bath that followed the Protestant Reformation, created an climatic realization that the fighting between Catholics and Protestants was too costly, especially with the threat of approaching outside enemies. It makes sense that Americans, especially American descendants of European protestants, did not want to repeat the mistakes of Europe, and so was born the concept of the separation of church and state. Contrary to how this separation is viewed now, the original intent was that the political leaders at that time did not want to see one denomination get the upper hand and begin to oppress other denominations. These foundational egalitarian principles would eventually be extended to support the rights of women and minorities.

I was listening to this lecture in my kitchen, putting the dishes away, and it was like a light went on in my mind. The conversations I'd had over the last number of years, the conflicts, the lingering questions in my mind about the harmful effects of the present culture war seemed to come together. I was reminded of a conversation I'd had with a Christian friend who was also a lawyer some time before that. When I had asked her then, what she thought about same sex marriage, she had offered, “its all about rights, even if it's something that I personally believe is wrong.” I guess I wasn't ready to hear that at the time, but her words came back to me years later. I began to think about gay rights as a rights issue. I also began to understand that this issue represented a conflict of human rights, a conflict that had two sides, gay rights and religious rights. I began to observe the confrontation that is happening in the public arena. Was there a compromise to be found? 

Understanding our Differences:

I've had this conversation, mostly with myself. When I have dared to share my thoughts with others, it has sometimes ended badly, but for some time now, I have been trying to present this issue while being fair to both sides. It's a difficult place to be, because often it feels like I am the only person around who sees that there are two rights groups here, struggling to be acknowledged. I have a hope that despite the very strong emotions on both sides, that most people are reasonable, and in time we will work through this. I don't know if it's proof that God has a sense of humor, or maybe it's God's way of healing me, but for the kid who was so afraid of conflict, who found myself in the role of peacemaker from a young age, oh who am I kidding, I still hate conflict, but I'm going to try to outline what I think are some of the perceptual differences on this issue, that get in the way of dialogue. Hopefully, this will help to ease some of the misunderstanding, quell some of the raw emotion that often leaves people on both sides feeling hurt and wrongly judged.

The mainstream gay community sees homosexuality as something that is inborn. It is akin to race or being born as male or female, something that is unchangeable. With this in mind, they see themselves as following in the footsteps of the civil rights movements of earlier decades in demanding their right to equal treatment. Any lifestyle criticism is seen as a personal affront to their sense of identity and self worth, because they view the behavior and the person as inseparable. The church, in contrast, has long viewed homosexual behavior as sinful. Whether a biological inclination or consequence of environmental conditions, conservative churches would believe in supporting the person through the temptation. The old adage is love the sinner hate the sin. Without debating all this here, the key perceptual difference that needs to be understood is that the gay community sees the behavior and the individual as the same, while the church sees the individual and the behavior as separate. I'm not asking anyone to change their opinion here. I'm just pointing out the perceptual differences that divide. To the church, criticism of homosexual behavior is not intended as an attack on the individual's self worth. The church longs to reach out to all people, and all people should know that they are always welcome in church. We all struggle with things, myself included, we're all sinners in need of grace. I just want to clarify that sometimes what the gay community hears may not be what the church is actually saying. Having said that, the church has not done very well historically in supporting people who struggle with same sex attraction. I think this is changing, I myself have had a bit of involvement with a conservative ministry that aims to support people who struggle with relational and sexual issues, more liberal churches have blessed same sex unions, supported openly gay ministers, etc. My point being that both liberal and conservative churches are attempting to reach out to the gay community. My hope is that in time both approaches will be respected, but I'll talk more about that later. I would like to continue with a little analogy that I call bacon. Let's call it Canadian Bacon, just for fun, because well, some of us prefer Canadian bacon. 

Canadian bacon:

Desensitization of homosexual behavior seems to be the goal of a number of images I have observed of late, most recently a series of ads put out by a clothing company depicting religious and political leaders in homosexual embraces. That' ll go over well, I thought to myself, shaking my head, when I saw the one with the Pope and a leading imam kissing. I think they need a class in worldview relations and to demonstrate what I mean I'd like to use a little analogy.

Imagine for a moment that we have two groups of people, the bacon-eaters and the non bacon-eaters. I hope I'm not offending anybody with this analogy. The bacon-eaters believe right down to their core that they were born to eat bacon. They insist on it. It is how they define themselves individually and collectively. The non bacon-eaters believe right down to their core that eating bacon is down right wrong. They insist on it too. It is how they define themselves as individuals and collectively -too. The bacon-eaters as a minority feel discriminated against, in a majority non bacon-eater world and feel the need to convince the non-bacon eaters and everyone else that their anti-bacon stance is discriminatory and so proceed to place images of people eating bacon in key places in hopes to influence people for the better they figure. They call the non bacon-eaters names like baconophobe, saying you are anti-bacon, you hate all bacon-eaters! You are bad you non bacon-eaters, you need to change and accept all people whether they eat bacon or not! How well do you think that's going to work?

So continuing with the analogy, we have two people, one is a bacon-eater, we'll call him Frank. One is a non bacon-eater, we'll call him Dan. Frank is very mad at Dan because he knows he is an ultra conservative non bacon-eater and he himself is a bacon eater activist. They happen to work at the same grocery store and have lunch in the same lunch room. Frank decides that he is going to convince Dan once and for all of his need to accept bacon whole heartedly and proceeds to put posters of bacon all over the lunch room, on the walls, on the fridge, and in Dan's sandwich. Okay I'd better stop now. How do you think this is going to make Dan feel? Oh, and did I mention that Dan's family hasn't been eating bacon for 3500 years? Hmmn. And then Frank proceeds to be upset when Dan declines to lend him 20 bucks. Anybody see where I'm going with this? What makes the bacon eaters so convinced that if they put up enough posters of bacon that the non bacon-eaters are going to start eating bacon after 3500 years? Just asking.

But I do have an idea, what if Frank, rather than trying to change Dan's mind about Bacon, went to Dan and said "Dan, I understand that you can't eat bacon, because that is your personal belief, that is how you identify yourself, but can you also understand Dan, that I was born to eat bacon! That is how I define myself. That is how bacon-eaters define themselves. Can we respect our differences Dan, you're right not to eat bacon, my right to eat bacon, and agree to disagree here?" Would that work better?

I don't know. I can't speak for other people but I can tell you as a theologically conservative Christian and a social conservative at heart, that debasing my deepest beliefs and convictions just leaves me feeling hurt and angry and frustrated. It doesn't change my mind about anything. It just drives a wedge. For me, what got me thinking about this issue differently, was in beginning to understand my own religious history, and how it was foundational religious concepts, followed by religious wars between Catholics and protestants in Europe that ultimately paved the way for the development of human rights in the western world. Speaking to religious minorities here, what if we were to think of gay rights in the way that we think of religious rights? That we as Christians or Jews or Muslims have deep differences between ourselves and yet we respect each others right to disagree, to worship differently, to self-identify differently. Yeah I know, we're all afraid of that slippery slope (when EVERYTHING becomes an issue of individual rights), but I just don't see this culture war leading to anything good. I see it dividing people. And let me say as an evangelical Christian that contrary to what the mainstream media might think, I know the heart of evangelical Christians. The deepest desire of serious Christians is to reach out to people with the Gospel, to love people, it's not to hate anybody. So to my brothers and sisters in Christ, what better witness to the gay community, than to let them know that we love and accept them as people, to support gay rights, as a way of supporting the person firstly.
May I add, The Jews were a tiny minority in a sea of polytheism historically. Historically, the early church was revolutionary because it stood in such sharp contrast to the culture and the social conditions of the Greco-Roman world. Do we? When I read the Bible, both Old and New testaments, I don't see a God that is about forcing people to behave morally. I see a God that is about transformation from the inside out. We're human beings, as human beings God gives us the ability to make choices, he doesn't force those changes from the outside in. He invites us into a relationship, and we're changed by that relationship. Why are we forcing people who aren't Christians to act as Christians? How well is that going to work? Why not instead support the basic human rights of people firstly, so that they can believe it when we tell them we love them, and invite them into a relationship with us.

Knowing your audience:

I've heard it said that the first rule of advertising is to know your target audience. I would like to suggest at this point, something that I think may help the gay community to keep in mind when engaging in dialogue with religious and social conservatives. I'd like to illustrate my point with a little story. Some time back I was out with a couple of friends. The conversation turned to music. My first friend began to describe his love for his favorite album, and how much it had meant to him over the years and, being a serious musician his favorite album by one of his favorite artists was a serious topic indeed. It was at this point that my second friend commented with a smile that that album, oh that, it was out of tune. You may not be surprised when I tell you that my first friend did not appear pleased, you can imagine his facial expressions, and not surprisingly too, he gestured that he was jokingly ready to hit my second friend. Can anyone guess where I'm going with this story? My point is that for any of us, when the subject concerned is something that is near and dear to our heart, regardless of what that is, that if that thing that is precious to us personally, is seen as being attacked or debased, we are very likely to react. This is not a religious or a secular quality, a liberal or a conservative quality, it is a distinctly human quality. For anyone that has a friend or a family member that is an evangelical Christian (and other religious minorities as well I fully expect), what is number one in that person's life? Can you guess? Yeah, you got it -God. What's number two? Family! Right again. Family and friends, their personal relationships, and everything else is seen as a distant third. At least that's the goal. So, if the gay community is perceived as attacking those values, what do you expect will happen? A knee jerk reaction. Right again! You're good at this. A knee jerk reaction, anger, outrage. But what the gay community may not realize, and also what religious communities fail to realize about the gay community, is that beneath that anger is a lot of pain, and fear, and hurt, and confusion, because we all feel like we're being personally attacked in this. A wise person once pointed out to me that anger is just the tip of the iceberg, it's what's underneath that tells a story. My suggestion is that both sides need to understand that which the other holds dear, and find ways to find common ground, respectfully, rather than being seen as attacking the other side's most cherished values and beliefs. Again, I am suggesting this for both sides, that we become conscious of how we may be coming across to the other side. Religious minorities also need to remember that to someone who self-identifies as gay, the behavior is the person, so choose your words carefully.

The gay rights side of this issue:

For all people are created equal, endowed with certain inalienable rights. When Martin Luther King Jr., baptist minister, son and grandson of baptist ministers, stood up to speak at the national monument, “let justice roll down like waters!,” he knew the well he was drawing from, like so many Christian or Jesus influenced people both before and after him. It is a proud spiritual heritage, often the individual or collective work of Christians that transformed the western world and beyond, one hospital, one school, one sweat soaked charity at a time. Despite the churches many historical mistakes, it remains a conceptually Judeo-Christian foundation that has served as the guiding light for social reforms in the western world and around the world. That all people, big and small, rich and poor, old and young, are people created in the image of God, and therefore have an intrinsic right that comes from having an intrinsic value. Gay people have long been outside this circle, viewed as sexual deviants, cross culturally, internationally, with few exceptions. Religion has tended to stress the wrong of the behavior, and too seldom the worth of the person. The part of the Bible that seldom gets mentioned with this issue is that worth and that value, how Jesus invites all people into a relationship, and invites all people to come, just as we are. In other words, Gay people are people and deserve equal treatment in the same way as everyone else. A number of years ago, there was a conflict in New York near the former site of the twin towers. Some Muslims wanted to build a mosque near but not on the site. It sparked outrage from people who were still reeling from the events of 9/11. It was an fascinating story to me, as well as the Anders Brevik story in Europe, tragic though it is. Should the response of Christians be one of self protection in an insecure world, or are we called to be welcoming, to risk with open arms? What greater witness to our Muslim neighbors, that we do things differently in the free world? We respect each others right to worship differently, to disagree, to welcome people, who we may see as having different values than our own. Just as there are people of other faiths in our communities whom we disagree with, there are also families with two moms or two dads. What if, as social conservatives, we were to begin to think of gay rights in the same way that we think about religious freedom, that we may not agree with the gay community's lifestyle, but we still support the person in their bid to be acknowledged as an equal human being before the law? That's what it's all about isn't it? What greater testimony to people who have often felt like they are outside the circle, that we love them, that we value them as people, than to firstly support their right to self determination, in much the same way that protestants and Jews and other religious minorities have fought for the same recognition historically. In which case hypothetically, do we think that those excluded or included people are likely to be more open to what we have to say, if we are seen as supporting their basic human rights, or if we are not?

But what about the needs of the society, some may ask? What about a child's need for a mother and a father? There are many of us, including myself, who came from less than ideal situations. We are broken people in a broken world. For me, it was the realization that I wanted to be supportive of my Muslim neighbors, and my gay neighbors, that they were people struggling with raising families much like I was, despite our differences. Jesus said, my kingdom is not of this world. If Jesus' kingdom was not first century Palestine, what on earth makes social conservatives think that Jesus' Kingdom is 21st century Canada or the United States? Yes, this is a democracy, and we all play a part in deciding if we place a stop sign at the end of the street or not, and that is why I would never tell anyone how to vote on this issue, but my own change of heart was in realizing that more harm may be being done with this issue, in trying to force a religious or social worldview on those who do not share that worldview. Christianity is meant to be a personal decision, an internal transformation before external, not the other way around. In short, my own personal beliefs have never changed on this issue. I am still very much a theological conservative. What changed for me, was in beginning to ask, is this culture war working, or is it doing more harm than Good? What is the role of personal faith, and what is the role of the state?

The Religious rights side of this issue:

Would I force a church to marry a couple who was bi-racial? It was a question posed to me online in the heat of a discussion. It really is a question that arrests. The real question behind it of course is, would I force a church to marry a gay couple. Would I, I asked myself with great difficulty. Perhaps I should return the question, and it is a difficult one. Would you? Because it seems to me, that the left is all about choice, except when it comes to religious freedom. Would you force a Jehovah's Witness to receive a blood transfusion? Would you force a Muslim person to take off their hijab in the street? Would you force a minister to marry a gay couple? Let me try it another way, would you force a woman to have a baby against her will? Would you force a soldier to serve in the army against their will? Would you support a country's right to democratic reforms? Religious freedom is the cornerstone of human rights, the individual's freedom of conscience. I just ask that people keep that in mind before branding the next person who disagrees with you on this issue, before belittling religious freedom and forcing your own view on this issue on religious minorities. If religious freedom is lost, then so will be the very foundation for the achievement of your own rights. We're all in this together, you're right to self definition, my right to self definition, the two are inter-twined, regardless of our differences. Would it help to keep in mind that no church would turn away a gay person? It is a difference of belief regarding behavior, not a difference in the value of the human person. So, for a church to refuse to marry a gay couple, in our mind is not a rejection of the person, only a rejection of behavior, but I will need to clarify.

Where conservative churches are really coming from:

For the last number of years I have found myself reflecting on what may be described as the differences between more conservative churches and more liberal churches. Often when I find myself reflecting on this, I find myself thinking about two old friends of mine. Two friends, we'll call one Jim and one Tess, were on opposing ends of one denomination’s gay church divide. I loved and respected each of them, looked up to both of them. It saddens me to think about them now, as one has died, and I have lost contact with the other. They were both considerably older than myself, and both were influential in my early adult life. I got to know Jim well, he had a heart for the marginalized and I gained ministry experience in helping him with music for a little coffee house for former inmates. Jim was discouraged after years of ministry and not seeing a lot of change in the people he was trying to help. I would later learn that he was probably more disillusioned by his church denomination that seemed to be shutting out more conservative minded people like himself, after devoting his whole life to ministry with that denomination. Jim was single, and his personal faith, his faith community and his work, were his life. I remember one day Jim and I were talking and he said to me, “that it was about Jesus,” that that's what the more liberal churches were forgetting, that we have a greater hope in Christ, than all our present failings or limitations. I haven't seen him for years, but sometimes I wish I could tell him that I understood, and that I as well, despite things not having gone the way I'd hoped earlier in life, that maybe God was working in ways neither of us could have seen at the time. I say that because I learned a lot from Jim. I worked with my friend Tess as well, we both cared for the disabled, worked with the same organization. Tess had struggled with depression her whole life, but also had a heart for people outside the circle. She was near retirement, worked very hard, and I remember talking to her one day about this issue, having heard that she attended a more liberal church. She looked at me and said Margaret, “we know working in this field that mistakes were made, but it's about love.” Loving people despite our limitations as people. She said she had started with a more conservative Christian worldview, but had moved beyond that. She retired some time after that. It may have been my last conversation with her before hearing that she had passed away. To Tess the higher ethic was love and acceptance; Jim would argue, that was at the cost of holiness and the greater hope that we have in Christ. So for Jim, and I'm a Jim to be quite honest, it's about remaining true to the church of St. Peter and St. Paul. The historical church, orthodox classical Christianity, that what is offered in Christ is that much greater than anything this world has to offer. My friend Tess, would emphasize welcoming the person and acceptance of the person as a gesture of Christian grace.

Let it be:

One thing is for sure, that this debate is something that is happening outside the church, and inside the church as well. And take it from me, there are well-meaning, good people, people who care about people, on both sides of the argument. I remember an older person saying to me one day, who had been struggling with a difficult child, now an adult for years, “acceptance, ” he had expressed while standing at the door. That's a word that has been hard for me to understand in personal relationships, but dare I say I think I'm beginning to get it. There is never going to be a day when everyone agrees on homosexuality. Never. It's not going to happen, regardless of how much people are pressured to conform. But a word to the gay community, take heart, because not everyone agrees with me on Jesus either. You're not alone, people disagree on just about everything. Tea or coffee, milk and sugar or black, macs or pc compatibles, whether video games lead to violence or not. What if we were to begin to respect each others right to disagree, in much the same way that Catholics and protestants learned to respect each others right to think the other was going to hell? You see, the Catholics never stopped being Catholics and the Protestants never suspended our wayward ways. Nor did Jews, nor did Muslims. They were hard fought for lessons, but at least in the western world today, many of us live in communities with mosques and synagogues and Cathedrals, common sights, uncommon practices. And we respect that when we visit each others space, we may be doing halal or kosher, which works for me because I eat anything, including Canadian bacon. Couldn't we also find a way of working through differences with gay straight alliances and Catholic schools? I don't have the answer for every situation, but could we not begin a process of dialogue, with the understanding that there are two rights groups here, not just one? There may be arguments, heated discussions, there may be some who choose to go to a different school, a different church, or perhaps an eventual agreement on wording for a school club, but surely no one wants to go back to burning people at the stake or strapping people to wagon wheels. At least I hope not. Personally, I'm at a point where I think church splits have occurred over a lot less, and I'm inclined to think that this division will continue. Let it be. I personally am of the persuasion that we as Christians need to preserve the authority of scripture, and the authority of church doctrine as Christians. It seems apparent to me that the Bible is very clear on this issue, the wrong of the act, but also the worth of the person, and the hope that is available in Christ Jesus. I think there will continue to be division and church splits on this issue, unfortunately, but I think it's inevitable. The point that I would like to stress however, is that both conservative and liberal churches are attempting to reach out to the gay community, albeit in different ways. More liberal churches are moving in the direction of accepting and supporting gay people church leaders and gay unions, the second perspective is more controversial.

Explaining the ex-gay movement, what it is, what it isn't:

I was reading an interview recently with Lady Gaga where she was asked, "how gay are you?" For some reason this question stayed with me and I later realized it's significance, the reality that a public claim of being "born this way," becomes a pubic liability if the person later changes their mind, as in the case of Ricky Martin coming out, and then talking about a "genuine" relationship he had had more recently with a woman. It reminded me of something a friend of mine had said some time ago. She had struggled with same sex attraction for years and was commenting that it was interesting to her to "observe dynamics within the gay community, how some people self-identify as homosexual, they're comfortable with it, and then there are others..." The point I'm leading up to here is what some of us have thought for a long time, that the issue of sexual identity is not as neat and tidy as current public discussion will allow to be said.
Why is that? Why is the politically correct version of this issue that homosexuality is always static and always inborn? I think it's because it is seen as necessary in the struggle for equal rights to maintain this claim. I don't see why it should be. The foundation for basic human rights is that someone is a human being is it not, regardless of how they choose to define themselves? As another example religion is sometimes thought to be cultural or inherited, while for other people it is a choice. Regardless, we recognize freedom of religion as a basic human right. Why should a person's sexual orientation be any different?

The reason why I think it's important to talk about this however, is because the limitations put on the current discussion, I believe could be leading to discrimination in other ways. The reality is that we simply do not know that homosexuality is always inborn and always unchanging. How on earth could you prove such a claim? It sounds much more reasonable to me to say that this is a complex issue, that it varies from individual to individual, that there could be both genetic and environmental factors. Isn't that what social science says about everything else? So may I politely ask, where is the nurture factor in this discussion? And may I also humbly ask, what about the individual's right to choose?

And so what about the "others," my friend was referring to? What about a man I knew, that was going to counselors who repeatedly told him that this was just something he had to accept about himself, that was "unchangeable" even though he wanted to change? What about the person that says that they were bullied so much in the schoolyard that they began to believe the things that were said about them, later to realize as an adult that those things weren't true? What about the woman that told me that her early life left her longing for something that she went looking for in a relationship with another woman? Do their stories count? What about the statistics that show that homosexuals are significantly more likely to have been abused as children? What about the rights of the counselor or researcher, etc. that disagrees with the standard therapy? Do they have a right to their medical or professional opinion? Or the thing that concerns me most, that young people may be labeled as being homosexual for feelings that are more often than not, just a normal part of growing up. I'm also concerned that those same young people are being told that all lifestyle choices are equal, without being told the medical risks. I mean this in a very general sense.

And finally, the issue of faith based ministries who are reaching out to the gay community, do they have a right to exist? Do homosexuals have the right to choose to be part of such a ministry? Why can't we just say that there are different options out there for different people? Why are such ministries being black-listed and mislabeled by the gay community? ( Or to be fair, are these ministries actively engaged in stifling the gay rights movement? Is it a fair assumption that they are? That's another question). I have heard people say that their lives were transformed by such ministries. I've heard other people say that they walked away from similar ministries. Again I ask, why can't we just acknowledge that there are different options out there for different people? Ex-gay ministries (let me know if you know of a better term) are not being forced on anyone. They are there for the person who wants them. Ex-gay ministries are not trying, in any way to diminish the fact that same sex attraction is a very real struggle for some people. I think this is where a lot of the misunderstanding comes in. The homosexual community appears to perceive that the term "ex-gay" somehow de-legitimizes their struggle. I don't think religious ministries would see it this way. From the perspective of a religious ministry the emphasis is spiritual. From a Christian perspective, (not all ex-gay ministries are Christian), the emphasis is that as Christians we find a new identify in Christ, and so this is how we choose to self-identify, as Christians. What is a lifelong struggle for some people, who have a greater hope in Christ. To be clear however, I'm also not de-legitimizing the work of ex-gay ministries in saying this either because I think the results speak for themselves, that this seems to work for some people. Perhaps some of these general methods could be adopted by secular counselors even. I'm not a counselor, I'm just suggesting that perhaps different streams could learn from each other rather than a one size fits all approach. And that is ultimately what I'm advocating for here, that we respect the autonomy of the individual in the self-identifying process, and that we search these issues with respect for the whole person, including the individual's personal beliefs.

I'm not so sure about that:

Another common attitude that I would like to touch on is that here seems to be a prevailing attitude on the part of some, that religious institutions and religious people should be held accountable for acts of violence or harassment towards homosexuals. There seems to be little effort to determine whether people who commit acts of violence towards gays are actually from a religious background. Rather, there is the assumption that religious ideology leads to violence against gays (with little or no evidence), and that this assumption justifies pressuring religious institutions and religious people into changing their beliefs.

Well, I seem to be blessed with a good memory, at least in some respects, and I remember being in junior high school and hearing gay slurs. Looking back, I didn't get the sense that the people uttering those comments were particularly religious. I got the sense they were idiots (and I mean no disrespect to mentally disabled people when I say that). As a quiet Christian kid, to be honest, I would not have even really understood what they were saying, and those words would not have been acceptable to me, or part of my vocabulary. As an adult, I'm inclined to think that bullying of gays or more likely, the appearance of being gay, has more to do with adolescent insecurity and fears about their own emerging sexuality and emotional confusion that seems to characterize those years. Adolescent anxiety combined with immature behavior and peer pressure, I suspect, has more to do with gay bashing than religious influence.

But I want to say something else here. Firstly, I want to ask a question. Do people really think that little children sitting in Sunday school are being told to love their neighbor, love people and be kind to people, but then those people over there, be mean to those people? Is that what people think? I remember someone saying that if you look historically at the list of problems in schools, discipline, violence, and so forth, that you can almost trace to the year, that when behavior problems started going up, was when religious instruction was taken out. Now, I'm not arguing for religious instruction in schools here, and you can look up the statistics for yourself, but I would be inclined to predict that religious instruction is more likely to affect social behavior positively than negatively. And the reason why I believe this is because I see that positive influence in myself on an ongoing basis. Every week that I go to church I leave thinking that I am so glad I went, even when I didn't want to go, that I'm better for having gone. My week seems to get off on the right foot. I feel better about myself. I feel better mentally and emotionally, not to mention spiritually of course, and I'm reminded that I am commanded to love and care for others, despite my sometimes cranky nature. I'm reminded that I have a responsibility not only to myself, but that I am called to love and serve others. And that's pretty much what the medical evidence shows, that people who are practicing in their faith are healthier and happier than those who are not regularly involved in a faith community. I believe the evidence may also show that those practicing their faith tend to give back more to their communities, but I'll have to check that one. All this despite whatever tendency I personally might have towards isolation and despair. Maybe that's why I feel a certain affection for the new atheists, because I see a lot of myself in them. My inner curmudgeon is Christopher Hitchens (lol). If I wasn't a Christian, I am quite sure that I would be a very bitter and cynical person. I might even find myself doing something like writing a book trashing Mother Theresa, but I digress. Nobody's that nice. Nobody could possibly be that nice. She must have another motive somewhere. Grumble grumble grumble.

What I'm trying to get at is this. I think contrary to popular assumption, more often than not religion is a reminder to people of how to treat ourselves and others, to take care of ourselves and the larger community, and I think we as human beings need those reminders. We need to be reminded of ethical standards, and it is for this reason that I would be more inclined to guess, generally speaking, that it is more likely to be a child that doesn't have a religious influence in their lives, than one who does, who is more likely to bully another child who appears weaker than them. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that non-religious people do not teach their kids ethical standards, but it would be one less place that they would be receiving that instruction on a regular basis. Maybe I should also add, some people have naturally gracious personalities, and some people, children especially, seem to need more reinforcement than others, but I would expect to see a lower incidence of bullying on a large sample of children from faith communities over not having a faith background, contrary to the popular assumption which seems to imply the opposite conclusion.

Finally, something to think about, why from an evolutionary perspective should I be concerned with the well-being of someone in a far off corner of the world, with no relation to me or someone who is weaker than me, etc., also with no relation to me, who may be competing with me for limited resources? To answer my own question, because that person is created in the image of God, as am I, and therefore all people have an intrinsic worth, and should not be degraded or humiliated, despite whatever base instincts we all possess. I find it very interesting that public schools, void of religious training as they claim to be, now talk about being communities of character, etc. Why, because they have to, because we, unlike our animal cousins, cannot seem to get away from ethical issues which demand the moral training of children. Why is that, and what is the difference anyway, between secular ethics and religious training on a practical everyday level? I'm betting that if you looked at secular ethical training, it would have many common characteristics and content with religious training. But the question is, which is the stronger reminder, and which has the deeper grounding or coherence? Don't bully people because that's not nice, even as it becomes increasingly clear as the child gets older, that the way of the world is more often about competition than cooperation, or treat people as you wish to be treated, because one day you will stand before an almighty God, who knows your every thought, word and deed? One difference between secular ethical training and traditional religious training would be that the Muslim or the Christian or the Jewish kid believes that they will one day be held accountable for their actions, even if that smaller and weaker kid is just a little lower on the pecking order, the natural order, and even if no one is looking.

All the colors of the rainbow:

You may begin to find by this point that there is some repetition here. That is because some of these sections began as blog posts and I would prefer not to alter them. I've included some older blogs, as well as some newer material. I figure that's alright, because some points bear repeating, I suppose, but mainly I wanted to allow them to be read independently. The following is an earlier blog entry that I wrote emphasizing the need for common interpersonal values, rather than conformity on this issue. True tolerance is loving the person despite personal differences, rather than demanding uniformity on controversial issues. After all, if we all agreed, there would be no need for tolerance, the very word suggests difference, to tolerate the other. None of us have all the answers here, certainly not me, but we can agree on societal standards of how people should be treated.

I'm Here to Support the Person:

Lifestyle choices. We all make them. Some of us drive hummers, some of us drive smart cars. Some of us join a gym, some of us prefer to eat Doritos in front of the tv during prime time. Some of us, oh you see where I'm going with this, enough said. People make different lifestyle choices, we all agree and disagree on our fellow citizens' personal choices. We all have a right, within the bounds of the law as it stands, to make our own choices. We also have the right to disagree with each other on our choice of food, entertainment, place of worship, occupation, and so forth.

So if I was going to say to someone, "you bleep bleep bleep bleepin' bleep, you bought a hummer," what would be wrong with that statement? I would say that the part that would be wrong would be "you bleep bleep bleep bleepin' bleep." I have every right to disagree with someone for buying a hummer do I not? I also have every right to disagree with someone's lifestyle choices if those choices go against my personal beliefs. I have a right to my own beliefs, you have a right to your own choices. We have the right to disagree with each other. What neither of us has the right to do is to abuse, either verbally or physically, the other person for a behavior that we disagree with. You do not have the right to abuse me because I disagree with your lifestyle choices, nor do I have the right to impose my beliefs on you.

What I see with the gay rights movement, generally speaking, is that they don't seem to see the difference between people honestly disagreeing with their lifestyle, and people who would abuse them. They seem to lump everyone into the same basket. I have never abused or treated a homosexual unkindly in my life, and yet because I disagree with the gay lifestyle, I'm branded as a hate mongerer and a homophobe within the culture of the gay rights movement, simply for disagreeing. Where's the tolerance or acceptance in that? Where's the respect for diversity in that?

The important thing as a society, is that we agree that there is an accepted standard of conduct regarding the treatment of people, not that we all have to agree on political or controversial issues or lifestyle choices. For the gay community to demand that everyone accept their lifestyle, and give no consideration to the fact that this demand contradicts the personal beliefs of millions if not billions of people is crossing a line. It's crossing the personal boundaries of millions of people in demanding that everyone change their personal beliefs to conform with the GBLT community's convictions, or face being labeled. If I were writing the script for the gay rights movement, I would say something like, "you can disagree with my lifestyle, feel free, but you do not have the right to abuse me." Or better than that maybe,“I respect your right to disagree with me, can you respect my right to disagree with you.” I would de-emphasize sexuality, and instead emphasize our common humanity and ethical standards. That's my suggestion. I think that's where the gay rights movement alienates a lot of people, because they seem to insist, to use an analogy, on shoving meat in the face of vegetarians, and then insist on their right to be outraged when people are offended. I would be happy to stand on the sidelines of a parade to support people. I am not going to go out of my way to feel mocked and ridiculed, nor to see any standard of decency ignored. In other words, if something would get you arrested on an ordinary day, why is it acceptable because it's in a gay pride parade? I say that because that is what I have heard, but admittedly that was years ago, maybe that is no longer the case concerning gay festivals. But anyway, I've had this recurring idea, that if I were going to go to a gay pride parade (or take my children), and I never have to be honest for the above reasons, I was thinking I would like to wear a t-shirt that says, "I'm here to support the person." Feel free to let me know how you think that would be received. My hope is that in time reasonable people will find common ground on some of these very controversial issues, and both sides can learn to support each other, regardless of our personal differences.

Boundaries in the Public Square:

Boundaries have always been a struggle for me. I have spent a great chunk of my life in difficult relationships, rarely knowing what to do, how to protect myself, how to help the other person, how to say no. I remember being a very young child, saying “no no no” as young children do, only to look up and realize that I couldn't say no, I couldn't say anything, and so the problem persisted. Before I knew it, I was a kid in grade school who didn't know how to say no, then a teenager who didn't know how to say no, then a young woman who didn't know how to say no. It is still something I struggle with to be honest, but I'm getting better. Makes for messy relationships let me tell you. As seems to happen, that which we fail to learn as children, we struggle with as adults. And then we intellectualize what most people know instinctively. And so I've given a lot of thought as an adult to boundary issues and with much thought have realized that public boundary issues have an awful lot in common with personal boundary issues. People groups struggling to be heard, people groups who have collective memories of their boundaries being crossed, people groups overextending their own rights, in fear of their own rights being lost or denied. The one thing I would like to suggest here is for both sides to remember to ask, who's space is it? And a suggestion for the two communities to learn to respect each others space, not saying that's easy, particularly in the public arena when rights groups are clashing. But may I assert, my church is my space, my home is my space, my personal opinions are my space. Your home, your church, your work is frankly, none of my business.

Letter to the Churches: A call to Renewal:

The funny thing about putting yourself in the middle of a difficult issue is that you find yourself broadsided when you least expect it, by people you would never expect. I guess I had this naive idea when I started debating these issues with friends and family, that we could all just have a good old discussion and go away with something to think about. It hasn't always worked out like that. I've had discussions with atheists who have been passionate but polite. I've had discussions with Christians where I have been ostracized and ignored, even when I was trying to get across that I actually support gay rights. I have struggled as a Christian, in wondering if I'm on the wrong path here. I've been told as much by people close to me. I was sitting in church one day stewing over all of this, lost friends, strained relationships, sleepless nights, agony, when I heard my pastor say that if you are approaching these political storms as sincerely and prayerfully as you're able...and that's all I know, that even if I'm wrong in all this, it is with the intent of being supportive of all people. I hope it is enough. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not my place for me to make that decision for you, or at the ballot box, and I know that. I hope that my words have not been offensive, I say that to all concerned. All I'm doing is putting this out there for discussion, for your prayerful consideration, maybe it's time for a new day. Could it be, that just as the bloodshed between Catholics and Protestants was too costly, that the present culture war is too costly as well? If you don't believe me, that many people are being turned off of Christianity by conservative politics, well you haven't spent enough time online. Will this just end up being another complaint in a string of historical grievances? Is it already? Shall we consider, how many Jews cannot consider Jesus as the messiah, not because of Jesus' compassion, but because of what has been done to them at the hands of Christians? How many Muslims cannot consider Jesus as God, not because of their respect for him as a prophet, but because of what was done to them during the crusades? How many aboriginal people, or Africans, or Indians turn away from the gospel because of our social and cultural arrogance? How many women, or gay people, or children who have had their innocence and trust ravaged by priests, have lost their faith as a result? It is so true that our actions speak much louder than words. I've learned that the hard way as an amateur Christian apologist, that how I treat people, if I love people, makes a much greater difference than simply winning the argument. Maybe it's time to lose the argument, and love the person. When we love people as Christ first loved us, giving Himself for us, the church will grow spontaneously. When we are right with God ourselves and live out our faith with humility and service to others. 

Ending the Culture war:

I think I might be changing how I look at some things. Scares me. I'm afraid I'm wrong. It's not easy when you realize that you might be putting yourself right smack dab in the middle of a very heated and difficult conversation, if it is a conversation.
I was just listening to Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech." It made me cry as it did when I last listened to it. Then I was in my early twenties and living in a L'Arche community. Now I am in my late thirties with a family of my own. It must have taken so much courage for him to stand up and say those words in the middle of a very hostile time. What I remember hearing about Martin Luther King from people who worked with him is that he was actually a very quiet person," not at all at ease with people, but when he stood up to speak... let justice roll down like waters!" I remember a blogger commenting that their visit to a museum dedicated to Dr. King, that the thing that they had left thinking was that he had just been living out his beliefs as a Christian. Baptist minister, son and grandson of Baptist ministers, he had a Biblical understanding and hope and yearning for Biblical justice. He understood that his nation's history and western history had been founded and shaped by Biblical concepts. And so he was able to draw from that well to speak to a larger Judeo Christian society who would have also understood, at least more than most would today, the references to scripture that he was quoting.

I left a church when I was 15 because it supported segregation. I was never really a member anyway I suppose, after all I was Catholic and they were Baptist. They were from the southern United States, I was Canadian. It's funny to me now, when I look back at some of the experiences that shaped me from those years. How painful it was, to be told as a Catholic kid at a Bible camp, that all Catholics were going to hell, that I was going to hell for wearing jeans and listening to rawk music (with a self assured southern drawl). Only to go home to be screamed at by your unstable controlling Catholic mother, that you are being brainwashed by Baptists, who the bishop no less, has just confirmed to her, "can be a cult." How painfully difficult, and yet it was during those years that I really found my faith, and years later I realized that I knew how to talk to protestants and I knew how to talk to Catholics as well. Now I find myself in a similar situation, where I understand social conservatives, because I am one in many respects, and I'm beginning to understand where the gay community is coming from too.

My understanding of how human rights developed in the western world is that the key concept is Judeo-Christian, that human beings are equal because they are created in the image of God. If you stop to think about it, this is certainly not an evolutionary idea, or an enlightenment idea, because from an evolutionary worldview people (or members of a species) are not equal because some members are stronger, brighter, faster than others. The enlightenment focused on humanity's potential for and through, reason. Some people have more reasoning ability than others. No, it is neither. It is a distinctly Judeo-Christian concept. That all people are equal, black or white, Jew or Gentile, homosexual or straight, male or female, rich or poor, disabled or abled, street person or Queen of England, because they are created in the image of God. Because God desires to know each of them, loves each of them, counts the hairs on the head of each of them. It is this foundation that forms the basis for western egalitarianism. That concept began to shape western society, and governance (as it was Christianized after Constantine), and as a consequence of the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation between Catholics and Protestants, both began to realize that the cost was too great, and so began the concept of religious freedom and rights. Understandably, the United States with a more Protestant heritage, wanted to enshrine those religious rights with the separation of church and state. My understanding is that it was not intended to mean what it has come to mean, almost exclusively freedom from religion. It was intended to keep one denomination from gaining control and persecuting other denominations. This certainly makes sense when viewed through an historical context.

As a social conservative I understand where social conservatives are coming from regarding traditional marriage. They're not crazy, for the record, there is actually a lot of research to back up much of what they are saying. Societies need traditional marriage. It is a built-in organic social safety net, it was the social safety net before there were social safety nets. It makes sense that religion, being a stabilizer in societies, would want to promote traditional marriage with an understanding for example, that the child born out of wedlock, or growing up in poverty without a father, would be at a disadvantage. I understood this as a young person because I was that kid from the wrong side of the tracks who knew all too well how difficult it was to struggle against a broken background. That, and probably my fear of hell from the Baptists (LOL) kept me on the straight and narrow and I became a true conservative. I worked hard, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, worked to put myself through university, left home and kept working, all this to be told when I was finally getting somewhere, newly married with my own new place, that I was now a bigot and a hatemonger. Congratulations! And I was mad as hell, to be quite frank. I stood on the lawn of the Canadian Parliament buildings with my arms crossed demanding the preservation of the traditional definition of marriage-for the next kid I figured....until I began to realize that this culture war just isn't working.

Just like the Catholics and the Protestants began to realize that killing each other in the name of a swordless Jesus, for a Jesus that said that his kingdom was not of this world, I'm beginning to think that forcing people to share your values, who frankly don't share your values and who probably never will share your values is rather counter-productive. Especially when those people are telling you they want nothing to do with Christianity because of the religious right. As an evangelical Christian who's heart's desire is to reach out to hurting people and see lives transformed by the Gospel, yeah that seems rather counter-productive.

What if the sign outside the abortion clinic said " Let us serve you, " or "How can we help you?" What if the church got behind gay rights as a way of saying that God loves homosexuals. What if the overwhelming majority of signs at a gay pride parade said "We're here to support the person." What if we focused less on the sin and began to focus more on loving the sinner, less on preserving traditional marriage, less on legislation, and more on supporting the people in our neighborhoods who's paradigms may not fit our own? I was thinking the other day, if I was someone who was struggling with same sex attraction, who'd never set foot in a church, how would I know that Jesus loved me? How would I know that I was welcome in a church, in any church? I wasn't thinking that when I was standing on Parliament hill defending the traditional definition of marriage, but I'm beginning to look at the church from the outside looking in, and I'm remembering how that lonely fifteen year old kid, myself, stood on the doorstep of that Baptist church for a very long time in the cold, hearing the Christmas Party with the sweets and the lovely sweaters and the skirts and the lovely southern manners, only to finally walk away, alone. They didn't really want to know me, I knew it. They didn't believe I was really a Christian, how could I be, after all, I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. 

My own experience with gender brokenness:

Recently, I participated in what would be considered a very controversial faith based program that deals with issues of sexual and relational brokenness. The program is called Living Waters, for anyone who may be interested. My poor husband was trying to figure out for the longest time why on earth I would have any interest in such a program. I'll tell you what I told him, which is what I also said in the program: because I was abused. That's a lot to get into, and I desire to protect other people who may not wish their personal stories to be touched on publicly. I was not sexually abused, at least not directly, but people close to me were, and I was affected by the relational fallout from all that as well. I was also affected by my own intensely difficult, or more frankly, non-existent relationship with my mother. I wouldn't know where to begin with all that, except to say that much of my early life was spent trying to get away from my mother, so not a lot changed in adulthood, when I finally made the break official. But I remember lying in my crib as an infant, crying, crying, crying, arms and legs flailing, hoping that crying would make the yelling, which seemed to go on forever day after day, stop. It didn't, and in realizing that I was helpless, I remember a paralysis slowly spreading through my little body. I remained numb, frozen emotionally for twenty years until one day I was babysitting a baby who was probably about the same age. The baby was at the stage where she began to cry when her parents left and I was unable despite trying everything, to comfort her. By the time her parents returned home I was paralyzed with fear. And so began my struggle with post traumatic stress, with waves of depression and frequent social anxiety that, well, I think is gradually getting better after 18 years or so. I think I've worked through much of the emotion that I never felt as an emotionally neglected and verbally abused child. But to give you some idea, I cannot in all my memory, remember ever being held by my mother. The first memory I have of my mother actually making eye contact with me may have been when I was 12 or 13, and anything resembling an actual conversation would have been rare. I remember how I would jump out from under the table as a little kid when my mother came home from work, or sit beside her or try to crawl in her lap, always to be completely ignored. I can scarcely remember a time that my family was able to get through a meal together, without someone visibly wanting to kill someone else. And I remember as a little girl, being so excited in deciding to wear my favorite little dress and my favorite little shoes to kindergarten. I got them out and got myself dressed and I remember being so proud, despite the boys haircut that my mother always made sure I got. I was so happy that I wasn't wearing hand me downs from my brothers that day. No one told me that I looked like a boy and my teacher complimented me on my pretty dress, which made me feel good inside, a feeling that to me was very rare as a child. I rarely wore a dress again after going home and being screamed at by my mother that night for getting it dirty, although I doubt that it was dirty at all, being the careful little girl that I was. By the time I was a teenager I remember seeing my mother getting ready to go out, while complaining about the no good world and everyone in it, while looking in the mirror to make sure that every hair was in place and I would sit there with my long hair (by then I had control over that at least) in my jeans and t-shirt. I remember watching her, yelling uncontrollably, only to go out in public with her perfect hair and her perfect dress, and not say a word to anyone. My deepest darkest fear was that I would be like her, so the things that reminded me of her I avoided. I cut home ec. sewing class, the only class I ever skipped in my life, much to the confusion of my teacher. My mother liked sewing after all, and I couldn't, absolutely couldn't turn into my mother.

So may I ask, how does it affect your sense of self as a young girl when your deepest darkest fear is that you will become like your mother? And if that wasn't enough, there were certain male buffoons in my life that seemed to enjoy pointing out that I was well endowed in certain areas before I had time to get comfortable with the idea myself. It became obvious to me that my emerging femininity was a liability in such a deeply dysfunctional family. So I learned to wear baggy clothes, slouch, and avoid boys in general because frankly, I was afraid of being hurt, afraid of their reckless immaturity, their cutting words. Add to that a fear of being tied down because after all, I had heard all my life that the day you get married and have children is when you're life ends, as it had for my 18 year old newly wedded mother. But despite all this negativity, I remember looking for someone I could trust as a young person. How I looked up to my teachers, how several women teachers especially, seemed to take an interest in me, how they encouraged me when they seemed to recognize some natural creative ability. I craved any kind of affirmation I could find and so I became an overachiever as a means of having my self worth validated. Failure, any failure was equated with personal and moral failure. I had to be perfect to be seen as good. I remember kicking myself for weeks after getting 91% on an exam. But I always knew that my search for a role model wasn't sexual, I just needed someone I could trust, someone I could look up to. But can I imagine that another kid in similar circumstances, that feelings could become confused with emerging sexuality? You Betcha'! And so yes, I do think there is a place for asking the question, could there be an environmental factor in all this as well? And yes, I would like to see more discussion of that.

But you may interject, but Marg, you're not gay, so what is the relevance of your experience to this issue? Well no, I'm not, but I have heard similar stories from people who have come out of a gay lifestyle. Maybe that is why I feel so much compassion for the gay community, because in some ways I identify with their experience on a very human level. As for me, the turning point was when I was in my late twenties after a decade or more of short term relationships with young men that I made sure went nowhere. Standing in front of my would be husband, I realized I would be a fool to walk away. And so I faced my fears, and the following spring we were married. Eight years later, I'm happily married with five beautiful children. But for me, taking that very controversial course in a church basement was really the first time that I was able to begin to talk about some of those broken parts of myself that I had largely kept hidden because I thought few people would understand. I found people there who were warm and gentle and kind. So, when I hear people bash such programs and say they are hurtful to gay people all I can say is, it wasn't hurtful to me, it was affirming. I remember getting upset one evening in the program, feeling like I wasn't being listened to, and I was able to talk about that the next week, and be heard. And that was very healing because so often I have felt in my life that everyone else counted but I didn't. So, when I hear people say that they're not interested in such programs (one aspect of which included an environmental approach to the roots of homosexual behavior), that's fine, it's not for me to write their personal narrative. Yes, I have opinions in all this, but more importantly I recognize that someone else's narrative is not my business. It is, however the right of every individual to write their own narrative, and that is my problem with a mainstream approach that labels people rather than giving them the opportunity to go to a counselor who works for them, who is a good fit for that person. Let professionals, let churches, let individuals, let gay organizations who represent the rights of gay people decide for themselves what they're narrative should be, and let the chips fall where they may. Let it finally be acknowledged that this is a complex issue, with diverse narratives. In conclusion, it does not surprise me when I hear people say that this is something they feel they were born, nor does it surprise me when I hear people say that it was experience or circumstances that led them down that path. I just think it's complex and I think it's none of my business how another person chooses to define themselves. Unless someone is interested in a conservative faith based approach, I don't go there, but I will stand for the rights of churches and individuals of faith who want a faith based approach, because that is their right, their narrative, their space. Thanks for listening.


So there you have it, my heart on my shirt sleeve. It's now 7am and I've been up for hours, having awakened yet again in the middle of the night. They say it's not good to lie in bed and fret about not being able to sleep, better to get up and do something so I did, knowing it was unlikely to get written during the day when I am caring for my family. The idea of Building Spaces Building Bridges came to me on one of those many long nights thinking, unable to turn my mind off, wishing in the moment that I was a robot so I could. Two individuals or communities on either side of a bridge, making a space to disagree, and building a bridge to love and serve the other. I hope that good people on both sides of this difference can begin to do just that. Differences overblown, we live in a world where tensions are high between liberals and conservatives, secular and religious, where the obnoxious often overpower the thoughtful. But we still have the ability to speak and be heard, we can still disagree, for the most part, without fear of physical violence, so let's not give up on each other, not yet. Do not go gentle into that good night, rage rage against the dying of the light. Or, if you prefer in the Beatles words, we can work it out. There is a marriage between secular and religious, reason and faith, that is seldom talked about, seldom understood, that both are part of western history. But that would be the topic of another blog. The following was my first blog post. God bless and good morning.

Building Spaces Building Bridges:

I find myself deeply disturbed by what I see as the growing tensions between different worldviews in the western world. I'm a Christian, I feel perhaps it's necessary to say that right off the top, what you might call a theologically conservative evangelical Christian, although I think of myself as just a Christian. I don't hate anybody. In fact, I've spent most of my adult working life serving some of the most marginalized people in society, namely persons with mental disabilities. I've always had a heart for the marginalized, perhaps because I always felt that way myself, growing up in a small town, where you feel like you're struggling against your working class background, against family break down, spiritual poverty and emotional abuse.

So it is with a heavy heart that I try to put this out there, for anyone who might be interested in trying to start a dialogue on some very controversial issues between different people groups. I don't even know if anyone is going to read this, but I'm going to put an invitation out there just the same. My invitation to you, whether you agree with me or disagree with me, whether you're a liberal or conservative, secular or Christian, or anything else for that matter. You're welcome to stay for a while, have a cup of tea and chat. All I ask is that you do your best to respect me as a person, and I will do my utmost to do the same. Perhaps we can offer each other a space to disagree, and try to build a bridge to understand each other a little better. Hope you're having a good day.

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