Split an Issue to Create a Fresh Conversation

These thoughts address a very thoughtful reply to a previous entry, An Evolutionary Approach to Moral Judgment. Thanks, David from Stillwater, OK. You’re right that all voices need to be willing to come into the same space for a respectful conversation about the issue. Unfortunately, I’ve also found that church folks are pretty much resistant to a deliberative conversation as a method for deepening understanding and discussing how their values apply in everyday life…and both liberals and conservatives are equally resistant, because they both feel they are Biblically correct.

Now…some thoughts on this thorny issue: same-sex marriage. As a pastor, I had the joyous privilege to officiate at several ‘holy union’ ceremonies, and the heartbreaking privilege to officiate at several funerals involving same-sex couples and their families. During these times, I witnessed some of the best character traits in humans…and some of the worst. As a United Methodist pastor, I also witnessed the denominational politics where good people get so caught up in ‘winning’ that they build and sustain divisive stereotypes of the ‘other’ in order to dismiss their faith-based opinions with prejudice rather than seeking understanding through genuinely humble conversation. Unfortunately, when these ‘wicked’ issues lead good people on both ‘sides’ to simply stick to their talking-points rather than to enter into a respect-filled conversation about common values, no one really wins…everyone loses.

Is all lost? Certainly not! If one conversation doesn’t work, start another with clear parallels. The issue of ‘marriage’ has a complex history in the many cultures of the world, but most people would readily agree that a common thread throughout these diverse histories is the topic of property and the rights granted to both parties. For centuries, these rights were governed solely by the religious community. It’s been a relatively recent occurrence that civil authority entered the marriage picture, basically extending the protection of civil law first to women as equal partners in marriage, then to couples-of-color, and then to mixed-race couples. I feel that in each of these evolutionary legal times, property and financial equality in marriage became critically persuasive issues in extending the protection of the law to include a new population of couples.

I’d propose a new conversation about acknowledging and protecting the rights of all adult couples who choose to link their property, their finances, and their everyday lives. Young heterosexual couples who are ‘living together’…older couples where companionship and security are their common bond, not sex…couples who want a simplified and inexpensive way to spell out property rights and distribution in detail before making a final partnership contract…gay, lesbian, etc. couples who want equal legitimacy and rights in their community and their country…friends who want to establish a mutually-beneficial partnership for a set timeframe that may or may not include sex or children…and yes, couples who also want the sanctification of a religious context for their partnership. I believe a fresh conversation about the continued inequalities associated with ‘marriage’ could bring some surprising revelations and, perhaps, some new directions for public decisions.

Some of our ‘wicked’ issues probably need a fresh look…they’re currently stuck in well-defined ruts that keep people apart rather than bringing them together for healthy conversations. I am persuaded that parallel and associated conversations have the potential to erode at least a few of those existing ruts that keep us isolated in our moral correctness. And…for those of you who think I might be speaking from my own hypocrisy, I’m fully aware that everything I’ve shared here (except my personal experiences, of course) might be wrong! Oh, well! I guess we’ll just have to talk about that.

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