Thursday, October 18, 2007

What we talked about

Our discussion last night went better than I expected.

In my last two posts I called it a "community discussion" and apparently left the impression that this was a discussion open to the community. My bad. What I meant (and expected) was that community representatives who were concerned about reaching conservative religious communities with gay and lesbian issues were invited to share experiences and discuss strategies. So I was basically invited to a brainstorming committee.

I expected to come and find that I was the most conservative person there. That turned out to be true. (The moderator of the meeting jotted down "ultra-conservative" on the white board when it came to representing my concerns.) I was afraid I might come and find that I was the only conservative there. That turned out not to be true. There was one other person, an American Baptist minister, who thankfully said most of the things I wanted to say. All I had to do was agree with him and share some supporting anecdotes from my personal experience. We didn't talk about celibacy, but it was just as well since that idea would have been too advanced for this group.

Two people from CA Faith Equality moderated the meeting, my friend Kerry who is lesbian and Jewish, and her colleague who (I think) is transgendered and was raised Hindu. The pastor of the UCC church that hosted the meeting attended along with a number of Japanese American congregation members who were parents or friends of someone gay. There was also a long time gay activist from the Chinese community, a representative from a GLBT legal organization, a Buddhist parent of a gay child, and a Washington D.C. activist who had recently relocated to L.A.

As I said, I was on board with just about everything the American Baptist minister shared. He emphasized that in order to talk to conservatives about gay or gay-related issues, it doesn't work to set up panel discussions and bring in outsiders who have credentials that people would consider questionable. A graduate of "So-and-So School of Religion" isn't going to cut it. It had better be Dallas Theological Seminary or some place people have heard of and respect. He joked that had enough trouble getting respect for being a graduate of Fuller Seminary, and I was the only one in the room who laughed. That in itself said something about where the divide in the group lay.

He talked about the importance of understanding people's fears, being able to name them and openly discuss them. Are these fears rational? If our country is in moral decline, would supporting gay civil marriage hurt or help the situation? Are homosexuals dragging marriage down the tubes . . . or have heterosexuals been doing that on their own? He also talked about how these discussions often don't mean much to people until they are facing a crisis moment, such as when a son or daughter comes out as gay. That's when people come back ready to revisit the issues with you, now that they themselves are feeling like outsiders in the church.

Somehow we got onto the topic of theology. One of the UCC members asked me why I couldn't just tell the members of my church that God created people to be gay. I had to explain that our denomination held to a theological tradition that included an Augustinian view of original sin and the fall. Since the fall affected all of humanity, the burden of proof would lie with whoever wanted to demonstrate that homosexuality is not a part of that fallen condition. I also explained that according to this view, unchosen conditions such as sickness or suffering (such as the pains of childbirth) are manifestations of our fallen condition. It seemed to me homosexuality could be presented as falling into a related category.

The UCC people responded as if they had never before heard of the doctrine of the fall. That puzzled me, because I wouldn't know how to understand the joy and wonder of the gospel without it. But of course I didn't pursue it with them. This meeting was on their turf, not mine.

The group concluded--perhaps after hearing enough of the bizarre, conservative, insider lingo from the American Baptist minister and me--that it was probably best to allow the people who are already within conservative circles to carry on these discussions with their own. I couldn't agree more. Still, they want to meet again to talk about actions we could take. I'm not sure what actions those would be, except for me to sit around waiting for the people who already know me to approach me in their own time with their own questions about these things. But sure, I'll go to the next meeting if I can.