Jesus Never Said, "Tolerate your enemies."
by Kristyn Komarnicki
Jesus never said, "Tolerate your enemies." He said, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27).
Jesus never prayed, "Father, help your children agree to disagree, then go their separate ways." He prayed, "Holy Father, protect them … so that they may be one as we are one" (John 17:11).
Jesus taught love, not tolerance. Unity, not division.
And that is exactly what animates Oriented to Love dialogues, where we set out together—in groups of 12 theologically and sexually diverse Christians—to lay hold of the "love that binds us all together in perfect unity" (Col. 3:14).
I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't seen it happen time and again, with my own eyes. At every dialogue we witness healing to the wounds in Christ's body: wounds inflicted by fear, pain, and ignorance—wounds healed by open-hearted listening, risky vulnerability, and burgeoning love. Siblings in Christ leave the retreat with softened hearts, better questions, more courage, and hungry to go deeper with their new friends. Their theological differences may remain, but their lives are forever changed.
How so, you ask? I'm glad you asked!
People leave the dialogue with:
New hope: A young woman* who had left the church (although not her faith), because she'd been so deeply hurt by their reaction to her coming out as gay, returned home from the dialogue eager to seek out a new church community. She found one, and soon after became a member, along with her wife, who encountered Jesus in that community and was baptized before joining!
In her own words: "The idea of my love getting baptized and seeing how excited she is to begin a new faith journey is almost overwhelming. I just keep crying. I am so blessed. I am so excited for our walk together toward Jesus … Being a part of the dialogue with you all was the beginning of a beautiful heart change for me."
The love from (and respectful engagement with) Christians who may disagree on what faithful sexuality looks like but who are freed through Christ to embrace each other is the source of great hope for those sexual minority folks who have experienced rejection and hatefulness from their church families. Another young gay man reports, "The weekend was completely life-changing. I feel as though I now know who I am in the Kingdom of Christ … I am so thankful to God for allowing me a sneak peek of Heaven."
New friendships: One heterosexual man from a conservative church was deeply impacted by the relationships that were born at the dialogue. "I came away valuing personal relationships with others different from me even more," he explains. "Joining with my brothers and sisters at the foot of the cross to seek Jesus and share life in all its pain, hurts, joys, and successes, I learned that we are not alone only to the extent that we become the body of Christ to others. I learned the importance of building trust and listening and sharing as necessary precursors to challenging debate and dialogue over significant differences."
New understanding: Rejuvenated by sacred time spent bonding with other Christians, finding and reveling in a unity that is deeper than agreement, a number of dialoguers return to their home church eager to advance and nurture conversations with their pastors and fellow congregants. One young man was asked to help lead a mini-retreat for the elders of his church to talk about nurturing dialogue around sexual and gender identity issues.
"The message [I take back to] my faith community," reports another heterosexual gentleman, "is that we should do all we can to encourage and walk alongside sexual and gender minorities who are deeply committed to following Christ, determined to read Scripture seriously, open to consider the church's historical teaching carefully, committed to reason theologically, scientifically, sociologically—you name it—with respectful conviction, and willing to bring their experiences generously. We have far more in common than the conventional conservative/liberal polarities suggest. I'd say I have more in common with the [11 other people at this dialogue] than I do with hardcore conservatives who appear NOT to be loving God with all their being and their neighbors as themselves."
One sexual minority woman was moved to express, "My experience affirmed how vulnerable we all are and how deeply we need each other."
Rejuvenated discipleship: Another result of the dialogues is spiritual maturity fostered in the crucible of hard conversations. As Rob Barrett writes in his excellent article "Divisive Issues as Spiritual Practice,"
The culture of the world has become increasingly polarized and outraged, losing its shared vision and the ability to work together. Many have lost hope. While we Christians have plenty of things that divide us, Jesus invites us to engage these things in life-giving, counter-cultural ways.
Barrett reminds us that as Christians we are invited to hold a very different view of what winning looks like from that of the broader culture. "Instead of winning points with clever debate rhetoric," he says, "we can make honest, charitable, and humble arguments, while learning from others' arguments."
I'm delighted to report that I had two opportunities to share the power of loving dialogue at the Wild Goose Festival in July, where I led a fishbowl conversation with four Oriented to Love alums (+ one guest) as well as a workshop on how to cultivate safety in our relationships with people who hold fundamentally opposing convictions from our own. The turnout and response were terrific, and attendees expressed a genuine hunger to learn how to ask dialogue-nurturing questions. (If you'd like a copy of our resources on that topic, email me and I'll send them to you.)
The next Oriented to Love dialogue will take place in Nashville in October, in partnership with and leading up to the Level Ground festival on faith, gender and sexuality. If you're in Nashville, drop by the festival to meet us!
In November we'll be training 14 dialogue alums who want to learn dialogue facilitation skills. This will enable us to grow the program far beyond what I've been able to do as a single facilitator. Please join me in praying for both the Nashville dialogue and the Philadelphia facilitator training. If you love what we're doing but don't feel called to attend a dialogue, you can still partner with us through prayer (we need lots of it!) and through sponsoring an attendee. I'm so pleased to report that many of our newest applicants for the dialogue are young people and specifically young people of color, a deeply encouraging trend that we hope to see continue—these and other folks often need scholarship funds to make the trip, so please consider sharing your resources to make it possible for them to join us (choose Oriented to Love in the drop-down menu).
Devastating news reinforces the need for dialogue
The June slaughter at Pulse nightclub in Orlando was as horrific as it was heartbreaking, sending waves of shock and terror through the sexual/gender minority community and among all those who love them. One tangible way to honor the lost lives and survivors is to show love to the LGBTQ people in your family, neighborhood, church, school, or workplace. Oriented to Love alums offer some ideas on how to do just that in "How Can the Church Love You Better?" and "How Can We Better Care for Our LGBTQ Sisters and Brothers?" Another alum created "So That None Are Rejected," a beautiful litany of lament, confession, and commitment that can be used in a worship service both to raise awareness and to offer comfort.
Safe places to connect, grieve, hope, dialogue, and celebrate together are more important than ever. Please consider partnering with us by sharing Oriented to Love with your church, friends, and family. We've seen the difference it is making in people's lives and pray that more of God's people will be able to experience it.
* Every story and photo that appear here are used by express permission of the person featured.