Saturday, September 21, 2013

NALT, Activism, and Bridge-Building

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tension between LGBTQ/intersectional activism and bridge-building.

Well, not really thinking about the tension. More like deeply feeling the tension.

Ever since I wrote the post about this tension, I’ve experienced more and more anger toward those who I consider activists. My anger comes from three specific frustrations:
  1. Not understanding the benefit to activists’ critiques of the NALT (Not All Like That) Movement
  2. Feeling unheard by these activists
  3. Feeling like these activists are speaking for me and others

The first frustration is something I have to accept. Deep down, I know there are different roles within the body of Christ. I’ve seen the benefit time and time again, both short-term and long-term, of uncompromising activism. Being someone who is conflict-averse, someone who values kindness and patience and bridge-building, I don’t usually like many activists' methods of engagement. I get angry and frustrated and sometimes I act that out. And that’s OK. It’s just a part of being in community with people. They don’t need my approval in order for the Holy Spirit to do good work through them.

This post is an attempt to address frustrations number 2 and 3. My hope is that these activists will understand my views on the issues of alliance and advocacy; that they will understand that bridge-building work is also something that the Holy Spirit uses to do good work; and that others who are doing bridge building work understand that the critiques of activists—while painful—can be extremely useful. At the same time, I want them to know that there are others within the LGBTQ community who know that so many are benefiting from your work. (These phenomena can exist simultaneously, in tension.)


In order to get my own thoughts clear, I created the chart below.

The Welcoming Line divides the sections. The groups to the right of the line welcome the LGBTQ community unconditionally and are moving in the right direction regarding full LGBTQ affirmation and equality. The groups to the left of the line show an increasing level of hostility toward the LGBTQ community, and individuals are not welcome unless there is at least some admission of brokenness or sin. These groups are moving in the wrong direction regarding full LGBTQ affirmation and equality.

Additionally, there is a box below each group that describes (generally) the level of affirmation offered to LGBTQ folks. “Utopia” is where all power structures have been obliterated, and there is no need for one group in power to welcome/affirm another group. All are equally regarded as members in the Kingdom of God.

Now, from this chart, one can see that activists can have valid critiques of each other group, both to the left AND to the right of the Welcoming Line. However, is there another way to view each group?


The image below shows a number of different “audiences” toward which the welcoming groups direct their message and actions.

Each group could speak to each audience in a different way. Realizing the difference in audience, focus, and purpose is where I believe activists could benefit from a bridge-builders perspective.

I realized a while ago that the Marin Foundation is not for me. I don’t actively support or give money to them, because I feel they should be more fully affirming. But in this case, it's not about me: I'm not their primary audience. Their purpose is to build bridges with potential allies, and to show those on the left of the Welcoming Line how their stances and policies hurt individuals and families. They have a different focus than the activist. Most importantly, they can reach and persuade people that the activist cannot.

The same is true of the new NALT movement. NALT goes further than the Marin Foundation in that they are fully affirming of LGBTQ individuals and their relationships. Dan Savage of the It Gets Better movement has used his huge platform to partner with affirming Christians in order to reach LGBTQ youth and other individuals struggling with their faith and with hostility from other people of faith.

I’ve seen much criticism of NALT from activists. Much, perhaps even most, of the criticism is valid. The emphasis is probably too much on making Christians feel better about themselves. There is a lack of diversity in the outreach and leadership. This is a lack of queer influence and leadership. It makes sense, and I hope and pray that those within the movement have thick skin and open hearts. I also hope that activists will become involved in more than just critiquing the movement, but also creating something themselves: whether it be a video, an offer to educate further, or a similar movement. At the same time, try to understand what an amazing step this is and how far we’ve come. My frustration (and my fear) is that so many critiques will demoralize those who are truly allies, and chase away those who are potential allies.

Having said all this, I know that activists do good, important, necessary work. I just wish they understood that others do, too. In the meantime, I hope all of us can find a way to live in this tension of loving each other well despite our differences. I feel like Paul: of sinners (those who do not love well in the tension), I am chief. If you feel my finger pointed at you, remember I am pointing four fingers back at myself.

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