Can We Meet in the Middle?

I’m very open about sharing my politics, and my opinions in general. (I know. Not much of a newsflash.)

I don’t expect others to agree with my views. It seems the world needs all of our different perspectives. If we could really appreciate the other’s perspective–not so we could figure out how to correct it, but so we could figure out what to learn from it–then surely the world would be a better place.

Clearly, I’m some sort of pollyanna who believes in pixie dust and unicorns. Because there is seems to be no meeting in the middle any more.  I don’t see the middle in politics, where you are called a ‘flip flopper’ (so eloquent!) if you compromise or are seen as a traitor to the ‘base’ of your political team if you work across the aisle.

I don’t even see the middle in the church any more. At least, not very often.

First Presbyterian Church in Houston just had a big vote at the end of a long period of discernment about leaving our denomination for another denomination. The vote failed by a close margin, so they remain. But they are divided. I pray for them, for their unity in Christ to be stronger than their division. I pray they can find the middle.

The rhetoric in American Christianity has not been of the middle.

One of my more theologically conservative relatives recently posted an article about the dangers of marriage equality. I found the article problematic on a number of levels. I tried to be respectful in my comments, because I love my relative, I know she is a good person and, like me, is doing the best she can to figure out the world we’re in. Here was my comment:

One of my concerns with this article is in this paragraph:
To accept same-sex unions as ‘marriage’ is thus to commit officially to the proposition that there is no meaningful difference between a married man and woman conceiving a child naturally, two women conceiving a child with the aid of donor semen and IVF, or two men employing a surrogate to have a child together, though in the latter cases only one of the legally recognized parents can (presently) contribute to the child’s hereditary endowment and hope for a family resemblance.
This seems pretty clearly to set up an argument that the main purpose of marriage is to produce biologically related children. As an adopted child and a birth mother, I object to the idea I grew up in a deficient home (and I know you don’t believe that).
I also know of many heterosexual people who have gotten married after the age where having children was the plan. This argument against gay marriage also suggests second marriages, marriages of older people, or marriages where children aren’t the goal are somehow not true marriage.
People can make whatever case they want against marriage equality, but this particular argument undermines many things other than same gender marriage.

You can decide for yourself if I managed to be respectful or not, but I tried.

The comments from her other friends, none of whom are known to me, included phrases such as these:

“When thinking about the legalism of same-sex unions (can’t use the word marriage) this made me realize that we have no idea of the consequences when we stray from God’s law/plan. Not unlike what’s going on in Colorado with the legalization of marijuana! And it seems we already think of the un-born as artifacts – with the ease with which we abort them!”


“…I see the main issue as Man wanting to be his own God. This culture presently runs on what feels good and not on what is good. I agree with Nancy T, same-sex unions are not marriages, regardless of what a human judge has to say. My faith is in the one true Judge, Jesus Christ, and I believe that God did not create us to create human beings in an artificial manner.”


“I agree that few have truly considered the ramifications of these ideas and practices… so it is with so much of human lusts… the blind leading the blind and calling it freedom… oh the darkness of our hearts without the Living Christ!

While none of those people addressed my comment at all, they all implied that by seeing the issue of same gender marriage differently than they do, that I must not be a Christian. The language in their comments set up a world where you either agree with them, or else you have a “dark heart” and don’t know Jesus.

I commented as much. I suggested the conversation would be more helpful if they could see me (and others in favor of marriage equality) as Christians who interpreted Scripture differently than they do instead of people who are living in sin and darkness and denying God’s law.

One of her friends told me not to be so sensitive.

I do believe there is room in the church for people to interpret scripture differently and still call themselves brother and sister. It gets harder when we don’t see our political and doctrinal “opponents” as Christians at all. This fall a blogger compared me to the Nazis because I was working for marriage equality.

I know it happens the other way too. I hear opponents of marriage equality called “bigots”, “modern day Pharisees”, and other names.

As Republicans in state after state (Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Georgia, Arizona, Tennessee, the list is getting longer every day….) keep proposing these “religious freedom” bills, I worry the rhetoric is going to get even more polarized.

I’ve seen this picture floating around the interwebs a lot recently, in response to Arizona’s bill that would allow people of “sincere religious faith” (whatever that means) to deny services to people with whom their “sincere” faith has issues .

lunch counter

To be clear, I don’t think this graphic is incorrect. I do think the comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement are apt. I’m just not sure they are helpful. Once we’ve called people “Jim Crow”, how much space does that give them to change their position? We are painting them into a corner, and they have given us the paint and brushes to do it.

While I agree, on so many levels, that these bills promote only discrimination and have nothing to do with religious liberty, I also worry about comparing well meaning Christians who see the issue differently than I do to racists, or Nazis, or witch burners.

In all of these bills, I sense fear–fear the world is not what it used to be, fear they can’t see what the future will be, fear the control they used to have is gone, and maybe even fear they might have to change the way they’ve seen the world, interacted in the world, and understood the world.

To my friends and family who feel this fear, or who sincerely worry your religious freedom is at risk, what can I do to help alleviate that worry?

Because I don’t see any way your life needs to change.

If your church doesn’t believe homosexuality is compatible with a Christian life, then I support you excluding homosexuals from the life of your church. (And as I’ve said elsewhere, gays and lesbians looking for welcoming congregations–let me know. Ready to help you find a home).

If you don’t support marriage equality, then I support your decision not to attend a same gender wedding as a guest. I support your decision not to get gay married.

Other than that, could you please (seriously, I want to know) help me understand your concern?

How will your religious liberty be negatively affected if other people are allowed to have the same privileges and freedoms you have?

Can we still be brothers and sisters in Christ if I interpret scripture differently than you do?

Can we still be brothers and sisters in Christ if I support marriage equality and support your decision not to?

I truly believe there is room for us to see these issues differently without resorting to passing legislation that codifies discrimination. You don’t really want that either, do you? Because that’s what will happen if these bills get signed in to law.

How can we come back from what feels like the edge of a dangerous precipice, where society is stratified and completely separated?

I’m actively working for marriage equality and an end to discrimination. That won’t change. But I’m also committed to continuing to call people who disagree with me my brothers and sisters in Christ. Can we find a place to meet in the middle?

11 thoughts on “Can We Meet in the Middle?

  1. Someone asked me what would happen if Muslim business owners refused to serve Christians out of religious conviction … or Catholics refused to serve Mormons?

    I’m obviously sympathetic to your question and your POV so I’m not the addressee of your question, but I think you have the right approach — if we are to understand POVs that are drastically different from ours we have to somehow get to a place where they make sense to us at least notionally. I am as close to that as anyone, given all the historical theology and exegesis I have studied and all the conservative relatives I have, and the problem is that as much as I understand those very conservative points of view intellectually, I just don’t sympathize with them. I can explain them, in the sense that in the Calvinist/Reformed cultural tradition, there developed a strand in the 17th c. in particular that involved very deep antipathy to congregational fellowship with those seen to be open sinners (and a rejection of the possibility of taking the Eucharist with them — something that was not as present in the theology of the period as much as people have alleged but) which definitely made it into congregational life and which was a component of congregational life in the colonies and the US as well. I wonder, too, if the current capitalist / consumerist insistence on having a faith that suits one’s emotional needs exactly doesn’t play a role here. The history of churches on the US frontier and in rural areas is not one of exclusionism — people simply couldn’t afford to ignore the people around them. There’s a history of non-denominationalism, cooperation, community and friendly worship in the same buildings that is equally strong and I wonder where the memory of that has gone. But now we don’t have to cooperate, and indeed the web militates against it by bringing people with very strong niche beliefs together in ways that weren’t possible thirty years ago. (This also has its good sides.)

    On the one hand, as an observer of the church/state relationship in the US I’m tiring of this argument that says more or less, “we’ll force you to give up your cultural traditions if they are challenged by the law in any other area, but religion is the one area of culture that we give a pass” but on the other hand I understand the mystification of others with our attitudes because I am equally mystified by theirs.

    “But love and I had the wit to win / We drew a circle that took him in.” I hope you keep asking the question — maybe we can get there somehow if we just keep asking.


    • Thanks. I think the historical context is (always!) important, and certainly illustrative here.
      What would it take for us to remember we need to cooperate? Because you’re right. We certainly act as if we can be our own islands.


      • I don’t mean to sound apocalyptic, here, but probably a disaster with dimensions well beyond those we have seen in our lifetimes.


      • incidentally, another tidbit from the Reformation — on the issue of church discipline (which is one of the marks of the true church, on this view, after the true preaching of the Gospel and the correct administration of the sacraments) the Calvinist / Reformed tradition in the Ref is always dealing with a sort of “challenge” from stricter groups. That is, the Reformed church practices church discipline but in multiconfessional areas where there is the possibility of religious choice (not the case in most of Europe, but the Netherlands / NW Germany is a good example of this), the Reformed churches have to deal with membership bleed to religious groups (most notably Anabaptists, Mennonites) that have stricter church discipline. Note that there’s no indication that groups with stricter discipline led more publicly moral lives or sinned less — simply that they sought that clarity. (I liken it to people nowadays who are preoccupied with dieting — they tend to flock to really extreme diets, I think because they are clearer in their demands, even if they don’t actually manage to conform themselves to the diet in every instance. There’s something about the clarity in itself that is attractive.)


  2. Thank you for this article. I am inclined to believe that speaking from the pole or the most extreme is so much easier than speaking and living from the middle. Speaking from ideology and rhetoric allows us to ignore those who do not fit the status quo. One does not have to think if one speaks from the isolation of the fringe on either side. It is much harder to live in the mess called the middle where we have to watch and see how people live into what and who they say they are. We have become polarized in this country because we no longer wish to engage hard issues and deal with facts and the experiences of people who live in the cracks of society. When this nation was a collection of small towns, people could see what was needed because the love engendered in each situation filled the bill. Now, we need categories and pigeon holes. I admire your wish to stand in the middle. But even in the middle, even in compromise we sell a portion of ourselves. And for the sake of community, that is what we must do, not only to survive, but to follow Jesus. It is the relationship is what counts, not the rules. It is the love that is engendered is what signs Christ in whatever kind of mating that occurs. That cannot be stopped from being a sign of Christ’s love to the world. That is what makes it sacrament, not law.

    We have made marriage in our own image. That is the true sin. Whether heterosexual or gay, the whole society is affected by this ‘two by two’ image that fails to honor the middle, the messy, the non-conformist. It fails to respect the way Christ is manifested in all kinds of relationships. J and I have known a love and faithfulness just as powerful as any marriage for 38 years even if she did just drop her brand-new smart phone in the toilet! I have know marriages to fail for less.


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    • May I ask why you ask? Seems an odd question.
      Perhaps you are a biblical literalist and are suggesting I should be one of 2 wives and 2 concubines of my husband as Jacob did?


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