Why Flirt?

So what’s this all about?  Aren’t we already pretty much decided about these questions?  Aren’t the answers fairly obvious?

That’s kind of much how we talk about LGBT issues (on both sides), don’t we?

“There go the gay activists trying to tear apart our society!”…”There go those conservative bigots looking for another way to discriminate!”

Entrenched in our deep certainties, we peer over the barbed wire just enough to confirm our suspicions about those savages.

Until we let ourselves actually meet them…face to face, outside of the trench and war-zones, over hummus or coffee or a full-on dinner.

Something changes in that moment, for many of us.  Perhaps it’s as simple as the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas once wrote, “Truth comes through the face of the other.”

Once you encounter the truth of the other’s humanity, something changes. And THAT’S when the possibility emerges:  getting curious.

Just a little.  Not a lot.  Just dipping your big toe in…”hmmm, I wonder why that person thinks about…” Or even better, “can YOU help me understand why…”

Like all things beautiful, this starts not with a full-blown investigation – just a little bit of flirting.

I wonder, does everyone in the gay community like those pride parades?  Could there be something beautiful about a committed gay couple?  To what degree would the gay community support my own religious freedom?  Is it possible to have a real, vibrant relationship together?  

What about their religious faith leads them to such vastly different conclusions? What are those conservatives afraid of – especially for something that seems so beautiful to me? What areas of common ground might exist?  Is it possible to have a real, vibrant relationship together?  

Remember:  flirting (with curiosity) is not the same as commitment…it’s just testing the water.  Trying it out.

The whole purpose of this blog is to invite more of that – on both sides.  As someone who has been enriched and touched (and challenged) by my friends in the gay community – I want others to have the same experience. And on the other side, I want friends in the gay community to have a chance to understand ‘my tribe’ a little better too.

That’s the point of this…leaning into even the POSSIBILITY of something more to learn, more to understand, more to appreciate from ‘those people.’ Experimenting with the possibility…like when you were child – and the whole world was a source of wonder.  (That’s why I’ll be using the art from my own curious little monkey boys to provide some color – and remind us where we all came from…).  sammywilliamonblog

In both my Christian faith and my work as a mindfulness teacher, the comparison to child-like traits of wonder, humility and “beginner’s mind” is often helpful – e.g., “As children we fall in love with the wonder of being alive. Our bodies fascinate us; the things around us fascinate us. In a way, the practice of mindfulness of body is a big step in falling back in love with the sheer wonder of being alive.” – Tsoknyi Rinpoche

In the next couple of months, I will take up 30 questions that seem to stand out as sticking points in this particular conversation.  Each question has been selected as a ‘pivot point’ or ‘center of gravity’ in the discourse I have analyzed – each reflecting meaningful contrasts in viewpoints as well.  For each issue, these contrasting views are mapped, followed by a few practical implications that ensue from each interpretation.

In addition to my own dialogue work, the basis for these blogs are an analysis of thousands of online comments and many other hundreds of articles.  When Proposition 8 happened, I was working on a qualitative project with my gay research partner, Nathan.  Reading the papers the next day, I was blown away at the quality and power of online comments posted by thousands of citizens – spending hours over the next day downloading tens of thousands of them (happy conservatives, and angry liberals). In 2013 & 2015, I did the same thing following United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges (this time, happy liberals and angry conservatives). Out of this review of fascinating narrative contrasts, certain patterns stand out as crucial contours of the larger conversation.

To supplement this analysis, I’m drawing on original interviews with current or former Mormons who experience same-sex attraction, conducted by Kendall Wilcox, a dialogue lover and film-maker leading the Far Between project (leaning left) and Ty Mansfield, a family therapist and author leading the Voices of Hope project (leaning right) – with interviews referenced by “FB” or “VH” after a quotation.

Like all human beings, however, I admittedly write from my own standpoint – in this case, as an out-of-the-closet conservative religious guy. As a way to test and challenge our own biases, I’ve practiced in my work over the years a system of checks and balances (writing virtually all of my 13 peer-reviewed papers with people who disagreed with me on some fundamental level).  To allow this same kind of cross-checking here, I’ve personally invited review and critique from a small group of dialogue colleagues – virtually all of whom are progressive.  “If you see anything in my writing that doesn’t fairly represent your side, I want to hear from you.  If something I write doesn’t sit well with you, please tell me…you’ve got my ear!”



I’ve asked one friend, in particular, Arthur Peña – a gay Christian friend – to be my a central partner on the blog, as the official Holding My Feet to the Fire comrade.  Over the last year, his questions and critique of Mormonism, religious authority and his own life story has taught me more than any other conversation I’ve had.  Last year, we reached the magic moment in dialogue where it gets totally-okay to get openly MAD with each other (yelling at me, “you’re lying, Jacob.  There is NOT space for gay people in the LDS Church!)

Over and over, Arthur’s insights and observations (and critical feedback) have moved my thinking and writing to a better place.  I want to thank Arthur, in particular, for his contribution and influence on everything happening here and to some of the inner learning that led up to it as well (see Arthur’s bio and contact info here).

Each essay’s purpose is to dig into competing narratives and elucidate nuances – rather than to advocate one position. My aim is not so much to ‘establish the truth’ – as to cultivate space to better explore contrasting interpretations and narratives within which people shape their own lives and happiness.

In all this, I hope to make my own small contribution to moving the conversation forward – encouraging in every way I can a more thoughtful, deepening conversation. While not presuming to fully resolve any of these issues, I do confess to hoping that a healthier collective exchange might foster more of a peaceful coexistence between religious conservatives and the LGBT community, reaffirming space for both diverging personal convictions and authentic love across the deepest of differences.