Yesterday the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission began its 2014 conference. This year’s topic is “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” Considering the topic and that the conference is live streamed for anyone to watch, it is no surprise that it soon started trending on Twitter.
Now, let me be honest about my reaction and I’m not proud of it, but it is honestly the first thing that ran through my mind.
My first thought was, “Here we ago again. Can’t we stop talking about this already?”
To be completely authentic, there is a part of me that is just tired of this conversation. I don’t want to have it any more. I feel like it is a horse we keep beating to death. I’m exhausted of it. I’m tired of being asked my position as a pastor. I frustrated by the tone of the conversation. I’m resigned about any possible future where people aren’t divided over the issue and so I want nothing more than to simply let the conversation be and walk away.
And I can.
But my LGBT friends can’t.
Their family members can’t just walk away from this conversation.
If you want a definition of privilege it is simply that you can walk away from a conversation and not be affected by walking away. I can walk away because I am a heterosexual, married man. Leaving this conversation changes little about my life. I can go on as if the conversation doesn’t exist, paying little attention to it and, frankly, it would be easy. It would be less anxiety producing to not be put on the spot, to not ask questions, or to simply ignore it altogether.
But those who are LGBT cannot leave the conversation because they cannot leave themselves. They cannot just pretend that marriage, equality, justice, family, faith, and friendship don’t matter to them. It is no wonder they persistently keep the conversation alive. For all the shit they receive for doing so – being blamed for having an agenda, seeking to destroy families, not letting it go – can we just admit that in a similar situation we would do the exact same thing? If our ability to be with our loved one during their sickest, most vulnerable moments was in question because we weren’t family, if we were being shunned by our families, if our churches were making it difficult for us to approach God, would we rise up and demand to be heard?
Because of that, I’m not walking away.
I’m staying in the conversation because this conversation is about people. People who have hopes and dreams for the future. People who are worthy of being loved as people, not talked about as issues. People who need relationships, not conferences to discuss them. People who are indwelled with the image of God. No, I’m not leaving the conversation, but I am working to match the resolve and grace of my LGBT brothers and sisters as they patiently wait for us to dialogue with them.
Listen, I may come to a different conclusion when it comes to same-sex marriage than many, but I know I cannot be absent from the conversation. Not because my voice is so important, but because the lives of LGBT persons are important. When LGBT youth are 4 times more likely than their straight peers to attempt suicide, we have to stay involved in the conversation. When 40% of the homeless youth are LGBT, and 40% of those have been shunned by their family, we have to stay involved in the conversation. I don’t care what your theological beliefs about homosexuality are, as Christians who are concerned with human flourishing, justice, and love of neighbor we need to stay engaged in the conversation.
At the very least, we need to change the tone of the conversation. It is not okay that our youth suffer, sometimes alone, with the belief that they are hated, unlovable, or sure to face rejection by the ones they have long called family.
As a person of privilege, who enjoys broad acceptance by the church, staying engaged in the conversation begins with listening while in relationship with people. Conferences are not always helpful here. Mostly, I wonder if conferences are more about rallying the base than providing space to listen and learn. Dialogue and change happens at the local level while in relationship with people we know and love.
Soon after my son was born I began to wonder how I respond if, at some point down the road, he came to me and told me he was gay. How would I react? Would I be angry? Sad? Disappointed? Would I respond in a way that let him know that I love him? Would I change what I believe about homosexuality?
I don’t know the exact answer to that last question, but I know I would do a lot of thinking, reading, studying, praying, and listening. If I would do that for my son, why would I not do that for others? That’s neighbor love. To love like you love yourself.
photo credit: Just Ard