Friday, September 13, 2013

Defining our terms: The heart of the matter

I was having an online chat with someone in the gay community not long ago where initially he appeared to be offended by something I had said. The good thing though, is that we kept talking, and while it took about four days of back and forth messaging, I think by the end of it we had managed to find some common ground, which is good. The thing it highlighted for me personally though, is the necessity of defining our terms, what we mean, and what we don't mean in conversation with people of different worldviews.

I'm thinking of Muslim Christian relations as well as Jewish Christian relations and so forth when I say that I could say something completely innocently, that would not be offensive in our western culture, that would be scandalous to some Muslims, deserving of death even, not that I would agree with that of course. But I think recognizing cultural differences helps to explain some of what's happening in present day politics between the Middle East and the west and when I hear Jewish reactions to Jews for Jesus knocking however politely on their door (lol)....we have to go a little deeper than burning a Koran (sigh), or telling people that Jesus loves them and hoping for the best.

When I think of the historical divides that are there between communities of people, historic wrongs or legitimate differences of views or interpretations, road work may be required. That's why I started doing this, because I realized that there was an ever-widening gulf between the secular culture that I found myself in as a Christian, as well as cultures within the culture and so forth. There's a lot of anger out there. Who am I kidding, if I'm being honest I often feel angry myself, though not as much these days as when I began this blog a couple of years ago, even. But I do suspect, knowing my own experience, that there's also a lot of pain beneath the anger in our culture. And it's not enough to assume anymore that people know what we're talking about, speaking as a Christian, because there's a whole generation of people who have grown up in this culture with little or no church influence. So, it shouldn't be a surprise to us that a lot of people simply don't understand where the church is coming from on controversial issues, which is a big part of divisions in the public square, in that secular minded people tend to have a different starting point, often an emphasis on individual rights over the church's moral expectations or points of reference.

But while acknowledging the differences that are there and while also acknowledging my own feelings of frustration, I decided some time ago that I didn't want to be a divisive or polarizing sort of person. There's enough of that sort of thing out there isn't there? And honestly, I don't see a lot of people trying to go beyond traditional divisions, or to be fair to both sides. My thinking here is that there will always be communities of people who disagree. That's the heart of the matter. There will always be people who identify with one faith community over another, or divisions within groups of people, or ideological differences of one sort or another. There will always be camps of people who remain opposed, but yet we can dialogue, we can work together, we can speak freely, we can change our mind, while respecting each other's basic human rights. That's a free society, where we're free to disagree while not being afraid of the consequences for doing so.

So, getting back to the conversation that I began with. What was it about? Well, the person I was speaking with was offended because I appeared to be supporting ministries that try to change gay people's sexual orientation. Yeah, you can probably imagine how that might lead to an intense discussion. What I was saying was that I feel like I know the hearts of people who are involved in such ministries, and I know it's not to hurt people. Where I think the difference comes in though, and this needs to be pointed out, is that secular minded people don't believe in the supernatural. Well guess what, Christians do. Theists or religious people do, more generally. And I think that's a big part of the misunderstanding. Where the mainstream secular gay community sees illegitimacy and wrongheadedness, we see possibilities, because monotheistic religions believe in something more than the limitations of the natural world. For me I'm at a place of acceptance, speaking personally, when I hear someone say as a gay individual, this is something that never goes away, I think -okay, and then when I hear the next commenter say, I was changed, I think -okay. Neither view surprises me, but more importantly, everyone has a right to claim their own experience, right?

But please allow me to clarify where I think gay ministries have been coming from, because I think this will help. Before I met my husband I attended a pentecostal church (emphasis on the supernatural) in my then neighborhood for four years. I remember one day a retired dyed in the wool pentecostal minister was speaking there and he said warily, preparing people for what he was going to say next "sometimes there is no victory."  I remember another woman speaking in the same pentecostal church, who herself had struggled with depression for years, as she asked humbly while speaking, why God would choose to heal some and not others and her quiet response was simply, "I don't know." I don't know either.

What I'm trying to say is that I think the mistake that ministries have made in reaching out to the gay community is to have made gay people feel like there is something wrong with them when they are convinced that they can't change. While I do believe in the supernatural and have experienced the transformative power of prayer in my own life, I've also known the pain of disappointment, the struggle to change something and the feeling of powerlessness that comes in the things that you know you can't change. But you know, I'm at a point in my life where I'm starting to see God using my weaknesses as much as my strengths. But I too understand having said that, that sometimes there is no victory, sometimes it's a cross. Sometimes, we struggle all our lives with something, but speaking as a Christian, I'm not defined by the things I struggle with, I'm defined by my faith and hope in Christ.

I am so sorry for how the gay community has been treated in the church. I am so sorry that they've been made to feel that they are somehow to blame for something that they did not choose. Sometimes there is no victory, sometimes it's a cross, but for anyone who's interested, faith in Christ is still an option.

So what was that common ground that myself and this gentleman managed to find? He said he has no problem with celibacy as an given option. I thought that was great, because I saw in this statement the heart of conservative Christian churches, despite our sometimes lack of insight. Prayer, support, encouragement, hope...where we can fellowship and help each other along the way. Where we may stumble again and again, all the while knowing that we're not alone. I don't think for a moment that every gay person out there is going to be interested in that option, but it is an option for those who are interested. At the same time I expect that there will continue to be ideological differences between the mainstream gay community and church communities, but my hope is that in time, we will focus less on our differences, and more on supporting each other's basic human rights, which includes our right to disagree, while encouraging equal treatment in the public square, as we move towards a more positive, more respectful dialogue.

Thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey

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