Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gay Marriage and Abortion: Not the Same Thing

Granted, no one has said they ARE the same thing. But lately, with all the press, they often get lumped together. They do share, however, the polemic and caricatures mentioned by President Obama in his speech at Notre Dame. The main difference is that gay marriage is a legal issue, while abortion is an ethical issue. And while I am an admitted absolutist, I only fall on the side of black and white with the former.

For centuries, there have been groups of people with rights that have attempted to withhold those same rights from other groups of people. They have gone so far as to quote scripture in support of their views. Slave owners felt justified in their position by quoting the Bible. God was on their side-at least in their perspective. Luckily, they lost the battle. Later on, men attempted to withhold rights from women. Again quoting the Bible. They lost as well. In the whole of history, the group attempting to withhold rights from another group has always lost. Thank God.

This country is built on the belief that all people are created equal and have the same rights. This is built into our founding documents, reiterated on the battlefield of Gettysburg by one of our greatest Presidents, and is still true today. Everyone is created equal and has the same rights.

Gay marriage is a legal issue and only a legal issue. Some people have the right to marry. Another group doesn't. This is not in line with our belief that everyone has the same rights. Gay marriage must be allowed if we are to believe that all people are created equal and have the same rights. While allowing this, we should not force any organization to marry a couple they have a religious reservation in marrying. But the legality of gay marriage should not be denied.

Some opponents say "Oh, well if we allow gay marriage we will end up having to allow plural marriage or marriage to turtles." This is merely a deflection. And a bad one at that. NO ONE is allowed plural marriage. There is not one group that is allowed plural marriage while attempting to withhold that right from others. Therefore the analogy is moot.

The demand for gay marriage is legally sound. The demand for a woman's right to an abortion or for a ban on abortion is not so simple.

Abortion is an ethical issue. At the foundation of the debate is the answer to the question "When does life begin?" Any performance of an abortion AFTER that point would be, by definition, murder. The anti-abortion group thinks life begins at conception. The pro-choice group thinks it begins later. President Obama was right to conclude that the answer to that question is "beyond his pay-grade." The answer to that question is a personal and individual one. Personally, I believe life begins at conception. This does not, however, make me a hypocrite for wanting to preserve the legal status quo. I admit that other people are allowed a different answer to the question.

Lastly, President Obama's most salient point in his speech at Notre Dame was the call for a decrease in the number of abortions. Regardless of on what side one falls, reducing the number of abortions performed is a common goal everyone can get behind. Abortions for convenience's sake, regardless of one's answer to when life begins, are despicable. End them now. Not through law, however, but through action. Peer pressure is powerful and not always negative. Not violent pressure like screaming at women entering a clinic. "Resist not the evil-doer." But by fair minded words and love.

I will, however, say something the President didn't--if the Catholic Church is going to take such a strong stand against abortion, it is their responsibility to also reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies by removing the doctrine against birth control.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Church-time Distractions

I wrote this for the newsletter of the church I serve as Music Director for. Feel free to steal it. Giving credit, hopefully!

I used to love to go to the movies. Even bad ones. There was something magical about a movie that removed me from my everyday routine and placed me in a magical world. Even though I was aware of sitting in a theatre staring at a screen, the magic of Hollywood was enough to allow me to forget about reality and immerse myself in another world. Movies easily convince the audience to believe in the unbelivable. Dramatic theorists call this the “willing suspension of disbelief.” While being aware that the actions taking place on the screen are at the least improbable, I let it slide for the time being in order to remain in the other-world of the movie. That’s the magic of it.

Church is magical as well. When in church, we remove ourselves from everyday life and place ourselves in a sacred space AND time. Worship service in itself is something out of the ordinary. Whether it takes place in a church or on the beach, the time set aside for worship is magical. Christianity also has its own version of the willing suspension of disbelief. Tell any passerby on the street that you are going to die and rise up again in three days and they will likely keep on walking. This feeling, however, when applied to Christianity, would be more accurately titled a “willing affirmation of faith.” It isn’t a belief in the unbelievable as much as it is a faith in the unprovable. This magical feeling of being in the presence of God and communing with fellow congregants is an important function of the church service.

The question arises, “Why did you USED to love going to the movies?” The magical feeling of the movies is a tight rope act. The slightest nudge in either direction throws you out of the magical world and back into the everyday world. It became too difficult to go to the movies without having that magical feeling interrupted by rowdy teenagers, talkative adults, and ringing cell phones.

Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday gave me a chance to sit with my family in the congregation. The difference between work and worship is a different topic, but along with all the positive aspects of worshipping from the pew instead of the organ bench, I noticed that our congregation is not very good at preventing these distractions from the sacred feeling of church. I was downright embarrassed when (insert your organist's name) started her prelude and I couldn’t hear the organ over the conversations in the pews. The service starts with the Prelude. It is at that point, if not before, that we turn our minds and hearts to worship. The conversations were not, however, limited to just the Prelude. When I was still playing at St. Matthews Episcopal, an interim rector made a point of having the following saying printed at the very top of every bulletin:

Before the service, talk to God.
During the service, let God talk to you.
After the service, talk to each other.

I challenge the membership of (insert your church name here) to follow this simple saying. I don’t think we should expect better behavior from a movie audience than from a worship service congregation.