The question is asked at least a couple times a week by email (and in our queertheology.com webinar last week it was asked in different ways by about 10% of the participants): How do I talk to people who won’t listen? Whether it’s LGTBQIA+ issues, different interpretations of the Bible, or even politics, people are struggling to figure out how to talk to people who believe differently than they do. I know what they are asking: give me a roadmap. Tell me the arguments to make. Share with me your powerpoint for changing people’s minds. Show me how to do this.
On the surface it seems like people are asking with detachment about how to argue better, but underneath? Underneath I can feel the desperation. It’s deeper than arguments; people are trying to figure out how to bridge the gap between such different world views, because those world views are causing harm.
Here’s what people are really asking:
How do I talk to my dad about the rightness of my relationship when he believes that it’s a sin to be gay? How do I convince my wife to accept my need to transition? How do I help my grandmother understand that the way she votes has a direct bearing on my ability to get healthcare or protect my family? How do I get my pastor to understand that when he preaches against gay people and trans people from the pulpit using really dehumanizing language that he is wounding my soul?
This isn’t about trying to convince people to agree with you, it’s about trying to get them to stop hurting you.
The thing is, I don’t have much of an answer. I haven’t seen arguments work. I haven’t seen people be convinced because I was finally able to lay out a coherent framework using Scripture (because I can). I haven’t seen people be convinced because I made my points with facts and figures and specific data (because I can). When someone enters into a conversation unwilling to be changed, they are not entering in in good faith. When someone’s mind is so closed, facts and truth won’t change it. That’s depressing to hear isn’t it? Because then what do we do? How do we change things?
There’s an article that’s been going around titled “I cannot convince you to care about other people.” And I think there’s a lot of truth in that title. I can’t make my family use the right pronouns. I can’t force someone to change their beliefs. I can’t make them care about transgender or queer people. I can’t change someone’s mind for them.
But what I can do is continually live my truth out loud. I can keep talking about how policies and theologies and actions harm me and my community. I can continue to ask for respect around pronouns and partners and identity. I can continue to set boundaries about what I will and will not talk about, about the places I will and will not go, about the situations I will and will not put myself in.
Do I have hope that chance will come? I do.
But in the meantime? I’m going to protect my heart and my body and my soul. I’m going to refuse to spend significant time around people who won’t use the correct pronouns. I’m going to leave churches that preach toxic theology. I’m going to keep my distance from people who vote for individuals that are trying to kill people like me.
I might not be able to change someone’s mind but that doesn’t mean I have to allow them to be hateful and harmful to me. I don’t have to take harmful words or toxic theologies. And I don’t have to argue for my own dignity and humanity to someone who refuses to see it.