As a conservative policy thinker and a lesbian pastor, we share a friendship blessed by difference. After nearly a half-decade of conversing, writing and speaking together about the controversies around LGBTQ equality and religious freedom, we have struck on a truly radical idea: the solution to these most divisive issues comes not from our capitols, but from our communities.
When we build friendships blessed by difference within our own community, unexpected and beautiful things happen that can transform both us and things around us, including our politics. This happens because we learn that we are more similar than we are different: we all want fewer youth suicide, legal protections for everyone’s basic human rights and practical solutions for problems in our communities.
It also happens because a friendship blessed by difference cultivates five C.H.I.E.F. attributes.
C is for courage – courage to stand up to our like-minded friends. When our own friends are wrong, they are often wrong in ways that demean or dehumanize those who think differently than we do.
H is for humility – humility about what we think we know. When we begin to interact with the natural intellectual complexity and human decency in a friend who is different than us, we begin to let go of the arrogance of presuming that personal motivations and human value are adequately captured by political statements or policy positions.
I is for integrity – integrity in how we apply moral and ethical standards to ourselves and to those who think differently than we do. From being in regular contact with the humanity and decency of the latter, we see more clearly how asking others to do more than we are willing to do leads us to become the very things we despise in others.
E is for equality – an equality of mind toward ourselves and people who think differently than we do. A friendship blessed by difference informs us about how others perceive the ways in which we think and talk, including the ways we all naturally fall into our own biases. This illuminates the inequality promoted by excusing in ourselves — hurtful words, for instance — what we condemn when we see it coming from someone else who thinks differently.
F is for faith – faith and trust in people who are different than we are. The more we interact in good faith, the more we are exposed to decency, goodness and humanity of those who think differently than we do. This leads us to rely upon them despite differences of opinion.
Our current politics devalues and discards the C.H.I.E.F. attributes of friendships blessed by difference. Our politicians propose laws that reflect only one side of the policy equation, and then accuse the natural opposition that follows as being maliciously motivated. Advocacy groups peddle extremes and half-truths to distort perspectives about those who think differently, and generate fear to raise money.
The outcome of these tactics is the continuance of the status quo. We are manipulated to believe serious and sustained effort to build consensus cannot reasonably occur. And then, in response to their own failures, politicians and advocacy groups proclaim that we need more of the advocacy, fundraising, and focus on elections that occur in our capitols.
What if each of us turned away from such politics and focused instead on building friendships blessed by difference within our own communities? The way we debated, voted and interacted with our elected leaders would begin to be influenced by those friendships. Our politicians and advocacy groups would feel the influence of those attributes in their constituencies, and their political survival instincts would push them to respond accordingly: listening, understanding and applying political principles toward building consensus.
In a representative democracy in which the people are the ultimate decisionmakers, solutions to our big political and policy problems are not cultivated in the advocacy, fundraising, and election-cycle obsession found in our capitols. They grow from the character and relationships found in ourselves and our communities. If we want transformational solutions to our problems, we must begin by cultivating the C.H.I.E.F. attributes found in friendships blessed by difference.
Derek Monson is vice president of policy for Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank based in Salt Lake City that advocates for free markets, civil society and community-driven solutions.
Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen is executive director of Parity, a New York City-based organization that promotes and affirms LGBTQ and religious identities.