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The Gaffe

March 28, 2012

The dictionary calls a gaffe a social or diplomatic blunder.  I suppose we’ve all made them at one time or another.  I’ve done it often enough that, when it happens, I just figure it is God deciding it is time for me to have another helping of humble pie.  But I like journalist Michael Kingsley’s definition of a gaffe – accidentally telling the truth.  He uses it when a politician says something he truly believes without analyzing the consequences of saying it.

The political world constantly searches, usually with malicious intent, for such gaffes among their opponents.  Once found they are mocked or seized upon for political leverage.  NC House Speaker Thom Tillis recently seems to have uttered such a gaffe.  In speaking about the upcoming vote on the “Marriage Protection Amendment” which would constitutionally define marriage as between one man and one woman, he predicted the amendment would pass but that it would be repealed within 20 years.  Tillis is a supporter of the amendment.

As might be expected, opponents are using the statement in their arguments to defeat the amendment and supporters are trying to deal with the consequences.  It appears to be a classic “Kingsley Gaffe” because evidence supports the analysis Tillis does.  Current polls show that 54% of likely voters will vote for the amendment but that, among 18-35 year olds, opposition numbers are nearer 70%.  Tillis essentially projects this into the future and sees the day coming when the majority will flip and the amendment will be repealed.

So what are we to make of all this?  Defining marriage is a social decision.  Society comes together and chooses a definition to live by; does it include same-sex marriages or not?  In a democracy social decisions are made by majority rule and a vote, such as the one coming up, is essentially “calling the question.”  Presumably, if Tillis is correct, the flow of the majority opinion leads to an almost certain reversal within 20 years.  If this is correct, what are the implications?

–        For one, the way supporters of the amendment, which includes the large majority of evangelicals, argue their case is more important, in the long run, than actually winning.  Questions like this are generally decided by fence-sitters, people not strongly on either side.  If Christians come across as harsh, hateful and judgmental it can harden opinions against us and hasten the day of reversal.

–        Secondly, many evangelicals, me included, have mixed emotions about the amendment.  I certainly agree with the definitions but I know that, in reaching people for Christ, this issue clouds discussion and detracts.  The Tillis projection gives the fence-sitters pause by making them ask why we are doing this.

–        But most importantly, social issues are never decided by political action.  Political action can produce compliance with a point but never agreement.  If we want people to agree with our definition we need to win hearts, not elections.

Where does this leave us?  I will give my opinion in the form of another question.  Which seems more likely to you?  Someone who comes to agree with us on our definition of marriage and then deciding to accept Christ as Savior?  Or someone who has accepted Christ coming to see that he shares our view of marriage?  NC voters will not change the trends of the next 20 years on May 8th.  We will change them as we share the love of Christ in the days after May 8th.

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