Saturday, November 15, 2008

Elevating The Conversation

People are talking. People are shouting. People are texting. People are blogging. People are facebooking. People are YouTubing.

We are all experiencing our own reactions after last week's passing of Proposition 8 in California ranging from anger, outrage, sadness, fatigue, frustration and motivation. And we're all trying to find ways of processing what's happened - of appreciating the gravity of what has happened. What seemed to be such a loss for us, having one of our constitutional rights eliminated from us by 52% of voters, is proving to be a catalyst for an unstoppable grassroots organic movement for Marriage Equality.

The conversation is happening and the seeds for bridge building are being planted.

The nation is entering a sort of Hot Zone - "that place of conversation where the issue of gays and family are no longer the taboo subject". The fabulous pink elephant has burst its way out of the closet and into national attention and it's forcing people to finally consider the question that they previously preferred never to think or talk about:

Should my gay neighbor, friend, or family member have the right to marry whomever they choose despite my own beliefs about marriage?

We have been called to mobilize in order to advance the conversation. We have been called to gather in order to elevate the conversation . . . .

There needs to be systemic change and a cultural shift in our society. As we advance the conversation in every household asking our neighbors to hear us, consider us, and to empathize with us, in our lifetime we will see the American experiment of liberty prove itself faithful to its citizens once again.

Once it was clear that Prop 8 passed, protests of hundreds and thousands each erupted almost daily throughout the state of California immediately after the election. And now the first nation wide and global response has arrived,
6 months after the California Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to have two "separate but equal" designations for relationships. Today, Saturday, November 15, 2008 at City Halls in every state throughout the country, as well as in other countries around the world (Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Japan, The Netherlands, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and the UK), we come together for a simultaneous protest against Prop 8 and in support of our neighbors. Go to Join The Impact here.

While 52% of voters chose to approve of it, the world continues to rally together to say, "what the hell were you thinking?"

So let's get our heads out of the sand and have some much needed conversation. Advancing the conversation brings it to the forefront. Elevating the conversation changes the impact.

On one front, political activists and organizers are working together to advance the conversation - to bring the issue to national attention. On another front, the relational catalysts are working together to elevate the conversation - to build bridges between communities that disagree so that a productive and safe dialogue can emerge - the kind that will end this war.

Now more than ever do we need to elevate the conversation within the broader Church regarding GLBT individuals in our congregations and in our communities. I am part of a Coalition of Bridge Builders that is facilitating a safe and productive dialogue between those who are both conservative (traditional) and inclusive (accepting) on this issue.

For the last two months, we started with two round table discussions with pastors and leaders from both the conservative and inclusive groups. (Read about the September session here and the October session here.) We discovered that there is a common willingness to stay in the conversation, and even further, to attempt to elevate the conversation beyond the politics of our differences.

These are some very good initial steps considering it began during the YES/NO campaigns for/against Prop 8 before the election, and now we're trying to figure out how to encourage people to stay in the conversation after the election - raw emotions and all!

We realize that both groups need a preparatory process in order to get to a point of being ready to engage in a safe and productive dialogue with each other. We are honoring this process by being patient with it - allowing time for trust and relationship to build within each group, then to begin to build trust and relationship with the other group.

We're using this bridge building framework to elevate the conversation:

1. Common Ground - shifting our focus towards the things that we do have in common.

2. Common Grace - meeting together in a space of humility and the Greatest Commandments - to love God and one another.

3. Common Purpose - working for the same mission, the Great Commission of making disciples of Christ and his love.

This conversation is not debate. On the contrary, I believe that if we can reframe this controversial issue, then we can elevate the conversation to something safe and productive.

While the national and global protest happens simultaneously today at City Halls around the nation and world, the Coalition of Bridge Builders will be doing our part by having a day of two follow up events. The first, during the morning and afternoon (as the protests happen) the conservative group of pastors, leaders and lay leaders will come together for an event called "Elevating the Conversation" that will help them to reframe the way they approach GLBT folks in their ministry context.

It is during this time, after lunch, when I will have the opportunity to share my story and journey of being both gay and Christian with about 60 conservative church leaders (who likely voted Yes on Prop 8), and then field their questions (or dodge their stones). Yikes!

My heart would really love to be at City Hall here in my city of Long Beach, CA along with the rest of my brothers and sisters around the world speaking out in protest. But at the same time, my spirit tells me that I'm needed elsewhere for a different role with my other brothers and sisters of the faith to hopefully catalyze a sense of empathy for our stories and lives. So on two fronts, we cry out for dignity, demand justice, and ask that our sibling rivalry come to an end.

Our second follow up event will come this evening for a dinner gathering of inclusive pastors, leaders and lay leaders. This will be an opportunity of building relationship and trust among other like-minded people who share the hurt and anger and excitement for the times we are currently in. Our goal in this fellowship is that each leader would choose to be willing to stay in the conversation and not to detach because of the hurt. We are a community wounded by our spiritual brethren, and it's all too easy for us to check out.

The reason why I am staying in the conversation (besides the fact that God is prompting me to) is the realization that if no one is in conversation, then nothing changes in the church. In order for any kind of bridge building to take place, both sides of that bridge need to be present. We have to be present so that we can make sure our hurt is acknowledged, our stories are heard, and our witness of God in our lives is undeniable.

Whether building bridges with church leaders, your neighbors, your family members, your co-workers, or anyone else in the community of whom you disagree with, will you stay in the conversation?

This war must end.

I see a two-pronged approach to ending these battles that have been leaving too many casualties behind. Together, political activists and organizers who are working to advance the conversation so that the issue can be brought to the forefront, and also relational catalysts who are working to elevate the conversation so that the issue can be reframed in a way that leads to safe and productive dialogue.

The trust for each other and those at the other end of the table is a gradual process that will be earned and given in time. However, we all trust God - that at the end of the day, He's very much concerned with bringing unity within His Church.

Just like the Marriage Equality Movement is advancing across the country because of California's successful mobilization, our bridge building efforts to facilitate this dialogue here, will advance among churches across the country.

We just need to show them that it's possible.

1 comment:

Earl said...

Bravo, Eric! I have the day's events lifted up to God in prayer. You are so right in asserting the need to keep the conversation going - we can't bail even though we have been so wounded. WE must work towards healing. It's going to take both sides of the argument. God bless you, my brother and all those involved in this coalition. Much love, bud!