Why Dialogue Isn't Working



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The other side of the issue

I may agree with Tom Lambrecht on this one point -- nothing is to be gained by those of firm belief on opposite sides of this issue talking at each other -- but I believe his identification of the source of that conclusion is entirely too simplistic.

A couple of years ago, Bishop Peggy Johnson set up several attempts at true dialogue in churches at scattered locations around the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, a conference which includes active laypersons and clergy with strongly divergent viewpoints, as well as a large majority who are conflicted or "of two minds." There were carefully balanced panels followed by small group discussions.

There was substantial attendance from individuals who believe in equality, who listened respectfully to the presentation of the traditional point of view. Aside from the specially recruited participants to present the traditional position, however, there was very little attendance by persons who agreed with them or by persons who were wondering, searching or undecided. Those of us who attended and hold the "Reconciling" viewpoint found that we were mostly talking to ourselves.

Thus, when fair dialogues were set up, held in an environment that was as neutral and accepting as possible to advocates of all points of view, those who advocate equality showed up to engage in dialogue, and those who advocate the traditional interpretation did not. Nor did persons who are undecided or conflicted. I suspect that many of the "silent majority" feel that the debate is too heated, so they prefer to avoid it.

That said, it is clear that the strong advocates for the two sides will not get anywhere by debating with one another. As the "Reconciling people" in Wisconsin understood, that kind of dialogue is a waste of time. Moreover, it is just as painful to an LGBT individual as a debate with a white supremacist would be to a person of color; it requires polite tolerance of someone who is attacking your personal identity as sinful or inferior.

The only kind of "dialogue" that might offer a possibility of success is one controlled by members who are truly undecided and open-minded, where they can express their own feelings and work through the answers themselves. It is questionable whether those individuals are willing to spend the necessary time and effort.

Bill Ewing more than 8 years ago

Response to Tom Lambrecht

Dear Tom,

It is true that, as you say, the position on the left has hardened over the years as more and more people in America have accepted homosexuality and see the conflict as a civil rights issue. What you have not mentioned in your article is that in the dialogue annual conferences tried back when we were together in Wisconsin in the early years of this controversy, the final argument came down to what each side takes from Scripture. The moderates to liberals looked extremely hard at the texts used by the conservatives as the basis of their stand against homosexuality and discovered through careful research that the passages really did not speak of homosexuality in general but of a particular form that usually included coercion or violence. The conservatives did not respond to that assertion in anyway that I am aware of. Further, the fundamental texts related to loving our neighbors that underlie the others' arguments were not similarly challenged by the conservatives. Every discussion I ever held with those who agree with the UMC's current law ended one of two ways: 1. everyone should by abide by church law and 2. the Bible is the final authority (as interpreted by the conservatives). So from the beginning of the "dialogue," the conservatives have been intransigent. And they have been more successful politically than the other side.

Despite all the heat related to the different positions aboout homosexuality, what light has come forward is that we cannot resolve the discussion until there is an agreement on what it could take to resolve the argument.

The way I would like to see it resolved is to look at what science tells us and to look at what both sides can actually agree on. For example, I understand the science to say that there are at least two mechanisms which predispose an infant to be homosexual, genetics and hormonal interactions at birth (hence younger of several children tend to be homosexual). I have not heard any conservatives deal with the science (I am not spending a lot of my time looking at this so I'm sure there may be some). As far as what points of agreement there might be, I am sure that anything that involves violence or coercion would be significant negatives for all sides. There might even be surprising agreement that some people who opt into homosexuality in order to be accepted in certain work environments may be hurting themselves.

One thing that bothers me is that conservatives really have no other basis for their position than law and their understanding of Scripture. The former is a political matter which could change in a few more years. The latter is a matter of how Scripture is understood. I wonder why only some Scripture is taken to trump everything else in our wonderfully complex Scriptures. I do not see enough discussion of exactly how anyone dare use only some Scriptures and ignore others BECAUSE EVERYONE DOES IT.

There is yet room for a lot of dialogue.

Jerry Eckert more than 8 years ago

What do the right-wing UMCers have to say ...

other than advocacy of exclusion? It is they who must move toward compromise, or else the UMC in untenable.

George Nixon Shuler more than 8 years ago