On having conversations when you disagree

You may remember the giant Chick-Fil-A “buy-cott” that happened back in uh, I guess 2013.

Or, you may be confused about what a buy-cott even is. A buy-cott happens when some group says they’re going to boycott something. Then all the people who support that thing come together and buy that thing to try and cancel out the boycott.

This is what happened with Chick-Fil-A, (a chicken sandwich chain, for you South Africans). Depending on who your friends group is on Facebook, you probably either saw everyone saying, “Don’t buy Chick-Fil-A!!!” or “Everyone go buy Chick-Fil-A!!”

And what was the cause of this hoopla? The owner of Chick-Fil-A had made a statement that he wasn’t in support of gay marriage, and had also funded organizations that were attempting to stop the Supreme Court ruling for legalizing gay marriage. So LGBT activists called a boycott, and Christians responded with a buycott.

We could get into lots of lovely arguments about the issue, but I think what’s more interesting is the back story which recently came to my attention.

Dan and Shane (Huffington Post)

The owner of Chick-Fil-A (Dan) actually reached out to the leader of the LGBT movement (Shane) and started asking questions. They had hour long phone calls. They texted. Dan invited Shane over for supper. And the Shane accepted the dinner invitation.

Listen to what Shane says about Dan in a Huffington Post article where he “Came Out” as friends with one of the “icons of the anti-gay movement”:

“Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.” Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-a — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.”

He goes on to say:  Dan had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system. He defined this to me as “the blessing of growth.” He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well.

The whole article is well worth a read, especially if you’ve been disheartened in this US political cycle about our ability to have dialogue and conversation with each other.

In conservative circles, sometimes the word “tolerance” is seen as a dirty word. Our culture has taken it to mean “agree with every single person’s opinion.” But that’s not tolerance. Tolerance is having deeply differing viewpoints, but still respecting the other person. It’s not abandoning your worldview, but being able to explain it, and being open to listening to others, and expanding it to receive new information. Shane is still gay. He’s still a leader in the LGBT movement. Dan still holds to a traditional Christian ethic on marriage. But Dan and Shane are able to be friends. They’re able to have conversation. Shane said when Dan initiated the friendship, “he sought more to understand than to be understood.”

We live in a world where everyone’s shouting to be understood, and no one is listening to understand.cover-book1.png

I used excerpts from John  Inazu’s  book “Confident Pluralism” in the introduction of my freshman sociology class this semester. The whole premise of John’s book is we don’t all have to agree with each other, but we do have to learn how to listen, how to have respectful dialogue, and how to exist with difference. He talks about the practices of tolerance, humility, and respect.

I hope I’m like Dan Cathy. I hope I’m able to be friends with people that I completely disagree with. That means no memes. That means no self-righteous conversation stoppers. That means separating a person from their idea. That means refusing to vilify people. It means not letting myself get sucked into the echo chamber of the internet where I can surround myself with people who think just like me. 

And it’s pretty hard. But I think ultimately, it’s something Jesus would do, so I try. I wish all the Christians who oppose gay marriage were known for being good friends to gay people. I wish Christians had a reputation for being awesome friends to their atheist buddies, and defending their free speech rights just as much as our own. I wish we were known as people who are for people, and not just for the ideas we’re against.


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