As the events surrounding the vote on Amendment 1 recently unfolded in North Carolina, I struggled to formulate what an appropriate response should look like from an interfaith perspective. Religious communities in North Carolina stood passionately on both sides of the issue. Personal views clouded my initial response. In the context of my own Christian faith and views on social justice, I see marriage equality as essential regardless of sexual orientation. I also believe that no state constitution should openly discriminate against any person regardless of the issue at hand.
I know that many people have a different opinion on this issue. Some of these people are my friends, whom I greatly respect. A good number of them are devout and passionate about their faith. Is there a space for opposing sides on the issue of Amendment 1 to learn from each other? I would argue that there has to be. While people are not going to come to agreement over contentious issues, I believe there is still room for meaningful conversation to foster mutual understanding.
Author, educator and activist Parker Palmer provides a great model for how to approach difficult topics through what he calls habits of the heart. Palmer tells us that in order for democracy to survive in our polarized society, people need to choose to endorse chutzpah and humility. Palmer defines chutzpah as knowing that we all have a voice, which has the right to be heard. To complement chutzpah, Palmer also calls out the need for humility, which he defines as the realization that "my truth is always partial -- and may not be true at all, so I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to the other."
The world continues on after the Amendment 1 vote. People need to find ways to live with each other and hold tension rather than escalating it. Instead of the predictable name calling of those who disagree with us, I suggest something a little different. An organization called the Public Conversations Project provides a great model for us to consider. This organization coordinates retreats around issues like abortion, where people come together from different perspectives. Instead of revealing their position right away, participants share stories of personal experiences that led them to their views. It is not until the very end of the retreat when people state their actual position.
While it is not feasible for everyone on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate to come together for dialogue retreats (wouldn't it be great if it was though!), I believe that we can take a lesson from the Public Conversations Project. Churches and religious organizations were some of the strongest voices in this debate on both ends of the spectrum, which is often the case on important social policy decisions. I urge people approaching this debate from a religious lens, to also consider this an opportunity for interfaith and religious literacy. We need to engage with each other in spaces where we are allowed to speak from our own experiences first, as we do in interfaith dialogue, so people can listen generously and understand how we came to our views first. While differences are not going to disappear, mutual respect is more likely to be developed. As Parker Palmer said in his book "Healing the Heart of Democracy," "the more you know about another's person's story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy."