Is sweet debate a pie in the sky?

Meredith Flynn —  February 28, 2013

cherry pieCOMMENTARY | On one special day every year, the Illinois State Capitol fills with the aroma of fresh-baked pie. Dubbed “Cherry Pie Day,” the event draws homeschooling families from across the state to Springfield, where they deliver the homemade desserts to legislators. It’s their way to thank lawmakers for their service, and to “sweeten the deal” while lobbying them on behalf of homeschooling interests.

Recently, a different group of volunteer lobbyists headed to the Capitol in support of a traditional definition of marriage. As the temperature outside hovered in the mid-20s, they prayed together under the gaze of a statue of Abraham Lincoln, and then streamed into the building to lobby their legislators to vote no on HB 10, the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.

A few steps from the gathering, a debate rose between a handful of the rally attenders, and two lone protesters who had come in favor of same-sex marriage. The dialogue bounced back and forth, intense but not ugly. Just each side having their say.

The speakers were eloquent, and each spoke directly from his or her experience. These were obviously well thought-out opinions, and deeply rooted. And, while they answered each other so quickly that they couldn’t have been listening very well, it was the very definition of a civil disagreement.

But it was still uncomfortable, especially compared to the rousing unity of the rally. As people walked by the small debating group, most of them kept a safe distance.

This is likely true of most conflicts, and it’s certainly been on display in the same-sex marriage debate in Illinois: It’s easier to express opinions – elegantly, even – with people who agree with you. But there’s nothing as messy as staring eye-to-eye with an opponent who fully believes he or she is right, on the very topic on which you believe they’re dead wrong.

That’s what the group on the Capitol lawn was doing. Both sides stared down the uncomfortable notion of disagreement and faced into the awkwardness of expressing an opinion, when someone was waiting to refute it with their next breath.

As Christians are navigating the difficulties of same-sex marriage in Illinois, surely many have wondered how they can “sweeten the deal” when they talk to their friends and families and acquaintances about the issue. Without the comfort of cherry pie, what can they add to their argument to help others see that it’s a valid view? How can they hope to turn the cultural tide with their words, when there are so many voices saying the opposite?

The answer was on display that day on the Capitol steps: It’s clear-eyed, unwavering, thoughtful, calm, prayed-through debate. And it will require courage and humility and a willingness to examine long-held beliefs. The only chance opponents of same-sex marriage have to add any sweetness to these conversations is to actually have them. Maybe over pie.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.