How to (and How Not to) Change a Mind

Ada

The night after I told my family that Zora and I were together, my yi ma and my yi fu called – the first frantic, the latter measured, both distant relatives. Maybe, my mother had thought, these Christians could get through to her if I can’t.

Why would you do this to your mother?”

“How could you do this to God?”

“Don’t you feel ashamed of the pain you’re causing your family?”

Two hours of this – first with my yi ma whose barrage was more bewildering than effective, and then with my yi fu, a pastor, who approached me the way you’d corner a cat: slow words, soothing tone, a little hesitation. We debated around in circles. What did we even say? I don’t remember.

I do remember him sighing at the end. “Okay. We’ll be in touch.”

Our conversation left me exhausted.

He emailed me the next day. Had I given him my email address? Why did I do that? Perhaps to further the conversation, push back on his thinking, reframe his perspective. I had done my research. I understood the roots of conservative and progressive theologies. I could beat back any clobber passages he would inevitably bring up.*

The next day passed, and the day after that. I started a draft. Hello yi fu – regarding your first argument…

I got halfway through. By that time, I’d written a couple thousand words.

But I never sent it. I didn’t actually want a reply.

Three Steps Forward

Jamie is my friend and a Catholic school campus minister. We lived in the same trailer compound in the Southwest, and he had a Southern California slowness and swagger. He likes comics, heavy metal, and his dog. He loves his faith – not so much the Catholic Church – and he loves Jesus. And he didn’t think same-sex relationships could honor God. I told him a few months about Zora and me.

All right, he’d said. He kicked back in his chair and didn’t say much more. He gave me space. We spent a lot of school-day mornings in that office swapping grief and joy. We prayed together weekly. And in between, we walked our town’s dirt roads, swapped scribbled stories, and whatever else friends do between moments of understanding.

Sometimes I told him how the discernment process was going. Sometimes he asked about Zora – how she was doing 3,000 miles away. We were doing okay, I told him, okay in this limbo.

Two years later, Jaime was a key figure in our wedding. He offered prayer during our ceremony.

Sometime in between the coming-out and the wedding, he said he’d changed his mind about same-sex relationships. He watched us pray, deliberate, and surrender unknowing to the Spirit. He saw the fruit borne from our identities and our relationship. Through seeing our lives, he’d changed his mind.

Two Steps Back

A couple years later and a few states east, Zora and I spent Christmas at my parents’ – on their turf. Our first morning, I told my mother that Zora and I were headed out for a walk. She said she’d take us to a park a short drive away. “Don’t walk here please,” she said, “Not in my neighborhood.”

My mother didn’t walk her own streets anymore, either. She said she didn’t want questions from friends about her daughter. She didn’t want embarrassment. She didn’t need other people anyway. I asked why she didn’t believe she could change their minds.

We argued for hours. She didn’t want my father or Zora to hear us, so we argued in her coat closet. I tried to reason with her.

Why avoid your own sidewalks? Why not throw the doors open a little wider? Why not walk proudly through your own streets, feared neighbors be damned?

This was her town, she said, and Zora and I could be proud in our own town if we wanted. She said I had no right to ask her to live her life differently, that she wanted the doors shut a little more, and that if she had nothing else, she still wanted to save face.

But I believed the world could change – does change. She had come so far in four years – from her silence, and then her absence at our wedding, to cordial phone calls, a couple of holidays managed – love enough. Now Zora and I were spending Christmas at her home. She had come so far. What was one walk in the neighborhood?

Sometimes I watch video clips online of Asian mothers hugging queer children or presenting alongside them at conferences. I read LGBTQ advocacy newsletter inserts about how mothers can be the greatest allies. It’s silly, but these snapshots build my hope – perhaps taller than they should. Have I been wrong to hope that one day my own mother could be my ally?

She had dreams of who I would be, and I had dreams of who she could be.

Still, she has come a long way. We have spent years talking – shouting, really – past each other in two languages, from different religious contexts, and with different cultural upbringings.

It wasn’t until I quit talking that, slowly and side-winding, she started coming along. I quit talking, and I started living.

Witness as Resistance

I’ve done a lot of talking – a lot of rebutting people’s well-articulated homophobia, a lot of discussions with (or at) well-meaning Christians working hard to show me some light they thought I couldn’t see. Back when I identified more strongly with conservative evangelical Christianity, I had similar cool-headed debates about other topics, too. I’ve put in my fair share of effort to change minds through bulletproof rebuttals or through citing the right verses at the right times with just the right touch of humility.

But I’m done with that. I no longer meet homophobes at the dueling grounds to fight for affirmation. I’ve learned that arguments don’t change hearts, and dialogue alone doesn’t build new realities. Moreover, even for confidently affirming queer Christians like me, it can be exhausting and demeaning to continually defend my existence and my place in God’s family.

Instead, I’m choosing now to live my beliefs and to let my life speak for my understanding of divinely created diverse sexualities. I’m choosing now to live authentically. Now, I prefer to spend my time on the healing work that remains to be done in the hearts of queer Christians and on galvanizing willing allies.

For better and for worse, I’ve found no better antidote to misunderstanding than a life lived and shared. I’ve tried many paths, especially those that look shortest. But only the long road has ever gotten me home.

The Vision at the End of the Long Road

But taking the long road isn’t easy, and I get off the path more often than I’d like. It helps – it’s everything – to carry a vision of the kin-dom toward which we’re walking.

“The kin[-]dom of God is within you.” – Luke 17:20-21

To live as though the kin-dom is here and within us means living knowing that I am affirmed by God and that the affirmation of others doesn’t matter. Some days I do this better than other days. Some days I pretend I’m fearless, and some days that does the trick.

The thing is, when you are not expected to flower, your existence is resistance. We sometimes call this “witness” in the Christian canon. This witness is resistance against a loud and fearful Christian narrative that deems some identities lesser-than and that touts an unloving God.

Queer lives bear fruit abundant on limbs that non-affirming Christians believe are cursed by a creation-damning God. Queer lives sow the seeds of the Gospel just as heterosexual lives can.

To live as though the kin-dom were already here and within us challenges us to live as kin-dom residents: to walk lightly, to speak prophetically, and to love fiercely.

Our faith is a blueprint, and we are charged to build a banquet table where all are invited and welcomed, where all can bring the fruit borne of their being, and where all are made full.

An Announcement

Queering the Kindom is switching from a weekly publication schedule to a biweekly publication schedule. To get notified when we post, you can sign up for email updates by hitting “Follow” on the left sidebar. (For mobile readers, sign up by hitting the drop-down menu at the top of the page.)

We still love engaging and encouraging our readers between each post, and we still encourage your que(e)ries and other communication. We hope the new schedule will free us up to enjoy one another’s company and to come to you with our best. To all who’ve been reading and following our journey so far: thank you. Onward!

*Although we haven’t read this piece too deeply yet, it looks so far like a good contextualization of the clobber passages (and with contextualization, clarity).

Photograph from travel-studies.com