By Luke Smith
The term dialogue seems like a totally reasonable request. Who after all is not willing to listen to the heartfelt convictions of another? We come from different places. We have different experiences. We think about complex issues in different ways. Why not spend some time listening to one another on matters that are hotly debated in our present political and social context?
On the other hand, sometimes when people use the term dialogue they in fact are engaged only in monologue.
Just using the term dialogue — like the use of any term — does not ensure that this is what is happening. In fact, it seems that much use of the term “dialogue” in discussing the movement surrounding the LGBT community strikes many to be a concerted effort to change the views of others. They are monologues which give the veneer of dialogue by presenting two views in a way that intentionally fails to present one side with accurate complexity.
When there is an orchestrated effort intended to present views in this way one feels like there is a propaganda campaign at work. Thirdway.org has a number of manuals that outline this very approach to many of the contested issues present in the American context. Visit the web page and you will find that even the language of dialogue is suggested to win over the middle. When leaders engage in propagandistic efforts, trust is lost.
I would like to suggest an alternative proposal to dialogue on the LGBT movement. In Baptist ecclesiology there has long been the conviction that local congregations of believers in covenant with one another discern together the will of God. If an individual has the conviction that the understanding of marriage should be interpreted to include the categories of bisexual or transgender then these discussions should be conducted in a congregation of believers who together pray and search Scripture.
Such a proposal does not ensure a congregation will accurately discern the will of God. In our Baptist tradition, however, this is where the discernment process should occur.
When such discussions begin outside of a local congregation there will inevitably be a fragmenting of the voluntary cooperative connection. It saddens me that this fragmentation might be brought about because of a disproportionately few voices which have little commitment or influence in their local congregations.