Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Socializing With Evangelicals

Last night I spent the evening socializing with a bunch of evangelicals, along with members of the GLBT community; about 8 people on each team.

I would not normally want to do such a thing, seeing how we've interacted in the past. Fact is I am so tired of this. This point in Utah's legislative session is where I typically start to wear down and this session has been difficult, from the loss of all Common Ground Bills on the heals of Prop 8, to Buttar's declaration that gays have no morals, followed by the agreement of his Legislative buddies (they just didn't like the way he said it...). But I went because, frankly, I'm a desperate man; I'll drag myself along and will take on most forms of discomfort and exposure to just be heard on the other side, just in case that helps the three huge responsibilities I left at home last night.

I'm glad I did it though.

The conversation was moderated, and cushioned between periods of socializing. It went well and the only time I got stirred up was in listening to one of my friends talk about the hurt our families have gone through this last year in Utah and in regards to the LDS. There wasn't any hostility from either side, though. No one was trying to be cruel, even with that veneer of love, and no animosity was engendered that I could detect, and that is a tribute to their and the moderator's approach. It seems some leaders in Utah can't advocate even love and "mutual respect" without being insulting and inflammatory :-).

In short, these were not the evangelicals who protest at Pride or LDS conference. They were folks who love and are adherent to their faith. They were people who believe Paul when he seemingly wrote to the Romans that homosexuality is a sin. However, they were sincerely looking for common ground; it wasn't the sort of bait and switch I've come to expect. They actually heard our fears for our homes, and agreed on issues of equal rights and law... or at least seemed to, my cynical side wants to add, but I'm trying to give these folk the benefit of the doubt.

We talked about the legal issues our homes face here; we talked about the trouble the adoption law, for example, causes some of our children. We talked about how dehumanizing it feels when it seems like the average evangelical looks at us and all they see is something relatively unimportant to us, sex, not a parent, not a spouse, not a citizen. The christian gays and lesbians talked about the challenges they feel in finding a community of faith for their families.

But we were there to hear their fears too.

They wanted to know from the christian gays and lesbians if love, inclusion but not a blessing of their unions was enough for them to fit into their congregation; they agreed it was. They were even wondering "why don't we sit in the same pews?", which is much more religious inclusion than we're used to, seeing as the church of our youth would likely excommunicate every gay couple there. Nevertheless, we don't want their faith to change in their churches; we want the government we share in the secular world to be blind to our anatomy, and to treat us how they'd want to be treated.

Also, as they said, they've been in the majority in the US for a long time and they fear their numbers are dwindling, and that's scares them. No one there said this was their personal fear but they said it was an evangelical fear that, if they give us equal rights, it eventually will lead to gays treating them the way they now treat us. They are afraid of payback, that the same tools the LDS and some evangelicals are using on us now will some day be turned on them, if they give us any ground. I think the gay community should be more sensitive to that fear. Even if we don't see that as a likely event and it's not in our hearts, we need to get it across that, if that day ever came, we'd still be on the side of religious freedom and equality, on the evangelical's side on that day. We also need to get across that, to aleviate any chance of that fear comming true, they should not be putting tension on the pendulum of politics. They should fight to bring the mass to the middle, fight for equality and protections for us both under law, else, when they're forced to let go, they might convert their potential to kinetic energy against them down the line.

Anyway, while we may never agree about a letter from Paul two-thousand years ago, it seems we can still render unto Caesar what's Caesar's and have each other's back in the political arena. In the end, cliche as it is, bridges were built; there weren't two teams. I hate that gulf of misunderstanding between my family and the majority of LDS Utahns out there; it's one I'm nearly certain we could bridge with 90% of them if we just spent a similar evening together... but there are only so many evenings and I'm looking for my family to spend them elsewhere. Nevertheless, you have to celebrate the small steps, right?


Janci said...

Just yesterday I was ranting to my husband about the lack of respect between opposing political sides. I was good and angry that no one seems to be willing to compromise, no one will give an inch, and therefore, there can never be peace.

Thank you for this post. I needed to know that there are at least some other people who can sit down and discuss things without slinging around hate every which way, and blocking every attempt at solution.

Alan said...

All of this is very encouraging. And I also can't help wondering, if they really do acknowledge that they fear payback, why aren't they even that much more exercised about trying to change the pattern of ill treatment from their side in order to blunt the potential impact of what they fear later on?

Just a thought.

Scot said...

Janci "I was good and angry that no one seems to be willing to compromise, no one will give an inch, and therefore, there can never be peace."

I hear ya. The trouble is that we are facing a belief of world collapse if families get equal rights regardless of their anatomy on one side and the impossibility of agreeing to accept second class legal status for your spouse and children on the other side.

Also, the compromise looks different to different groups. With this group of evangelicals equal rights in law was okay as long as they could still preach and believe what they wanted in church, and everyone was more than okay with that. We found common ground. But with some Utahns the compromise, as I've even heard on local talk radio, was simply letting gay folks live un-incarcerated. To them gays already have more ground than they should in a reasonable compromise.

Alan, "if they really do acknowledge that they fear payback"

See, the thing is the group we met with would not claim this as a fear they personally held, but said it was the fear of the evangelical community, and so it was difficult to talk it through. I wish we could have gotten into this more, and maybe we will next time, but we were given a time limit for serious discussion. I do think this is an important consideration though.

MoHoHawaii said...

What a great post, Scot!

We need desperately as a society to reverse the trend toward increasing polarization. We need a truce in the culture war.

I was recently asked to be a "friend" on Facebook by a person I knew in high school who is now a right-wing, gay-hating Christianist. I decided to respond and hopefully engage in respectful dialog (via e-mail). I may be the only openly gay person she knows. My goal is to humanize a group she sees as The Enemy. (I don't plan on challenging any of her religious or political beliefs.) Your post came at just the right time. I'm going to experiment by using what you reported as a basis for my next communication with my born-again friend.

Janci said...

But with some Utahns the compromise, as I've even heard on local talk radio, was simply letting gay folks live un-incarcerated.


If we just had fewer idiots in the mix, maybe more people could talk together like your group did here.

chosha said...

I found this really encouraging. I hope it proves fruitful.

Guy said...

Really interesting, a great idea. Who set this up?

Scot said...

Good luck MoHoHawaii. Seems I'm scheduled to meet with them again mid March. Baby steps...

Janci: "If we just had fewer idiots in the mix, maybe more people could talk together like your group did here."

Yeah; I make the mistake of listening to salt lake's 630 AM, and so I end up hearing a lot of what the worst of the other side thinks. Probably not the best thing for me.

Thanks Chosha, I think it may.

Guy: "Who set this up?"

One of our friends and fellow GLBT activist also works very hard up on the hill for homeless youth issues. In that aim she became friends with an evangelical who was concerned about homeless issues as well and they hatched this idea together.