An experiment in trust: Lunch with Tim Tripp, family minister at Leelah Alcorn’s church

July 2, 2015 at 10:12 am

Many of you here are familiar with the tragedy of Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who committed suicide in Cincinnati this winter by throwing herself in front of an oncoming tractor trailer. Because I live in Cincinnati, I was the first person to write about it here at Daily Kos. Other discussions are here (VirallySuppressed) and here (Steven D).

2 months after the incident, I read an editorial in our local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, by Tim Tripp, the family minister at the Northeast Church of Christ, the church attended by Leelah Alcorn’s family.


The article talked about the walls that separate us. Trying to keep a respectful tone I wrote back:

I like what you say in this article, Mr. Tripp and hope you are preaching tolerance towards homosexuals in your church as well. I haven’t attended your church so I can’t speak personally about it.

I have, however, attended others where ministers have preached that homosexuality is evil and homosexuals are evil. When people preach that homosexuality is evil they are the ones creating the walls.

To my surprise, Tim wrote me back:

David, thank you for your words. I am hoping we can all figure out how to love one another as God has loved us!

To be honest, I was still angry. However, breaking down walls is a key theme in my life/writing and it seemed to be for Tim too. I thought of an experiment: What if I took Tim at his word and reached out in good faith to talk about how we might accomplish breaking down walls?

I reached out and asked Tim if he’d like to talk over lunch. He wrote me back and we met. This is the story to date of that experiment.

Part One: Lunch

I decided in advance that I wasn’t going to push an agenda. I wanted to start simply by getting to know Tim. I thought I could talk about the article he wrote and how it relates to something I value. I wasn’t sure where this might lead, but since Tim had raised the issue and it is a passion of mine, I hoped something might come of it.

You can read the details about our lunch in our follow-up write-ups, but the net was that I think we were both pleasantly surprised. I think we both found we had a lot more in common than we thought.

I found Tim had some really great ideas about how to break down walls. One of them was to do a community service project between members of Northeast Church of Christ and the LGBT community. The idea was simply to get to know each other by doing something “in the trenches” together.

This struck me as very similar to what we were doing at lunch, meeting in a venue where we could just talk and get to know each other, setting aside differences in beliefs.

I’d also thought maybe we could somehow write a joint article. I wasn’t quite sure what this might be, but during the meeting, I had a thought. What if we both described our lunch meeting from our own perspective: here is what we thought going in, and then, here’s how we felt after we got to know each other a little. I suggested it to Tim and he agreed to give it a shot.

Part Two: Our write ups

Here is Tim’s piece in full.

I encourage the full read but am summarizing and excerpting for length with his permission.

Tim talked about some of his worries going into lunch. He spoke about how the Alcorn family had received numerous messages insulting and attacking them and even in some cases threatening them. And he spoke of his concern that our lunch meeting would be confrontational.

After talking about some of his concerns going in, Tim wrote:

We both shared the belief that facilitating dialogue that would bring people together despite differences is a huge need in our culture. We discussed that the ‘walls’ to which my editorial piece referred was not the issues themselves but the way we choose to process the issues from different sides. Dialogue that is blaming, hate-filled and injurious deepens the chasms between us and builds the walls that grow higher and higher with each word. I felt David and I embraced the concept I was going for in my article by listening to the story of one another’s lives and understanding where we come from and how our context could lead us to our interpretation of our surroundings and our beliefs about issues that at times separate us. We agreed that we don’t have to see eye to eye to appreciate and respect the beauty of each other’s perspective. Trying to change each other’s beliefs would be frustrating and almost certainly fail but letting a loving and respectful relationship change us both is powerful and (I believe) effective.

Change in our communities can never happen with an “I have nothing to change and you have to change everything,” attitude. It must be about embracing each other in community and being open and willing to change for the good of the other and the greater good of our world.

I left the restaurant thankful for David and many who are like him. I still believe we share the same heart and hope we can continue to work together to facilitate real change for the good of our community and our world.

One of the other things he wrote that really spoke to me was:

We may also find in taking the risk of building relationships to one another that within the confines of a loving, trusting relationship we may find workable solutions for those struggles that continue to confound us.

Here is my write up in full.

To briefly summarize, I talked about some of my initial anger and fear going into lunch. I think I thought I was going to meet the minister from Footloose and instead wound up face-to-face with someone who seemed more like me than unlike me.

After sending out write-ups to each other, Tim asked where we go from here. I suggested that we not try to edit and simply publish both together as is. The idea, again, is not to edit or argue with each other, but simply to get to know each other.

While we’d been exchanging these back and forth, I had another thought.

Part Three: Values unite us, beliefs divide us

I’m an instructional designer by trade. I create training for a living and often teach classes as well. So I tend to think about exercises or examples that I could use in training sessions. This is just how I think.

My third idea was an exercise based off the idea that values unite us, beliefs divide us. To explain the difference very briefly:

  • Values are estimates of “worthwhileness”.
  • We associate values with character.
  • We associate values with ethics.
  • We associate values with who we are.
  • Values come from family, culture, communities, and experiences.

Some examples of values include: Education, Honesty, Loyalty, Trust, Family, Leadership.

Beliefs, by comparison, are things we hold true. Beliefs come from religion, from our experience, from science, and from what we see and feel around us. Some examples of beliefs include:

  • If you want people to treat you well, treat them well.
  • Knowledge is power.
  • The world is made up of idiots and we’re two of them.
  • People make decisions based on facts.

Values and beliefs are what we act on.

Another important distinction between values and beliefs is that values tend to unite people, while beliefs tend to divide people. Think about how hard it is to get a group of people to unite around different religious beliefs or different political beliefs or different cultural beliefs. They will fight morning, noon, and night defending their beliefs.

Yet our values tend to be very similar.

Based on this idea that values unite us and beliefs divide us, here is an exercise I devised:

  1. Get Post-It notes for everyone involved. (In our case, just me and Tim.)
  2. Take 5 minutes and write as many of your values as you can think of, one to a Post-It note.
  3. Don’t worry if you can’t think of everything. This is not a competitive exercise. It’s a collaborative exercise. If at any point during the collaboration, you think of something you forgot to write down, you can add it.
  4. Look at what you’ve both written down and first, combine all of the values that are the same.
  5. Then, look at what you’ve each written down that might be different, but that you find is a value you also hold. Add all of these to the combined list of values.
  6. These are the values you share. Don’t dwell on any that are not in common.
  7. Things to think about: How similar or different are your values?

When I explained the idea for this exercise, Tim was kind enough to test it with me. Having never tried it before, I had no idea how it would turn out.

The things that were on both of our lists were:

  • Family
  • Friends/Friendship
  • Relationships/Trust/”I’ve got your back” kinds of relationships
  • Love
  • Helping others/activism/commitment to the good of others
  • “A higher calling”/Purpose
  • Equality/All “men” created equal

Other values that we both agree upon from each other’s’ lists included:

  • Generosity
  • Kindness
  • Honesty
  • Faith
  • Peace
  • Fun
  • Faithfulness
  • Freedom
  • Responsibility
  • Good health
  • Work
  • Life
  • Government “of the people, for the people, and by the people”
  • Education
  • Leadership/Strength


I thought what we would come up with would be similar. What surprised me was just how similar and how easy it was for us to come up with this picture. It couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes.

What was really powerful for me was that here was a picture, a visual of everything we both valued. And it’s a powerful vision.

Tim comes from a stronger religious background than I and we could have talked about our differences. If we had, we might not have found this powerful vision that we both share.

I post it here because it’s a simple exercise that anyone can do.

But you didn’t solve the world’s problems: Why do this?

No. We both agreed to step back and get to know each other.

This is how trust is built. It’s slow and gets built over time. As part of working to establish trust, we both agreed to set aside any beliefs or agendas we had to learn about each other first.

If you want to find solutions together, this is often a good place to start.

It wasn’t a victory for any side. After a while, it just didn’t feel like sides anymore.

Instead, it became something closer to collaboration. I mentioned to Tim how so often I see people who don’t know each other start arguing and how it never struck me as very productive. He said, “It’s kind of like when you meet a Steelers fan. You’ll probably do better to start talking about football, then to start talking about how awful the Steelers are.”

If you can get to this point, together you can sometimes do amazing things.

I think Tim said it best in his write up:

We may also find in taking the risk of building relationships to one another that within the confines of a loving, trusting relationship we may find workable solutions for those struggles that continue to confound us.


This was an experiment. I wrote it up to talk about how we can break down walls.

Is it something you feel like you could try? Other thoughts/comments/reactions?

 photo little_book_sm_zps7eb5e66a.jpg David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution:
A Distributive Strategy for Democracy