Tonight I had the privilege to participate in a conversation at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on the subject of Amendment One.
The social justice committee of the church sponsored the event. We began with a prayer, which seemed like a good idea to me. The moderator then invited me to speak about the legal issues concerning Amendment One. After I finished, six church members spoke about Amendment One from their faith-based perspectives, three “for” and three “against” the amendment. Then the church members in attendance had the chance to weigh in with comments and questions.
This was a well run discussion. Honest and respectable.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church is a beautiful church. It is quaint and historic. And when you step inside, you feel that you have moved into a true comfort zone. Given the volatile nature of the topic — Amendment One — this venue helped provide a calming influence for the discussion.
I felt a bit awkward at first, because the podium I used to spread my papers is the same podium used for scripture readings. It had a microphone that let me work “hands free”, but I couldn’t help thinking as I stood there that this spot was not meant for me, a lawyer talking about legal issues, but for the important activities of the Bible.
And yet, as I stood there talking, and as I looked out at the attentive audience, I began to get more comfortable with my use of the lectern. I am not sure why, but I felt comforted by the fact that the people present wanted to listen, and wanted to learn.
The truly brave souls in this conversation, however, were the ones in the six seats up front.
Three of the panelists expressed the reasons their faith is leading them to vote “for” the amendment. And three of the panelists talked about why their faith is leading them in the opposite direction.
The thing that struck me most about these six individuals was the faith behind their positions and the honesty and compassion with which they expressed their faith.
It may sound odd to say that someone in favor of the amendment can be compassionate to the rights of others, but it was there for all to see. The “for” panelists weren’t bashing the opposition. They weren’t throwing stones. They weren’t talking about sins or the evils of homosexuality. They were thoughtful. They had given this issue a lot of consideration. They had studied the Bible. And they were expressing opinions about the sacrament of marriage and their belief that it should be between one man and one woman.
The panelists “against” the amendment were equally honest and persuasive. They told stories about their faith and how the amendment, if passed, could impact persons they know and care about. One panelist, who is gay, talked about how he and his partner are raising their two children, and the concerns he has about an Amendment that could create legal problems for his family.
There was no hostility among the panelists. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. Perhaps it was the church setting. Perhaps it was something more.
Too often in this debate, one side wants to condemn the other side. Or one side wants to stereotype the other side. Or one side wants to ridicule the other side. Or worse yet, one side wants to refuse to “listen” to the other side.
In this discussion, there was listening going on by all involved. When the audience peppered the “for” panelists about how the amendment will prevent civil unions (and therefore is about more than just marriage) they all listened, and some of the “for” panelists even said they were open to the idea of civil unions. They wanted to learn more about that issue.
St. Peter’s must be doing something right to be able to come together and “talk” about a topic with such political, social, legal and religious dimensions.
Contrast this with my experience at the WFAE forum at Spirit Square. The panelist who spoke on the “for” side was talking as fast as he could, using questionable data, making strange arguments about how the amendment will protect marriage and listening to nothing but his own echo. The audience got hostile at times and the temperature seemed to rise in the room. Not at St. Peter’s.
And why is that? Why is it that an open conversation about a marriage amendment can take place in a Catholic Church in the first place, and in the second place, run as smoothly as it did? Maybe the answer to this riddle lies in the fact that not all churches are about the business of judging others, as much as people may think otherwise. That certainly didn’t happen on this night.
For anyone concerned about Amendment One, for anyone worried about the legal effects of Amendment One, for anyone who may be affected by Amendment One, take heart. There are people of faith who are willing to listen.
And it seems to me that if Amendment One does pass, having a faith-based community in your corner is not a bad place to be.