Friday, November 14, 2008

A church that did it right

When I look at the current mess we're in, I take comfort in knowing at least one church did it right this election season, and I'm happy to report that it's the one I attend.

Our church is a conservative congregation in a Reformed denomination. We are Calvinists. In our worship services we sing mainly traditional hymns with a few modern tunes thrown in here and there. I would guess that most members are Republican. But then, I wouldn't know exactly because politics is not an obsessive topic of conversation at our gatherings. We are much more concerned about caring for one another and keeping up with each other's lives: someone battling cancer, an infant undergoing surgery, a difficult pregnancy, a death in someone's family.

My pastor has never preached a sermon on Proposition 8 or even once mentioned it from the pulpit. I have no idea how he voted on Prop. 8 and I don't care to know. I have no doubt that his silence was a conscious decision to honor the church as a spiritual institution and to respect the consciences of his congregants.

Likewise, I never took it upon myself to bring up Prop. 8 with anyone in church, never sent out a group email to my church friends pushing my views, never asked anyone how they planned to vote. Many people at my church don't even know about this blog, and those who do have no obligation to read it as far as I'm concerned. I suppose I can't take full credit for my restraint. It just never occurred to me to do otherwise. I think it is because I have been unconsciously following the leadership of my pastor and elders who have diligently kept all political talk out of our worship services. When I'm at church I become focused on spiritual things. I become aware that I have left the things of the world behind to unite with my spiritual family in Jesus Christ.

That doesn't mean I have shied away from giving my political opinions when church friends have approached me with questions. I remember one Sunday in particular, it was three weeks before election day when the pro-Prop. 8 campaign sent out a slew of amazingly nasty mailers. Out of the blue and all at once, I had numerous people seek me out during our fellowship/refreshments break for my take on Prop. 8.

That's when I learned how diverse our congregation was on this issue. A surprising number of people told me they were voting no. Others said they were genuinely torn. Even for the ones who ended up voting yes, this was no light matter, no small struggle of conscience. Just the struggle encouraged me. It is again a credit to my pastor. His silence from the pulpit gave people room to struggle and soul search. He did not obliterate the complexities of this issue and attempt to bind people's consciences with authoritative calls for obedience to God and loyalty to church. None of us felt like our relationship to him or to any of our brothers and sisters in Christ would be imperiled by making an unpopular voting decision.

If only more church leaders took care to treat their congregation members as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and left them alone to figure out how to vote as citizens of this passing earthly society. Our witness to the world would be immensely brighter.

Believe it or not, there is nothing that most gay and lesbian people want more than to see the church acting like the church should. They know the world to be a hostile, lonely, and oppressive place and that the church is supposed to be a beacon of hope and light. I am leery of the anger that is fueling the current protests and I fear it will lead to increasingly worse behavior. But I also know the anger wouldn't be so bitter if it weren't an expression of people's disillusionment with the church and its leaders. It is a disillusionment that once hoped, that expected better, and now vows to never hope in us again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Suffering as Christians or as meddlers?

Consider my husband's recent post in which he examines the meaning of "troublesome meddler" in 1 Peter 4:15. Are our churches really being "persecuted" right now by the anti-Prop. 8 protesters? Or are we simply seeing the consequences of our own disobedience to God's scriptural command to take care that we do not suffer as meddling moralists?

By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or troublesome meddler [NASB footnote reads: "one who oversees others' affairs"]; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. (1 Peter 4:15-16)

Again, just asking.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

At what cost?

In spite of a smear campaign by the Christian Right that was so vicious and boldly dishonest it appeared to take even gay activists by surprise, Prop. 8 won by only a narrow margin of 52% to 48% this year. Compare that with the victory of Prop. 22 eight years ago by the huge margin of 61% to 38%.

I myself voted for Prop. 22 in 2000. I'm one of those voters who swung to the other side, accounting for the nine point gain we are seeing now. Despite the fear-mongering, lies, misinformation, prejudice, ignorance, and yes, sincerely held religious beliefs that homosexual unions go against the moral teaching of the Bible (which I myself hold to), 48 percent of Californians somehow waded through all that and saw a simple truth: when it is placed in your hands to vote on somebody else's marriage, somebody else's life, somebody else's dreams, have the decency to let them be.

The pro-Prop. 8 campaign may have won, but at what cost? As I've done my own amateur research into the claims this campaign has made and the propaganda they've disseminated, the majority of it appears to me to have been constructed from an editing and pasting job that I can only describe as a deliberate deception of the public. Let me put it this way. If I were in charge of writing those campaign mailers, I would have had to engage in a level of maliciousness and calculated dishonesty that would, in my view, render my Christian profession of faith utterly meaningless. I might win the campaign, yet I'd have to sell my soul to do it.

So was it worth it? Guys?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Rising above the culture war

The past couple of weeks I was feeling somewhat frustrated that the anti-Prop. 8 campaign hasn't done more to answer the lies and misrepresentations of the opposition. It only takes a little research to refute each claim, and anyone who's been reading this blog the last two weeks has gotten a sample of my amateur findings. So why hasn't the No-On-Prop-8 campaign done more to respond to the accusations of the religious right?

Then I came to realize something. The anti-Prop. 8 campaign is not about screaming, accusing, and engaging their opponents in a fruitless, all-out shouting match. They are not trying to twist our arms, convince us of their moral views, or make us feel guilty or obligated. Instead they are appealing to our decency, and in doing so they demonstrate how much more respect they have for us than the other side.

The anti-Prop. 8 campaign is simply asking us to do what is fair and right. They are assuming that we already know a friend, family member, or acquaintance who is gay. They are assuming that whatever disagreements we may have with that gay or lesbian person, we ought to be intelligent enough and fair-minded enough to realize that he or she deserves to be treated as an equal member of our society. And they are trusting that when the critical time comes, when no one is looking, when we are alone in the booth with our ballots and our consciences and no one's eyes upon us but God's, we will do the right thing.

In other words, the anti-Prop. 8 campaign has been making a tremendous effort to rise above the culture-war ugliness even as the pro-Prop. 8 campaign has been attacking them with all the usual tactics from the playbook of 1985. Aren't the differences between these two campaigns telling? The fact is, the gay rights movement has grown up and gone to college, while the religious right continues to roam the playground looking for someone to bully. After all, it's the grown-ups who want to get married. The adolescents, with their limited imaginations, sneer at talk of committed love, always thinking it has be a cover for some baser agenda.