The power and possibility of dialogue
At this year’s session of annual conference, we shared a Holy Spirit-filled experience that tends to be rarely seen in our current political climate. Conference members were given the gift of watching, and then participating in, some holy conferencing on the issues concerning our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender neighbors.
Afterwards, I heard a chorus of gratitude and relief that our annual conference could put aside heated debate and voting, and instead have some reasonable conversation and dialogue with one another.
Our dialogue may not have changed minds on the issues, but the process of dialogue does have the ability to change our hearts. Dialogue shifts the tone, brings people to a common table, and allows its participants to see and understand more than they ever have before. At least, that has been my experience.
Dialoguing on LGBT sexuality has certainly changed my heart. When I participated in our Conference’s first LGBT dialogue team, admittedly I had my prejudices and biases towards “those people” from the “other side.”
Sure, I was ready to say that I loved them as fellow Christians, but that love did not translate into respect, cooperation or openness to discovering who they really are and what gifts they offer to my life and church. Looking back, I question if at first I truly did love them.
But as our dialogue team’s conversations unfolded and we discussed the hard issues, something began to happen to me. I began to understand not just what other people believe but why they believe that way.
Sure, we still had substantial disagreements, but those disagreements didn’t seem to be as insurmountable as they appeared before. I could see that we all had far more in common than we had realized and that God could possibly use those commonalities to allow us to be in Christ-centered community together, even with our differences.
Looking out at our annual conference members having those kinds of conversations on LGBT issues, I could see some hope that God could make a way for us to remain one body.
Perhaps there is a way to uphold biblical values on human sexuality while at the same time embracing all people with dignity and respect while keeping them as an integral part of Christ’s Church.
That may seem like a naïve hope to some, but I believe that with God all things are possible. Dialogue will open up those God-sized possibilities to us.
The Rev. Donna Claycomb Sokol and I will be working with our conference’s leadership to offer you some more opportunities to engage in dialogue on LGBT sexuality through half or whole-day regional events designed to educate you about the issues and to allow you to further enter the conversation.
We want to share the gift of dialogue we have received with you. We’re also finding that this model of holy conversation can be applied to other hot-button debates of our day.
Through dialogue, we can meaningfully engage one another in order to build trust, respect and the kind of love that will keep our church united in Christ.
The Rev. Chris Owens is pastor of First UMC in Laurel.