[October 11, 2013]
In the wake of my “Why Speak Out on Gay Marriage?” post I received some thought-provoking comments and emails, which led me to think further about the situation of people who support traditional marriage, but live in communities where that opinion is socially disapproved. Here’s an email I sent to a correspondent living in the Pacific Northwest:
Thanks for writing. I am realizing that I live in a bubble. People who are involved in their communities on the ground level are in more of a bind about this. Current opinion has become the “new normal,” and to resist it is to send up flares, designating yourself a bad, untrustworthy person. For my part, I’m a grandma so have no kids in public schools, I worship in a traditional local congregation, and in my work-life engage mostly with thoughtful, intelligent people who agree or disagree in a civil way. I understand that many people are in more of a bind, not free to hold their own private opinions, but socially pressured to demonstrate allegiance to the new opinion.
There’s a line in the story of the Martyrs of Lyons (177 AD) that always struck me. It says that the persecution was at first social; fellow citizens mocked them, then beat them, then confiscated their goods, and then broke the controversy over into the legal/justice realm by causing them to be imprisoned. It began with social reprisals, but progressed to engaging the power of the state against them, until they were tried by the governor and sentenced to die, as entertainment, in the arena. That gradual shift, from social disapproval to imprisonment and death. We can picture a similar pattern for ourselves, that the view that we are hateful and murderous provokes first mocking by fellow-citizens, but could expand to more serious consequences.
It’s good to keep in mind that the citizens of Lyons thought Christians were doing truly awful things. The rumor was that they were cannibals, baby-killers, and practiced incest. The degree of public outrage is reasonable, given that belief. The story says that these citizens did “everything an infuriated mob delights to inflict on those it considers bitter enemies;” people who would do such outrageous things were indeed bitter enemies. Likewise Christians and people who hold to traditional marriage are seen as evil and hateful, a threat to society. Seeing someone in such extreme terms tends to excuse any sort of reprisal. You have to keep in mind how the citizens of Lyons thought Christians really were thoroughly evil.
That’s another reason I don’t “speak out” against it. At this point, there is nothing new that can be said, nothing that could actually inform popular opinion. It’s not that we just haven’t found the right words yet. The story has already shifted from being about two points of view, to being about two kinds of people, good and bad. When a controversy reaches that point, people don’t even listen to each other’s words anymore. They just try to quickly determine which side someone is on, and line up with or against him.
“Speaking out” still does good in terms of strengthening the faithful, and it is the responsibility of church leaders, in particular, to do that. But once an idea becomes fashionable, as this is, it’s nearly impossible to change minds. People just aren’t listening any more. The average person is going to fall all over himself demonstrating agreement with the new thinking. The number of people who will stand against popular opinion is always going to be very small. They would be the people who feel that something else has a more important claim on them, and that this outweighs whatever an angry crowd might do.
I don’t know that there is any way to respond to this except to prepare for it by praying a lot. Strive always to love those who hate you. Never forget that we aren’t dealing with a fog-like “movement” but with real three-dimensional persons, whom God loves just as much as he loves you. Christ saves only sinners—people like you. So be courageous, but always loving, for the battle is not won or lost on the public stage but inside the yearning heart of every person.