Can We Disagree, Part 1: LGBTQ, Jen Hatmaker & Dialogue
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
I appreciate Jen & Brandon Hatmaker. Both are authors, have co-hosted HGTV shows, and planted a church in Austin. Brandon is currently the CEO of Legacy Collective. Besides being an author, Jen is one of the most well known speakers in the Christian community.
A few days before the 2016 presidential election, Jonathan Merritt interviewed Jen for a Religion News Service article. She stated that she wasn’t a fan of Donald Trump, wouldn’t vote for him, was open to voting for Hillary Clinton, and was also pro-life. If that wasn't enough to alienate her from many conservative Christians, her answer to the next question would do the trick. When Merritt asked what she believed about gay marriage, she affirmed it both from a civil and spiritual viewpoint. Needless to say, Jen received a horrible reaction from some Christians who are more extremist (more on that next blog post).
The other day, I listened to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast interview with her daughter, Sydney. In this one of a kind interview, Sydney and Jen bravely shared their story. Sydney goes into detail of how she reconciled her faith and sexuality while being the daughter of well-known Christian parents. Jen expresses her regret for not being aware of how Sydney was wrestling with her faith and sexuality.
The conversation is very emotional and powerful. I remember listening to Jen and thinking, “I wish my mom would’ve been more like her!”
Near the end of the podcast, Jen talked about how LGBTQ teenagers are depressed, feel a lack of safety, and so on (the LGBTQ youth suicide and attempted suicide percentages should definitely give you pause to pray and ask God how you can best love them). Then, Jen said the following:
I want us to have a reckoning together that when we refuse to cherish and affirm the LGBTQ community, including our kids, we are literally breaking their hearts. We are breaking their bodies. We are breaking their minds. This is not neutral. This is not just a difference of opinion. This is causing harm and trauma and suffering.
A question came to my mind after listening to her words a few more times:
Is there room for dialogue and disagreement about sex and sexuality?
As with all things in life, the answer probably depends on whom you ask. The answer is a resounding NO for an increasing number of people. Sometimes, the rationale for not allowing dialogue and disagreement comes down to the idea that:
disagreement is unloving because disagreement invalidates people (which automatically harms them)
those who disagree personify the worst in people.
This post is the first in a series I'm going to write on dialogue. I want to talk about why we should dialogue, how to effective engage others in dialogue, reflecting on dialogue, the danger of not having it, etc. Disagreement should be an invitation to dialogue. Our differences should drive us to, not from each other. To move forward, we must allow disagreement to exist or dialogue (and further learning) will become relics.
I've never personally talked to the Hatmakers about their beliefs, so what I'm about to share is not directed at them. As much as there's a theological aspect to sex and sexuality, there's also a very personal aspect. A person's sexuality is between them and God. I definitely respect those who hold differing views from me and I don't see them as any less valuable. Though I disagree with the affirming theological view, I very much respect people like Jen. Rather than debate anyone, after listening to Jen and Sydney, that particular question kept popping into my head: Is there room for dialogue and disagreement about sex and sexuality? I guess it depends, but I believe there is room for dialogue and disagreement. Here's why...
People Differ in LGBTQ Views & Maintain Close Relationships
Personally, I believe that God designed sex for marriage between a man and a woman. I also believe theological convictions aren’t reasons to devalue others. Everyone has equal intrinsic value because God created everyone and Jesus died for everyone. Though I hold these beliefs, I also have LGBTQ friends who disagree with me... but, guess what? My beliefs and their beliefs don’t interrupt our friendship. Why?
Loving relationships extend beyond theological alignment.
Do my friends and I talk about theology and convictions? Absolutely. Such discussions don't hurt our relationship because they take place in the context of love, trust, and empathy.
Now, I wholeheartedly agree that some Christian parents and Christians (in general) have been awful to LGBTQ children and adults. Even today, kids are still kicked out of their homes after “coming out” to their parents. I’ve talked to many who still experience this (and it happens to kids of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish parents). There are some parents who seek out “conversion therapy” and end up damaging their kids more than they imagine. Far too many LGBTQ individuals (especially students) experience discrimination and poor treatment in the civil arena. It needs to stop because... there are even worse cases that I’ve personally helped people navigate (of which I won’t go into detail). Young people in such dangerous circumstances need leave for safe places.
However, don’t fall for the Straw Man Argument (exaggerate the opposing view and attack it)—while the examples I just mentioned happen too often, they don’t constitute the majority of family situations. Lumping everyone in the same boat isn't accurate. I’ve worked with many families where the parents have a conservative biblical beliefs about sex and marriage while their child is married to someone of the same biological sex… and their beliefs don’t interfere with their love for each other. In my upcoming book, Messy Truth, I share more than one story of lesbian couples that started attending and are still attending “non-affirming” churches even though the church’s statement of faith isn’t aligned with their relationship. Why do they keep attending? Other attendees treat them like people, not like projects.
When I've shared these stories with some who believe that disagreement equals harm, they'll laugh it off, claim it's fake, or insinuate there's something wrong with the LGBTQ people in those real stories. Obviously, such stories are problematic for those who despise disagreement (because the individuals attending non-affirming churches, getting along with family members despite disagreements over sexuality, etc. don't fit their narrative). Hear me out on this: despite the social or theological narrative you support, never lose the courage to ask questions. Allow yourself to be challenged (more on that in the next post).
Distinguish Between People and Ideas
Last October in Los Angeles, the Democratic presidential candidates participated in a Town Hall event called Power of our Pride. During the event, Don Lemon asked presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”
To the dismay of many, O'Rourke answered,
There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we are going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.
O’Rourke’s answer demonstrated a lack of critical thinking, an absence of empathy, and other issues (which I’ll get into at another time). His message was quite upfront—you’re either with us or against us. As Obi-Wan told Anakin in Star Wars III:
“Only a Sith deals in absolutes." (I joke, I joke!)
But he isn’t alone in his rationale. After the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on gay marriage, Harvard University professor, Mark Tushnet wrote the following about those holding conservative theological beliefs:
My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) 
So, Tushnet believes “the left” should war with those who disagree because they're similar to the Confederates, Hitler, and so on (talk about an Ad Hominem attack). Rather than engage with and challenge ideas, Tushnet and O'Rourke prefer to attack the people. Unfortunately, at least in that particular moment, both lost the ability to differentiate between people and ideas.
Failing to distinguish between people and ideas hurts people.
When you can't tell the difference between a person and their view, you automatically equate them as "less than human." If a person is merely an idea (instead of a person), you don't have to be kind. No one is gracious to an idea. Why would you be? An idea is a concept that has no physical form. I believe this is why many in society are quick to compare their detractors to the worst proponents of the differing view. Even more horrible, it becomes easier to liken dissenters with Hitler, Stalin, Bundy, Voldemort, etc. I know this might be difficult to believe, but people are deeper than our assumptions. Each individual has more depth than the lies our assumptions tell us.
As another Harvard University professor, Arthur Brooks recognizes that people are deeper than our assumptions:
Anyone who can’t tell the difference between an ordinary Bernie Sanders supporter and a Stalinist revolutionary, or between Donald Trump’s average voter and a Nazi, is either willfully ignorant or needs to get out of the house more. Today, our public discourse is shockingly hyperbolic in ascribing historically murderous ideologies to the tens of millions of ordinary Americans with whom we strongly disagree. Just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it’s hate speech or the person saying it is a deviant.
I love how Brooks threw conservatives and liberals under the bus, because it's not just one mindset... it's both. Think about extremist Christians or the cultural fundamentalists in the 90's and 80's. How many times do Christians relate a Democratic president to "the Antichrist"? Or a Republican president to an evil dictator responsible for the deaths fo millions? How many derogatory names have some "Christians" called LGBTQ people? To some degree, whether we'll admit it or not, we're reaping the toxic fruit of the previous cultural fundamentalists. Not wanting anyone to disagree with them, it was the cultural fundamentalists of the 90's and 80's who began the "cancel culture" movement (with their boycotts and name calling).
A person's view or opinion on an issue doesn't comprise the sum total of their identity, So, if you disagree with a individuals' views or ideas, don't treat people as if they are the view you despise.
I'm grateful to Jen and Sydney Hatmaker for letting us listen in on their conversation. It's challenged me to initiate some self-reflection, think deeper about others, and process the concept of disagreement.
Here's what else I believe.... disagreement can unify us. But we'll save that for the next post.
____________________________  Jonathan Merritt, “The Politics of Jen Hatmaker: Trump, Black Lives Matter, Gay Marriage and More,” Religion News Service (October 25, 2016). https://religionnews.com/2016/10/25/the-politics-of-jen-hatmaker-trump-black-lives-matter-gay-marriage-and-more/.  Scroll down the page for the transcript of the podcast: https://jenhatmaker.com/podcast/special-edition-series/a-moment-of-pride-jen-and-sydney-hatmaker-on-being-gay-christian-and-loved/.  Benjy Sarlin, “O’Rourke Says Churches Against Gay Marriage Should Lose Tax Benefits, Draws Backlash,” NBC News (October 11, 2019). Accessed October 12, 2019. https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/o-rourke-says-churches-against-gay-marriage-should-lose-tax-n1065186.  Ibid.  Mark Tushnet, “Abandoning Defensive Crouch Liberal Constitutionalism,” Balkanization Blog (May 6, 2016). https://balkin.blogspot.com/2016/05/abandoning-defensive-crouch-liberal.html.  Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt (New York: Broadside Books, 2019).