What Not to Say: #5

I came across a bit of validation for this little blog series the other day. In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson writes, “We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them and they end up using us.”

All of this thinking about how to talk to each other–it’s important. Because we want to continue using our words to speak the Gospel; we do not want our words to use us–or to cause us to abuse others.

If you are just joining us, we’ve been talking about the conversation within the church on LGBT inclusion. You can read about unhelpful phrases #1, 2, 3, and 4 in previous blog posts. Today I present:

Unhelpful Phrase #5: “S/he is on the other side of the issue.”

Yes, I have used this phrase. It can be a convenient shorthand as we seek to establish allies and foes in the church struggles.

But this is not a fair or honest phrase because the term “other side” suggests that there are only two possible beliefs people can have about sexual minorities in the church. You get to vote “yes” or “no.” Then the “yes” people get to make all kinds of assumptions about the “no” people (i.e., they hate gays). And the “no” people get to make all kinds of assumptions about the “yes” people (i.e., they have no concern for sexual morality).

If you have actually listened to more than two people’s views on homosexuality and the church, though, I assume you already know that there are more than two sides.

There are people–few and far between, I trust–that do believe God hates gay people, and so should we.

And there are people–equally few, I think–who think that our sexual relationships do not matter to our spiritual health, so anything goes.

The vast majority of us are somewhere between these two positions.

Some people think “practicing homosexuals” can come to church but not join. Others think they can join but not hold office or be be ordained. Others think, “Practicing homosexual? What the heck! Those two have been together for thirty years. Surely they’re beyond the practicing stage by now.”

Some folks think homosexuality is a sin worse than most. Others consider it a sin on the same level as so many others on those vice lists like greed, envy, and disobeying your parents. Others think that sexual sins are not about the gender of the partners, but about the love, respect, and commitment between them.

There are people who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. Others who believe the Bible doesn’t speak to committed same-sex relationships at all. And, frankly, other people–on all sides–who don’t care much what the Bible says one way or the other.

Some people think sexuality is a choice; others think it is a result of upbringing; others think it is genetic; and others think it doesn’t matter.

Some people view homosexuality as a disease to be cured. Others think that it’s O.K. to be attracted to people of the same sex as long as you don’t actually have sex with anyone of the same sex. Others think God blesses same sex committed relationships just as God blesses heterosexual committed relationships.

Obviously, I haven’t mentioned every possible belief. I don’t know how many sides there are here, but I know there are more than two–more than “my side” and the “other side.”

The second problem with phrase #5 is the word “issue.” It’s a difficult term to avoid. But the faithful mother of a lesbian daughter has shared with me how hurtful this term can be. “My daughter is not an issue, she is a person.”

So while we disagree about how the church should include sexual minorities, I hope we can agree that we should all listen more and categorize less.

Suggested Replacement Phrase: “I need to listen more so that I can better understand your position.”

4 thoughts on “What Not to Say: #5

  1. This is a helpful reminder! We love to divide these things into dualities, (both, I think because it is a basic human temptation, and because when we vote, yes and no are our only options). Your thoughts got me thinking about more directly parallel phrases that might work-I’ve found ‘she has a different position’ or ‘he is at a different place than me’ or even just ‘they are not comfortable welcoming lgbt members’ as more useful than ‘other side’.

  2. I’m guilty of using the “issue” word, but mainly to try to focus on the difference of opinion or belief, instead of giving the appearance of targeting a specific person. Various positions on the “issue” should not be determined by a relationship with someone (other than Jesus, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit- my opinion). My beliefs apply to both the gays I know and those I don’t.

  3. Pingback: Spacious Faith in 2012 « Spacious Faith

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