In the 1980s, anti-gay hysteria reached a fever pitch. By 1996, attitudes toward homosexuality had changed little, with only 27% of Americans in support of same-sex marriage. But by 2011, the majority of Americans favored same-sex marriage, with young people overwhelmingly supportive.
How does a culture transform at such an unprecedented rate?
Perhaps we hold the answer in the palm of our hands…
I grew up in a rural town in the heart of Illinois. Black people were an oddity, homosexuality was a locker room joke, and an immigrant was someone who moved in from one town over. Now, my sister is married to a Black man who is both a brother and a friend, and two of the most trustworthy and caring men in my life have been gay.
And in 2004, I met an immigration attorney.
I was completing my post-doc residency, a young psychologist eager to debate anything including immigration and foreign policy. Meanwhile, the small immigration law office down the street needed someone to provide psychological evaluations.
Like an unlicensed post-doc trying to feed a growing family.
Almost a decade later, I’ve completed over two hundred evaluations. And I don’t debate immigration anymore. Because immigration no longer exists for me as a concept to debate. Immigration is immigrants. Immigration is people. Immigration is a living, bleeding story.
Immigration is a man who came to our country legally. A man who works seventy hours a week to support a family in the U.S. and ailing parents back home. A man whose wife was brought to the country illegally when she was five years old. A man whose wife is now a legal resident but is being removed from the U.S. as a penalty for how she arrived. A man whose children will not be able to function without their mother. A man who is having panic attacks and lives his days powerless to hold his family together.
Immigration is no longer an issue I debate. Immigration is people I value.
And I think a generation of people is beginning to feel the same way about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Homosexuality Isn’t an Issue, It’s People
Technology has begun to connect us in previously unimaginable ways. In my once isolated rural hometown, you can stand in the middle of main street with a smartphone and video chat with almost anyone in the world. Across the globe, our lives are becoming deeply intertwined and the cast of characters in each of our stories is expanding exponentially.
And it’s changing everything.
For many of us, our stories have become inseparable from the stories of our gay relative, lesbian friend, or our questioning co-worker or barista or Facebook friend or blog subscriber or Twitter follower or son or daughter.
When we let people from other “groups” into our lives—and even more importantly into our hearts—politics begins to fade, and we experience humanity in a whole new way.
This sense of unity was described by astronaut Frank White as the overview effect:
“I was looking out the window, and as I was looking down at the planet, the thought came to me, ‘Anyone living…on the moon would always have an overview. They would see things that we know but don’t experience, which is that the earth is one system, we’re all a part of that system, and that there is a certain unity and coherence to it all.’ And I immediately called it ‘the overview effect’.”
But I don’t think we need to orbit the earth to experience the overview effect. We merely need to enter into the cosmos of another person’s heart.
A generation of people has launched itself into the hearts of others, and there is a growing sense of unity and coherence amongst people. And as a result, for many people, homosexuality is no longer an intellectual or theological concept to debate.
Homosexuality is people we know and love and cherish.
Trading in Our Egos for Unity
In the next month, the Supreme Court is likely to announce its decision regarding the definition of marriage. The debates will be, I’m afraid, increasingly vicious and dehumanizing, because violent debate is the only kind of debate that exists between egos.
Our egos tell us our worth exists in comparison to other people. So our egos have a huge stake in maintaining a sense of division. Our egos will cling to our differences and strip others of their dignity, in order to clutch on to a fabricated sense of superiority. Our egos will relish the bitter debate.
But I hope.
I hope a generation of people who have experienced a sense of connection and unity and coherence will give birth to an entirely different kind of conversation.
I hope a generation of people will zip the lips of their egos and speak with the tongue of their hearts.
I hope a generation of people will speak out from the calm, quiet place within where fear is wilting, egos are withering, and grace is blooming.
I hope a generation of people will reach out to each other with grace.
Because grace is always an invitation.
Grace pulls us together, instead of driving us apart. Grace transforms our dialogue from a battle into a homecoming. Grace turns our most contentious debates into subversive acts of love and belonging:
They become an opportunity to love,
to joyfully enter into the story of another,
to make peace,
to listen with patience,
to reach out in kindness,
to give create something good,
to be faithful in relationship,
to be gentle in our differences,
and to control ourselves instead of everyone else.
Regardless of what we believe about homosexuality and marriage, I hope we will trade in our egos for that kind of unity.
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Preview: Next Wednesday’s post is tentatively entitled, “Breaking News: Global Uprising, No Going Back.”
Disclaimer: This post is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association.