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A No-Bash Bash For Gays and Evangelicals

A No-Bash Bash For Gays and Evangelicals

By Marc Fisher
The Washington Post
May 24, 2005

Caryn Liniak and Kelli Bass weren't close when they worked together at Samaritan Inns, a faith-based group that helps the homeless. But they were friendly enough to sense a big gap in their conversations. So Liniak was grateful and moved when Bass came to her to say, "I have a girlfriend, and I want to talk to you about it."

"It was obvious that she was judging me, and I was judging her," says Liniak, who is 26 and an evangelical Christian who believes that "it's God's will for a man and woman to be together."

Bass has friends who are gay and friends who are evangelical Christians. In general, the two groups stay very much apart. Last Saturday night, Bass, 27, and some of her friends, including Liniak, gathered people from both worlds for One Big Dinner in the basement of All Souls Church on 16th Street NW.

About 40 people, most in their twenties and thirties, about half gay and half evangelicals, half from the city and half from upper Montgomery County, spent two hours laughing and chatting about jobs and families, stresses and joys.

No table fell silent. No one got angry. No one condemned anyone else. By the end, most wanted to know the date for the next dinner.

Probably no definitions of sin were revised, but that wasn't the point. "We're not asking anyone on either side to change their beliefs," Bass says. "I just want to see if we can relate to people and choose to see that that is bigger than our differences. I sat through an hour-and-a-half sermon the other day on sexual sin, and I very definitely felt the target of that, but I want to look above that."

So did Karl Jones, who left a job at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in part because "to work there, we had to kind of dehumanize the people we were working against -- that happens all too often in identity politics. I was filled with so much hatred for people working against my cause that I couldn't even see people as human." He moved on to a job at an anti-hunger foundation.

Outside work, he searches for bridges. He's an organizer of Guerilla Queer Bar Takeovers, in which Washington homosexuals go out en masse to a straight bar to dance, drink and -- gadzooks! -- converse with the regulars. The events have become so popular that barkeeps routinely invite the group back.

Even as Jones and Bass were drawn toward their own sexes, they stayed close to the conservative Christian world. Jones's brother graduated from Oral Robert University, and Bass went to Clemson, where some of her closest friends were evangelicals. Couldn't their worlds meet?

At One Big Dinner, many settle for metaphor rather than direct debate. A hearty discussion of city vs. suburbs serves the purpose at one table. At another, young people from both groups take a quick lesson in sign language, practicing the gesture for the verb "to like."

Across the room, a teacher at a Christian school speaks of her dismay over evangelicals who shield themselves from other ideas. "We shouldn't be seeking to affirm our own opinion," says Jocelyn Jones. "Christians should be willing to hear any idea, and if there's an absolute truth, it will shine."

That was an openness beyond what some gays had anticipated. "These are people who hate us, and we really don't know why," says Karl Jones. When he approached gay friends about the dinner, some jumped at the idea, "but a lot were very reticent because they have deep wounds from growing up."

Jocelyn Jones understands such reservations. A former dance student, she was once friends with a gay schoolmate for three years without telling him "that as a Christian, I didn't believe it was right to lead a gay lifestyle. In an effort to accept him, I cut off an opportunity for him to accept me, and I've always regretted that."

At the dinner, there is more talk of music and work than of sin and morality. But quiet conversations about faith, love and politics sneak in. "I would call homosexuality biblical sin," Liniak says, "but I'm aware that I'm a sinner--I sin every day -- so I'm not different from them in God's eyes."

That may not be sufficient foundation for friendships to blossom, but it's good enough for one dinner -- at least for those who choose to look for what they might have in common.


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