Two Writers In Dialogue: A Conservative Evangelical And A Gay Liberal Can Be Friends? Part 2

This is Part 2 of a post which began on Anthony’s blog at  Comments are only allowed here to ensure people read both halves before commenting. After all, this is a dialogue about avoiding miscommunication and assumptions. And we’re not looking for you to agree with our opinions nor to convince you of them. Comments will be moderated.

BTS: Listening is a dying skill these days One of my profound frustrations today is how people get labeled bigot just for having religious beliefs that marriage is sacred and between a man and a woman. As you know, I have no issue with civil unions. But we disagree on gay marriage. Yet we agree that gays shouldn’t be discriminated against and should have rights for their partners. Some label me a bigot just for that. But I don’t feel like a bigot.

ARC: Do I think your view, that marriage is only between a man and a woman while civil unions are for all, makes you a bigot? No, I don’t. Your actions speak louder than a one-sentence summary of your belief. I can see how people reading that one sentence might think you a bigot, because they’re reacting to one idea out of context — they’d need to know the full Bryan Thomas Schmidt to understand just where that statement is coming from. Another problem with our society is this penchant for the “sound bite:” let’s not look at a man’s words in the context of who he is and what situation he’s in, let’s take the sentence that is most likely to incite high emotion, and therefore high ratings.  Look, if I thought for a second you were a bigot, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and you know that because you know me. Again, you have the right to think “marriage is only one man and one woman,” and I have the right to think “marriage is any two individuals.” Those thoughts alone don’t make either of us a bigot. And we can disagree on the definition of marriage and still be friends.

BTS: Because we are more than the sum of any one issue, yes, we can. Why don’t more people know that? Anyway, we also have a lot more in common than we do different. While you’re being gay profoundly shapes you and your worldview and even, perhaps, politics to some degree, and my Christianity does the same for me, when we look beyond that, we have a lot in common and once you realize that, it’s hard to just dismiss somebody as unrelatable. In fact, it’s hard to not want to relate to someone because in reality the number of people you find with this much in common can be rare. So accepting you for who you are dealing with things respectfully means I get a great, valuable friendship and a needed perspective. I certainly hope it does the same for you with me.

ARC: Oh, it absolutely does the same for me. It probably comes down to this: I don’t enjoy being told I’m wrong, but I do enjoy being challenged. It’s okay to make me think and as you said earlier, it is beneficial to have to defend your worldview. There’s a difference between defending and being defensive, of course. And what works about our friendship is that when we move beyond our commonalities, we’re able to question and defend without being defensive. I mean, how much fun was it the night we met up for dinner, rambling through a dozen hot-button topics (Obama! Evangelism! Whether Self-Publishing is Good or Evil!) and then having the family at the next table ask us if we were brothers? I realize part of their reaction was the “two guys in their 40s with glasses” deal, but I think part of it was how we were bantering and disagreeing without arguing.

BTS: You’re saying I’m not as handsome as you? Is that what you’re really saying? I mean, come on, I have enough girls mocking me without you doing it.

ARC: To quote David Letterman, “once again, Bryan, you have crystallized my thoughts eloquently.”

BTS:  Wow. That’s just cold.  LOL Anyway, yes, we do cover a lot of subjects. We have fun, even teasing each other, and in the end, who gives a crap what our sexuality is? It must be someone other than me, because I could care less.

ARC: And the same can be said for our religious beliefs. I have yet to have a conversation with you where I felt religion was being thrown in my face. The same can’t be said for every Evangelical I’ve met.

BTS: Well, what good would it do to throw my beliefs in your face? What good would it do for you to throw yours in my face? It would just destroy our relationship. And since I know it’s a valuable relationship because I took the time to listen and get to know you, then that would be stupid. I have had people I always considered smart and friends unfollow me on Twitter for disagreeing with me. It’s been very hurtful. I listen to their opinions even when they offend me. I fight the urge to respond as necessary, attempt to be thoughtful when I do respond, and yet they don’t follow, which to me is like saying “I don’t care what you have to say.” And that is all too common these days amongst people with differences. I think it’s destroying our unity as a country and our morale as a society.

ARC: Unfortunately, I think of the downsides to social media (as opposed to in-person socialization) is how much easier it gets to be rude, dismissive or outright threatening. Things people would never have the guts to say in person spew easily from their Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles. I’ve become so much more aware of it in myself in the past year or so thanks to posting book reviews on Livejournal and now the interviews and blog posts on my own website that I now take a step back when I’m about to lay into a service professional of any kind. I try to think how I’d feel.

BTS: Oh I get testy with those people if they provide bad service or don’t know what they’re doing but they have several chances first. But I do think you’re right about the downsides. And I think it’s also a shift in culture. I never liked Political Correctness, which to me feels like a form of forced censorship or morality. It’s so arbitrary, too—whatever offends the most people is on the list and what doesn’t isn’t. But at the same time, maybe we’ve gone too far the other way. I don’t know a lot of people who could talk about things we talk about as calmly as we do and stay friends. And as far as my religious beliefs, they are complicated. And they are mitigated by two beliefs I hold dear. One is my belief in the depravity of man. I believe all of us are sinners and depraved and since God doesn’t rank sin in the bible, except blaspheming the Holy Spirit, we are all equally sinful. Second is my belief that Jesus taught and modeled loving others above ones self first. That means that you love the sinners, regardless of your feelings about the sin. Christians throw that around like a cliché but was does it mean to live it? It means, even if I believe homosexuality is a sin, I cannot treat you as if I am the judge or any better because I am a sinner too. The Scriptures also make it clear that God is the judge. And frankly, I don’t want the job. Would you?

ARC: God please no! I spend enough time sitting in judgement on myself, I don’t need to add sitting in final judgment of others to the mix. We are, it seems, the odd birds out in the fact that our conversations stay friendly despite the hot-button topics. I obviously do not think homosexuality is a choice at all. And I’ll defend to the death your right to think I’m wrong. Of course, you express that opinion much less violently than many people do. And again, that’s why we get along — we disagree, we know we disagree, but we also don’t resort to anger and violence to try to persuade the other person he is wrong.

BTS: Well, I actually am surprised you know that. I don’t remember specifically discussing it. But in any case, the reality of it is, even if it is a choice, I make sinful choices, and so I am in no place to judge anyone else for theirs. And it’s far more complicated than simple judgment calls can address anyway, isn’t it? But for me, the more important thing is another of my core beliefs: we are all made in the image of God, as human beings. If you are in God’s image, then to disrespect you is to disrespect God Himself, isn’t it? And that’s a choice I refuse to make.

ARC: What I really meant to say, but mangled it, was that IF you thought I was wrong, I’d defend your right to think it.  But you’ve hit on something we agree on: we are all in God’s image. I believe that, no matter what version of the Creator someone may choose to worship. And again, this sort of brings us back to the question that started it all: why are we friends? Because we have more in common than we don’t have. Setting belief aside for a moment, we also agree on, for instance, the concept that writing every day, even if what you write is total crap, is far more beneficial than not writing on any given day.

BTS: Oh absolutely. As long as you can stomach your own crap. Just kidding. But we also both love reading, love books, love Scrabble, love Science Fiction and Fantasy, love people, and we love to laugh. That’s a lot right there.

ARC: Yes, we do love Scrabble, enough to both gracefully lose to each other and rub it in each other’s faces when we win. And yet we also seem united in our disdain for Words With Friends, so there are even some things we dislike together! I think you’re a far more committed SF/F fan than I am, though. Matters of degree, really, but I need to bounce between genres, which is why right now I’m reading a memoir (Jane Lynch’s HAPPY ACCIDENTS), a noir-ish crime thriller (Lawrence Block’s GETTING OFF) and a fantasy (Jay Lake’s ENDURANCE). But it was our mutual love of SF/F that connected us in the first place. So it all comes back to that common ground: we can be friends despite the fact that the stereotypes of “gay” and “Evangelical” say we should be at odds, because what we have in common far outnumbers our differences.

BTS: Don’t forget our mutual passion for Sherlock Holmes. I mean, come on, and pulp books and stories? Speaking of which, we need to wrap this up because you have a column to write. So thanks for dialoguing with me. I hope it helps others to realize there’s value in friendship despite differences. Who knows what golden experiences they could miss out on by not giving people who differ from them a chance? I wouldn’t pass up our friendship for anything.

ARC: Nor would I, my friend. And I proudly call you that, and will continue to! Thanks for instigating this conversation. I hope it makes some folks think about mutual respect and perhaps second chances.

BTS: Indeed. May it encourage them to dialogue and reach out like we have to be enriched. If you live inside a box, you get stale. Only by stepping outside the box does your world expand to colors you never knew existed and I sure love a rainbow in my life. Anyway, let’s open this to comments and jointly ask people: a little snarkiness is hard to avoid sometimes, as we realize these are challenging topics these days but we will approve all posts so any foul language, insults, disrespect, etc. will not even be posted nor will it be responded to. These posts are for productive dialogue and that’s what we want to see here. Please respect that.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.