“What we’ve got here…is failure to communicate.” Not only was this true for the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, but it is also true for those with different perspectives on the LGBTQ+ movement. Those promoting the movement and those questioning it seem to be so polarized that neither can hear, much less understand what the other is saying. Yet, I see a way forward.
(No matter where you are on these issues, please stay with me to the end of this series. I’m sure much of what I will say can be taken out of context if not read within the larger whole of my line of reasoning on this issue.)
Coming Around to the Same Side of the Table
When debates become heated, as this one has, each person or side “digs in” and tries harder and harder to show the other the error in their thinking or behavior. They sit across a metaphoric table from one another, each representing their “side” of the issue (think crime TV shows where all the attorneys line up across from one another and argue). This may be necessary in some legal proceedings, but it is no way to find a way forward in the important cultural issues of our day.
Rather, to continue the “table” analogy, we need to get together on the same side of the table and look at the issue from the starting point of shared values and “common ground.” If we can identify the places we agree, and the common goals we want to work toward, we have taken a giant step in the right direction.
In the cultural discussion regarding LGBTQ+ issues, the results would be a game changer. No longer would those promoting the LGBTQ+ movement feel like so many were against their happiness and well-being. And those questioning the movement would no longer feel misunderstood and demonized.
So is there common ground that allows us to all get on the same side of the table and look at the issues together, instead of name-calling, marginalizing, and demeaning one another? Yes, I believe there is.
The Five “Ground Rules” To Find Common Ground
But first I must offer one very important caveat before suggesting the place of common ground. In any conversation, in order to have healthy communication and together discover truth, there must be an intentional commitment to follow certain conversational “ground rules.”
Commit to Seek Truth Together
First is the commitment to seek truth together. Only by discovering and living according to truth will there be true flourishing of people and the broader culture. Yet it is very hard to be open-minded, civil, and reason together to find truth in any area. No matter what side of an issue one is on, the tendency is to be closed to what the truth of the matter may actually be, if we have already made up our minds.
We are all inclined to be narrow-minded, bigoted, and disinterested in truth. Unless and until we acknowledge this, those on both sides of any discussion will continue to talk past one another. Like the little boy who puts his hands over his ears and hums so he can’t hear what is being said to him, we will default to “I know what I believe—don’t confuse me with the facts!”
The inevitable result of this posture is that any conversation will devolve into a shouting match. Not understanding or valuing the other’s point of view, those on each side will just keep repeating their point of view, often in more and more shrill, mean-spirited ways. At this point true dialogue is no longer possible.
Therefore, since dialogue aimed at finding truth has been sacrificed on the altar of arrogance, there is only thing left to do. Both sides must seek to impose their view by force on the other. Power replaces reason. Legislation replaces engagement. Speech codes replace dialogue.
We should all be very concerned when power is used to shut down discussion and the search for truth. History is littered with people who rose to positions of power and imposed their views on others by force, such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong. This continues to be true today. Having done quite a bit of international travel I've seen too many examples of countries that mandate what must be believed and embraced as law without the citizens adopting that view through rational, civil, public discourse and vote.
This is the tactic often used when those holding a particular view fear public discourse, for it may not lead to the endorsement of their view. Truth is not the goal. Arrogantly imposing their will is. My hope is that we are not at this point yet in our culture, and therefore both sides in this discussion (and all other discussions) welcome healthy public discourse aimed at discovering truth.
For those who embrace the truth of Scripture, it is our duty and charge to foster and engage in healthy discussions aimed at discovering truth. As the wise author of Proverbs tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings to search it out.” (Proverbs 25:2) We have the unique privilege (and responsibility) of searching for truth. We are called to study issues, weigh arguments and counter-arguments, and discover (“search out”) reality. This is the work of “kings”—part of our role to govern and care for His creation. We behave like the kings we are when we commit to studying issues with honesty, rigor, and thoughtfulness.
Even if one does not share this biblical motivation to seek truth, history also highlights the wisdom of this approach. Time and time again a view popular today becomes unpopular tomorrow. When power determines “truth,” one must always live under the shadow of the balance of power shifting, resulting in his or her “truth” no longer being in favor. This is very unstable ground, and not on which to build a flourishing society ensuring the promotion and protection of the common good.
Therefore, for these reasons it seems all involved in public discussions, including the LGBTQ+ conversation, have important and necessary reasons to be open-minded and commit to seeking truth together. Those not willing to do so are the real villains in this conversation, no matter which side of the issue they are on. But for those who are open-minded and seeking the truth together, the next three ground rules are ways to ensure we are all doing this well.
Next week I’ll discuss three additional ground rules to find common ground in any conversation, including the current LGBTQ+ discussion. Until then, grace and peace.