Lessons from a striped shirt

Meredith Flynn —  June 6, 2013

pull quote_FLYNNCOMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn

Do you ever get the feeling everybody’s looking at you? It happened to me a week ago, when I spent the day at the Illinois Capitol waiting for an anticipated vote on the same-sex marriage bill.

Those of you who read the coverage on this blog know that vote never happened. The bill’s sponsoring representative, Greg Harris, announced that his fellow legislators needed time to go home and talk to their constituents before they could come back in the fall and vote “yes” for same-sex marriage.

That’s the official news, which you likely already knew. What you don’t know is that, in retrospect, I felt as if I almost caused an incident because of a fashion decision.

That morning I chose to wear a bright, multi-colored shirt with horizontal stripes. Almost like a rainbow. I chose it because it’s pretty, no other reason. During the course of the day, it became apparent that my apparel was making a statement I did not intend.

That day, advocates on both sides of the debate held rallies in the Capitol rotunda. The pro-traditional marriage group met first to pray together. An hour later, a larger group of same-sex marriage supporters met. And that’s where I realized my clothes might be talking for me.

I was snapping photos for the Illinois Baptist newspaper, like I’d done at the previous gathering, when a friendly lobbyist stopped to talk to me. I knew she was working for conservative groups that opposed the legislation, and I had noticed earlier how polite she was to some same-sex marriage advocates who had listened in on the prayer meeting. I complimented her on that, and she said something like, “Well I think we can disagree on some things and still agree on others…like you and I probably agree on lots of things.”

I thought, well sure we do, including this. But as she kept talking, I realized she assumed she and I were on different sides of the marriage debate. Then, I noticed someone taking a cell phone photo of me. I looked down at my shirt.

Oh.

Then, uh-oh.

In a matter of moments, my (overactive) imagination envisioned those photos posted on Facebook, then CNN, with people making all kinds of assumptions about me and my beliefs, based on my colorful shirt.

“I better call my husband,” I thought to myself. “And my mom.”

Later, calmer, I began to consider this: As a reporter, I’ve tried to tell the Illinois marriage story fairly, while still holding firmly our convictions that God designed marriage as a union between one man and one woman. But in the moments when I feared my own identity might be in question, I realized how very personal the marriage debate is for the people who are involved.

For a moment, I saw the issue from a different angle. I considered from a new perspective why so much of the debate has been rancorous, why the atmosphere in the House gallery last Friday grew more and more tense as the vote was delayed, and why some same-sex marriage advocates are so angry with Christians.

And after my own brief fears that I would be identified as standing opposite my readers and my employer, I came to see how important it is that we as Christians have a loving attitude – compelled by how deeply we ourselves are loved by a holy God – toward those with whom we disagree.

This marriage business is a serious business; it’s emotional, and where we stand on it is closely tied to our identity. As people, as fellow citizens, as believers in Christ. Let’s walk in truth and in love – a precarious balance sometimes – so that others might look past the stripes on shirts, and see the One we’re called to reflect.

That said, I still think my shirt is pretty.

Meredith Flynn

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Meredith is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.