Sunday, August 02, 2009

More thoughts on Bridging the Gap

Since my last blog post about bridging the gap, I've been thinking a lot about bridging and what's all involved with that. After some offline conversations with folks, as well as comments on that post, I felt I needed to write a little bit more of my thoughts, disjointed as they may be. I'll preface this by saying I don't mean this as some sort of post slamming Christians or Christianity, I just wish to post some thoughts and observations I've had recently. So mostly uncensored thoughts:

Sometimes I wonder if it's possible to bridge with many conservative Christians. I mean, if a Christian says to me that they don't think gay people will be allowed into heaven, how is it possible to build a bridge or meet in the middle there? I don't believe that being gay (in orientation and behavior) means someone won't go to heaven (if it even exists in the form most folks think). How do we get to a middle ground there? Likewise, I believe I'm whole and wonderful just how I am. Others believe I need to be healed. What is the middle ground?

A bridge, to me, implies meeting in the middle. So what's the middle here? Gay people can get halfway to heaven? I'm only partially flawed? That is an untenable position to me. I spent too many years believing I was broken and flawed and "less than" merely because I had same sex attractions. And now I know that I'm not broken and I feel more complete and whole than I have ever felt in my life, and you can't convince me otherwise. Likewise, many Christians feel you can't convince them that they Bible as it is translated could be wrong here and there.

This leads me to my next thought. Is a conservative Christian building a bridge merely so the "other side" can cross over to their side? For many pro-gay people who were doing bridging work with conservative Christians (many of them ex-gay) years ago on a site called Bridges Across the Divide they became disillusioned with the bridging work over time because there was no middle ground that anyone was willing to stand on. Conservatives were not going to concede that gay relationships were OK, and self-accepting and -respecting gay folks were not going to concede that their lives and relationships were not okay. At an impasse, and after many hurtful actions and statements by conservative Christians who used to be "bridgers", many pro-gay people are no longer interested in bridging work. And I don't blame them.

The inherent problem with trying to bridge over gay issues is that you're talking about our lives. And more and more, many of us are feeling like our lives are not up for debate. The time for debate and dialogue about whether my life, and my basic orientation is OK, is over. As Mel White, founder of Soulforce, wrote on his blog:
"For me, the debate is over. The verdict is in. Homosexuality is not a sickness, not a sin. Furthermore I have no interest in continuing that debate. Whether fundamentalist Christians believe it or not, I can say without fear or ambivalence: “I am gay. I am proud. And God loves me without reservation!”

I’m no longer willing to debate my friends on the religious right. I’ve sat through a thousand dialogues. I’ve stood in protest, been arrested and thrown in jail. I’ve written. I’ve preached. I’ve been interviewed endlessly, all hoping that one day fundamentalist Christians would realize the tragic consequences of the untruth they proclaim.

Now when someone interrupts a speech or sermon to ask me “Have you ever read Leviticus 20” my answer is simple if abrupt. “Friend, you’ve confused me with someone who cares what you think about Leviticus 20.”
This brings me to my next thought:

In his speech in Cairo talking about the U.S. and Islam and moving forward with our relationship with Muslim countries, President Obama said:
"But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth."
Maybe some of the problems that arise from bridging are that many times in order to bridge, we don't speak all of our truth. We're trying not to offend, we're trying to withhold judgment, and we're trying to make a lot of allowances. For instance, I feel like many Christians make friends or sustain friendships with nonbelievers to win them to Christ. They often don't show their hand, but keep it close to their vest, not wanting to reveal what all is in their cards for the future of the relationship. (On the other hand, maybe in order to keep bridging without offending the other person or driving them away, we need to keep some of our true beliefs and intentions hidden?)

I know about keeping things hidden because I was raised as a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian and I almost never made friends without first ascertaining if the other person were Christian. If they were, great. If not, my goal was to win them to the Lord by (nearly) whatever means possible. It made me perhaps a wonderful friend on the outside, because I was willing to do almost anything to spread the love of Jesus. But inside I was always somehow pathologizing everything they did, and saw them as inherently lacking in something (namely, God) and having needs that could only be fulfilled by Jesus. I saw everything in spiritual terms and would rejoice when I felt like they were having trials that were bringing them closer to God, or if I felt like God was blessing them in some way to show his love and grace. I would pray for my friends because they were incomplete without God.

Because of this, I don't honestly know how to bridge well with Christians, because I usually feel from them a certain sense of superiority, whether intended or not. If someone thinks they have the ticket to the only truth, where does that leave me? How can a Christian just be a friend without an agenda, when they have the great commission to fulfill? How can they "bridge" when bridging might require leaving that commission to witness behind them for a bit?

Once again, more questions than answers. But I'm interested in others' thoughts on this. What do you think? For my readers who are not Christian, how do you feel in your relationships with conservative, evangelical Christians? What do you think can be done to bridge with them? Do you agree with things I've said? Not? For my Christian readers, what do you think? How do you feel about bridging with those who don't share your faith? Do you think there is a middle ground somewhere, or is that also untenable to you? Thank you in advance for your thoughts.

november, originally uploaded to flickr by downtownlynn.]


  1. Thanks Christine for your honest and thoughtful words. I can relate because I to once divided the people in my world into the saved and unsaved. Since coming out I no longer categorize people but I suspect I have become the categorized by some. I think we can forget about the bridge metaphor,its maybe more about the chasm that divides and asking the question what will it take to even plan a bridge. Of course there is a spectrum of acceptance among Christians but underpinning it all, especially with many fundamentalist is that they are right because their God tells them they are. How do you bring this type of closed thinking to a middle ground for meaningful dialogue? How does one reach out to a child who has rejected you and the person you love on the grounds you are unacceptable because God tells them you are.
    Perhaps change will only happen when Christians begin to accept the notion that being gay is not a choice or a lifestyle. It seems to be happening slowly and even as a gay christian it took me a long time to overcome years of contrary thinking and teaching. As a friend of mine says..the fight is against ignorance.
    I think we are on the right track, that change is happening. So while we may have problems building a bridge with many, we can still feel the wind in our hair as we bungy jump across the chasm..
    Keep the blogs coming,you write well..

  2. I agree, Christine. I've been on both sides as well, as a fundamentalist Christian and now as a bisexual atheist. Most of my immediate family are still fundamentalists and it gets wearing hearing "I don't agree with your choice but I still love you" or being pigeon-holed in other areas because of my non-belief and sexuality.
    I think bridging is only possible with liberal Christian groups; with fundamentalists, it is a lost cause. The fundamentalists I know of treat sex itself as a taboo subject and so are not interested in learning about anything that falls outside of their own narrow confines of what they think God intends sex to be. They will never believe their scripture is fallible; it would throw their entire lives into chaos to accept such a thing. It is easier for them to keep their heads in the sand and surround themselves only with those who agree with their views.
    I've come to realize that arguing, reaching out, even trying to have open, honest relationships with such people is a lost cause. You simply can't reason with unreasonable people, and accepting their conditional love somehow makes me feel less than what I am, as if I am lacking somehow.

  3. The more I think about this topic, the more I think that part of the problem is that people's concept of bridge-building and common ground is too narrow. On both sides, the question comes back to the whole question of morality. Are same sex relationships okay or are they inherently moral.

    Like Mel White, I'm not really interested in discussing that question anymore. (And I'm certainly not inclined to discuss it in terms of a collection of manuscripts I don't consider authoritative in my life.) I know what conscience has led me to conclude, and that is good enough for me. And I'm equally willing to allow others to draw their own conclusions on that question as well.

    So to me, the real question is one of whether that's really the only thing I have to discuss with a conservative, evangelical Christian. I certainly hope not. I think conversations can continue and friendships can flourish.

    I have friends who are in relationships that I consider unhealthy for one reason or another. I personally would rather see those friends terminate those relationships because I believe that it would ultimately be better for them. However, I'm still their friends and I still find ways to build up those friendships. I even manage to be graceful around their significant other or when the topic of their relationship comes up.

    If I conservative Christian is able and willing to extend me that same grace when it comes to my relationships, I'm perfectly happy to work on a friendship with them. And I've found quite a few who have been willing to exactly that. Both I and they have been blessed by those friendships.

    Others aren't willing to do that. They can't get past their sense that my relationships are inherently sinful and friendship fails. I'm okay with that. In many ways, I actually feel a great deal of sympathy for them. My experience is that they can't get past it because they're too afraid of "compromising." They have a faith that allows no room for ambiguity or doubt. They have a faith that is very much "all or nothing," and they must protect it from cracking even the slightest bit, lest it eventually shatter as a result. To them, allowing themselves to see the real me poses a huge threat to them. That's no way to live in my opinion, and I feel for the torment they must feel. I hope they find healing.

    But for those who are more daring, I'm always happy to be daring too. After all, life, love, and friendship are all about risk.

  4. Hi Christine. I believe that many of us have had huge expectations laid on us... we were expected to do the impossible: to change what comes naturally to us... to conform to the irrational wishes and prejudices of those we love... to somehow reconcile taking care of ourselves with taking care of those around us.
    I've come to a point of deciding that it's time to stop playing the superhero. I cannot reconcile with people who will not be reconciled to me... and I wonder if many of those gay folks who are engaged in dialogue with fundamentalists are actually repeating the heartbreaking, life-long pattern of being the superhero, in hopes of gaining the love and acceptance from those who are unable or unwilling to truly give it.

  5. One problem with bridge-building is that it accepts the validity of the chasm.

    In the context of this discussion, the chasm was created by insecure and ignorant conservative Christians to ostracize people from their elite and to protect themselves from exposure to reality.

    Having created the gap in the first place, some of them later offer to build toll bridges where, of course, we get to pay the tolls and read the bridge-builder's messages until we discover that we were cleverly fooled: The bridge loops back on itself at a turnabout.

    We aren't really allowed to reach the other side, and the builder has no intention of crossing the gap that they created.

    While I trust Wendy Gritter, precisely this sort of "bridge-building" occurred in her synchroblog. Unfortunately, Wendy set no firm or constructive guidelines for the bridge-builders. So the whole exercise became just another exercise in smug verbal abuse and ignorance by conservative Christians.

  6. I'm new here, Christine; hope you don't mind me commenting.

    Some of us are bridges -- and sometimes it's difficult.

    I'm currently on break from my usual congregation. My challenge with that group goes beyond any discussions of sexuality to the more basic need of having space to stretch intellectually and to receive and integrate unfamiliar ideas. I've been able to find such an open space in some other groups... just not that one. I don't hold it against them but I do recognize what they're not able to offer me, and I don't expect of them what they can't provide.

    When I return to them, I always find that my conversations are tinged with the new things I've encountered during my time away. I have an accent! ;-) This is because I'm a bridge; I'm not building it or walking it -- I am it. I'm not standing at Dover with others standing at Calais. I know both Dover and Calais, I speak both "languages" and I love the lands and peoples for what they each are, and what they contribute. I'm not interested in changing either one.

    So I don't see bridging as about making the British French or the French British. No permanent resident has to cross the Channel if they don't want to, but I represent an opportunity for them to expand their experienced world when they are ready to explore. I embody complexity. I know that can be challenging for some people, but I can't become less myself simply because my multiplicity confuses them. I am who I am, and will always speak out of who I am.

    The life of the dual citizen, or as du Bois called it, the dual consciousness, has never been easy. I don't think bridging is a universal calling, but I do think listening is. I also think that we can all be more gracious as hosts and more respectful as tourists, so those are the things I encourage people to focus on.

    Thanks for giving me space. :)

  7. Hi, Christine,

    As a straight Christian with pro-gay views, I find the bridge difficult to cross with evangelical Christians (though I also am in an evangelical church). If I try to broach the subject of homosexuality, I get faced with congnitive dissonance - almost a point blank resistance to listen to any rational discussion.

    I think the situation in the US is probably even more difficult because Conservative Christian (fundamentalist) seems also to imply an absolute dedication to literal interpretations of the bible, especially with regard to creation and the early chapters of Genesis. I think those of that persuasion are automatically going to reject homosexuals saying that it wasn't part of the "Original design" (ie Adam and Eve) - and won't ever accept that the story is intended as a metaphor rather than literal history.

    To be honest, I find that some Muslim friends are easier to find common ground with than some of the more dogmatic of my Christian friends.

    I live in hope. The Bible is also quite strongly against women having positions of authority in the church, yet it is the evangelical wing who have embraced women's ordination, probably because they realise that what the bible has to say on this matter is in cultural context.

    I hope that one day they'll see the same is true about homosexual relationships.

  8. So, what do I think?

    Here's a question ..

    In order to bridge with a Muslim do I have to convert to the Muslim faith?

    The question really is not whether or not bridging is unattainable. The question will always be in the what, where, and how.

    I participated in the Synchroblog. Did you read my blog? If so, then why didn't you make an effort to start a dialogue with me? Is communication not the first step towards bridging?

    As for Bridge Across the Divide ... I too joined, I too got frustrated, I too left not because I was unwilling to bridge but the rules around communication was so confusing ... I just wanted to be myself and that forum didn't allow for me to be authentic. So, in that setting the bridging wasn't truly bridging. Because the overall message in that forum spoke a message to me that I was less than and not valued as a person.

    I know that if a person is wanting to bridge theologically that will never happen. So, again, what are our expectations with this bridging? And is what we're asking of the other person unrealistic, disrespectful, and devaluing to the other?

  9. What if there was a bigger picture here and it was all about GOD - and surrendering to His will?

    I believe that the Christian culture in America is counterfeit -- they have no idea what the Bible is all about. Most have no idea what the Bible even says.

    To me, having and maintaining an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ it my main goal. I have had 4 relationships with women, have been an ex-gay ministry leader, and the truth is... I am attracted to women, period.

    I feel I am not of this world - as I do not belong here.

    My heart is to love and speak the truth in that love.

    I have found my peace in the Person of Jesus Christ -