Pluralism is easy when all members of a community share the same basic beliefs, only then it’s not really pluralism. The outcry and initial impasse in Houston is an example of what may happen when groups with profoundly different beliefs struggle to live together peacefully. This case also shows the deep concern the evangelical community has about secularization and what it might mean for the community’s freedoms in the future.
But the interesting thing is that, for all the disagreement between people like Seay and the mayor’s office, both used the same kind of language: They expressed a desire to see Houston heal and move on. By speaking and listening to one another with respect, the mayor and these religious leaders were able to agree that these subpoenas were harmful to the health of the city—a tone that often wasn’t mirrored by the national figures who used the case as evidence of a black-and-white culture war. Some of those figures will read the outcome as evidence that using hyperbolic rhetoric and flooding public offices with Bibles is the way to protect the interests of evangelicals, but a more careful look shows that a few hours of civil dialogue accomplished what these extreme methods could not. Conversation can’t resolve every issue, and it’s particularly difficult on topics like this, when each side may see the other’s perspective as disgusting or bigoted. Even so, when people with different perspectives fail to speak and listen, conflicts fester and grow, feeding on ignorance—and, perhaps, amplifying the fear that both evangelicals and the LGBT community feel about threats to their rights.