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I've been dealing with a rather uncomfortable situation for the last few days...

To understand it best it's probably better to start from the beginning. I was raised in a very traditional, but rather liberal, Christian denomination. My Mom was ordained as a deacon when I was a teenager, by that time I had drifted away from the church as teenagers do...

Later in my early twenties I came back to the church, same denomination different parish, where my Mom was stationed at the time, as a part of my general "getting my crap together period" where I met a guy I'll call "Bob" and all was well for a couple years.

Then the crap kinda hit the fan, when the denomination decided to finally start ordaining openly LGBTQ, partnered, priests and bishops. I was thrilled, I wasn't "out" then, but I had a few friends in the community and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Unfortunately the particular parish I was involved with, where my ex-wife and I were married, and my Mom was a clergy person, disagreed with the body of the larger Church and decided to have a meeting about it.

And there was "Bob" leading the charge to, more or less, schism with the Church, and making wise cracks about "praying away the gay." Bob being something of a lay-leader drew a lot of people to his side. Which to be honest was absolutely devastating. I really loved these people. I went through a lot of stuff with them, so it was incredibly hurtful to hear them say what they were saying about LGBTQ people.

Being me, I couldn't help, but say what I was thinking.

There's a really ugly word in the English language. "Faggot" a bundle of sticks, it comes from our people, back when we used to burn people alive for being gay. When we talk about these things it's probably worth remembering our history.

I realize that may not be an accurate origin of the term, but I'm not the only person who's connected those dots: https://youtu.be/Vi8zeaxtB-w

In any case that's when I left the church. I couldn't bear the idea of being associated with that kind of hate.

Now, here's the uncomfortable situation, I've been having to deal with Bob all week at work. And he keeps trying to talk to me...He absolutely knows I'm not interested in having a conversation about why I left the church and how he contributed to that. I'm at work. I know you can't argue with religious zealots.

Part of me really wants to rip his worldview a new one, but I know it's a lost cause. The larger international church is on my side, but it doesn't matter for a guy like Bob. He's simply convinced of what he believes, and there's no way to argue with that.

What should I do to avoid a confrontation with "Bob"?

To clarify...

  • I'm not at all interested in talking with "Bob" about anything. Unfortunately, I've been put in a position where I have to be in close proximity, while I'm at work.

  • Bob is not a colleague, co-worker, or in the hierarchy of the organization that I work for. More of a customer, in a hospitality environment.

  • I work for a religious non-profit organization, that's effectively owned by the larger Church. Going to HR isn't really an option in this case, because the organization is pretty small and doesn't really have an HR person. Being a religious non-profit some of the usual work related solutions aren't available.

  • My only goal is to avoid conflict with Bob. We both have very strong and opposing views and I know that talking to him will likely lead to a massive problem/argument.

  • I've already tried polite brush offs on his first couple of approaches, but every time I pass him he tries to engage.

  • There's this book, "A Manual for Creating Atheists" - if you look past its name and primary focus, what it does is teach techniques for having conversations about beliefs in an actually constructive manner, instead of the usual butting-heads approach. See also Socratic Method in general. Even if you have absolutely no desire to shift such zealots' views, the techniques involved are also just good for making people feel like you're engaging them to understand them instead of from a place of disagreement, which rather effectively deflates their desire to discuss it with you confrontationally. – mtraceur Feb 20 '18 at 6:41
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I should preface this with the information that I am a Christian, that is, a follower of Christ, who said nothing about homosexuality, but said an awful lot about love.

What should I do? Part of me really wants to rip his worldview a new one, but I know it's a lost cause. The larger international church is on my side, but it doesn't matter for a guy like Bob. He's simply convinced that God hates, and there's no way to argue with that.

You've answered your own question. There's no way to reason with a zealot, and you're conflict averse.

So, you either want to avoid conflict or rip him a new one. Or both.

Assuming your desire to avoid conflict is greater, be polite and, if you're a Christian still, treat Bob with kindness. You can be superficial and polite while still avoiding a deeper conversation. There is no law that says you have to have "the conversation" with him, nor one that states you even have to explain why you won't have it.

Edited to address OP's edit:

You state that

I'm not at all interested in talking with "Bob" about anything... My only goal is to avoid conflict with Bob. ...I know that talking to him will likely lead to a massive problem/argument.

Are you certain he wants to have the "pray-the-gay-away" or any other kind of serious talk? Maybe he wants to know how you are since you left the church; maybe he misses your talks. You don't know until a conversation starts. For that, you need to be willing to talk some. If you're willing to engage in superficialities, you can do that without conflict. If the conversation veers into uncomfortable areas, you can say,

I'm sorry, Bob, but in all honesty, I'm not comfortable talking about that.

If he persists, repeat (you can add, "either" if he tries a different tack.) If he still doesn't get the hint, repeat, adding to the end,

I'm asking you to please respect that.

That's not an overtly conflictual way to deal with Bob.

I've already tried polite brush offs on his first couple of approaches, but every time I pass him he tries to engage.

It sounds like you have no option but to either stop making even just eye contact (and pretend he's not there?) or to engage just enough to set your boundary.

Another approach (but this addresses your hurt first and your relationship to Bob, and if you can ever converse without conflict) is to sit down when you have a whole weekend to yourself and make an argument for Bob's case. You'll need to be brutally impartial to do this, but it doesn't involve conflict with anyone else. List all the reasons why Christians might be opposed to LGBT lifestyles, as infuriating as they are, and argue for their correctness. For example, list the horrible laws in Leviticus. Think about Sodom and Gomorrah. Think about how marriage is portrayed in the Bible. Think as if you're genuinely trying to explain why people like Bob feel this way. Think as if you believe the Bible is the literal word of God in its entirety.

If you can do this, really do this, I think some of your anger will dissipate, and you'll be able to see Bob for who and what he is, as opposed to primarily someone who hurt you deeply. He's just a deeply flawed human being who believes differently than you do, and has bought into some nonsensical idea that every word in the Bible is literal.

If you can see this and believe this, you will have a bit more peace in your heart about the persecution and abuse LGBTQs have endured in the church. It's fine (and we are called) to have righteous anger. But more than that is wrong (like spreading the faggot story: "The explanation that male homosexuals were called faggots because they were burned at the stake as punishment is an etymological urban legend." The prescribed method of death for that "offense" in England was hanging.)

More understanding usually leads to less conflict. This is applicable to any issue where conflict exists, not only specifically to an issue within a faith.

Mind you, I don't always take my own advice. Advice is easier to give than to follow. I am a Christian who believes the greater part of organized Christianity is wrong about a great number of things, and that if all people took Christ's teachings as the basis of Christianity, we would be a much more loving, giving, merciful, and accepting people.

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    I've deleted some tangentially-related comments. Comments should only be used to ask for clarification or suggestion improvements to an answers; please keep them relevant. Thanks. – HDE 226868 Oct 9 '17 at 17:54
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    For anyone reading this, who might skip the small part, don't. This is the most important part of the answer, and is an applicable solution in many ways outside both religion and LGBTQ issues. My only criticism is the "He's just a deeply flawed human being who believes differently than you do" part. He believes different things than you, that doesn't make him flawed, only incompatible. – Chris Wohlert Dec 7 '17 at 14:09
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    @ChrisWohlert - My belief is that all people are deeply flawed. But you make a very good point. – anongoodnurse Dec 7 '17 at 18:10
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Adding to anongoodnurse's excellent answer some more ways to prevent discussions. I also do know zealots, but I wasn't forced to have as prolonged contact to them as you have, but maybe it helps.

I've already tried polite brush offs on his first couple of approaches, but every time I pass him he tries to engage.

The way he tries to engage is the most important part of your question and how to answer it.

I agree with anongoodnurse about being kind and also setting boundaries the way she suggests.

Direct Conversation

Only the most basic one, e. g.

Bob: Hi! How are you?

You: Hi! Thanks, I'm fine. How are you?

Else: Frustrate him with polite non-answers and don't ask back

These are highly dependend on the exact questions he asks, but a few examples:

  • In case of harmless yes/no-question, just say yes or no and don't follow up.
  • If he is asking for your opinion (or less harmless yes/no questions), remain honest but vague ("I haven't made up my mind fully yet", "I'm not sure", "That's possible, I don't know", "I didn't follow that discussion in great detail" etc.). Again, no question to him.
  • Just smile - you acknowledge his presence and even that he said something.

Make use of the fact, that you are at work:

  • These non-answers are frustrating, because he doesn't get far and has to start the conversation anew all the time. But they also waste time. Since you are at work, you can end the conversation after your first non-answer (or, if you are busy) even before, by saying that you have to work.
  • The fact, that you are at work gives you another way out: You can disregard his question(s), when you have something work-related to tell him.
  • If he tries to engage in more controversial topics (e. g. "greeting" you with such a statement right away), insist politely that you do not engage in such conversations at work. (As a glimmer of hope for him, you may leave the option open of engaging in them outside of work, without promising/committing to anything. This may quench his attempts somewhat, hoping for a better opportunity that never comes, because you do not meet outside or tell him then again, that you don't want to talk etc. (you are not forced to be in his vicinity then)).

Depending on how stubborn he is, it may take some time before he stops his frustrating attempts. But this certainly costs him more energy than you. And if he goes all in and tries to provoke you right away, you may even tell your boss - but remain friendly and don't engage in it at all so that he appears as the troublemaker.

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I recommend falling back on one key phrase:

"Not interested."

Use them early and often, whenever Bob tries to start on one of his polemics with you.

If he keeps pushing, "Why not? Why not? Why not?" sort of thing, point out that "it's a long long road to Damascus", and you're willing to talk to God about it, "just not, well, you".

The basic point here: make such conversations unrewarding for Bob.

This isn't the way I'd handle it personally, but you'd stated you don't want to have a massive argument with Bob (turns out I do, but I don't know the guy, so... ;D)

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Is is possible that Bob wants to have a conversation to try and understand the OP's point of view better? The OP doesn't strictly indicate that Bob's opening conversational gambit is hostile. For example, Bob may have been thinking that what he said was too harsh, and wants to apologize. Or tell the OP something positive.

Bigotry works by painting the target group as somehow "other" than the in-group: Untermenschen, "not like us", etc. Having ordinary, every day conversations breaks this barrier down. You don't have to make every conversation a witness to the rainbow alliance either. Just talk about ordinary things.

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