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About that marriage amendment…

May 14, 2012

Well, almost a week has gone by since North Carolina joined 30 other states in defining marriage in its constitution as a union between one man and one woman.  In the same week President Obama told us that in his opinion same-sex marriage was OK with him.  I’ve seen and heard a lot of thoughts on what this all means, observed elements of lack of grace from both supporters and opponents of the amendment and pondered for some time what conclusions I have about the issue, in particular the passage of the amendment.  I have three main observations.

  1.  It is clear that, in NC as in many other states, there are more passionate supporters of traditional marriage than there are passionate crusaders for same sex marriage.  Both sides tried very hard to turn out voters.  By election day my wife and I were sick of competing phone calls, TV ads and mailings from the two sides.  Yet, in the end, less than a third of the electorate voted at all.  This election was, in effect, a polling of the passionate.  As I listened carefully to the various arguments, other than considering some of the reasoning disingenuous, my main reaction was that neither side was able to craft compelling arguments that speak to the undecided middle.  I suspect that, if pressed, that “middle” would mirror the actual vote count but both sides seemingly crafted their points to appeal to those who already agree with them to go out and vote, not to win the undecided. 
  2. There is an urgency in the voting demographics that is going unaddressed.  As in other states, young people under 30 were much more accepting of same-sex marriage than us older folks.  Even young evangelicals are more open.  I’ve heard a lot of whining that the reason for this is the influence of secular society; the media, the educational institutions, etc.  They are all anti-Christian we are told; they have a “secular agenda.”  As true as this may be, the excuse is nonsense.  Our faith was born and grew explosively in an anti-Christian environment.  History shows that the church can thrive in outright persecution, let alone a cynical and snarky secular environment.  It is time that we accept that we are to blame.  We have failed to teach, disciple and mentor a younger generation in the tenants of our faith.  We must change this.
  3. Evangelicals have yet to come up with a graceful and effective way to speak to and about homosexuality.  I heard the mantra from the pro-amendment side “This amendment is not anti-gay, it is pro-marriage.” over and over but even I never bought it, let alone those who differ on the definition of marriage.  I’ve said before that in communication the message bearer has the absolute responsibility to make the message receiver understand.  I frankly heard nothing that would persuade a neutral listener, let alone an opponent, to believe that the amendment was not anti-gay.  To quote a gay friend “It feels anti-gay to me.”

It is not just with this amendment, but in all our evangelical communications, that I sense that we can’t get a good handle on how to speak to and about gays.  This stands in exact contrast to our communications on pro-life issues where the church is speaking up with an ever-increasing effectiveness.  I will say this flat out and know that this may offend, I am sorry if it does.  In terms of impact on the climate for evangelism, for reaching others with the life-changing Gospel, this amendment has made the playing field harder.  I feel one of the most important, yet most challenging, calls for evangelicals today is to be able to express our views on this subject in a loving and graceful way.

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