How We Agree Cartoon
Messages and Methods
by Bob Buehler
February, 1998

We've identified lots of ways of talking about the divide, and have discovered that there really are many divides. Right now I want to talk about two of them, which I will define under the terms of Message and Method.

The Message divide: same-gender behavior is/is not outside the Creator's intent; same-gender relationships do/do not have the same validity as heterosexual relationships. This is the a/b divide as originally defined for our bridges-across conversations.

There are people from many backgrounds who for religious or other reasons believe that homosexual relationships have the same value as heterosexual relationships.

And there are those of many faiths who  disagree, believing that only a male/female relationship in marriage is the Creator's  intent for our sexuality."

Then I suggested  SideC: No categorical statement about whether SideA or SideB is correct.

But there is another divide which exists within both camps, and that divide I will term Method.

Here's the Method divide, and at the risk of getting into toxic levels of alphabet soup I'll call it side D and side E.

D:  The proper approach to people on the other side is to denounce them, avoid them, keep them away from the children, name them as dangerously evil and do whatever must be done to either change them or silence them. Government should be called in at some level to make sure this happens.

E: The proper approach to people on the other side is to recognize their humanity, try to hear them, love them, learn where their pain is, and stand in solidarity with them as human beings in opposition to the approach taken by D.

The difference between these two is the difference between coercion and openness, fear and love, control and vulnerability, violence and nonviolence. In my opinion, the way of Jesus brings us to E.  It seems to me that Bridges Across is really about doing evangelism to convert people, not from A to B or vice versa, but from D to E.

We do recruit. We do agree about method. We do disagree with people on both sides whose methods conform more to D.

At the heart of bridges-across is a peculiar set of notions that sets us apart from many on side A and side B. This set of notions is grounded in the teachings of Jesus; it is exemplified by the stance he took alongside the adulterous woman against an angry mob, putting himself in harm's way on behalf of the accused and despised. It is espoused by many biblical passages, most notably I Corinthians 13 which talks about the parameters of love. Love your enemies, Jesus says. Do good to them that hate you, he says. Refuse to judge them, he says somewhere else. Whoever our opponents are, be they gays, pro-gays, militant homosexuals, ex-gays, fundamentalists, FRC, HRC, ACLU, ACLJ, PFOX, PFLAG, or those of us [sideC] who for a variety of reasons cannot honestly take a stand with either side -- this is the standard.

How We Agree 
by Bob Buehler  and the Bridges-Across Working Group
August, 1997

The title of this essay has two possible meanings. It could herald a list of things that we agree about; but it could also introduce a discussion of the procedures, or methods, we use to sustain the ongoing discussion that is Bridges-Across. Both meanings apply to most of what follows. 

The Bridges Across the Divide project is defined, in the first instance, not by agreement but by disagreement. About homosexuality as a moral question, there is much deep disagreement. It has been suggested more than once that because of this, the bridges-across project is a useless exercise, because there is no foundation on which to build a bridge. Yet, over a period of months, and in some cases stretching into years, there are those from both sides of the divide who, despite frustration, misunderstandings, and frequent re-hashing of a lot of the same old ground, consider the project not only worthwhile, but worth a great deal of investment of time and energy. Why? 

What makes us tick? 

We do share some common convictions, although we have arrived at them from a variety of paths. First of all, we are unanimous in the view that every individual human being is of immeasurable worth. Some of us (but not all) would put that in theological terms: made in the divine image, an object of God's infinite love, etc. But however we phrase it, we are agreed that every person is of great value. 

Secondly, we agree that is wrong to mistreat anyone or to promote mistreatment of anyone. We find common moral ground on the question of whether or not it is right for any person to be harassed, intimidated, insulted, beaten, ridiculed, humiliated or murdered. Whatever our views on sexual morality, we believe all such behavior is wrong. Those of us who are Christians would agree that wherever such things happen, Jesus stands with the outcasts. We share concerns, from different perspectives, for the safety and future of the most vulnerable among us, our children. 

Thirdly, we recognize that for dialogue to be fruitful, those who engage in it must be prepared to listen carefully and with respect, as well as to be listened to. We value the process of dialogue, of conversation. We refuse to presume that nothing can be learned from someone whose experience or opinion is different from our own. 

Fourthly, while we have "agreed to disagree" on some matters, and therefore do not expect to change each others' minds, we are united in the desire to change many people's attitudes. We deplore the demonization of one group of people by another, and especially public and political attacks. We find sweeping generalized statements, whether about "the homosexual agenda" on the one hand, or about the "Religious Right" on the other, to be decidedly unhelpful. 

Part of our goal in dialogue is to model ways of addressing the issues without resorting to extreme and emotionally charged rhetoric, even when our feelings and opinions are very strong. We have agreed to abandon intentionally hateful speech, which can lead to or legitimize violence and ridicule. Part of the process of dialogue is learning how speech that is not intended to be hateful can sound that way. 

We are agreed that care must be taken in the use of language, because many cultural differences that have grown up on the opposite sides of this divide are reflected in the choice of words that are used. We are learning that words which seem simple and straightforward to one group can seem terribly "loaded" to another. We are working to discover why this is so, and to educate one another and be educated so that a clearer understanding of the language that we use can form the basis of further discussions. 

Together, we hope that this bridges-across project will demonstrate a working model for respectful, thoughtful dialogue that can be useful as a resource for creative action wherever the divide appears. 

Finally, we are agreed, based on the immeasurable worth of every human being, that one of the most important things we can do is provide a safe space for persons to tell their own stories. We value the creation of relationships of trust, even across this divide. It is the establishment of such relationships that allows all our stories to be told.

About This Site

This site is a demilitarized zone in the culture war. Some may fear that participation will lend credence to what they  believe to be a homophobic interpretation of scripture. Others may fear that participation will lend credence to the idea that gay relationships are the moral equivalents of heterosexual relationships.

But we all agree that it serves no purpose for loving people from both sides of the divide to stand across and throw stones at each other. We all wish to make the world a safer place for all people, straight and gay.


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text  © 1997 Bob Buehler