On Thanksgiving Day my folks and my sister, Jenny, her husband, Dan and their little boy and my godson, Henry, gathered at our home, as they have for many Thanksgivings running, to celebrate the day. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner together that Linda had lovingly made and our conversation was peppered with laughter and lighthearted banter. And then it happened: after we had finished our meal unintentionally we took a left turn down the cul-de-sac of politics and the atmosphere in the room chilled a bit. Jenny and Dan live in the suburbs of Minneapolis and I would consider them politically liberal in their views on social issues. Linda and I, of course, live in rural northern Wisconsin and while I don't consider myself overly political I definitely am in the conservative camp (but unlike my father-in-law am not a FOX junkie; I actually get a lot of my news from NBC and NPR – go figure.)
As far as evangelical Christians are concerned one of the biggest issues in Minnesota that was decided on November 6 was that the proposed “marriage amendment” to the State constitution would define marriage as it has traditionally been defined (and, certainly how the Bible defines it) as the union between a man and a woman. If you voted “yes” you were saying you were in agreement with this position. If you voted “no” you professed a much more inclusive idea of marriage that covered same sex unions. Not surprisingly, the “nays” carried the day much to my sister and my brother-in-law's relief. As Jenny explained to me, she has many gay friends who feel like second-class citizens. Why shouldn't their union be recognized as legitimate by the state?
|They steered clear of our conversation|
Now both Jenny and Dan weren't gloating about the victory even though they were aware that what they consider progress my wife and I see as something quite different. And I certainly wasn't trying to change their opinion on the matter. As those conversations happen to flow, however, we were soon on to the national election and our voice levels and body language began to morph from comfortable and relaxed to tense and a sense of stepping delicately through a minefield. While I'm sure they wouldn't put it exactly this way they feel that the conservative element in our country is self-righteous, self-indulgent and frankly, should keep their opinions to themselves. To some degree they are correct. In our efforts to speak up for “conservative values” we often come off pretty indignant about a whole lot of things. For me, the only point I was trying to brook is that if the Election of 2012 reveals anything it demonstrates how divided a people we are becoming. Our whole system of government is based on the principle of compromise – give and take, budging here and there, seeking consensus where we can. But therein lies the rub: if we can't even have a conversation about the issue – for example, gay marriage – because one segment of the population considers such a union as immoral how can we reach a conclusion that most parties consider satisfactory? What do you do with someone like myself who considers marriage the sole purview of heterosexuals and cannot imagine a future where as a minister I will preside at the joining of two individuals practicing a homosexual lifestyle or risk being labeled as in-tolerant for refusing to do the same?
Personally, apart from sweeping societal changes on a religious level, I don't think the evangelical community is going to win this argument. Those who are persuaded that homosexuality is not a matter of choice but a matter of hard-wiring have the numbers and pretty much are the loudest voice in mainstream media. While I don't think a legitimate Christian response is to resort to demagoguery and hate speech against President Obama, the Democrats and the “liberal media”, how do you speak your convictions to a populace that has raised tolerance to a cardinal virtue on an issue like same-sex unions without being misunderstood and, ultimately, considered irrelevant?
Every time I have posted something on homosexuality in the past at this site (see The Sins of Sodom and You're Wrong President Obama) some friend in my Facebook circle has reacted negatively to what I've written. Either I have done a poor job of expressing my opinion (which is very possible) or their reaction is proof of what I'm trying to say in this post. It makes me wonder if what happened at our dinner table on Thanksgiving Day is a microscopic view of what is happening on a macro-level all across our country and I don't see it getting any better. My godson who is five years old will grow up in a community and culture where same sex unions will be viewed as normative – not alternative – and depending where you sit at the table will depend on whether you think that's progress or something far different. But for sure it will become one more thing that we shouldn't talk about when in polite company.