Wedge Issues (Part 1)

By Rev. Romal J. Tune 08-11-2008

As we draw closer to the candidate forum at Saddleback Church, I've had several conversations with clergy on the West Coast. Many are wondering if candidates will be asked about abortion and gay marriage. In California there is a ballot initiative on gay marriage, and I'm also hearing that this issue is on the ballot in Florida. No matter how much some people don't want to talk about it, these issues are not going away and they cannot be ignored. I am also among those who have attempted to avoid discussing these two issues, fearing the backlash or getting people off track from talking about other issues on which I work. But perhaps we can engage in a far more healthy discussion about them than we have in the past.

These are the two most divisive issues in the Christian community. I have friends on both sides, and whenever we talk about them I hear a lot of anger toward people on the opposing side. When my liberal friends talk about abortion and gay rights, they talk about ways we can decrease the abortion rate and make it uncommon and rare. When my conservative friends talk about abortion, they talk about sin and the right to life. When my liberal friends talk about gay marriage, they talk about fairness and equality. When my conservative friends talk about gay marriage, they talk about sin.

Homosexuality is not an issue that I fully understand, nor is it one that I have spent time working on with congregations engaged in social justice. But whenever it comes up in discussions around politics, I have given up on engaging in conversations that use the sin argument. I have seen the tears of parents, family members, and friends of people who are gay when they tell the story of how their loved one was treated by the church or heard a sermon condemning them to hell and expressing hatred, including stories of suicide because people felt they had nowhere to turn.

But when I read the Bible and even more so, the Epistles, what I find missing from the conversation is the fact that these are letters to churches. The writers were telling Christians how they should behave in contrast to how those in the world were behaving. Simply put, it's difficult for us to demand that the world conform to biblical standards because they would fail. The only way we are able to live by biblical principles is because we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. The other issue with condemning people for their sins is the reality that God is not done with them (or us) yet. Yes, I believe that we should address sin, but we should do it out of love -- so that people give their lives to Christ -- and not out of judgment or to evoke fear. I find that some of my friends spend more energy talking about sin than they do about love or the fruit of the Spirit.

If we support legislation solely on the premise that certain behaviors are sin, doing so will not do anything to affect a person's relationship with God. My understanding is that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. God has not given us the power to change anyone; it's hard enough trying to change ourselves. The power is in God's hands. Perhaps our assignment is to be connectors, introducing people to God and then letting them have their own conversation.

[to be continued...]

Rev. Romal Tune is the CEO of Clergy Strategic Alliances, a graduate of Howard University and Duke University School of Divinity, and a member of the Red Letter Christians.

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