Okay friends and readers, I’m writing a post that I really do not want to write. Politics is a very un-favorite topic of mine. On the other hand, this particular year, I feel compelled to open up this conversation.
In short, I’m trying to understand why Donald Trump is so popular, and with whom.
I have my opinions about these things. Journalists and pundits are busily broadcasting theirs.
But I’m interested in hearing from actual people I may be acquainted with. And in my own social world – physical and virtual – I really haven’t come across friends or acquaintances who support him; and when I imagine a Trump supporter, I have a hard time picturing anyone I personally know.
So am I that out of touch with my community, my country? I could easily identify many acquaintances as Ted Cruz supporters, and though I disagree with them, I feel like I basically understood where they were coming from.
But Trump. Why? And the question that haunts me even more, do I know anyone who’s supporting him, or are we such a polarized society that someone like me can be so isolated from the majority of Republican voters?
I welcome your comments and conversation here. Because this is a potentially VERY explosive topic, I will be moderating comments for respectfulness and do my very best to make this a safe place for genuine listening and conversation. It’s not easy for me to delete comments, but I’m willing to do that if I deem it necessary.
Also, if you are not a Trump supporter, I ask that you refrain from posting your own opinion about why people are supporting him. If you can relate a story or observations about actual people you know who are Trump supporters, that might be helpful. But there’s no need to explain why you disagree with them or with Trump. That’s a separate topic that I’m not interested in discussing here.
My marriage is a living violation of the separation of church and state.
On May 2, 1998, a pastor pronounced my marriage to be legitimate based on “the authority vested in me as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the laws of the state of Minnesota.”
How did we get here? Is there any other legal ceremony that is routinely performed as a church service?
In his book Beyond “I Do:” What Christians Believe About Marriage, Douglas J. Brouwer gives us a little history lesson:
It might surprise you to know that, in the beginning, the church took relatively little interest in marriage. Early in church history, celibacy was considered to be the preferred state. It was practically sacred. The Apostle Paul said as much in 1 Corinthians 7:1.
And marriage? Well, at the beginning it was all but ignored. As one writer puts it, “When asked, some priests might come by and say a blessing as a favor, just as they’d say a blessing over a child’s first haircut.” But that was about it.
Roman law spelled out most of the requirements for marriage, and, following the words of Jesus, most early Christians were content to “render unto Caesar” in matters pertaining to marriage.
Another seemingly small but critically important characteristic of marriage in the early days of the church is that marriage was typically announced rather than pronounced . . . Early on, couples – or rather, families – would simply announce that there was going to be a marriage, and the church took little notice.
At the beginning the church didn’t pronounce a couple to be married. Church ceremonies to mark the beginning of a marriage were largely unknown . . .
Centuries rolled by with virtually no change to this arrangement. But then something began to happen. Historians don’t agree on all of the details, but what seems clear is that power became an issue. Slowly and unevenly, the church began to exert its control over Europe’s social and political life, and this included the writing of laws pertaining to marriage, family, and sex. In 774, for example, the pope gave Charlemagne, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a set of writings that defined marriage and condemned all deviations from it.
But it wasn’t until 1215, nearly twelve hundred years after Pentecost, that the Roman Catholic Church formally decreed marriage to be a sacrament – the least important one, to be sure, but a sacrament nonetheless. Equally important, the church established a systematic canon law for marriage – with a system of ecclesiastical courts to enforce it. These actions, it’s important to see, profoundly shaped our understanding and practice of marriage until the last century.
I’m not sure why Brouwer stops at “the last century.” It seems that these actions continue to profoundly shape our understanding and practice of marriage. In my state of Minnesota, we will soon be voting on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, although it is already illegal for same-sex couples to marry in Minnesota. Many people – both for and against this amendment – seem to have no problem viewing the legal entity of marriage as the terrain of both the church and the state.
But the state does not – or should not – legislate marriage in order to define proper sexual ethics. The state legislates marriage because it is a legally binding contract between people. For various reasons, often including a sexual relationship but not always, two people decide to share their lives, including their physical property and whatever children they may produce – or adopt, or care for – together. Just as there are laws pertaining to individuals and laws pertaining to business corporations, marriage laws are (or should be) formulated to legislate the domestic partnership that two (or maybe more!) people set up together.
I anticipate some protests – “You’re making room for polygamy!” “Domestic partnerships are fine, but keep marriage sacred!” And I’ll respond momentarily.
The state sets up laws to protect people and their property from harm. These laws are supposed to be agreed upon outside the realm of religious beliefs, but within the realm of generally-accepted societal mores. And what chafes many conservatives is that our society decided, a while ago now, that homosexual behavior between consenting adults is generally acceptable. So, although it is currently not the case in most of our states, laws pertaining to marriage should not take sexual behavior into account; since our society has generally agreed that consensual sexual behavior between of-age adults, aside from any harm inflicted on people or their property, is not a legal issue.
Okay, to protest number one: polygamy. Currently, polygamy is illegal. To be honest, I’m not really sure it should be (in light of the previous paragraph). My brilliant husband dealt with this argument in this blog post on his Release of Marriage Act blog, so I will refer you there and not restate everything. In summary, the state should be legislating harmful and abusive behavior, in addition to legislating the ins and outs of shared domestic life. If children are being abused or women (or men) are being forced into relationships they do not want, then there are other laws already on the books to protect them. The state does not need to define how many people, or what gender or ethnicity of people, can enter into domestic partnerships.
(I say this through gritted teeth because as a feminist I am no fan of polygamy. I think of children being brought up in such a household, and I cringe. It’s powerfully difficult to reassess everything you were taught was normal from your earliest years. Many women in fundamentalist Mormon multiple marriages would never look at their marriage as being “forced” on them, would be grateful for the secure home their husband has made for his wives and children – and yet, I may look at those women and grieve for the potential in each of them that will never be realized. If these sentiments sound a little familiar, they are. Don’t think I can’t sympathize with the feelings of someone who opposes children being brought up by a same-sex couple simply because I don’t oppose the same particular issue. People living in a free and democratic nation must be willing to compromise.)
On to the second protest – domestic partnerships are all well and good, but let’s keep marriage sacred. I agree with this. Whatever is “sacred” about marriage should be preserved in its proper place – the religious sphere. Individual churches and denominations should have the freedom to decide how they dispense their sacraments, conduct their ceremonies, label their orthodox worshipers and heretics. As long as they do not violate the laws of the land. This basically means, please don’t burn your heretics at the stake. Please do not abuse children. Oh, I know it can and does get much more complicated than this, but as complicated and polarized as it has become, we do still have a legal system in this nation that works fairly well when compared with the world at large.
So, if we are really down to simple semantics and some of our religious citizens are deeply offended by the state calling something beyond a one-man one-woman domestic partnership “marriage,” there is at least one solution. Let’s take “marriage” away from the state and give it to church people. I’m not sure it was theirs to start with (see the Brouwer quote above), but that’s okay. Some churches will gladly perform marriages for same-sex couples. Others will not. (Again I refer you to my husband’s writings and ideas at his Release of Marriage Act blog – start here for his main idea.)
But our government has a duty to provide civil rights to all of its citizens, so for those people who want to share a house, a family, and/or their lives together, let the government make just laws that consider everyone equally. Let it not establish separate “classes” of domestic partnerships, the highest class being called marriage, based upon gender or sexual orientation.
There’s plenty to think and talk about. Feel free to go at it (respectfully please!) in the comments.
*Update – I heard this OnBeing podcast with Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn after publishing this blog post, and I highly recommend it for further thought on this topic.
I answered four questions over the phone recently, for a political survey. Question 1: Do you support domestic drilling for oil? My answer: No. Question 2: Do you consider yourself pro-life or pro-choice? My answer: pro-life. Question 3: Do you believe the current economic crisis would be better handled by cutting spending or raising taxes? My answer: cutting spending. Question 4: Do you consider yourself more in alignment with Democrats or Republicans? My answer: Democrats.
But I don’t exactly sound like a Democrat. Better get my ducks in a row and toe the line. Except I don’t want to be a Democrat. Or a Republican.
Labels get us stuck. If I know that you are an “evangelical Christian,” whatever I have learned to attach to that label gets stuck to you too. Therefore in my unfiltered thoughts you probably are a political conservative and an anti-intellectual, have rather poor taste in music and books, and scoff at or at least feel suspicious of efforts towards care of the earth and social justice.
I know better, of course, but my familiarity with evangelicalism (having spent many years under that label) has bred contempt. It’s become all too easy for me to remember well my disagreements with the subculture of my youth and ignore the many digressions from these negative stereotypes.
Then, to escape the negative side of the “evangelical” label, I want to stick a new label on me. “Liberal” sounds good, or maybe “Democrat,” though I want to be more radical than that, so maybe “revolutionary,” but that can be a bit off-putting so maybe I’ll go for “postmodern” because that’s more open to interpretation, but I also hate sounding too uppity, want to have at least a touch of “down-to-earth”-ness, so . . .
Off I go searching for the perfect label, unthinkingly assuming that there is a platform or agenda out there that perfectly suits me, a pre-fab perspective on life where I will be right at home. Once I’ve chosen my new label, I will all-too-quickly stop thinking things through on my own terms and begin making intellectual excuses to accept everything that goes along with my new label. I’ll dive into the subculture under the label, suck up the energy and life, friendship and inspiration I need, but then after a while, familiarity will again begin to breed contempt, as I reach a threshold of living inconsistently with my soul, that deep inner self that Parker Palmer calls a shy, wild creature.
A friend recently told me she is finished with labels, and I’m beginning to feel I quite agree. Classify this – I homeschool my children; think evolution is the best explanation for the origin of the species; believe God is the beginning and the end of everything and love Jesus who is God with us and the rightful ruler of the universe; think it’s ludicrous that my nation’s constitution still does not contain an Equal Rights Amendment; oppose abortion; oppose the death penalty; oppose war for any reason; oppose killing or oppressing animals for food and will gratefully eat a burger if you are sharing it with me; dream of a world without gasoline-powered transportation and love motorcycle rides; find it shocking that our ‘superpower’ nation can build superhighways and start wars it hasn’t budgeted for but still hasn’t made health care a universal right for its citizens; think my nation’s government is bloated, corrupt and ineffective; denounce blind faith and am attempting to authentically live in the question.
In Labelese, I may be something like a Christian agnostic pro-life feminist environmentalist libertarian Democrat evolutionist conservative vegan freegan . . . and that’s a silly mouthful, so instead, call me human and let’s talk over coffee. My list above is a sampling of the opinions I currently hold, but they are like rocks in a riverbed, continually being reshaped by the flow of thoughts, conversations, information and experiences running over them. It’s my own riverbed, completely unique and just too sloppy with life to keep any label stuck to it.