What 2013 Holds, and What It Will Require: Having a Winning Way
A fresh wind seems to be blowing these days. We see it in the decisive election of President Barack Obama to a second term and in the confirmation of marriage equality in Maine, Maryland and Washington state, along with the defeat of a restrictive constitutional amendment on marriage in Minnesota. We also see it in my church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as we adjust to the opening of ordination to all qualified and called members (including our LGBT faithful) and in the first-ever discussion of same-sex marriage at our bi-annual General Assembly.
2012 has certainly served up the potential for a momentous 2013 even as we recognize that there are still formidable challenges before us. The Congress remains under decisive Republican control and over thirty states have laws or constitutional provisions that limit civil marriage to straight couples. In the PCUSA, the qualms of opponents about LGBT inclusion continue to threaten to slow or halt church discussion and action.
As we enter 2013, I would like to put forth, and try to answer, two provocative questions raised on the cusp of the new year: 1) What exactly lies before us this next year and 2) What will it require of us? I am very interested in your thoughts on these to enlighten my own.
What is coming in 2013: More work, more wins
What lies before us all in 2013 are the Supreme Court deliberations and decisions on same-sex marriage, as presented in the challenge to Prop 8 in California and in the challenge to the federal Defense Of Marriage Act from New York. In the PCUSA, we must take seriously the resolution on marriage that passed in 2012—one that called the church to study same-sex marriage—and have a robust conversation about marriage that will lead to overtures for action at the 221st General Assembly in 2014.
In both contexts, same-sex marriage should win. The right to equal consideration under the law to marry should be granted to LGBT Americans because the Constitution guarantees it. Ours is a country ruled by law, not by popular preference or religion.
It is, for sure, a good thing, that popular opinion on same-sex marriage has begun to turn our way. And the PCUSA is slowly waking to all in our heritage that supports same-sex marriage, from the biblical foundation in God’s love for embracing LGBT people and our relationships to our church’s historic tradition of honoring state law regarding marriage and the polity reality that a definition is not a rule. The discussion in the church this next year will lead the way to decisions in 2014. When those come, we should win.
What is required of us: Approach with strength and love, not fear
A friend of mine was deeply involved in the effort in Minnesota to Vote “No” on the constitutional amendment to limit marriage in that state. She gave hours and hours to calling strangers. She told me she came to know when she needed to take a break, walk around the room, chat with other volunteers, regroup in her spirit because of what she heard from people in these conversations.
She knew she needed to make sure these calls were not debates, fights, tirades or rants and that was not easy. She knew she needed to, what I would call, “be winning” in the way she spoke—to approach the conversation from a place of strength and love, not fear. She wasn’t defending her position; she was sharing her joy and commitment to her long-time partner. It was the quality of her approach and her voice that was the most important impression to be left with the person called when they hung up. She worked hard to make sure these were real exchanges between earnest people who are neighbors, all Minnesotans together. She made sure she “had a winning way” about herself every time she punched in a new number.
Reports from friends similarly involved in Washington, Maine and Maryland concerning TV ads, church coffee hour conversations and phone banking reflected the same commitment to “be winning” in every interaction. Our advocates were utterly committed to being strong and approaching these conversations without fear.
This is the approach we need to take in the thousands of conversations we’ll have in 2013 about marriage. What is required of us is this winning way to show others how our relationships reflect and honor marriage.
In the PCUSA, this kind of gracious conversation is what is slowly moving our church to embrace the kind of inclusion that Jesus teaches us. We must continue these conversations in the church in 2013 to open marriage so that it is as inclusive as our ordination process. We know how to reach people’s hearts and minds through this kind of winning church-wide conversation. We must start right away to do it again.
In our country, the Supreme Court will decide the same-sex marriage cases by interpreting the Constitution, but they will do it, in the context of national politics and mood. The court swims like a fish in the sea of public opinion. Though the Justices may not acknowledge it, they listen and adjust to it, which gives us much to do right away in 2013.
We must engage in thousands and thousands of conversations about marriage, especially with church people. We need to be strong, kind, attentive, honest and sincere. Agreeing is way less important than ending with both knowing that the other person is good and lives a good life, that the other is my neighbor. This endearing seed will bear its winning fruit, creating an atmosphere that pushes back all malice or ill will. And the Supreme Court will pick that up.
So I know my New Year’s resolution: to find the place in the PCUSA and our country where I can participate directly in these crucial conversations. Will you join me? And what else do you see?
May the peace of Christ be always with you,
Reverend Janet Edwards