I sometimes wonder if constructive dialogue is possible on the hot button issues of the day. It looks to me as if not but, perhaps, I am reading opinions and discussions in all the wrong places. Who would argue that the volatility index for discussion of white hot cultural and racial issues is not in the red zone and that thoughtful, considerate exchanges by reasonable people on opposing sides are as scarce as ivory-billed woodpeckers?
Along those lines, observe that here in Georgia our legislature, solidly Republican, has failed to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act for two years running. Opponents have been a collection of political liberals, religious moderates and liberals, major businesses, and gay rights activists, mostly identified with Democrats. Their position has been that RFRAs would be a license to discriminate. This position has manifestly been the winning argument with legislators.
After the latest version of a bill was deep-sixed in committee, the state’s leading newspaper, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, published opposing viewpoints on the matter, giving both sides a chance to frame the issue as they see it.
I offer the highly condensed version of each:
“Making a case for religious freedom” was written by the state senator who introduced the RFRA legislation. He lost. In the name of religious freedom in 2015 America he invoked Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Iran, and North Korea.
“Georgia legislators should protect all state’s citizens” was authored by a University of Georgia professor who has written often on the side of gay rights and same-sex marriage. He invoked a lineup of Jim Crow measures and examples, including segregated restaurants (the Pickrick, famous locally in Atlanta’s past), segregated accommodations (Heart of Atlanta Motel, the SCOTUS case that ended segregated accommodations), and even ventured over to South Carolina to enlist a BBQ joint that denied service to African-Americans.
If an argument features Nazi Germany on one side and Jim Crow on the other side, it’s tough to envision much profit in a discussion.
All this raises a salient question: Is there a way to maintain our beliefs, teach them, and have respectful dialogue with those who disagree?
Call me an irrational optimist, but I think so.
Having a discussion from the position of a cultural minority rather than the majority may be a challenge; however, it doesn’t mean that we admit that we are wrong. It does mean that we recognize that most of our fellow citizens (even our own LifeWay’s poll shows this) don’t see this as we do. Expressing the prerogatives of cultural dominance might have been possible a generation or even a decade ago but no longer. So maybe a good place to guide a personal conversation is away from Nazi Germany, Jim Crow or any other extreme metaphor or example and towards Jesus, the new birth, and being a new creation in Him.
What’s the alternative? Poison the well?
Our ERLC’s staff get paid to ruminate and reflect about this stuff and offer guidance for Southern Baptists. Here are three pretty good paragraphs from Russell Moore:
Jesus told us we would have hard times. He never promised us a prosperity gospel. He said we would face opposition, but he said he would be with us. If we are going to be faithful to his gospel, we must preach repentance—even when that repentance is culturally unwelcome. And we must preach that any sinner can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. That means courage and that means kindness. Sexual revolutionaries will hate the repentance. Buffoonish heretics, who want only to vent paranoia and rally their troops, will hate the kindness. So be it.
Our churches must be ready to call out the revisionists who wish to do away with a Christian sexual ethic. And we must be ready to call out those who tell us that acknowledging the signs of the times is forbidden, and we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing. An issue this culturally powerful cannot be addressed by a halfway-gospel or by talk-radio sloganeering.
The marriage revolution around us means we must do a better job articulating a theology of marriage to our people, as well as a theology of suffering and marginalization. It means we must do a better job articulating to those on the outside why children need both a Mom and a Dad, not just “parents,” and why marriage isn’t simply a matter of court decree. It means we must start teaching our children about marriage “from the beginning” as male and female when they’re in Sunday school. It means we may have to decide if and when the day will come in which we will refuse to sign the state’s marriage licenses.
I note the word “kindness” above, twice, a measure of which I admit lacking on occasion.
Here in Georgia, we may never have a RFRA and gay couples may soon approach any courthouse and be issued a marriage license. In regard to civil government and law, we have lost the issue. I doubt we will reclaim it in this matter, since freedoms gained are seldom reversable.
Unless we hunker down in our evangelical Christian compounds, preach all those vein-popping stemwinder sermons to the choir, and avoid any and all who dare disagree with us, it seems assured that most of us will be in a position to have many more conversations with homosexuals and about homosexuality and same-sex marriage. I had my first conversation with a homosexual over 40 years ago in a witnessing situation. I heard some of the same arguments then that eventually have prevailed today. The Gospel was shared then and is as powerful as it is today, no matter what the context. I found no favorable outcome then but, who knows, seed was sown.
Perhaps it would be prudent to plan ahead how we can best do so and still represent Christ in our community, love our neighbors, and maintain faithfulness as followers of Christ.