The working title was "gay Christian dialogue," a phrase that makes everything sound so simple: there are gay people, there are straight people, there are Christians.
The dialogue itself taught me otherwise.
For roughly two days, Oriented to Love: Sexual Diversity in the Body of Christ drew together a dozen people who defied simple description, and our conversation gave me a taste of the astounding complexity behind our sexuality. I learned about gay and lesbian people who, while fully owning their orientation, have chosen celibacy because of a deep fealty to their faith tradition. I learned about people who believe that nearly all sex is blessed and expresses aspects of God, even one-night stands. I learned about gay people who, out of a deep and undeniable love, married their closest friends -- of the opposite sex. I heard how our culture has so corrupted our view of sexuality that we have no idea how to touch one another physically, no matter how much we crave it. I learned more about the definition of queer and those who believe marriage should be between one man and one woman.
The twist, for me, is that all these people are striving to live faithfully to the call of Christ.
It's tempting to scramble for a logical resolution to such a paradox -- to filter all the words and perspectives and proceed efficiently to an opinion. I would submit that a great deal of what passes for dialogue on this issue has done just that. Hence, people are quick to conclude that those on the other side are "rationalizing their lifestyle" or "trying to get with the times" or "hiding behind the Bible to avoid change" or simply "pushing their political agenda."
Yes, there are people who do these things. My 11 companions in this dialogue were not among them. For two days, we did not seek a logical solution, but rather lived with the paradox. While sharing our personal stories of sexuality and gender with one another, we also explored thoughts I have rarely, if ever, heard in this context: our need for simplicity in the face of complexity, the value of surrendering our vision of what wholeness looks like, the daunting task of living authentically when social systems favor people who are not you, the need for the Church's repentance of the way it has treated LGBTQ people.
What if we all started living with the paradox for a while -- the paradox of people with myriad different practices and viewpoints living faithfully in the midst of them? Out of these paradoxes, questions often emerge. Here are a few that have emerged for me:
- How many orientations are there? Can they change over time?
- How many ways are there to live out each orientation -- sexual or gender vocations, as it were?
- Can we affirm every one of these vocations as a gift from God? If not, why not?
- Why do we resist complexity? Is it because there is a simple answer, or is there another reason?
- What if the Christian Church threw open its doors to all people, asking only that they be faithful to the call of Christ in their lives?
- Why do we feel the need to reconcile opposing views? What if we just threw them all into the same stew, let them cook and savored the flavor?
- How do we live in community with one another -- perhaps the most compelling imperative of the Christian faith -- when we hold radically different beliefs about the way to be in the world?
- Is dogma important? Is authority important? Why or why not?
At one point during Oriented to Love, a fellow participant, who knew about my background in advertising, asked what I'd write as a headline to describe the dialogue. While he meant the question as a joke, it got me thinking. And what I came up with was this: "Stop defining. Start listening. This is way more complex than you think."
In that spirit, I would love to hear your input. Grapple with the questions above, or raise your own. I would only ask that you avoid the simplistic. Live with the paradox and speak out of it. Maybe we can break new ground in hearing one another -- as Oriented to Love did in such an extraordinary way.