If you have not read the introduction to this piece, do so here, then come back:
You ask good questions. You usually do. As a rule you are witty, sarcastic and straightforward and I can get behind that. There are times when you become a bit aggressive, which I’m sure you realize, but I think you held it fairly at bay during this interview. Every good reporter has to have your level of gumption or else we’d never get the real story from people. Ruffling feathers in instances is necessary. If the intent of the interview was to “get the story” so to speak from Kirk, job well done. I believe you achieved your end goal. However, if the goal was to challenge the broader conservative Christian moral stand on this issue, I think you’ve likely failed miserably.
You made Kirk your opponent. You challenged him in a way that automatically made his perspective lesser. You may well believe it is lesser. I may too, for that matter. But you imposed your own thoughts and beliefs rather than hearing him in a way that you could challenge him according to his own value system. Kirk’s response to your challenge shows he is clearly feeling threatened by your questions. This is clear in various ways, but especially through his body language and tone of voice. Some would say he felt threatened simply by the question itself. This is probably true, but your approach worsened the threat. Fight or flight easily engages in these situations, and particularly on this topic. Opponents often flee the questions (as Christine O’Donnell recently did with you when she walked off the set), or they will fight back. Both responses achieve very little in the long run, except to make the topic all the more divisive.
I wonder what would have happened if you would have dropped the arms and after posing the questions in the way you did (non-threatening and inquisitive) followed by thoughtfully pointing out the holes in Kirk’s reasoning without becoming engaged through the lens of your own values. This is difficult to do, and perhaps even too much to ask given 1) the public arena this conversation was had in and 2) the brevity of the conversation. So, I’ll be glad to point out the holes in Kirk’s reasoning, since you did not either have the time or presence of mind to do so in the moment. However, I will say that when you start trying to shoulder conservative Christians with your own value ideals, morality, etc. they’re going to stop listening almost immediately. And I’m afraid that’s what happened not just with Kirk, but also with most of the conservative Christians who were watching. What ends up happening is that you defeat the very thing that is (at least seemingly) important to you in this conversation – to change a person’s mind.
If you could only have dialed the aggressiveness back a notch, both the LGBT and the conservative Christian community could have gained something truly spectacular from this 2.5 minute portion of your interview.
I’m sure you know this already, but most Christians aren’t listening to or caring about the LGBT community. Neither is the LGBT community listening to or caring about the conservative Christians around them. No doubt, most of my conservative Christian friends are writing off your questions and concerns as part of the “gay agenda.” while my LGBT friends are writing off Kirk’s comments as crazy Christian propaganda.
Your questions were thoughtful and insightful though and, I have no doubt, spurred out of personally seeing the destruction that results from bigotry. Some of my Christian friends would actually have been challenged by your thoughtful questions had you asked them without your usual smirking, know-it-all attitude. (It’s endearing, but sometimes you shoot yourself in the foot). You may be stunned by the number of conservative Christians who would stay open to your questions if you weren’t so damn condescending in the end.
Expressing even one ounce of concern for the position Kirk was in would have gone miles towards actually being heard. The result would be that more Christians would end up posing thoughtful questions and change could actually start to take place. As it was, you probably just stirred up more controversy (good for ratings, but bad for the utility of actually making progress towards thoughtful engagement of the issues at hand). I am so bummed that your own passion (or frustration) got in the way and you missed the opportunity to engage more productively with a conservative evangelical Christian who has a voice and influence within his faith community.
You had an opportunity to model, in your conversation with Kirk, a means of engagement that would not threaten the dignity, sincerity, and freedom of conservatively minded Christians, even in the midst of the disagreement. If others like Kirk could have seen this, they might be more open to venture towards the sort of friendship and welcome with the LGBT community that would change hearts and minds. Christians too, not just the LGBT community, need to feel like there might be enough generous spaciousness to ask the questions they really want to ask, without immediately being pegged as bigoted or stupid.
My Christian friends are afraid of being treated with disdain by the LGBT community. They’re also afraid that the rest of the Christian community will cast them off if they start asking thoughtful questions about difficult issues. As it is now, the minute a conservative Christian responds with an ounce more compassion towards the LGBT community than Kirk did, their own faith community gangs up on him/her and total character assassination occurs. Maybe my conservative Christian friends could feel safe extending welcome to the LGBT(QQIA) community around them if they thought they wouldn’t be plowed under by the very people they are seeking to understand.
Piers, it’s not right or fair, but many of my conservative Christian friends have already written you off as stupid, ignorant, or morally depraved, just because of the tone you took in this conversation. I wish they hadn’t. It’s their fault, but it’s also yours. As a reporter, you did what you should have, pushing for the hard answer and inciting controversy. But as a person who seems more broadly invested and interested in this particular “issue” (though I despise that term), you should have done more. You should have engaged in a way that could actually help you be heard by your opposers. I wonder what could happen if you dropped your defenses to engage the conversation? Maybe the doors to conservative Christian churches, the minds of society at large, and the opportunity to foster compassion, faithful engagement, and productive dialogue would open wider as a result. Who knows? Maybe it could happen, in time. I’m just naive enough and optimistic enough to believe it’s possible.
I want to thank you for going to bat for my LGBT friends who have been mistreated by conservative Christians. In the same breath, I’ll say this: Don’t make conservative Christians engage their fight or flight in these conversations. Speak their language so you can get through to them. That’s when change will happen. I hope you’re a part of it.
(Now that you’ve read my response to Piers, click here if you’d like to read my response to Kirk).