The dialogue recorded at this link is a fabulous example of doing many things right in a conversation with somebody you disagree with. Peter Kreeft was taking a class that was being taught by a homosexual activist. Kreeft hoped to chat with his professor (whom he calls “Art”) about his views, striving to open and clarify their respective views on the subject. Kreeft is right to observe that rarely happens when discussing homosexuality.
But I dare say it did happen in this case. Even Kreeft comments that he was not disappointed.
What happened in this conversation that rarely ever happens when two people dialogue about homosexuality? I cannot speak for the many failed conversations, but let’s make some observations about Kreeft’s conversation with Art.
- He started by explaining that “I believe in listening before arguing, as you said you do. So I’m not trying to argue now—that’s not the point of my question—but first of all to listen and to understand.” What a brilliant way to begin the conversation! If only we could all remember to listen first and understand the other person’s perspective before we open our mouths in response.
- Kreeft is careful to qualify his comments. He knows full well the baggage many people carry into these kinds of conversations so he wisely begins with the statement, “Please don’t take this as a personal insult, or even an argument…” and proceeds from there. When discussing the kinds of subjects that people typically get hyper-sensitive about it is always wise to clarify that no offense is intended, and to tailor your speech to minimize any accidental offense.
- There is no specific quote to make this point, just a general observation about the flow of the conversation. Near the beginning Kreeft asks a couple of clarifying questions, then lays out his perspective on the subject, answering Art’s questions. Kreeft has a few lengthy monologues as he makes his case. But he gives Art a chance to respond. In fact, near the end they both exchange roughly the same amount of words, with Art getting a long, uninterrupted monologue near the end. In other words, the conversation was relatively even-handed. Kreeft wasn’t dominating the chat and neither was he timidly letting Art speak without responding.
- Kreeft was willing to change his mind. He began the conversation with a certain view of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” perspective and freely admitted that by the end of the conversation Art had given him something to think about with respect to that distinction that he had never thought of before. That is a clear example of open-mindedness. As this dialogue was not recorded from Art’s perspective we have no way of knowing how effective Kreeft was during the discussion.
- Kreeft was also strategic in his approach. The very last line is brilliant. While Kreeft appears to be giving up a lot of ground to Art the very last line is a marvelous example of stepping back out of the conversation and looking at the whole thing from another perspective. We don’t know what Art’s response to Kreeft’s final observation was (perhaps Art’s response is in Kreeft’s book, How to Win the Culture War, within which this dialogue is recorded) but Kreeft clearly provides some excellent food for thought with respect to the importance homosexuals place on their lifestyle.
I want to throw out a quick disclaimer. I do not actually agree with Kreeft’s concession with respect to the “hate the sin, love the sinner” distinction. I still think there is theological validity to that perspective and Art’s counter-example is misleading. However, the point of my article is not to agree or disagree with the conclusion, but to observe the conversation itself. All in all, this is a great example of a healthy dialogue. It was healthy because both sides were free to express themselves without condemnation, and confidently did so. It was healthy because once the perspectives were expressed they were intelligently, respectfully wrestled with by both participants. Even though the subject matter was very personal, neither participant chose to be personally insulted. Many of the principles I describe in Arguing with Friends were exemplified in this dialogue and the results were as wonderful as anybody could reasonably hope for from a controversial conversation.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every conversation about homosexuality adopted this tone? Perhaps one day, but change starts at the individual level. Next time you discuss homosexuality (whatever your perspective on the subject) will you follow the example of Art and Kreeft?