Sightings: "The Hard Middle" by Martin E. Marty
- Monday, March 1, 2004
The Hard Middle -- Martin E. Marty
"Sensible Center Is Lost in Gay Marriage Debate" headlines a column
by Cokie and Steven Roberts, who have the misfortune of not having
been born or having developed as ideologues. Their approach is rare
in these days when politically the fire-power and firing come from
hard-liners on both extremes, and will grow more rare as this year of
political destruction continues. So it goes in the religiously fired-
up secular world.
In the ecclesiastical world, all U.S. church bodies except the
Unitarian-Universalist and United Church of Christ, who have "moved
on" from the issue, find moderators, presbyters, bishops, presidents,
and lay leaders quaking as they foresee disastrous splits when their
bodies take a vote on "gay marriage" or on ordaining homosexuals who
are in committed relationships.
On that front, in my (ELCA) tribe, Luther Seminary professor Marc
Kolden asks "Can we agree to disagree?" in the Lutheran Forum (Winter
edition; request at bagnall@...). Agree to disagree on
essentials like the Trinity or the Incarnation, or on dealing with
poverty and injustice and homelessness? No, in our epoch the
armament in churchly "culture wars" is in the hands of warriors over
Kolden would be typed as a conservative and finally opposes
ordination of gays and blessing of same-sex unions. One does not
have to follow his theological reasoning or his practical suggestions
("Denominations: don't vote on such things!") to find reasons to take
him seriously when he asks "Can we agree to disagree?" He uses
Dietrich Bonhoeffer's distinction between ultimate and penultimate
matters. Thus, "The Church may allow or accept divorce as the best
solution or at least the lesser evil for a bad marriage, but it
doesn't endorse or promote divorce." Etc. "So also with same-sex
unions: the Church may acknowledge them and include persons in such
unions in its membership, but should not endorse or bless them."
Cokie and Steven Roberts and Marc Kolden appear linked here not
because one agrees with their proposals but because of their
positioning. Often we hear "moderates" and "reconcilers"
and "peacemakers" dismissed as wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed cowards or
dreamers. The more Sightings notes political and churchly battles on
these and other things we find it fair to ask: where is the real
courage being shown during these unsettled times?
Line up with the ideologues on either side of any issue in the
culture wars and you will be fortified by the support of those who
also have everything simply thought out in a complex world. What
looks like courage can then be bluster. But step into the middle,
try to hear both sides, propose ways finally unsatisfactory to both
sides whose minds are made up and whose fists are shaped, and you
will find yourself pelted and fired at from both extremes.
What state and church need these years are the voices of people on
whom flak from the gunners on both sides now falls. Pity them for
trying to find what the late Cardinal Bernardin called a "Common
Ground Initiative" and for which he was almost obscenely attacked.
So, gentle Robertses and Koldens, keep speaking up quietly -- but
wear a helmet!
Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the
author of the column, Sightings, and the Martin Marty Center at the
University of Chicago Divinity School.