Having Good Conversations

Ashleigh Hull 1 month ago
Blog 3 mins
Found in: Sexuality, Culture

In part one of this series, we said that we need to be having conversations about sexuality. It’s not simply that it’s inevitable in our culture. It’s also that we have good news to share with a world that needs it.

In this blog, we’ll be exploring how we can make these conversations good ones. We’ll be using this advice from author Katia Adams as a springboard:

‘Join the conversation, and then provoke it to wholeness.’1

Let’s take this one step at a time.

Join the conversation

First of all, this means being a good listener. So often we dive straight into conversations with our mouths open and our ears shut! James advises us instead to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19).

What does it mean to be a good listener?2

Listening well means listening not so that you can respond to what someone is saying, or so that you can refute their argument, but so that you understand. Listen with the aim of understanding the person and where they’re coming from.

To do this we need to be curious. Ask genuine, open questions. Really dig into what people think, and why.

We also want to be acknowledging what is good or true in what someone else is saying. When you do this it communicates that you’re not there just to defend your viewpoint at all costs. You're not facing each other like enemies squaring off. Instead, you’re side by side, shoulder to shoulder, honestly searching for the truth together and willing to learn from one another.

When we listen well, we can hear the things that people aren’t saying, as well as the things that they are.

As a good listener you must come into conversations with empathy, with compassion. This is not an abstract or emotionless topic for anybody. So that means being aware of the person you’re speaking to, not just what they’re saying. What are their experiences, assumptions, fears? How are they coming into this conversation? There’s a lot you just won’t know, but there will be things you do know or can ask about, as well.

Finally, listening well means listening to what’s behind what someone is saying. Often, our conversations about sexuality reveal some underlying assumptions about humans, bodies, love, identity, morality, sexuality, relationships, happiness – I could go on.

When someone says, ‘How can it be wrong for someone to just express who they are?’, it reveals a deeper assumption about identity. Identity is found in sexuality. Someone’s sexual orientation defines who they are.

When someone says, ‘But everyone needs love’, it reveals a deeper assumption about love and intimacy. True intimacy must be sexual. To experience or express your intimacy with someone, you have sex with them.

When someone says, ‘If it makes someone happy, what’s wrong with it?’, it reveals a deeper assumption about morality. Something is only wrong if it hurts someone else. Something is right if it produces a feeling of happiness.

When we listen well, we can hear the things that people aren’t saying, as well as the things that they are.

Provoke it to wholeness

We’re now well positioned to do this. The person we’re talking to knows that we care about them, and about what they think. They know that we’re seeking truth together, not digging in stubbornly to our established positions and preparing for war.3 We’ve also noticed some of the assumptions behind their expressed views.

We now have the opportunity to question those assumptions. Draw them out, state them clearly, and ask together – are they true?

Does it make sense that my identity would be rooted in my sexuality?

Is it the case that intimacy and love are only, or even primarily, experienced in a sexual relationship?

Should we determine right and wrong based solely on feelings?

Help people to think through what they actually think. Gently highlight any dissonance or disconnect in what they’re saying. Help them think through those cultural messages and assumptions that we so easily imbibe, and some of the flaws or problems inherent within them.

We also want to tell people the better story.

If we leave it there, we’re doing people a disservice. We don’t want to simply deconstruct some of the lies and mistakes that our culture lives with. We also want to tell people the better story.

When we’re talking about identity, we can tell people that we are so much more than our sexualities and sexual urges. Whether straight or gay, sexuality is just something we want – it does not have ultimate power over us or power to define us. It’s not something that we have to figure out about ourselves and ensure we express. Instead, identity is received, a gift from God. It is clear and unchanging, and it’s really, really good.4

When we’re talking about intimacy, we can tell people that they are built first and foremost for deep union with God himself. When it comes to the legitimate desire for intimacy with other human beings, we can tell people about the community we become a part of as followers of Jesus – the church body that is designed to be a truer family than any blood relation. And we can talk about friendship, too. We can tell them about, and maybe even show them, the depth of love and intimacy that we can find with our friends. We can all have the intimacy that we crave, no matter our sexual experiences or relationship status.5

The great thing about having conversations this way is that we’re essentially opening up opportunities to share the gospel.

When we’re talking about morality, we can tell people that there is a stable, consistent moral code built into the universe. We don’t have to bear the responsibility of determining right and wrong. When one person’s feelings conflict within themselves, or conflict with the feelings of another person, we are not left with an unsolvable moral dilemma. We can show people that our shared morality as human beings is evidence for a moral law giver – and that that law giver is also the one who has borne the consequences of all our failures to keep his law.6

The great thing about having conversations this way is that we’re essentially opening up opportunities to share the gospel. We’re able to join a conversation about sexuality – a conversation that people are already having, and that we must have with them – and draw it into a conversation about the thing people really need to know. Provoking these conversations to wholeness doesn’t just mean sharing the good news about sexuality, though that is important. It means sharing the good news about everything.

And that’s a really helpful thing to bear in mind. Your goal is not actually to convince someone of a certain sexual ethic. Your goal is to love people and show them Jesus. Your conversations may follow the pattern I’ve laid out above, and you’ll be able to move from talking about sexuality to sharing the gospel. Or it may just be that in how you communicate, how you conduct yourself generally in this relationship and specifically in this conversation, you are kind and generous and loving, just like Jesus.

Next week, in the final post of this series, we’ll spend some time thinking about what happens when things don’t go according to plan.

  1. Katia Adams, Equal: What the Bible Says about Women, Men and Authority (David C Cook, 2019), p.167.
  2. I am indebted to Preston Sprinkle for his thoughts on this, which have heavily informed my own. Preston Sprinkle, ‘Foundation 1: How To Have a Fruitful Conversation’ in Does the Bible Support Same-Sex Marriage?: 21 Conversations From a Historically Christian View (David C Cook, 2023).
  3. This is so important simply because it matters that we love people well. But it’s also important if we want people to consider changing their views. 'People don’t seem to change their views about sexual ethics because of an argument someone made. Rather, they change their views because something at the intuitive level motivates them to believe differently.' For more on this, see Greg Coles, ‘Your Arguments about Sexual Ethics Matter Less Than You Think’, Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender.
  4. For more on how we understand identity, have a read of Andrew Bunt's Finding Your Best Identity: A Short Christian Introduction to Identity, Sexuality and Gender
  5. Listen to this episode from our ‘Plausibility Problem’ series for more on finding true intimacy. Read this article for more on friendship with God and with one another.
  6. I'd recommend C S Lewis' Mere Christianity for a really helpful unpacking of a moral argument for God.