The principles for managing great community conversations are about the same as the principles for managing great relationships: mutual respect, equity, integrity, freedom from violence or abuse, and a bias toward care and common growth.
Last spring I worked with Daneen Akers and Stephen Eyer, co-directors of the narrative film Seventh-Gay Adventists, on a new project designed to model dialogue on gender, sexuality, and faith.
Enough Room at the Table is now available for digital streaming, and a limited DVD print is in progress. If you haven’t watched it, it’s worth it.
Showing up in another state with people I hadn’t met to talk about things that are precious to me—my life, family, faith, church, and communities—all on film: that was a real exercise in trust.
And it was the best work I did all year, not just because of the energy I put in to showing up, but because of the openheartedness and common values our group used as the soil for our weekend together.
Unfortunately, faith organizing isn’t always that rewarding.
As the Adventist community wrestles with faith, sexuality, and gender, the United Methodist community is navigating the same ground.
The UMC General Conference’s process has included “court trials,” proceedings where LGBTQ-supportive clergy members have been prosecuted and either threatened with expulsion or expelled, as well as public panel-style conversations where theologians and other church leaders discuss LGBTQ people. Only in the last year have these panels also included people who are themselves LGBTQ.
Love Prevails’ Rev. Julie Todd recently described what dialogue in these conditions can cost some of the people being asked to participate. Group unity built on the foundation of ongoing abuse is not “an unmitigated good,” she writes.
Liberals tend to think that any form of inclusion is good, as an end in and of itself. Inclusion on a panel is better than exclusion from a panel and therefore it is a good thing, right? …Methodist holy conferencing is especially good, because it is holy.
In fact, this logic is not good. This kind of thinking is lazy analysis that fails to include the dynamics of power and pain…
None of these panels nor proposals to General Conference, not holy conferencing nor the invoking and implementing of a Rule 44 alternative process for General Conference – none of this has anything to do with the true welfare of LGBTQ persons at all. None of this is about “balanced views,” respectful dialogue, shared Christian values, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of these efforts are about how to maintain the institutional church at the expense of queer people. (Read the rest.)
As we filmed Enough Room At The Table, our group explored these questions in our own way:
- What assumptions are we designing into our challenging conversations? How do they affect the policies we take for granted?
- What historical and ongoing damage do we need to recognize and end before we can legitimately speak of “reconciliation” or “unity”?
- And how can we ensure that the Beloved Community we want isn’t built on the bones of the vulnerable?
As large groups figure these social dynamics out, the constant grind of stagnation dressed up as progress and progress shrouded in apathy can become tiresome. But Todd is absolutely right on this point:
The terms of a dialogue are critical.
If those terms foreclose our ability to acknowledge harm, our conversations will be hollow and won’t be able to benefit the entire community we hope to help.