Last year, I wrote an article called Talking About LGBT People: A Tutorial. The basic gist of the article was that, when it comes to straight, conservative Christians trying to understand gay people, listening is better than talking. This thesis is obviously a good one: we should all listen more intently, and be less willing to offer hair-trigger responses to difficult situations. I stand by that central thesis.
But, for the past year, this article has been a grain of sand in my conscience, irritating and troubling me. I’ve meditated a great deal on my words in this post, and I now believe that an amendment is in order.
In the post, I wrote these words:
In other words, you must earn your right to speak on the LGBT issue. This is a simple request for intellectual integrity, and that you put in a similar amount of work that I and other LGBT people have in understanding this issue. If you, speaking from a place of less experience, study, and engagement expect to contribute to our understanding, than you are woefully misguided and have severe blind spots. If you don’t put in the work, you will say things that are unintentionally destructive, and will contribute to the noise in the Church that makes so many go deaf to the love of Christ.
I still believe everything in this paragraph is true. In fact, I believe just about everything in the entire article is true. I hope the article still serves as a jab to the conscience of anyone who would speak with misplaced confidence on LGBT matters, as such arrogance is deadly to the vulnerable.
But there’s one not-insignificant sentence that snags my conscience, and it is the first one: you must earn your right to speak on the LGBT issue. With this sentence, I am silencing others who disagree with me, and placing them beneath me. Implicit in this sentence is that only I (and other gays or liberals) get to determine when you have earned your right to speak. With a single sentence I framed all who disagree with me as subordinate to my authority. This sentence is intolerable to my conscience. I now understand that these words, while well intentioned, are gravely misguided. They also stand as an indictment of the left, of which I am a part.
We lefties place care and compassion at the center of our moral matrix: without even thinking about it, we care most deeply about protecting others from harm. When I see suffering, I immediately need to swoop in and protect the sufferer. I’m also in caring professions: I work for a company that provides affordable food to those who can’t otherwise afford it in the Appalachian mountains, and I’m a yoga teacher who focuses on therapeutic and gentle teaching. I’m practically a mother hen. That’s my gifting, but it’s also my bias.
When I see any potential for harm, real or imagined, it is my immediate knee-jerk reaction to shut down those who are doing the “oppressing.” I’d rather tell people to shut up than say things that I believe are morally wrong and damaging to others. I’d rather silence others than allow them a voice and reason with them as equals. I admit that this is wrong. Anger is acceptable; rage is acceptable; absolute moral disagreement is acceptable. Silencing others is not.
Not only is it not wrong, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter how justified I may think it is, silencing others is not a path towards a better, more caring world. It only creates hostility, bitterness, and hatred. It forces apart instead of drawing together. Laying my cards plainly on the table, if my goal is to win – if my goal is for LGBT rights to be normalized – than encouraging the free exchange of ideas is in my best interest. Allowing others a voice is in my best interest.
Talking is a form of thinking, and if people aren’t allowed to voice their doubts, their questions, their (admittedly) stupid ideas and theories, then they will never grow and learn. Worse, they will take their ideas to others who already affirm their ideas, and in that echo chamber, their ideas will become a grotesque, inbred monster that can do real harm. Shutting them down in a rage is how I create a darker world, not a better one. And, without the discussion, I am less likely to see the shortcomings of my own thinking.
More and more, and I am turning into an adamant believer in the foundation liberal principle of the free exchange of ideas. I believe that it is a radical step of resistance against our Kingdom of Echo Chambers that put a Trump and a Bannon in power. As Michael Coren wrote in his book Epiphany, “I have come to learn more than ever that respectful disagreement is a fundamental weapon against fundamentalist intolerance.”
So to my conservative friends, you have a voice. I can listen, engage, and discuss. We can learn from one another, if you are willing. Know that I am willing. Rather than placing tolerance at the center of world, I choose hospitality, and such hospitality allows me to respond to both needs: to those of conservatives who need to discuss, push back, and explore, and to the needs of wounded LGBT people who need shelter, care, and protection.
P.S. – This post may raise, in some readers’ minds, a question: is there ever a time to intensely resist and shut down oppressive, evil, abusive ideologies? The answer to that question is of course.