Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Creating More Room for Dialogue

In the previous post below, I described what my church did and didn't do in the yearlong dialogue on marriage among churches in the UCC Kansas-Oklahoma Conference. Today, I'll share one step that the UCC and its conferences might consider to promote dialogue.

On Friday afternoon at the KS-OK conference annual meeting, I had a pleasant lunch with 77- year-old Bob Lemon, a practicing attorney and delegate from Mayflower Church in Oklahoma City. He told me this story:

"Years ago in Texas our church was approached by PFLAG. They asked if they could hold their meetings at our church. The vote was 35-1. I was the only one who voted in favor."

I asked Bob, "Do you have any suggestions on how someone in the minority, like myself at this conference, should handle himself?"

When you're in the minority, you obviously don't have the power of the majority. Yet, the majority--especially in the church--has some obligations to the minority, even as it exercises its majority privileges.

When lunch was over, Bob asked, "There's a movie showing tonight at 10:00pm called Inlaws and Outlaws. I've seen it twice. It's very good. Would you see it with me?"

I thought to myself, "Golly, when a 77 year old gentlemen asks you to stay up late to watch a movie, what's your excuse?"

I told Bob, "I'll be there, but you buy the popcorn."

I watched the movie--it persuasively advocated Bob's position that marriage can and should have a broad definition (not necessarily one man-one woman)--to reflect our diverse culture.

Afterwards I thought, "What is here at this conference that I can invite Bob to--that would reflect my view of marriage?"

Other than our resolution, there wasn't anything.

When I attended the conference sponsored marriage dialogue training back in January, the only material recommended for discussing the meaning of marriage was the UCC produced "God is Still Speaking about Marriage." That material advocates only one position--and it isn't the traditional definition of marriage.

But isn't that intellectually dishonest? To offer only one side of the story and not the other? Especially on an issue so difficult and dividing as same gender marriage?

Here's another example. This weekend our delegates debated and voted on a living wage resolution. It advocates the conference and its churches pay its employees not the state's minimum wage, but a "living wage" of $9.60 an hour.

On the meeting schedule was a "pro" living wage presentation. On top of that, the presenter was former UCC President Paul Sherry. Nothing was scheduled for the other side--even though legitimate concerns surfaced during the formal debate.

I realize it puts conference organizers in an awkward position to have a seminar that opposes what a former UCC president advocates, but isn't presenting a fair debate the UCC way? To provide dialogue from all sides, before a decision is made? When the annual meeting has on its schedule a seminar for only one of the points of view, isn't the outcome of the vote already decided?

When the UCC debates hotplate issues in the future--nationally and conference wide--it'd be wise to provide an equal platform to both sides--so each can layout their case.

Bob, I know what it's like to be the 1.

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