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A civil compromise8 min read

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The issue of abortion has long been one of the most contentious policy discussions in our nation, but perhaps gay marriage will (or already has) replaced it as the hot button culture issue. A simple reason for this may be that abortion survivors are few and far between, so no one is confronted with the personal side of the issue. That is not the case for gay marriage.

Because the issue of marriage is so contentious and yet vital to the existence of our nation, are there ways in which both sides can compromise or at least engage in the matter in a much more civil tone?

Louis, regular commenter here, sent me several links as an olive branch of sorts on this issue. He, as a gay man, is very passionate and personally invested in the idea of gay marriage. He has also been in the middle of a very divisive vote on the issue in California and feels as if religious voters are using a "tyranny of the majority" to limit his freedom, which should be automatic as an American citizen. He has a vastly different perspective on it than do I.

I grew up in the rural South. Racism and homophobia were prevalent. I saw people who I respected a lot as Christians espouse some very unChristian ideas about those that were different from them. Despite my abhorance of those sins, I still hold (and believe it to be consistent to hold) that God intentionally created man and woman, sanctioning and blessing the union of marriage as beneficial and necessary for societal order and sustainability.

So where does that leave us? I think both sides have to recognize past (and present) faults in their approach to this issue.

Christians have done a horrible, horrific, dreadful and shameful job at showing love to the gay community. We have no credibility with them after so many of our leaders rejoiced at the onslaught of AIDS among them. That caused the reputation of the Church and of Christ to take a huge hit.

No wonder so many people have the perception that Christianity is all about rules instead of grace. We have attempted to force Christian standards of behavior on the culture at large. That will not work. Needless to say, I do believe that Christians should play a role in the formation of our government and the policies which flow from it. I believe that if perfectly interpreted and perfectly applied the Biblical principles would lead to a better society. However, we continually fail to recognize that we as Christians do not perfectly interpret or apply those principles. How can we expect it to be any different for those outside of Christ?

Christians have been legalistic and arrogant in this discussion. I've been on both sides of this particular vice. I am sure that I have displayed both of those characteristics in many comments. I have also had a church refuse to hire me partly because someone searched through the archives of this blog and found a sentence in one post that didn't sound strong enough against gay marriage for their pleasure. We have to recognize that while the Biblical principle is always clear, the application to our society is not.

Those on the other side have also made mistakes in this debate. I can't speak as much to theirs as my own, but there have been some that have negated movement on this issue.

Just as too many Christians relied on stereotypes for gay people they had never met, gays did the same with conservative Christians. After having successfully established those straw men, they went and attacked.

Gays have also repeatedly assumed the worst possible motivation for actions that they can not understand – "you hate gays" or "you want to take away our rights." Neither of which is true for the vast majority of Christians, particularly those who are intelligent and serious about this issue. It is reckless and irresponsible to ascribe motives to someone when you do not know them. For most Christians, their desire is to simply "protect marriage and the family." That drive may manifest itself for a suburban stay-at-home Christian mom in Georgia in a manner that seems totally foreign to a gay Buddhist actor in San Francisco (and vice versa).

To move beyond the impasse both sides have to recognize these facts and adjust accordingly, particularly the idea of not having a shared background and assuming the worst for the other side because of it.

There are two ways in which Christians (I'll stick with my side) can move forward toward some type of compromise. They can change their application or they can change their doctrine. The two stories Louis sent me fit these two categories.

In the New York Times, two authors, coming from completely different vantage points, prescribed a way in which both sides could adjust to achieve or maintain some of what they want.

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal
civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the
state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal
benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition:
Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with
robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious
organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will.
The federal government would also enact religious-conscience
protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the
same bill.

Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a
natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value
while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict.

Many on both sides would not support the compromise. They are entrenched in their current line of thinking. I haven't thought through the proposal and all of the consequences, intended and unintended, to formulate and express my own opinion of it.

However, I am grateful for the exercise of attempted to forge ahead in a compromise in the way Christians and other traditionalist would apply the principles they seek to protect, without abandoning them completely.

On the other side is this press release from gay evangelical groups in England, calling on American evangelicals to do more to condemn the rhetoric and acts of hate groups, such as Westboro Baptist Church.

While I agree that true Christians should be vocal and repeated in their condemnations of the Westboro cult, these groups seemed to use that issue of agreement as a bait-and-switch.

In the Gospels, Jesus warns his followers not to avoid
their own failings by pointing to the failings of others – even if they are
much larger. Westboro Baptist Church operates as a hate group and is an easy
target. The real challenge to evangelicals is to face the need for change

In particular, this means: engaging more fully and openly
with lesbian and gay Christians and accepting them as equal under God;
examining the way prejudice against gay people has distorted biblical
understanding; prayerfully re-thinking church policies of exclusion and
acknowledging the harm they cause; and recognizing the growing number of
evangelicals who have had a heart-change and now affirm faithful gay

That is not so much calling for a compromise as it is calling for evangelicals to change the way the Bible has been interpreted for almost 2,000 years because of a current culture issue. There is no give and take in this plea, it is an expectation that others change to suit their understanding.

That is not a compromise of application. That is a compromise of principles and doctrine. Therefore, it will be extremely difficult to move forward if that is the path that either side decides to hold to completely.

Any suggestions on ways that both sides can adapt the way they apply their principles in order that some type of satisfactory solution may succeed?