"We've been talking about this for weeks," he shouted. "It's not hard, people, yet we keep dancing around the issue. I'm sick of it. We need to vote now and move on."
The vote in question, from a church meeting some 25 years ago, concerned whether to expel a member who had come out as gay. I could share all the mitigating circumstances--we were young, we had at least one foot in evangelical Christianity, it was 1989--but none of that eased the trauma of the event. Some of us are still sorting out the emotional ramifications.
Yet this fellow (whose words I have approximated in the quote above) wanted to "move on."
To be fair, he is not alone--not by a long shot. In dialogue after dialogue, controversy after controversy, I've heard people all over the spectrum of politics and faith lose their cool and just want it done. Some of them hope that, if they can close the door on the issue, the people on the other side will go away.
The Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has me thinking about this. How will we "move on" in the wake of the decision? Whom do we hope will go away?
The answers do not come easily, particularly for people of faith. Part of the reason involves what we need. The other part is what we are called to.
First the need: Sometimes moving on has to happen. We have other pressing matters to address, and the controversy at hand leaves them neglected. I've heard this very argument in the Episcopal Church, my faith home, over the marriage equality debate: why are we arguing over this when we should be serving the poor and feeding the hungry?
Sometimes the pain of these dialogues overwhelms us, and we have to take a break: from the issue, from the people on the other side, or both. Maybe, for a while, we put the dialogue on hiatus to regain our balance, or we spend time with allies to refresh our souls. Depending on the depth and intensity of the hurt, for a while can mean days, or it can mean years.
There is, of course, a world of hurt around the battle for marriage equality. We have been fighting it for a generation. Exhaustion is widespread. Many LGBTQIA people would be glad never to meet another conservative Christian, and vice versa.
This, I think, is what many people mean by moving on: they want to slam the door on further dialogue. They want to send the other side away forever.
That's where the calling comes in.
As people of faith, we can say two things about ourselves and our lives with a high degree of confidence. First, we don't know much. Mystery and ambiguity lie at the heart of faith. Christianity affirms a God who is one and also three; Hinduism describes a Supreme Being so beyond our ken that even the word Being is inaccurate.
With all this uncertainty, there is always a chance that, as we learn more over the years, we may need to alter some of our stances--even, occasionally, overhaul them. That deep "I don't know" should not keep us from living out our convictions in the present moment. It should inspire us to keep hearing one another: if not on the controversy at hand, at least for all the other ideas we have to offer.
Second, we are called to compassion for everyone. If we humans, as a species, have learned anything from the grand sweep of faith and values, it is surely this. Our opponents may be our opponents, but they are also people--God-bearers.
Not everyone can leave the door ajar. No victim of abuse, for example, should ever be criticized for closing the door on her abuser. Everyone needs a sphere of safety. But when we close the door because we are impatient, because we are exhausted, because we think the issue is simple, we fall short of the deepest and best selves to which God has called us.
What does this mean for the Supreme Court decision? For most of us, it means finding a way to keep engaging the other side. With clenched teeth, perhaps, with an agreement to disagree for a while, at least, but turning our hearts to stay in touch. Because ultimately, there is no other side. There is just us, all of us, together in this world whether we like it or not.
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