Responding to DOMA with the spirit of Lincoln

July 2, 2013 § 1 Comment

Yesterday I wrote about reactions to the DOMA decision, arguing that some of the opposition disturbed me in its hyperbole and in its mix of despair and vituperation. I tried to offer an approach more sensitive to the human and personal realities at stake, an approach that takes seriously the moral disagreements without reducing people to political issues, without retreating into enclaves of social media.

As I reflected further, I thought of a great passage from one of my favorite books of the last few years, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It is admittedly a different context, but Lincoln’s comments offer wisdom to anyone engaged in passionate conversation about vital matters, particularly matters that relate to politics and religion. His comments, more importantly, apply to people on all sides of an issue. According to Goodwin:

Rather than upbraid slaveowners, Lincoln sought to comprehend their position through empathy. More than a decade earlier, he had employed a similar approach when he advised temperance advocates to refrain from denouncing drinkers in “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation,” for denunciation would inevitably be met with denunciation, “crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema.” In a passage directed at abolitionists as well as temperance reformers, he had observed that it was the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to “retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.”
Though the cause be “naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel,” the sanctimonious reformer could no more pierce the heart of the drinker or the slaveowner than “penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him.” In order to “win a man to your cause,” Lincoln explained, you must first reach his heart, “the great high road to his reason.” (p. 167-168)
Denunciation does not evangelize. Despair does not persuade. Let’s listen to Lincoln.
Posted by Matt Emerson.

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§ One Response to Responding to DOMA with the spirit of Lincoln

  • Val says:

    I have a very strong background in American History, it was a short leap between branches of social science to get to Theological Studies, but my transcripts look to be the transcripts of a budding history professor.

    Two things that have long disturbed me about DOMA was the idea the Federalism could be shot to hell and states’ rights be trampled to dust because a faction — generally the same faction that loudly promotes the government stay the blsnk away from heir lives — decided a particular issue was not to their taste. That by the stroke of a pen of federal legislature certain rights of states to establish their own governance could be overthrown. The question was called and the issue made it all the way to the Supreme Court. They ruled. The government did exactly what it was supposed to do, like it or not.

    My other — much bigger — problem with DOMA is that by no means do I believe that “marriage” should ever be defined as “between one man and one woman.” Marriage is a covenant relationship. On what will that covenant stand when the day comes when the strength of one greater than “one man” or “one woman” is needed to hold it together. It is naïveté or bold foolishness to think a marriage will not at some point be faced with a challenge of difficult and trying circumstances that will tear it apart if it has to rest on its own strength. I understand — and respect — that the laws and structure of our society do not allow for covenant verbiage within legislation, but it also saddens me that so many championed (and continue to champion) this definition in religious dialogue within their own circles without discussing that marriage is not between two, but among three. Civil and religious mariage are miles apart for their verbiage in this country and in the West. Christians have been, in many ways, asleep for centuries.

    Wouldn’t the best defense of marriage be to work to bring a depth of understanding and support for our relationship with God within marriage?

    I have many hatemongers in my world who define themselves and their faith by everything they are against (one particularly contentious day I found myself arguing against the ideas that we should exclude refugees based on religion and we should exterminate Muslims abroad, I wrote this to draw a line in the sand: ). It grieves me to be classed with these people. My position on Biblical orthodoxy is by no means compromised, but I’m also not tearing leaves out of my Bible to use to light Molotov cocktails to hurl at people I declare “the enemy.”

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