Making Space for Queerness
One of my favorite books is A Muslim and A Christian In Dialogue by Badru Kateregga and David Shenk. This book attempts an important thing, to have a serious and respectful dialogue between two men of deep devotion to their faith. True dialogue is hard. It requires a generosity of spirit, an ability to hear what is being said, and to take critique seriously. The onus of dialogue is on the listener to hear the nuance, the truth, and the pain in what is being said. True dialogue is hard to find, but it is – in my estimation – found in this book. In the preface of the book the authors write:
We have sensed that the dialogue in witness between Muslims and Christians is serious. The issues are profound. They are about basic questions of the human situation. This means that in the hearing and giving of witness in dialogue there is pain. Perhaps we mutually fear the pain. Perhaps that is one reason Muslims and Christians seldom speak with one another concerning faith.1
Much like the struggle between Christians and Muslims there is a dialogue to be had between cisgender Christians and transgender people and their advocates. The difficulty is that that for centuries it has been the cisgender people who have been speaking without hearing. For a dialogue to be had we must start to listen deeply to what is being said. Listening deeply is a difficult thing to do, because there will be pain and critique and we will not like some of what is being said. But frankly, our feelings in this area do not matter because it is time to listen and empathize. Until we move in that direction there will be no dialogue and the pain will continue. We who are cisgender need to humble ourselves and approach the transgender world because we are the ones who have oppressed and ostracized them.
Hospitality, like dialogue, is difficult because it means ceding ones rights in order to make space for the other. As a culture and a church we have been inhospitable to those in the LGBTQi+ community. The work of repairing that lack of welcome is hard. As humans we avoid the kind of work necessary to repair relationships because it is hard and it hurts and it takes a lot of time. As a result we choose to attack to further divide so that the prospect of reconciliation is even less possible. Unfortunately that is what many in the Christian community have been doing to those in the queer community. By enforcing our “right” to ask questions and then being offended when we are rebuffed, we are only making the divide that needs to be crossed wider and more perilous. The key to stopping this is making space for the queer community to fully participate within our congregations and our lives, whether we agree with them or not. Welcoming them in, listening deeply, and – when appropriate – speaking humbly will open the door to dialogue that we have not been granted as of yet.
Yes, there are serious questions to ask of the transgender community. And yet, those questions are moot if we are not willing to humbly listen to the queer community first. There will be anger, there will be pain, there will be accusations we do not think are fair, but if we stay long enough there will also be dialogue that will lead to healing. That needs to be our goal not some attempt to prove the facts are on our side.
All too often I try to shoehorn hospitality in as the answer to every cultural question. Sometimes I am right and sometimes it’s a stretch, but in this issue hospitality is the answer. God’s call to welcome the stranger is hanging there just waiting for us to obey and welcome in the queer community. The question then is, will we?
1 Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk, A Muslim And A Christian In Dialogue. (Herald Press: Scottdale, PA 1997) 18.
9 responses to “Making Space for Queerness”
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Excellent writing, Sean!
I really resonated with your statement, “for a dialogue to be had we must start to listen deeply to what is being said.” It is imperative that the faith community finds ways to dialogue. Too many times, our interaction with those who differ takes on the perspective of tokenism, saviorism, or complete and utter apathy. However, when we turn towards others without characterizing them as the ‘other’, it creates space for conversation.
What ways have you seen progressive and conservative communities perpetuate ideologies of hetero-normative or cis-gender expectations? How can we, as Christian leaders, open dialogue and create an interactive space that honors one another as equals?
As always I appreciate your thoughts and your perspectives. Your opening illustration described “a serious and respectful dialogue between two men of deep devotion to their faith.” That is at the one-on-one-level. Similarly, I am wondering if this should also be the starting point for conversations and hospitality between cisgender and transgender individuals? It seems, to lead with “above or beyond” that, quickly ceases to be serious and respectful. Thanks again.
These sorts of conversations need to start at the one on one level to essentially be granted entrance to the larger conversation. It’s a series of trust exercises, where if one person will trust you, you are then granted a larger group to enter into dialog with, rinse and repeat. But it has to start at a one on one level.
Great post Sean. I take it listening is a vital component of hospitality? Always impressed with how you tie our readings into your research. Bravo.
Listening is a major portion of hospitality as is releasing your sense of entitlement. Both of those are on display in this sort of dialogue.
This is really good, Sean. I appreciate your point that much does stem from the idea of hospitality and making space for the other – especially in the arena of the LGBTQ+ conversation. It’s not easy to be willing to hold space and listen, especially when us cisgender, heteronormative folks have been used to doing all the talking.
There’s a lot of entitlement that comes with being cisgender heteronormative, so to have an honest dialogue means letting that go – probably especially when you think you’re right.
I think one of the challenges is the difference between making room for queer individuals vs the ‘queer community’. One is welcoming people, one can feel like adopting an ideological agenda. I suppose my ideal would be that we don’t see the ‘church community’ extending hospitality to the ‘queer community’ but instead queer individuals finding a place within the church community and impacting how we extend hospitality. Is there a useful distinction here? When is it more important to welcome a whole community and how might that look?
I don’t think that’s a useful distinction. Welcoming the community doesn’t mean agreeing with the community. Entering into dialogue means that you start with disagreement, but if you subdivide it into the individuals that you can agree with it will often end up worse than it started.