You Should Care: Talking about what we can’t talk about

by Elisabeth Wilder – Horizon Columnist

“Homosexual couples shouldn’t be allowed to get married, there is no question about it.” And like that, the storm began. Thanks to that statement, I watched and listened as a group of fellow students spent most of our study period arguing about the topic of homosexuality and LGBTQ. “The Bible makes it perfectly clear that marriage is between man and a woman!” One person yelled, obviously getting frustrated that others were not seeing his point. “We need the separation of church and state!” Retorted another, as she too was become flustered.

Soon, most of the people in my study period had given up on trying to do homework and were now listening in on the conversation. A few had even joined the two distinctive sides and began to help defend their respective position. The various parties argued using the Bible, the constitution, and any other argument they could think of. Some arguments were more logical than others, of course. On and on the arguing continued until finally someone gave the closing statement.

“I used to think a lot of the same things you all do, until my brother told me he wanted to kill himself because he was gay.”

From there, everyone quietly returned to their studies and wallowed in silence. It seemed there was no point continuing the conversation further from there. Eventually, the bell rang and it became excusable to speak again and people shuffled out of the classroom; muttering their same arguments under their breath. As they left, it appeared that no viewpoints or opinions had been changed in the 20 minutes of arguing. In fact, the same conversation happened again with most of the same people a few weeks later. This time, however, it was in a high school government class, but the result was the same. All the debating and arguing led to no solution, and most walked away agitated that more people didn’t take their side.

As a culture, we can’t talk about homosexuality. This may seem like a ludicrous statement considering that this topic seems to be an issue that everyone is talking about; much like the example I just gave. After all, churches are trying to come to a consensus about their position, legislators are trying to pass laws about it, students in classrooms want to have debates about it, and children are curious why their friend has two daddies instead of a mom and dad. It seems like everyone has something to say about homosexuality.

A recent article in "The Atlantic" explained the division in the Mennonite church on the topic of homosexuality. They're not the only group having a hard time with the issue. Are we all talking about this in the wrong way?
A recent article in “The Atlantic” explained how the Mennonite Church, known for its value of peaceful dialogue, is struggling to work through the issue of homosexuality. But Mennonites aren’t the only ones having unproductive conversations. Elisabeth Wilder asks, are we all talking about this in the wrong way?

I stand by what I said. We as a culture can’t talk about homosexuality because we don’t understand how. Frequently, we speak from one limited perspective rather than multiple. We tell the story of our relative or close friend who is hiding in the closet, what our church or religion believes, the cultural oppression that people who identify as LGBTQ face, the possibility of more marriages that would be considered non-traditional, and what makes for the best family.

In understanding this topic, it is clear and important to keep in mind that we are all searching to understand the most moral approach, but we rely on different truth sources to reach it. Some of us rely more heavily on a religious standpoint, others on moral reasoning, and some are guided by what they believe is natural. Yet, even when two parties are discussing this topic from the same truth source, there is still often division and misunderstanding. So how do talk about this issue?

It begins with genuinely wanting to be in discussion with people who have different opinions than you. Too frequently the words “let’s talk about this” are just hollow sentiments for someone who really means, “If you knew what I knew, you would have the same opinion as me.” If you want to change someone’s opinion about a topic, then you have to grant them the same opportunity. After all, if everyone believes they are just as right as you are, how can you expect someone to hear your point if you are unwilling to listen to theirs?

If authentic interest in dialogue isn’t present, this often leads to a polarized conversation. In other words, you’re wrong and I’m right. When the discussion becomes polarized, it becomes next to impossible to come to a mutual understanding. Having a mutual understanding with one another doesn’t mean that you have to agree, because there are sometimes when an agreement cannot be reached. Rather, there is a understanding of why someone believes what they do and what commonalities you share.

This topic, though, is unlike so many others because it is so personal. It boils down not only to what we believe, but how we treat people. It is hard to be kind and conscientious when you feel that who you love or what you believe is under attack. Unlike other topics such as the death penalty or abortion, most of us can’t say we know someone personally affected by laws and opinions about those subjects. As opposed to topics like euthanasia and illegal immigration, our beliefs and convictions on these topics are not frequently up for debate and criticism.

If two people disagree about one of the topics mentioned above, it’s usually a matter of moral principle. Whenever two people disagree about homosexuality, however, it can be the difference between infringing on someone’s religious right and granting people equal rights opportunities. Should denominations ordain ministers that identify as LGBTQ if some congregation doesn’t approve? Can therapists practice conversion therapy if it is what their client wants?

Although it may appear bigoted, warped, or narrow-minded at times when someone defends a side we don’t agree with, there is a certain aspect of nobility to it. Those who take sides do so with the intention of standing up for what they believe, which is both an aggravating and wonderful concept.

I, too, sitting here on my side of the fence often wish that things were as simple as black and white, but they’re not. The evidence and division all around us makes it so vastly clear that there is so much more than black and white, but many shades of grey. Thank goodness there is division and different ways of thinking, though, because when everyone thinks alike, there isn’t much thinking being done. If after reading this article you are still convinced the issue and conversation is black and white, allow me to present that side for you. Treat everyone you meet with love, respect, kindness, and the way you would want to be treated. That’s as black and white as it gets.

Author’s note: For additional resources on how to have more productive conversations about LGBTQ and other important topics, check out the resources here and here.


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