Where’s My Perspective?

The following post was written by Nathan Albert, Director of Pastoral Care at The Marin Foundation.

For one summer, I worked as a chaplain at Rush University Medical Center.  Specifically, I was the chaplain for the Pediatrics and Pediatrics Intensive Care Unit, however I also covered the entire hospital on my 24-hour shifts.  I was forced to deal with death, a lot of it actually.  In the span of a matter of months, I witnessed more deaths than most people will in two or three lifetimes.  I saw a lot of grief and pain.  And so, in that time, the hospital became a place where people died.  It was my experience.

Over the summer, I was in the hospital due to blood clots and a pulmonary embolism.  It was a terrifying time for me and opened my eyes to my own mortality.  My time in the hospital and the countless doctor visits after made me quite anxious.  I realized that being in the hospital to get better was not a comfort to me because my experience was from my chaplaincy.  My mom, in all her loving wisdom, told me that being in the hospital was the best place for me, it was a place of healing.  But those words fell on deaf ears since my previous experience told me that the hospital was a place of death.

My perspective needed to change.  My experiences influenced my decisions.  Both my perspective and my experiences were true.  Both enabled me to know certain truths.  But relying on one more than the other made my perspective skewed.  And yet, the hospital did not kill me, it made me better.  My mom, as always, was right.  It was a place of healing.

And so I think about the feud between the Christian community and the LGBT community.  How skewed are our perspectives?  I think we are both guilty of letting stereotypes, negative experiences, or uneducated assumptions skew our feelings.  I am not, of course, negating people’s experiences, especially painful and hurtful ones.  I am, however, asking how do our perspectives need to change?  I recently saw a video of the Dalai Lama speaking to Stanford University on the need for constructive dialogue in resolving conflict.  He argued that compassion and respect for the other needs to extend beyond creeds or beliefs.  I think I agree.

I recently read a scholar’s book where he pointed out how often the disciples following Jesus had to change their minds.  They were set on a particular doctrine, creed or aspect of the Law and then Jesus did or said something that forced them to change their perspective.  They experienced numerous events that changed their perspective.  Did they stop believing?  No.  But did their change in perspective cause them to live out those beliefs in incredibly different and healing ways?  Absolutely.

So, how do our perspectives need to change?  How does our perspective of the “other” need to change?  Whom do we need to better understand?

Does our perspective on faith and sexuality need to change?  Does our understanding of grace need to change?

Do we allow ourselves the option to change our perspective or does our fear or phobia of the other trump that?

I strongly believe some of our perspectives need to change, and quickly at that.  Too often I see many of us, mostly myself, thinking a certain perspective is death rather than a chance for health.

If a difference in my perspective can bring health, then I’m willing to try and change it.

I’m all for health; my health and the health of others.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

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About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Amy

    Bravo, Nathan! Thank you!

  • CalebS

    Excellent points, Nathan. The stories of Jesus remind us that we need to move out of our falsehood and fear and into Christ’s truth (his most severe indictments were aimed at the self-righteous). It’s worth noting, however, that change can happen in both directions. Changing minds, in and of itself, is not necessarily good. The epistles entreat us to stand firm in the truth we have been taught and not let false teaching lead us astray (e.g., consider Colossians 1:23).

  • Debbie Thurman

    Forgive me if I am weighing in too much in recent days, but it just seems there have been some very thought-provoking posts here lately.

    I know that a person can change his or her perspective, and I believe I am proof of it in a number of ways. Why so many folks are afraid to remain open-minded, I cannot say. Old fears and prejudices run deep.

    Open-minded does not mean, as some like to joke, that your brains will fall out. It means being receptive to all the information, all perspectives that differ from your own.

    If we believe something deeply and have solid reasons for believing it, then we face no risk in examining other perspectives. If someone comes along and points out that we are believing something based on a possibly false premise, we have an obligation born out of love and concern for our fellow man to listen and weigh the evidence. Again, a tree planted in firm, healthy soil, cannot be shaken.

    We should always have the freedom to let thoughts and ideas compete so that the best ones (the cream) can rise to the surface. Truth will be debated until Christ returns, but it will never be defeated.

    I have learned, through careful examination, that some of what passes for fact on both sides of this particular debate, does not hold up to close scrutiny. This watchdog group calls out that watchdog group, and on and on it goes. The PR wars are vicious. The Church should not be fighting them.

    Christendom is not built on its image in the world. Genuine Christianity may be obvious to the onlooker much of the time, but sometimes it will look like something from an unknown universe. That Christ is the one who appears too hard for us to follow, so we abandon him.

    Not sure if it is our perspective of grace or just our receptivity to grace, period, that needs to change.

    Trying hard to stuff my soapbox under the table now. :)

  • Eugene

    “I think we are both guilty of letting stereotypes, negative experiences, or uneducated assumptions skew our feelings. I am not, of course, negating people’s experiences, especially painful and hurtful ones. I am, however, asking how do our perspectives need to change?”

    I’m getting tired of the false equivalency. When you say, “We both are guilty”, you willingly ignore the differences between the communities. It’s the Christian community that keeps denying gay people’s legal right to marry (and other rights). It’s the Christian community that equates gay people to prostitutes and pedophiles – not the other way around. And it’s the Christian community that is united by their shared religion.

    I do believe that our perspectives can change – especially if we try to think of every single person out of context of their “community”. And I’ve been trying to change my perspective – but the results aren’t that impressive because I see that there are two kinds of Christians: the ones who hate/despise gays and the ones who don’t do enough about it. Yes, I know that there are a few exceptions, but what exactly am I “guilty” of when there isn’t a single group of Christians that is friendlier towards gays than atheists are? Even you, Nathan, are pushing this false equivalency between the communities instead of saying that, maybe, just maybe, homosexuality isn’t evil and immoral. Yes, sometimes our perspectives are incorrect. But sometimes they adequately reflect the reality.

    • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

      Here! Here!

  • http://naytinalbert.blogspot.com Nathan

    Hey Eugene,

    I am in no way trying to willfully ignore the differences between the two communities. I see them, quite plainly at that. Yes, my perspective is skewed at times. Yes, many Christians’ perspectives are skewed at times. And yet I have gay friends, Christian and atheist, who could also honestly say that at times their perspective concerning another community has been skewed. The fact that you sum up Christians into “two kinds” or make the bold claim that it is only the Christian community who is fighting against gay marriage proves the point. That isn’t the case. I know countless Christians who are fighting hard for gay rights. I know dozens of pastors who are doing the same. I am just trying to make people aware of how easy it is to wrongly accuse another group of something, or dehumanizing others. I think it’s fair to say that Christians have often dehumanized the LGBT community. But I also think it is fair to say that some of the LGBT community has dehumanized the Christian community. I would also say, however, that the LGBT community has been given a “right” to do so because of such broad mistreatment by many Christians.

    And I think it’s too bad that you have not meant any Christian who would be more friendly to you than an atheist. That’s a shame. I’m sorry that has been the case.

    I know of many Christians who do not believe homosexuality is “evil and immoral.” In regards to that, my hope is that people will allow themselves the chance to change that perspective. Many Christians come to believe certain things about homosexuality without doing any research of their own, without reading and educating themselves, without doing an in-depth look at cultural and contextual exegesis of scriptural passages, or without befriending anyone is LGBT. I would say if they did, their perspective might change. Of course, it might not. But I encourage people to allow for that process to happen.

    I do like your point about our perceptions reflecting reality. I’ll have to think on that more.

    • Eugene

      “The fact that you sum up Christians into “two kinds” or make the bold claim that it is only the Christian community who is fighting against gay marriage proves the point. That isn’t the case.”

      That’s not what I meant. I certainly don’t think that all Christians (and only Christians) are fighting against gay marriage – I explicitly acknowledged the exceptions. But there is a strong correlation between anti-gay opinions and certain religious beliefs. As you probably know, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law will (or will not) be repealed in the near future. So who’s more likely to be in favor of keeping it? Evangelicals and people who attend church every week. (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1812/dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-public-supports-gays-serve-openly-in-military)

      I wish I could find a reason to believe that it’s just a correlation – but I can’t. Sure, quite a few Christians oppose DADT and believe that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality. But there have been a few anti-gay bigots for every Christian who’s “fighting hard for gay rights”. More importantly, atheists as a group are even more likely to support gay people. Finally, many pro-gay Christians aren’t doing enough to send the message that anti-gay views are un-Christian. How can I view Christianity as a positive thing from this perspective?

      What I’m getting from you is that “we are both guilty”. What I’m getting from Kevin is that he isn’t asking anyone to change their “beliefs regarding transgender and gender non-conforming individuals”. What I’m getting from Andrew is that the fact that he attended a gay wedding in no way implies that homosexuality is OK. And you all are aware of anti-gay passages in the Bible and traditionally anti-gay Christian beliefs. How am I supposed to interpret this?

  • Derek Sellers

    Thank you for the post Nathan, very thought provoking, as well as Eugene’s statements. My perspective has changed a lot in the past few months from my personal experiences. However, my convictions have not. It seems that a lot of the sentiment here is that a perspective change needs to facilitate a change in belief system. Is that correct?

    My primary concern is looking for what God’s truth is. I believe in absolute truth, and I try to seek it when I can. I agree with your statement that it’s wrong to come to a belief about something without doing research like what the Marin Foundation is doing, as well as building real invested relationships with LGBTs. It helps widen our own perspectives, but at the end of the day what happens when that broader perspective doesn’t change what you understand as truth?

    Am I not allowed to say “I care about the pain, the confusion, and the hardship you experience at the hands of those who pass judgment upon you, but I still cannot believe the practice of gay sex is not a sin”?

    On the other side of things, is an LGBT person not allowed to say “I understand your convictions, your fears, and your decisions but I cannot deny this part of me that I’ve come to accept as integral to who I am”?

    Allowing yourself to consider other people’s perspectives and thinking critically about them is important. It allows us to build a real, solid belief system. The danger is allowing yourself to change simply out of a desire to conform. I wouldn’t recommend that for either side of this proverbial fence.

    • Eugene

      “My primary concern is looking for what God’s truth is. I believe in absolute truth, and I try to seek it when I can.”

      Do you also believe that you can actually find absolute truth? It’s an important question because knowledge leaves no room for faith. It’s also important because it can change not your belief system, but the way you act on your beliefs. If you realize that you can’t possibly know absolute truth, how will it affect the things you say and do?

      “Am I not allowed to say “I care about the pain, the confusion, and the hardship you experience at the hands of those who pass judgment upon you, but I still cannot believe the practice of gay sex is not a sin”?

      You surely are allowed to say that. :) But how does it make things better for LGBT people? It probably makes them worse (i.e. “I know I’m hurting you, but my quest for absolute truth is more important” :) ). Yes, you say you “care”, but… do not even pagans do that?

      And, again, I don’t like the false equivalence. Your willingness to offend an LGBT person isn’t equivalent to their willingness to defend themselves.

      • Derek Sellers

        Wonderful response Eugene! I appreciate being called on to think more critically :)

        Of course I do not believe I alone can find absoltue truth, but I think it is important to continue seeking it for as long as I have life to live. I do not, however, believe that in the process of searching for truth I should oppress others with it. As for making things better, I am convinced that I cannot and will not stand for the mistreatment and dehumanization of anyone who thinks, behaves, or understands differently than I. All I can do is hold myself alone accountable to that which I have come to know as right and keep trying to be reflection of God’s love in people’s lives.

        With that in mind I have a question that I’ve been dying to ask for a while, and that is: How do my beliefs hurt you? How are my beliefs offensive to LGBTs in the long run? Why do you need to defend yourself against people who think like me? The answers may seem plain to you, but I’m not asking in order to pose a challenge, I’m asking out of a sincere desire to widen my own perspective.

        Thank you,
        Derek

        • Eugene

          “As for making things better, I am convinced that I cannot and will not stand for the mistreatment and dehumanization of anyone who thinks, behaves, or understands differently than I.”

          How do you define “mistreatment and dehumanization”, though? I mean, you have already managed to reduce the issue to “the practice of gay sex”. :) Some people believe that death penalty is the right treatment for homosexuality. Others believe that gay people shouldn’t have the legal right to marry and serve in the military. Finally, some people believe that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married in Christian churches. Depending on their perspective, people draw the line anywhere they want.

          1) “How do my beliefs hurt you?”
          Assuming that you believe that homosexuality is a sin, your beliefs legitimize anti-gay discrimination, bigotry and hatred (DADT, marriage equality, career opportunities, bullying, etc.) and turn gay people into outcasts in their communities.

          2) “How are my beliefs offensive to LGBTs in the long run?”
          You condemn their love and commitment and equate them to adultery, prostitution and other evil/immoral things via the concept of “sin”. You’re turning love into hate.

          3) “Why do you need to defend yourself against people who think like me?”
          We’re in this together. Gay people are a minority, so their lives are strongly affected by the opinions of the majority. Gay people usually are born to straight parents and live in predominantly straight communities, so even “tolerance” isn’t a good option. No one wants to be “tolerated” by their own parents.

          • Debbie Thurman

            Eugene, love (not tolerance) for their GLBT children is the only godly option for parents who are Christ followers. I’m sure a good many of those parents are not Christians. For that matter, love (a most profound word that is not easy to define succinctly and universally) is the only godly response for ALL Christians toward GLBT people … and all people because everyone else is our “neighbor.”

            None of us can love as completely as Christ does. But be sure, love does not require acquiescing to all the beloved’s beliefs or wants, especially where they may be self-destructive in some way. We all have a proclivity toward self-destructive (physically or of the soul) beliefs and actions. To believe or proclaim that certain people in this world (to wit, evangelical Christians) are incapable of loving as God would have them to (according to what most Christians agree that love looks like from scriptural instruction) is to set oneself up on par with God, is it not? Only He truly knows our hearts and what is best for us.

            Many of us are striving to love our neighbors with true Christ-like love. We are human and we fail a lot, but Christ must have believed we could do it. Why else would he have borne the sins of the world so he could redeem us?

            As I tried to say the other day, Christ-like love is not all warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it is hard-edged. Would I really want Christ to negate all he has done for the world, and to say to me, “It’s all right. I didn’t really mean to hurt you. I’ll go easier on you.” No! Never! I want him to hurt the sin and destructiveness right out of me!

            • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

              What a quandry. What kind of relationship will evolve when one side sees the other as self-destructive when the only real difference is the gender of spouse?

              • Debbie Thurman

                Jon, self-destructiveness comes in many forms and applies to many kinds of people. You are right. This very discussion represents a quandary/conundrum. Perfectly illustrates it, in fact.

                Too many folks are seeking human answers when only the divine will do. Every person must seek God for himself, or choose to have a real relationship with Christ — all of him. Or not. None of us is entitled to take his place in another’s life.

  • Derek Sellers

    Thank you, I’ve got more to ponder upon :)

    Derek

  • Amanda Hayman

    You mean to say that if gays are civil, and continue to politely dialogue with our brutal enemies, that we’ll gain our civil rights? I believe the conservative churches have pretty much staked their claim to gay hatred, they have funded huge political campaigns with vile candidates attacking us.

    I’ve heard people all the time talk about dialogue, but I just don’t believe in it. I want my civil rights, and I’m going to fight those churches till the day I die to get them in a non-christian sectarian society. I’m going to encourage all gays to leave those churches, get off their knees trying to gain favor with people who think we are sinners. And all the right wing christians think gays are sinners, let’s not mess around here. They hate us, they use fake words like “love” but again this makes their language all the more horrifying.
    They are the enemies of gay civil rights, but they will lose in the end. A generation from now, they people who supported mega-church attacks on us are going to look like complete bigots, idiots and homophobes. Then they’ll find some new group to pick on. The anti-gay fundraising bonanza will not longer work. Gays, get up and leave that church and don’t look back lest you… or stomp on the snakes and scorpions…


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