Captain Cassidy has been writing a series on Excommunications about compromise. The entire thing is splendid, and I highly recommend it (or any of her other posts, for that matter). In a recent post, she defined compromise as “coming to an awareness of what our real goals are and then finding different ways of reaching those goals if necessary so we can have peaceful relationships with others.”
This is an excellent definition, and it exposes one of the greatest challenges to meaningful compromise: people must be honest about their goals and motives.
I have a lot of experience with believers attempting to convert me back to their religion and sexual/gender ethics. Here’s the thing: people who think that they are going to lead you on a long, twisted, and heroic journey to redemption are some of the most dishonest people about their motives. It gets easier to spot once you’re savvy to the game, but if you’re still in the disorienting realm between “I feel guilty always telling them no” and “they are my friends/family/loved ones… they surely would never be dishonest with me” it can be soul-sucking. I’m going to outline a few typical tactics here and expose the underlying dishonesty involved. If you are experiencing this and you are losing your mind trying to figure out how to compromise with your friends or loved ones please know that you are not the problem. The game is rigged. It is designed to have only one outcome, and that outcome is not in your favor. It is okay to just refuse to play.(1) Aggressive helpfulness
Believers may attempt to frame their goals in terms of your happiness and benefit. Maybe you’ve heard “I saw this article and I just thought you’d probably find it really interesting!” Or “I really get where you’re coming from, but I think this book might have a lot of answers for you… it really blessed me when I felt like you do.” Or “Can we just have a discussion about this? I know you don’t want to, but it will feel so good for you to get it off of your heart.” Or “I know things have been really rough with the family lately… I know a counselor you can speak to; I’ll even pay for it!”
But the goal is never actually about your comfort or benefit or happiness (at least not as you’d define those things). It’s about “fixing” you. The article will always* be some horrifying AFA editorial about a (totally not fake) lesbian whose mother paid to have her raped but now, through the power of Jesus, she wants to reconcile and be straight. The book will always* be about how it is impossible to live a happy and fulfilled life without X brand of Jesus. The discussion will always* be an attempt to prove to you that you’ve not done enough research and praying and bible reading to actually reject that particular piece of doctrine. The counselor will always* be unlicensed, Christian, anti-gay, and has already heard the “real” story about you from your family. It will never be good. You can say no.
*Okay it might not be those specific things depending on your situation, but I promise, it will be something equally as unpleasant.(2) Unsolicited bribes
Similar to the aggressive helper, is the unsolicited bribe. The believer may attempt to buy your compliance. This might put a positive mask on their tactics but, again, the motives are never honest. The gift is not being offered for your benefit and enjoyment, but primarily to win an opportunity to convert you. At times, these can get pretty bizarre. You might get abrupt offers for things you never even asked for (but that the believer knows you secretly really want) with a stipulation tacked onto the end. How about “you’re welcome to talk to me about anything and then, in return, I’ll share my testimony with you!” Or “I’d really love if you could go to the amusement park with me… but that’s not going to work out if you do (insert completely unrelated heathenish thing here).”
These bribes can take an even darker and more dishonest turn when the believer does not inform you beforehand that there are expectations included in the offer. Maybe they offer to pay for a doctor’s visit or offer you a loan and then, down the road, hold that over you as a way to manipulate you into compliance. Remember that you never accepted any terms when you accepted their gift and you are in no way obligated to fall into line because of it. However, if at all possible, it is probably best to avoid accepting any sort of assistance or offers from someone who may have conversion motives, just to save yourself the headache.(3) The Negative Reinforcement Compromise (NRC)
Another common “compromise” is what I’d call the Negative Reinforcement Compromise… where they believer will agree to stop some sort of hurtful behavior in exchange for a favor. Again, the purported motive is rarely honest: they may claim that they are compromising in order to “maintain a good relationship.” However, the only relationship they are probably interested in maintaining is a relationship with the former believer/straight/cis version of yourself and they are just trying to gain compliance until they can convert you. This becomes obvious if you accept their compromise and, when you don’t convert, they refuse to uphold their end of the bargain. Examples may include “Alright, I’ll stop harassing you about this if you’ll just read this book and talk to this pastor and pray this much.” Or maybe “Okay, we can stop talking about your sin, but in exchange, you should never mention your partner in our presence.” My personal favorite (the one that actually made me laugh at the absurdity) is “Okay, we won’t refer to you by your birth name if you don’t refer to yourself by your new name.”
The believer in these cases fails to recognize that no compromise is reasonable if their behavior is hurting you and you’ve asked them to stop. The only correct response is for them to stop, no strings attached. The NRC probably galls me the most, because it preys on the victim’s desperation to ease the pain or discomfort that they are being put through, often leading them to accept the unreasonable terms. When, at a later time, they decide that the agreement was unreasonable and they want to change the terms of the deal, they will be exposed to the full brunt of the believer’s disdain, disgust, and anger. This will often be used by the believer to justify any further dishonesty or abuse with the statement “but you agreed to X and later you went back on that, so you have no right to complain” ignoring the fact that the “compromise” was made under duress (and the motives stated for the deal were dishonest in the first place).
This is not to say that it’s impossible to find healthy compromises between people with radically different beliefs, ideas, or values. However, the people involved have to approach this with honesty. If a believer is honestly interested in improving their relationship with you, they will be willing to consider actions and options that you state are healthy for you. And you, in turn, can find actions and options that are healthy for them too. Both people must be approaching each other from a place of mutual respect. If the believer thinks that he/she knows what is good for you better than you do, they don’t respect you. Back off, reset, and refuse to engage until and if they are willing to approach the table as your equal instead of as your “designated adult”.
If anyone has their own experiences or tactics to share, I’d love to hear it!