Someone smarter than me, or at least more tactful, once said, "Never talk about politics or religion." My favorite things to talk about are politics and religion. I enjoy scratching around your mind to see what you believe, and am more than willing to tell you what I think.
This has led to some frisky discussions, which can morph into debates, and occasionally explode into arguments. Pam, my tranquil wife, hates it. She has developed the ability to see a heated discussion coming a mile down the road. There is a certain arm squeeze that says, "You better turn this around right now."
I think good debate is vital to our democratic system. I enjoy being in the fray. It can be invigorating. It can get the heart thumping. And, if you are willing to listen, a guy might even learn something.
Years ago, though, I found one debate that I did not enjoy. Around the time I was growing into adulthood, abortion became an issue of contention. It remains such today, a vampire-like dispute that won't die.
My political mooring is a bit left-of-center. With abortion, I found many of my compatriots on the other side of a great divide. I knew those people over there. We shared views on the environment, foreign policy, agriculture, etc. We liked Gene McCarthy and George McGovern, to date myself.
But on abortion, I was pro-life and they were pro-choice. I did not understand how they could be, and I'm sure they could not understand how I could be. Back in my political salad days, I took part in several well-intentioned efforts to find compromise on abortion. They were mostly wretched little exercises where, inside our small groups, we only reinforced how divisive the issue was.
So I learned to state my belief on abortion, hear the other person's, and move on. The trenches are dug; there's not much movement.
Now, a generation later, along comes another lose-lose issue that I thoroughly don't enjoy. You might guess it: that would be the debate over gay marriage. Unlike abortion, the trenches aren't dug yet, so the skirmishes are intense and bruising. In Minnesota, we get the distinct "honor" of being on the frontline for several months with our upcoming amendment vote. The casualties are sure to pile up.
I don't want to make this much about my view; I'm unlikely to persuade any reader anyway. But I would call myself a "traditionalist" here. I want to be cautious and exceedingly thoughtful if we are going to change the definition of marriage. Certainly "marriage" isn't always practiced well today; like everything else us humans do, we fall short of the ideal. Nevertheless, it is the standard which has been handed to us by our forebears.
We must not tolerate gay baiting and bullying that we have all, unfortunately, seen. I support efforts to end discrimination in the workplace toward gays. And I support granting legal rights within some sort of civil union. Progress has been made in all these areas. But I don't see that from these, flows the redefining of marriage. Alice (in Wonderland) said to Humpty Dumpty, "The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things."
I have to admit, I take offense at one notion that I hear often. That is the idea that if I supported civil rights in the past, it is hypocritical to not support this "expansion" of rights. I grew up in the later years of the great Civil Rights Movement of the fifties and sixties. While places like New Ulm and Sleepy Eye were hardly the epicenter of that foment, there was a strong current of prejudice in the world I grew up in. I heard THAT word often when I was young.
I have early memories of watching race demonstrations on Channel 12 News, and knowing which side was right. I remember defending Black leaders in conversations with people much older. That historic struggle for Civil Rights just feels different than this current debate. A number of Black church leaders have come to the same conclusion.
I may not enjoy the debate over abortion and, now, gay marriage, but here they are. They have much in common as issues. In both, good people, meaning well, stand on opposite sides. In both, there is not much apparent middle ground. And in both, emotions run strong.
As with abortion, those are friends across the divide, friends who try to live good lives and do right things. Of course, emotions are strong; these are society-defining controversies. There is no soft shoeing these issues. People feel strongly whatever they feel, and the debate will not be in a murmur.
There has to be a way to deliberate these issues with civility. There has to be a way to respect people lined up on the other side. You've seen on TV, where demonstrators on both sides of some controversy stand and yell into each other's faces. Ugh. What good could come from that?
My Christian faith informs me that I need to treat others with kindness, not just those I agree with. If I am going to lean on my faith-tradition to guide me on certain issues, I'd better be willing to take serious that stuff about loving my brothers and sisters. Nowhere does the Bible say, "Love those who agree with you." That would be a thin gruel of a faith.