From the vault: I just want to talk for a while

To raise awareness about the launch of a very cool new nonprofit called Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, I’m reblogging an earlier post titled “I just want to talk for a while.” The group is advocating a particular position — namely, that civil marriage is a secular institution and hence, not something evangelicals need to be dying on any hills to defend — but it also appears committed to facilitating exactly the kind of dialogue that I long to see happen within the church.

“12 Angry Men” is a different kind of movie. It came out in 1957. Black and white. No car chases, no explosions, no CGI aliens and no beautiful actresses in titillating positions.

Just 12 guys, one set and a script that captures some of the ugliest aspects of human nature about as perfectly as anything I’ve ever seen.

It tells a great story, of how the life of a young man — accused of murdering his father and facing the electric chair — is saved by one juror, No. 8, who refuses to bow to groupthink — at least, not until the implications of such an action have been carefully weighed and acknowledged.

“I just want to talk,” the man, superbly played by the legendary Henry Fonda, says after the preliminary vote, which revealed him as the only “not guilty.”

His colleagues — all white, all male — aren’t interested in chatting. It’s hot, the fan isn’t working, and most of them — expecting the deliberations to be finished in record time — had made plans for the evening.

Like No. 7, the indifferent sports fan with tickets to a Yankees game.

“Well, what’s there to talk about?” No. 7 says. “Eleven men in here think he’s guilty. No one had to think about it twice except you.”

Another asks No. 8 if he believes the defendant’s story. He shrugs slightly.

“I don’t know whether I believe it or not — maybe I don’t,” he says.

“So how come you vote not guilty?” the sports fan demands.

He smiles reflectively, as though he’s not really sure himself.

“Well, there were 11 votes for guilty. It’s not easy to raise my hand and send a boy off to die without talking about it first.”

No. 7 scoffs and declares, “You couldn’t change my mind if you talked for 100 years.”

The other man smiles again.

“I’m not trying to change your mind,” he replies softly. “I just want to talk for a while.”

///

A different story. A different table. I’m at church before service one Sunday morning, drinking coffee and watching people smile and mill about, the masses gradually inching toward the sanctuary like a lumbering ship slowly coming into port.

One of the church elders, an older man and a friend of mine, is sitting with me. We’ll call him “Bill” for the story’s sake.

Like most men, Bill’s preferred menu of small-talk topics is relatively limited, and “work” is his all-time favorite. He asks how mine is going, and I mention a news story I’d recently covered about a panel discussion that a Christian college nearby had hosted on homosexuality.

Bill shakes his head sadly.

“We sure live in a fallen world, don’t we?” he asks.

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, you know,” he says, waving a hand vaguely. “It’s just a shame when you have people at schools that are supposed to be based on the Bible who refuse to really accept the authority of God’s word.”

As always, I’m struck, and even a little disturbed, by the certainty of such convictions. How does a view like that become the prevailing litmus test for whether an individual “accepts the authority of God’s word” or not? And why?

And I also wonder, how does Bill enter through the sanctuary a few yards away, and raise his hands in grace and fellowship with a man who is divorced and remarried to a different woman (a sin Jesus explicitly described as “adultery” in Matthew 19:9), while balking at even entertaining the possibility of a gay Christian openly expressing his or her sexuality (something that, as you know, Jesus never mentioned).

“So, you don’t think a discussion like that would be a good idea at this church?” I ask, sort of kidding, sort of just curious as to what he might say.

Bill gives me a weird, awkward sort of smile.

“I don’t really see what there is to discuss,” he says. “That issue’s already been settled.”

///

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away,” the Psalmist once groaned. He was talking about sin and confession, yes, but I don’t think that’s the only truth those words speak. Talking — the ability to communicate at the depths of which we are capable — is one of the things that separates us from all other life, that makes us human.

Without it, a large part of who we are evaporates rather quickly. And it’s an unfortunate truth that the things that are hardest to talk about are usually the ones in the direst need of such attention.

In the church today, one of those subjects is the LGBT community. We need to address uncomfortable questions like, “What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?” and “How much of that really applies to a modern-day gay Christian man or woman?”

The topic is most certainly not “already settled,” because not everyone agrees. Even it’s just the one juror out of 12, we have some people in the church who want to hash things out.

The early church, in the book of Acts, was no stranger to disagreements, at least one of which — recorded in chapter 15 — changed the course of history. And though the apostles and elders eventually agreed with Peter and Paul and Barnabas — that Gentiles did not need to convert to Judaism before they could accept Christ — this consensus did not arise by magic.  It came only “after there had been much debate.”

In my mind, I don’t believe the devil’s trick in this issue has been to sow confusion and deceptive beliefs amongst the minority. I’m more inclined to think his work has been in convincing the majority that we shouldn’t talk about it, under any circumstances.

There are more than 600 restrictions in the Old Testament law, but talking with those whom you disagree with is not one of them. Neither is entertaining an opposing viewpoint.

These things are not sinful. If anything, they’re part of the very lifeblood of the church.

Now, maybe — if we really do start engaging with each other on controversial topics, rather than ignoring them in the name of some misguided sense of (false) “unity” — we’ll find that no one’s mind is changed. And that would be OK with me. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind.

I just want to talk for a while.

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