Andrew, that a summit such as you suggest (could you come up with a more dignified name for it?) is desperately needed is so obvious that it’s a little embarrassing we even have to discuss it. Even if it accomplished nothing else, it would help move us from hate toward love. Never mind other people, Christians need to be held accountable to love their neighbors - as can be seen from the comments to your post, where gay activists are described as “wolves” who cannot be reasoned with. That alone is an excellent reason to undertake such an endeavor.

Another reason is the witness it would bear. Love for neighbor is the center of Christian ethics, so our top priority should be to behave in such a way that if America does lose its religious freedom, it will be absolutely clear that this did not happen because Christians were deficient in neighbor-love.

Conversely, if Christian leaders did not find the idea of such a summit appealing, I would take that as evidence that we are in fact deficient in neighbor-love. But I hope and expect that Christian leaders would find the idea quite appealing, if you can get it in front of them.

We can share this big, beautiful country. It has space for all of us. At the height of a social conflict so severe that it makes our present difficulties look trivial by comparison, Lincoln could say, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” The main difference is that slavery was an issue on which compromise genuinely was impossible, whereas our present difficulties probably can be resolved without total victory for either side (especially if irresponsible people will quit insisting that nothing but total victory is possible). Some very plausible proposals for stable compromisehave already been developed.

However, I would suggest a few changes to the idea before you really get started running with it:

  • The first meeting should be private. No media, no announcements. If it’s public, there’s no space to build trust. Everyone on both sides will inevitably be maneuvering to manipulate the optics. It’s just not realistic to expect that they wouldn’t. And everyone on both sides will know that everyone on both sides is maneuvering to manipulate the optics. There’s no path to trust unless you start with something private. Once the group trusts each other it can consider doing something public.
  • Obviously you have to set some kind of direction for the group, but it’s not a good idea to spell out the final goal in any kind of detail before the group has met. “We can share this big, beautiful country and we intend to figure out how to do it” should be sufficient to start with. If you’re going to approach people with a checklist of what you expect them to affirm at the end of the day, what’s the purpose of holding the meeting in the first place? Once you get the group together, you may discover that releasing a public statement isn’t the right thing to do. You may discover that the group has to start by affirming a much smaller set of agreements to begin with before it tackles larger issues. You may discover that some of the items you want the group to affirm can’t be affirmed unless other items (ones you may not even be aware of yet) are also affirmed at the same time. And you will almost certainly find that both sides want to have an active hand in shaping the content and (especially) the language of any joint statement. Just gathering a group from both sides who want to shake hands and agree to share this beautiful country is a revolutionary enough act by itself; don’t let your reach exceed your grasp.
  • It’s clear you have already figured out that there’s no point in having this meeting unless the participants are such major figures that their participation proves “we want to share this country” is the prevailing view among American Christians. You list four major Christian leaders who have proven, not just with words but with self-sacrificial deeds, that they desire to live in love and harmony with their gay neighbors. But all four of the names you list - by accident, no doubt - happen to be evangelicals. Our Catholic friends should be part of this as well. I have never liked the idea of evangelicals and Catholics as “co-belligerents,” not because of the “co” part but because of the “belligerence” part. Think of this as co-love.
  • The focus of the meeting should not be the specifics of marriage and religious liberty policy, at least at first. That can come later. As an initial focus I would recommend establishing a sense of shared citizenship and national identity. You are Americans and so are we, and that means we have to learn to share this country. That is, in the world of tangible practice, the place where our lives come together. Don’t try to do this by starting with abstract reasoning about the right solution. Abstract reasoning is where we disagree. “We are all part of this country” is common ground. Start there and work outwards.

We can, in fact, share this country. We just have to have the humility and courage to love our neighbors.

Articles by Greg Forster

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