Listening to other voices: it won’t just happen by accident

Photo by OregonDOT on Flickr

There was a time, even after I had embraced gender equality, when most of the voices I listened to — theologians, bloggers, etc. — were men. I don’t think I planned it that way. But years of believing that only men could talk authoritatively about the Bible had conditioned me to tune out female voices. Even after I had shed my support for patriarchy, its effect on me lingered.

There was a time when I could write about gays and the Bible without listening to a single LGBT voice. Oh, I might interact with a sound bite or a caricature of their views, but I wouldn’t stop long enough to hear how they read scripture or what their experiences in the church were like. I certainly wouldn’t stop long enough to allow them to become human to me.

There was a time when I served on a mostly white student leadership committee on a college campus that was 85% white, in a town that was 95% white. An incident where some locals drove their confederate flag-adorned pickup truck through campus, looking for minorities to intimidate, prompted us to finally address the challenges minority students faced on our campus and what could be done to help. Before long, it became obvious we didn’t have a clue, and we would remain oblivious until we started including and listening to and minority voices who could tell us about their experience.

Most of us gravitate toward those who sound like us, think like us, look like us. That’s why liberals watch MSNBC and conservatives watch Fox News. For those of us who, by virtue of being white and male, have enjoyed most of the power and privilege for longer than anyone can remember, this habit of tuning out other voices is more entrenched than we realize. That’s why we often end up sitting in conference halls talking to ourselves about everyone else and scratching our heads in befuddlement whenever someone complains about a “lack of diversity.”

Whether it’s CBMW assembling a group of mostly white married men to talk about singlehood, womanhood, and homosexuality, or a seemingly more progressive venue failing to include a respectable number of women on the main stage, we’re not always good at welcoming (much less engaging) other voices.

This isn’t necessarily about quotas, though Jenny Baker makes a good argument that quotas may sometimes be necessary to disrupt long-established patterns of exclusion. But how are we going to bring other voices to the table, unless we are intentional about it?

For me, this meant making a conscious choice to start listening to more female voices, to start reading more female bloggers. If I’m going to write about patriarchy, surely I ought to listen to those who’ve felt its impact the most. Surely I should listen before I presume the right to speak myself.

It’s also meant building bridges into the gay Christian community, listening to their stories, allowing their perspectives and experiences to inform mine. It’s meant not presuming I know what it’s like to walk in anyone else’s shoes, at least not until I’ve walked alongside them for a bit.

And the thing is, this choice to start listening to other voices has enriched me in more ways than I could have anticipated. These amazing voices have sharpened me countless times, so that when I decide to say something about issues that affect them more than me, I might (hopefully) contribute something worthwhile to the conversation, rather than just pontificating for the sake of hearing my own voice.

I still have a long way to go in this journey. There are other voices who deserve to be heard. But they won’t be heard unless we are intentional about creating space for them.

Until then, we’ll be the ones who are missing out.

How do you make space to hear those whose voices are different from yours?

One thought on “Listening to other voices: it won’t just happen by accident

  1. Ben, I like what you have to say here and I think it serves as a sincere call out to many of us to challenge our assumptions. I think If I were to be honest, I was once less prone to have a constructive conversation because I genuinely saw people who disagreed with me as the other and perhaps that was a product of my theological circle. But as I have grown in my faith and I hope more Biblically faithful what I have seen change is not my theology, but my desire to understand and listen. I follow and read Matthew Vines and Justin Lee. I follow and read Rachel Held Evans and others. So I agree with the thrust of what you say here. I think we would come to different places on these issues but I appreciate the perspective because it leads me to say something regarding the CBMW that I never would have said. Namely, that they should include more female keynotes and not just as a token but in sincerity. I think the complementarian camp has many articulate passionate female voices. So let us hear from them and their perspective and not just on the issue of Gender roles per se but about real issues facing the church and women as they see it. I for one would be helped by that.

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