This week marks the 225th anniversary of the day the Philadelphia Convention concluded four long months of deliberation with the signing of the Constitution of the United States of America. What started with the intention of revising the states’ Articles of Confederation turned into a four month process to build an entirely new set of governing documents from scratch. Needless to say, when you gather 55 delegates from twelve of the thirteen states, emotions and opinions were both in ample supply. Just before the signing of the Constitution, one of the delegates from Pennsylvania (a man by the name of Benjamin Franklin) stood and addressed the congress with a few words intended to quiet some of the apparent differences of opinion among the group. Here are a few of the words he spoke that day:
“I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.”
More than two-hundred years later, we live in a society that, though drastically different, hasn’t changed all that much in regard to our opinions. We still hold fast to the opinions which, in many ways, have cemented themselves in the recesses of our minds as non-negotiable truths. Oftentimes we are warranted to hold so dearly to the views we espouse, because those views are foundational to our fundamental belief systems. They define us.
Other times, however, I am afraid that we have a tendency to fall prey to holding so tightly to our own opinions that we refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of, much less give genuine thought to the other side of an argument.
This month, our church hosted an event entitled “Sincerely” where a panel of six pastors from five different churches got together to offer earnest responses to genuine questions that skeptics of the Christian faith sometimes have. One of those questions dealt with one of the most divisive hot-topic issues of our day: the debate over same-sex marriage.
As is the case with any hot-topic issue in our society, opinions abound. There are good people across our fine country on both sides of this issue with very strong opinions about what is best for us as a nation. Even amongst the panel of six pastors represented there that night, there was some variance of opinion. Though all six pastors stood (or more literally, sat) united on the main argument about the sacred, spiritual institution of marriage, a few of us found ourselves unsure about how we felt concerning the civil institution of a relationship recognized by the state but called something other than marriage.
That night, I took it upon myself to voice my honest recognition of a real tension between my desire to protect the spiritual institution of marriage and my desire to offer equality in a society that is built upon just such a foundational truth. And what I did, instead of offering an eloquent and genuine explanation of the tension I was feeling inside of me, was offer a jumbled, confusing mess rolling off a stuttering, stammering tongue. Call it nerves because of the night or because of the delicacy and weight of the issue. Either way, I really stunk it up.
And in doing so, I feel like I may have confused a few people who have, until this point, seemed to value my opinion on spiritual matters. If I confused you, let me begin by saying quite simply: I’m sorry. I never expected to be so unable to articulate what was going on inside me. But I want to go further than that. At the urging of a dear friend who graciously pointed out that I am far better with the written word than I am with being put on the spot, I decided to write this post to clarify my stance on same-sex marriage, civil unions, and marriage in general.
In the weeks since that stumbling trip down stammering lane, I have learned a lot. The differences of opinion held amongst the pastors I sat alongside on that panel, several of whom I respect more highly than anyone else in our city, have really challenged me to spend some time considering this issue that I have long neglected to offer any real and fair consideration. Once I decided to put some genuine, humble thought into this situation, I was surprised by the complexity I found. Like Mr. Franklin said 225 years ago, I have been “obliged by better information or fuller consideration” as I have delved deeply into my own understanding of this issue. And though my opinion has not wholly changed, I feel far better equipped to explain it to any open ear interested in knowing what I think about the topic.
I would be inclined to make one request of you, reader, before you proceed. And I will borrow a few more of Ben Franklin’s words from his speech that day to make my request. In his conclusion, Franklin asked each member of the congress if he would “on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility.” I’m not asking you to change your opinion on this issue. I don’t think any amount of eloquent waxing on my part could ever accomplish that. I’m just asking you to humbly and thoughtfully consider my opinion as you form yours.
I undertook this task hoping to express myself in one, long blog post. Having now finished my post, I realized it was far too long of an explanation to cover in a single post. So I’ve broken my thoughts down into four smaller posts (including this one) that I will be posting here over the next few days. As you plow through them, I ask of you the same courtesy that Mr. Franklin asked of his peers so many years ago. Please read these posts with humility. And if you’re the praying type, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to throw some of that in there too. Now that I’ve finished the longest post introduction in the history of blogging, I will turn my attention to the issue at hand…