On the Eve of the Election: “Bigot”; “Godless” … Reflections on Constructing the “Other”

Nov 6, 2012…

I’ve been seeing the posts from my friends on Facebook. I feel it myself: the “ick” of wondering where we will be on November 7th when we wake up and find we have to keep on living with each other.

We have to live with those with whom we disagree. How do we do this well?

This question haunts me.

It haunts me because I am human.

It haunts me because I want to believe that I am what I believe.

It haunts me because most often I think that you are what you believe.

And it haunts me because I know that most of the time we get angry and ugly with each other when we don’t agree.

And why? Well, for me at least…I get anxious when I read your Facebook post because when what you believe silences me and those whom I care about I want you to be less human so I can feel that I still get to breathe. Because I know that ideas have consequences for real people…and sometimes they bring life and sometimes they kill.

So on the eve of this election I want to do three things: 1) To frame our disagreements in light of intercultural difference; 2) To share my story and invitation; 3) To invite us to seek to hear the person behind the idea and keep on figuring out how to live with each other.

A case study: Vote No! Vote Yes! Marriage in MN

In Minnesota there are a couple of huge amendments on the ballot. I want to tackle one of them. Here’s what I’m wondering (I’m going to try to say this as un-biased as I can)…what if when it comes to defining marriage as between only one man and one woman in the constitution VS. seeing how the courts and the legislature will define it in the future (read: the possibility of it being open to LGBTQ people)…what if one side isn’t just a bunch of bigots? And what if the other side isn’t just godless?

Let me share my story with you:

I grew up in a family where being Christian was everything. I loved Jesus and I wanted to love the world.

I had never met anyone who was gay. I didn’t know what it meant except for a name that one of my high school friends was called.

Then I began to learn that some people believed they were born gay. And I was told that the Bible condemned homosexuality; that it was not what God would desire. And above all I sought to live out the gospel in my life and my relationships.

Then a friend came out to me. I told him I loved him but that I thought his lifestyle was a sin. I looked at his face when I told him that…and I knew that someone had just experienced me as the most unloving version of myself that I had ever been experienced as. This was devastating (I’m sure more so for him, but it rocked my world too).

Let’s look at this from an intercultural perspective. I didn’t hate gay people. I was just trying to live out a faith that was at the center of my life. And in this world all of my leaders and biblical interpreters told me God was against homosexuality. And I believed that if I didn’t stand up for the gospel in this instance then I would be forsaking my faith. So what option did I have?

I realize there are some really, truly hateful people in the world. And I realize that I would have been experienced by many (including my friend) as hurtful and hateful. It is true that I was being that way to them, but hate didn’t define who I was…that was not me. I was simply operating out of one cultural framework.

Fast forward: over time I found more space to ask my culture and faith questions which allowed me to change my stance on marriage and the LGBTQ population. I now sit much more in a position of an ally for my LGBTQ friends, colleagues and family. And I know that some people from my family and my background look at me and those who have Vote No! bumper stickers and yard signs as “godless.” I understand why this appears to be a “godless” position…but some of the most faithful people in the world are members of the LGBTQ family. Many take scripture very seriously. But to call GLBTQ persons and allies “godless” begs the question: Godless according to who?

Thus the invitation is the same for both of us: that we ask where each other is coming from.

Intercultural Awareness

The Intercultural Development Inventory is a tool to help us think about culture and how we might live together. We have recently been doing some work with this tool at Luther Seminary. One of the things our trainers talked about is the O-I-E process. It is an invitation to do good intercultural work. What happens is this:

We OBSERVE a behavior or act.

We INTERPRET the behavior or act.

We EVALUATE the behavior or act.

 

Example: VOTE YES!.. Person A (voting no) might see Vote Yes! Person B posting and:

OBSERVE the post from Person B where they note their grief over a recent “Vote No!” commercial they saw.

INTERPRET this as small-minded and backward

EVALUATE this Person B as being bigoted and hateful.

 

Example: VOTE NO!…Person C (voting yes) might see Vote NO! Person D posting and:

OBSERVE Person D’s post about marriage equality as a civil right on Facebook.

INTERPRET this advocacy as being anti-God’s commands.

EVALUATE it as Person D must have lost their faith and be godless.

 

The Invitation to Re-Interpret

The OIE process requires that every time we get to a negative evaluation we then re-engage and ask ourselves again if what we evaluated is the only interpretation. We can check with a “cultural broker” who understands the culture; we can read more about this culture, we can brainstorm other possibilities.

Then we re-interpret.

So in the first example when Person A initially decides that Person B is a bigot…Person A checks with what they might know of evangelicalism and realizes that Person B is probably genuinely trying to live out their faith. Then Person A extends the bridge of grace which assumes well of Person B before they respond.  Thus they re-interpret and respond interculturally.

In the second example when Person C initially decides that Person D is godless…Person C checks with what they might know of progressive theology and realizes that Person D is probably genuinely trying to live out their faith and/or conscience. Then Person C extends the bridge of grace which assumes well of Person D before they respond. Thus they also re-interpret and respond interculturally.

This doesn’t mean we have to agree. It doesn’t mean that ideas don’t have consequences. it doesn’t mean that policies or ideas can’t be critiqued as being oppressive or too permissive.

BUT what it does mean is that hopefully we can engage with others in love.

And if I know anything I know this: That without love and tough questions I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would not be becoming who I am becoming.

I am grateful to my teachers and friends who extended me grace even when I was so convinced of my own rightness that I hurt them deeply.

So on this eve before the election week I want to invite us to seek to hear the person behind the idea and keep on figuring out how to live with each other.

I wondered if I should close there, but to be fair to where I am at in my own story I would like to share where I’m coming from and my request…

To my friends who are planning to vote yes: I am assuming that many of you are doing so because you believe that scripture defines marriage as between one man and one woman. To you I have three things that I implore you to consider:

1) Faith is one thing; civil society is another. We don’t want people to legislate our freedom of religion and conscience, so let’s not do that to others. Voting NO on this amendment will not forsake the rights of churches to do as their faith and conscience demand.  It does not mean that you have to believe the Bible supports marriage equality. But it does mean that you see the separation of church and state as an important protection to uphold. Please allow the gospel we believe to be the gospel and not to be our government.

2) An amendment? If you vote yes on this then it goes into the constitution. Putting such a thing as this in our constitution seems anti the framers intent. To put this amendment in our state constitution will force the conversation to end. What if there are other options for how to interpret scripture? What if there is more we can learn about what is best for our society together and what we define as a family? We have been wrong before (slavery, women)…please at least consider that we don’t need to put this into the constitution.

3) Conversation. On that note, I’d invite to you vote NO (or abstain) so that more conversation can happen. Please consider reading Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality by a wonderful scholar Dr. Jack Rogers (he was at Fuller Seminary for 17 years and really has a great evangelical approach to this matter), or watch Fish Out of Water, or please feel free to reach out to me or others you know with whom you disagree.

May we continue to figure out ways to hear each other and seek love in the midst of our deep disagreements and cultural divides.

To our joint life together…

With hope,

Sara

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