Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Creating a culture of grace

I keep meaning to talk about something else. That was my plan, I was going to talk about something else. I had the subject of what that something was, I even had a title. Anyway, I was having a chat online the other evening with someone in the gay community. Ever feel like you're playing dodge ball with someone and they don't just want their turf, they want yours too, while they're flinging things at you? Yeah, me too, yet I've have this idea,"most people are reasonable people, they will meet you half way Marg." That's what psychologists call self-talk, what most of us call talking to yourself (lol). I was talking to myself afterward, saying Marg, surely people are reasonable, you respect their rights and they'll respect yours, sounds reasonable doesn't it?

So anyway like I said, I was chatting with this individual online as he responded to something I'd written in which I'd basically laid out where I would like to see the current gay community/ religious communities divide go -in all different directions, in short. The title of my blog is "Building Spaces Building Bridges (between divergent communities)," which basically means that I hope to create a space to disagree, while trying to create dialogue or understanding. In a similar sense, I am convinced that current social divides on difficult issues, abortion and same sex marriage being two of the big ones, will always have core communities of people who feel very strongly on both sides. My response to that deadlock was to say well, where do we go from here?

I'm in a place of acceptance, myself. I know what I can compromise on. I know what I can't compromise on. I'm a Mom, that's what I do. I'm a mother of five young kids, and I work with special needs adults. I don't claim any special training other than my own experience, having come out of a lifetime of difficult relationships. The lesson I've learned from years of banging my head against a wall is that I can't change anyone. Sounds simple doesn't it, and that's really all I know. People have to want to change, if they don't you can't force your will on them. That's what I've learned the hard way after trying for years to change my family. We're now estranged, which gives you a pretty good idea of how well that went. And so as I'm looking around and seeing these divisive issues, and seeing much the same dynamic in the political sphere, where people seem hell-bent on imposing their views on other people...where do I think they're going?

Heaven's here on earth, sang Tracy Chapman. Literal heaven, figurative hell, isn't it funny how so many people believe in heaven, but not quite so many believe in hell? I'm not going to get into all that here, but I do think that often people create their own reality, in how they treat others, in how they live, in the decisions they make, and it makes sense to me that if you give those decisions enough time, they become walls, they become prisons. And so often the emotional walls that we build shut out people, often the people closest to us. I've lived it, like many others I'm sure. Isn't it strange how you can live in a house with people for years and never really know them? In other words, I agree with Chapman's song in the sense that hell or heaven starts in the here and now, and is often reflected in the quality of our relationships.

When I started thinking about the GBLTQ/ religious divide years ago it didn't seem like a choice to me. It was something I had to sort out, a weight on the core of my being. I was/am a social conservative at heart, and yet I had worked with the marginalized for years, with adults with developmental disabilities. Much of the work I had done as an adult had come out of my own experience of having felt marginalized all my life. I always felt like I was outside the circle, on the outside looking in, whether in school, or in my family, in church, at work, with my peers. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, until I began working with the mentally disabled. One of the first special needs adults that I worked with, I remember the day I met her, her name is Maggie. She heard my name and immediately began jumping up and down and saying excitedly, two Muggas two Muggas! The culture that I found in that community was summarized best when someone pointed me to the beatitudes of the gospels; blessed are the poor in spirit, for their's is the kingdom of heaven. It was a culture of grace, and for the first time in my life I experienced acceptance for who I was as a person. Before then, it had always been about performance, and if you didn't perform you were rejected.

So when I began to hear the voices of the marginalized, against the voices of the church, I had to sort it out. I couldn't compromise my personal beliefs. You have to understand that, to anyone who thinks that religious conservatives can just change their views so easily. We cannot, we are compelled by something we believe as higher than ourselves. And so it was that after many long dark nights of the soul, I realized I couldn't compromise my own beliefs. To do so would be to risk my mental health. But may I say I've come to the conclusion that this isn't a theocracy and even if it was, my personal belief in a loving God should lead me to support people as human beings firstly, having an intrinsic worth, because they are created in the image of a relational God. In short, I should accept your right to disagree with me, and support your basic human rights and petition for equal recognition. In much the same way that I hope you can begin to accept my right to see things differently.

You see, I think our tendency as human beings, to want to make things simple, to want to see the other as a sort of monolith, is doing more harm than good. I'll say it very plainly, for anyone who's confused. I am arguing for gay rights as well as religious rights across the board, that it should be up to individuals both in the church and in the gay community to sort out how they feel about this issue, and our rights should be respected regardless of who we agree or disagree with. I'm arguing for both sides, in short. What I was finding as a stumbling block in speaking to this individual the other evening was that he seemed to want to paint the entire issue with the brush of his personal experience. What I am saying, is that I think that when we begin to acknowledge this issue as complex, and allow a multiplicity of narratives and competing narratives, we'll be a lot further ahead. There is never going to be a uniformity of mind on this issue. I'm convinced of that.

My understanding is that current research is supporting the view that this is a complex issue. That it is not so easy as to say that this is something that people are born. I'm not a scientist, all I know as the average person, is that I have heard competing narratives from different people on this issue, and that I respect people's right to disagree. But it also seems to me that if it were as simple as saying that this is something that people are born, and it never changes, that we would be able to identify children as homosexual or heterosexual at birth, in the way that children with chromosomal differences or racial differences can be identified as newborns.

I understand why people desire to make the case that being gay is something that you are born. I also understand why people feel like they have to pull out the Bible and argue about what they think it says or doesn't say on this issue. I get it. I do (sigh). To state what appears obvious, I think it is because the gay community assumes that they have to make the "this is something you're born" case to be taken seriously in their bid for equal rights. It also makes sense that if the religious conservatives are the ones standing in the way, that they would think that they need to change our beliefs to change our minds. What I would like to say in response is that I have remained both theologically and socially conservative at heart, while accepting gay rights. Now all I ask in return, is that my right to define my own belief system be respected and that the people out there who minister to the gay community, or people who choose to be part of such ministries, that their rights be respected as well. And to religious minorities may I humbly put forth that it is time that we recognize gay rights for what they are, an issue of conscience.

Religious minorities understand rights of conscience, because we have had to fight for such rights ourselves. What is the difference between my right to say I am a Christian, and your right to say I am gay? Can anyone out there please tell me? That's what changed my mind, when I began to connect the gay community's struggle for rights, with the history of how rights developed in the western world, from fighting between Catholics and protestants. When Martin Luther stood up and said I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen. It was the end of Catholicity, at least for some, or in some sense of the word. 

And that is my hope, that rather than continuing to browbeat each other and face each other in court, that we begin to accept that there will be conservative and liberal Churches, offering different options to the gay community, as well as faith based or secular counsellors offering different options to the gay community. Nobody says you have to go to any of the above if you don't want to, but please don't tell everyone else who's struggling with the same issue, what their decision should be. Leave it up to the individual, to sort it out with a counsellor or a minister or a friend, etc., that they feel comfortable with. What I'm saying is that the current model of seeing this as a race-identified issue is building walls, while I think a healthier model or approach would be more in line with the history of the development of religious rights in the western world. Just as we allow different denominational or faith options for different people, while respecting people's right to go to the building of their choice or change their convictions if they so choose, the gay community should have the same right.

In closing, what does it mean to create a culture of grace? Well, I know that in my experience it meant that for the first time in my life I felt like I could be myself. Unfortunately, I don't feel that way now. I don't feel that I can say comfortably in this culture,"I'm a Christian, this is who I am." Where I hope we're going, is for me to be able to say "hi, I'm Marg, and I'm a Christian,"and we can shake hands and you can say "Hi Marg, I'm gay."And I can tell you what being Christian means to me, and you can tell me what being gay means to you, if we should choose to do so.

Take care,

M.A. Harvey

Tracy Chapman, Heaven's here on earth:


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