Friday, February 13, 2015

Ground rules for asking gay Christian acquaintances about their faith when you don't agree with them — Part 1

Over the last six months I have gotten almost as many emails / Facebook messages (at least it feels like it — it's at least four) from someone from whom I haven't heard in up to ten years asking about Christianity and queerness. To be fair, two of these were from advocates / allies who needed language they hadn't worked out for themselves. However, this is an alarming message to receive from someone — be they friend or "foe" (used loosely). In the most recent reply I laid down some ground rules, and I'd like to share those over a blog series with anyone who wants to read it.

Rule 1: Don't ask.

As a general rule, don't ask someone you haven't heard from in years how they understand their lives relative to the importance of Scripture. It is a height of hubris to expect someone to essentially have to defend themselves to you when because of time, space, or a variety of different life factors your relationship has deteriorated. More likely than not, despite how close you once may have been, they are now somebody that you used to know.

It is completely unfair to ask an essential stranger / nominal acquaintance about their lived experience of an intimate part of their life, particularly if you're speaking of it as "an issue," while knowing almost nothing about who they are now. You may likely changed much in time since you know them, and they likely have too. In my context — having from come from Alabama — accepting my queerness was very difficult. Being asked "How do you justify homosexuality and the Bible?" feels like an attack even if it isn't one (see Rule 2 in another entry for more on that).

If you're interested in their perspective, reconnect. Get to know them as a real human, not that person you used to know who is gay now. While having a personal connection to an area with which you are unfamiliar might be helpful to you, a personal connection requires a deeper relationship than an out of the blue Facebook message. It can feel awesome to get a message from an old acquaintance that starts "Hey, I need your help," and it can be nerve wracking to get one that says "I know you haven't heard from me in a long time..."

If you really want to know and don't feel like building a relationship that acknowledges your old acquaintance as more than who they have sex with or are married to, try googling Gay and Christian. The results giving you the information you might want would surprise you. That person you used to know who is gay now may be the only person who comes to mind of queer Christians for you, but they aren't the only queer Christian. There's even a whole network of them.

I have actually written some follow-up rules because some people will ignore rule one. Or maybe they don't know that it exists. I — because of who I am — have replied to all of these emails. None of them has been explicitly abusive, and I work to assume goodwill. However, I don't owe strangers basically strangers an explanation about one aspect of my life without much qualification about anything else. An amalgamation of my replies will be posted following the ground rule.

What ground rules do you think applies to this kind of situation?

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