#10 Is the LGBT-religious conservative conversation primarily about whether to love people (or not)?

Note: On the year anniversary of the LDS policy clarification regarding gay marriage, I pose two questions for others who care about this conversation. In doing so, I acknowledge the great pain people on all sides have felt, while being as hopeful as ever that a broader, more spacious conversation can alleviate collective pain better than Prozac! A central conclusion of my dissertation research was that pain and suffering are intimately linked to various narratives we carry around – and out of which we interpret (and inhabit) the world. Much of my subsequent work has been comparing various narratives of sociopolitical and health related questions – considering both their diverging consequences in real-life, and ways to shift narratives that aren’t serving us. As always, I welcome feedback, pushback and even sharp disagreement…as long as you don’t make fun of my big ears like the elementary school bullies. (:    

One of the most common themes of public conversation about gay rights is the idea that larger issues involved really boil down to a question of love. As one person said on social media, “We’re making it too difficult. The direction is clear -in all things, LOVE!  People!!  It boils down to whether we can love people or not!”

This idea has become so pervasive as to be hardly seen as one perspective anymore – instead becoming widely embraced as a simple reality by majorities of Americans.

And this makes sense from one vantage point.  If the LGBT community is a fundamentally different group of people, with wholly different needs and trajectories of ideal happiness, then why wouldn’t we just “love these people as they truly are”?

The simplicity and obviousness of this notion is illustrated in this “Love Thy Neighbor” list: e2fa7da3c9fc9db798ef1ecf1eabdd6b

As reflected here, love is emphasized as something so obvious that everyone could and should easily agree upon on it.

Again, from this perspective, the issue becomes extremely simple:  Are you willing to love?

Thus, we frequently hear things like this in my home state:  “Is it time to love, Utah?”

Pretty simple, right? Yes?  Or No?

 Why is that so hard?  The estrangements. The hurt feelings. The suicides.  The answer from this perspective is resoundingly simple: “showing more genuine love to gay people” would prevent most of these problems from continuing.

Period.  End of story.  If religious conservative individuals (and institutions) could simply dig deep and begin to start “loving people completely….as they are,” that should take care of the problem!  Right?!

My question for progressive friends. Every time I hear people pleading for more love, a slight twinge of sorrow comes up. I really do wish I could just nod my head and say “yes! That’s all we need!” If only things could be that simple!

That’s precisely what many people insist to be the case – “it really is that simple, Jacob!” Here’s the thing, though: no matter how much passion and heart go into that rally-cry-for-love, it does not take away the crystal clear reality that human beings disagree on what love even means (and I mean far beyond mere semantics or subjectivities).

John Backman, a queer Episcopalian who I respect and trust immensely, wrote in the Huffington Post last year during the gay rights debate that behind the larger controversies associated with marriage is a “deeper” and “massive confusion in U.S. culture over the word love.”

He adds, “The truth is, we toss the word around in many different ways.”

Religious conservatives (like me) are yearning for a bigger, more honest conversation about these differences – one where we could really hear each other out at that level.

In the absence of that, however, it’s really hard to see how we’re going to find any way forward. Indeed, instead of that crucial conversation, it’s become much easier to do something else: Keep the pressure on those not Joining the Parade – finding new ways to reprimand religious conservatives for not loving enough!

The scolding starts to sound achingly cliché.  Even attempts like mine to raise questions about various meanings can start to look like red herring distractions or mere guises for, well…not loving enough! As one woman wrote to me after a recent essay, “Here’s an idea, let’s stop making excuses. It is not right to treat LGBT people this way. Stop going through mental gymnastics.”

Did you hear that?  Thinking more deeply or pursuing a broader conversation  = mental gymnastics.

However difficult deeper inquiry and conversation may be, I will say it again: the bare-naked fact remains that there are very different world views involved here, each with a very different understanding of what love looks like.

If so, if that’s true, then can we at least agree to talk about those differences?

That’s harder than merely pretending they don’t exist. And for those willing to venture forward, the path forward can indeed be challenging (and rewarding at the same time).

Going deeper with love.  John Backman went on to illustrate the challenge by quoting one conservative Episcopalian leader who wrote, “I pray that regardless of which side of the issue you find yourself on, you will know that I truly love and respect each of you as brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Yet John channeled the concern others had with the statement: “How can you respect someone, they ask, and not embrace who he is? How can you love someone and yet not hear her story without judgment or condemnation?”

What a great question – the kind we desperately need to be talking about more!

“Reality,” it turns out, can be experienced in wildly different ways depending on one’s worldview.  To religious conservatives, their opposition and concern to recent social changes are not personal attacks at all – and they’re not even something they would consider “un-loving.”  But to those who see these questions as revolving around simple matters of identity (and Acceptance of Self), religious conservative teaching sure starts to feel like a personal attack.

My efforts to empathize more deeply with my gay-identifying friends have reminded me of a scene from one of the Captain America movies where he’s being attacked by a group of security forces that include one of his former friends. At the end of the attack, this friend says: “I just want you to know, Cap…this ain’t personal.” He ends saying, “It kind of feels personal.”

Through my own chance to hear more from those who identify as LGBTQ, I’ve come to understand more deeply why this all can feel so personal – both the inner experiences and the outer conversation.  The new Mormon and Gay website hosted by the LDS Church acknowledges how deeply personal and central gay attraction can come to be experienced by many people. And yet, as John writes, it can feel hard to hear others express concern about what they consider to be “their core sense of self—which they have spent years, often decades, struggling to embrace.”

That totally makes sense.  And to those who think like this, no wonder this is and should be a simple, obvious question:  do you love me or not?

To religious conservatives (like myself), however, I’m equally aware of how this is not and can never be such a simple, obvious question – unless, that is, we overlook all the other differences in perspective (about who we are, who God is, what it means to love, etc.)

Out of that other worldview, my religious conservative community often comes to emphasize experience and action over fundamental identity when it comes to same-sex attraction.  John goes on to note that “Even God, [religious conservatives] would say, loves everyone without necessarily approving of their actions” – acknowledging that “contrary to popular opinion, love may not mean a complete acceptance of all the beloved’s thoughts and actions.”

And around and around we go – in a dance of disagreement that may never end.  Are we okay with that?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

For those Not Okay, the Fight stretches on endlessly ahead.  And for those who can find some acceptance around even sharp disagreement, the Conversation itself stretches on endlessly ahead.

One of the precious realities gained in this Scary-but-Rewarding Conversation, in my experience, is that thoughtful, good-hearted, loving people can and will continue disagreeing about this (and pretty much everything else too) for a long time yet to come…

The more I’ve personally embraced that reality, the more enjoyable this conversation has become.  And the less fearful.  And the more powerful.  And the less draining. And the more transformative!

If you’re drained, fearful, angry or scared….consider joining us in the fun.

You won’t regret it.

Jacob Hess is the author of 13 peer reviewed articles exploring contrasting narratives of mental health and sociopolitical issues.  He currently directs the non-profit, All of Life which offers free online classes exploring applications of mindfulness for those facing mental health challenges. Jacob has (co)authored three books: You’re Not  as Crazy as I Thought, But You’re Still WrongOnce Upon a Time…He Wasn’t Feeling It Anymore and A Third Space: Proposing Another Way Forward in the LGBT/Religious Conservative Impasse (Disagreement Practice, Treasonous Friendship & Trustworthy Rivalry in the Face of Irreconcilable Difference). Two other projects – Red Blue Dictionary and My Science Can Beat Up Your Science – will be released this fall.  His work with Phil Neisser at State University of New York has been featured on This American Life and was recently honored by Public Conversations Project. His many wonderful writing collaborators and dialogue partners disagree in all sorts of ways with Jacob’s religious conservative views, and this essay only represents his own convictions. As a proud partner of Living Room Conversations, the Village Square and a long-term member of the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation, Jacob’s life work is dedicated to making space for thoughtful, good-hearted people to find understanding (and affection) while exploring together the deepest of disagreements.

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