Yesterday I wrote about Conversation Killers. Yes, it was a tough one to write. It was a little messy and very emotional. It was more reactive than proactive. I was venting. But I had to get it off my chest…I had been brooding on it for days.
Today, I want to turn more proactive and offer some simple steps that will get a healthy conversation going between the Church and the LGBTQ community.
Invite the story. Sit back, relax, stay quiet and just listen. Let the individual’s story come out of them and envelope you. Soak it in. Hear the struggle…the pain…the loss…the joy…the delight…the failure…the success. Hear it all. Ask open-ended questions that allow for more of the story to be revealed so that you can discover and learn more about your friend. Avoid leading questions or questions that assume a “correct” answer. Don’t be in a rush. Most likely, it’s a long one. The story of the discovery and acceptance of my sexual identity is a story that spans over 40 years. It’s impossible for that story to be told in one or even a few brief encounters. Let the process take just as long as it needs to take.
Don’t force a new story line. The person’s story is just that…their story. Don’t try to reinterpret it, don’t try to make it yours, and don’t try to make it a story about the sorry state of society or the “gay agenda” from Hollywood. And, don’t even try to make it a story about God at this point. It is only the story of the storyteller and it is that person’s to own and give away as they see fit. Be prepared for terminology that may make you uncomfortable or offend your senses. Let it be. Don’t try to clean up the story or make it sound more “presentable” for your world. Let it flow. If a christian gay man like me tells you that he’s gay, don’t insist that he say that he’s “same-sex attracted.” Doing so is offensive. There are some people in my circle of influence who have recently embraced a man who is ministering in this area. He is a strong communicator with a compelling story. However, there are some who are telling me that I need to express myself like he expresses himself by not using the word “gay,” but “same-sex attracted” instead; by not talking about “homosexuality,” but instead use the term “holy sexuality” in its place. Newsflash friends and family – he is gay! He is simply using terminology that is more agreeable to your tastes so that he can continue to minister in your congregations. Don’t try to make me translate my story to sound like his.
Think before you speak. It should go without saying that we should first consider our words and how they will be received by the listener. Knowing how to frame our words in such a way so that they are received with respect is a skill that too few in the church have acquired. I’m not saying avoid speaking truth into someone’s life; I’m saying be careful how you do that. The example I vented about yesterday is a perfect example of how not to communicate ideas.
Exist in humility. Don’t approach the conversation in such a way as to communicate that you have all the answers. Forget all the Bible passages that you have memorized to prove that homosexual sex is sinful. Be transparent with your storyteller that you are also on a journey and are still learning about what your own life and faith should look like. Communicate both verbally and non-verbally that you want to get to know them better. By doing so, you will show them that you are willing to link arms with them and be a sojourner with them. People aren’t looking for spectators who will watch for the wins and losses and keep track of each one; instead, they are looking for companionship. Humility is the fertile soil in which companionship grows.
Be safe. Keep the story to yourself. If you can’t do that, then don’t even start the conversation. Don’t condemn. If you can’t do that, then don’t even start the conversation. Don’t prescribe some “fix.” If you can’t do that, then don’t even start the conversation. Yes, I know I repeated that phrase “If you can’t do that, then don’t even start the conversation.” (You should get the point by now…) This is not a story to be flippantly observed, but one that is held near and dear by the storyteller. Recognize the high value the person places on it as they share. Assure your friend that you are safe…then prove it. Otherwise, just move on and let someone more capable have the conversation with them.
Everyone has their own idea of what will kill or feed a conversation with them. These are some key items for me.
PS – I’d love to have a good conversation right here about this topic. I know you and others will have more and better ideas than myself. So, if you would share this in other formats, that would be awesome! Thanks!! 🙂