A brief reflection on context.

Is that the most boring post title ever, or what? It sounds like a treatise on some obscure subject that you might find in a dusty old book on an untouched shelf in the back of a university library.

One of Stephen Covey’s famous 7 Habits is to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I’m a big believer in that. If you and I disagree about something, I’m going to have a much better chance of getting you to understand my position if I am first able to listen to you and understand your position, and only then explain myself in a way that uses your language and your culture.

Missionaries understand this. You wouldn’t go on a mission trip to a country that speaks a different language without first learning something about the language and culture, would you? If you weren’t able to learn the language well yourself, you’d be sure to have some kind of interpreter, I’d hope!

The same principles apply even in the same country. My LGBT friends and my evangelical Christian friends speak very different languages at times, and they don’t even realize it. “LGBT,” for instance, is a term that is much more widely used among my gay friends than among my straight Christian friends. Many of my Christian friends would simply say “gay” or even “homosexual.” In so doing, they’d likely be completely unaware that the term “homosexual” (as a noun) is widely considered offensive in the gay community. So what happens? The well-meaning Christian tries to reach out in love, says the wrong thing, and ends up getting his hand bitten off—all because of a cultural boo-boo.

As an individual, I operate in a lot of different cultures and contexts. I am well-known for speaking out on issues of Christianity and homosexuality, but I talk about those issues very differently when addressing a predominantly conservative Christian crowd than I do when addressing a predominantly LGBT crowd. It’s the same message, and I don’t change what I believe to fit the audience, but I do change the way I explain things, so that it will make more sense to the people I’m trying to reach.

(Okay, Justin, but what’s the point? You’re starting to get as long-winded as that book on the library’s back shelf. Why are we talking about this?)

Well, the implications of that reality really hit home for me over the last few days, when people who don’t know me started discovering this blog.

It’s a brand new blog, and I started it initially to speak to people who already know me. Many of the people I interact with are people who spend a lot of time talking about LGBT issues, so when I wrote a post recently asking “Are evangelicals unreachable?“, I was addressing the frustrations of some of my LGBT friends who don’t understand my evangelical roots and focus.

But of course, that title (and the related post) read very differently to an evangelical Christian who doesn’t know me, and with very little else on this blog to explain who I am or what I believe, it could leave a very different impression. (Yes, I am an evangelical! No, I don’t think you have to be pro-gay marriage in order to be a “good evangelical”!)

So to my many new Christian friends just discovering this blog for the first time, I hope you will stay and ask many questions over the weeks to come. From time to time, I may have to explain terms to one group of friends that the other group of friends uses without thinking (“What is the difference between ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual’?” “What does ‘born again’ actually mean? Is that just another term for Christian fundamentalists?”), but I think if we’re all willing to step outside of our usual context from time to time, it can create some awesome opportunities for dialogue.