Common ground

Here are a couple of WaPo articles on a developing dialogue between the GLBT community and conservative fundamentalist Christians.

Unlikely Alliance Takes on School Conflict
reports on just-released consensus guidelines on addressing sexual orientation issues in schools. The guidelines were developed by the Christian Educators Association International (CEAI) and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), with the help of mediators.

GLSEN Press Release
CEAI Press Release
Public Schools and Sexual Orientation (PDF)

This is one of the more sensible documents that has surfaced in recent memory. It could have been written about Loudoun, and addresses perfectly the unpleasant situation regarding student plays we have watched unfold over the past year.

Excerpted from the guidelines:

..public schools have increasingly become a front line in the escalating debates over homosexuality in American society. Conflicts over issues involving sexual orientation in the curriculum, student clubs, speech codes and other areas of school life increasingly divide communities, spark bitter lawsuits, and undermine the educational mission of schools..

..Since the earliest days of the common school movement, Americans have viewed the schoolhouse as a microcosm of the public square, an arena where we debate and define who we are as a people. But when these disputes degenerate into personal attacks, ridicule, false characterizations of opposing positions, and similar tactics, they tear communities apart and alienate large numbers of citizens from their local schools..

..The advice in this guide is built on the conviction that we urgently need to reaffirm our shared commitment, as American citizens, to guiding principles of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The focus is on civility and the recognition that we have common ground – perhaps the only place we have common ground – in the freedoms of expression and religion guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. There may be no possibility of ideological consensus, but both sides need to acknowledge that our right to express our own point of view is protected by the same document, and agree not to tear our communities apart and disrupt the educational mission of the schools. The kids don’t need this.

The second article, A Drive for Understanding, reports on the Soulforce Equality Ride, in which a group of young GLBT activists, some of whom have been expelled from fundamentalist Christian colleges because of their orientation, are visiting fundamentalist Christian campuses in an effort to establish dialogue. (Some of them were arrested for trespassing yesterday at Liberty University in Lynchburg.)

Surprisingly, some of the colleges are welcoming the dialogue. Again, there is not likely to be ideological consensus or the changing of many minds, but there does seem to be a realization that wishing away the issue is not having the desired effect.

“It’s a touchy topic, and we don’t want to be viewed as homophobic. We know every church is struggling with it, so if our students are going to be prepared to be leaders in this society, they need to experience the real world.” -Robert Andringa, president of the Christian colleges council

Still, (and not to be a pessimist, but some of the college administers have expressed a “know your enemies” motivation for their hospitality) there are indications that the dialogue is not to be truly open.

Several students at Biola University, a nondenominational school in Los Angeles that is hosting the activists, said the school’s Internet screener this week did not allow them to open the Equality Ride Web site or Soulforce’s site. Biola spokeswoman Irene Neller denied that officials were intentionally preventing access to the sites.

This raises interesting questions about the filtering software in use. We strongly doubt that there is anything obscene or of a sexual nature on the Soulforce website. If there was no deliberate blocking of that particular site, what does that say about the criteria of the filtering software and the claims by some Virginia legislators and activists that the purpose of internet filtering is to block pornography, not political viewpoints?

But that is a topic for another post.

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3 Responses to Common ground

  1. Robin Magonegil says:

    I came out of the Fundamentalist Christian movement. I am a happily liberated lesbian in a committed (long term) relationship with two children. I graduated from Bethany Bible College in 1989. I had my first lesbian relationship while in college and felt alone and despised when this relationship was discovered. Fortunately I am intelligent enough to realize that God is not involved in the religion of hate and intolerance.

  2. David says:

    Hi Robin, thanks for reading. The willingness to dialogue is a good filter. I take it that the good folks at Bethany were not willing. If people who have these fundamentalist ideas about gender have the opportunity to test their validity with real people in the real world leading authentic lives, they experience cognitive dissonance pretty quickly.

    There’s no need for them to reject faith. Religious texts are just a compendium of other people’s relationships with God in a particular time and place, as those people experienced them. It doesn’t require any faith in God to interpret them as the literal word of God – only faith in religious authorities. Those religious authorities who are unwilling to enter into a dialogue about what these texts mean are unwilling to accept anything but blind obedience to themselves. That tells us all we need to know about their agenda.

  3. Robin Magonegil says:

    The really funny thing is that I went to college with Irene Neller and knew her pretty well. At Bethany she was one of the more liberal open minded students but since everyone was pretty extremely far right fundamentalist that is probably not saying much.