Last night, concerned Murray residents packed the local City Hall for a town hall meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the ordinance that the Human Rights Commission plans to forward to the Murray City Council for its consideration. That ordinance would give special rights and protections to Murray folks who identify themselves as gay or transgender.
As I stood in the back corner of the room, I observed and learned. I went away with a lot of information and spent the evening and this morning processing what I had seen and heard. Below are some take-aways from last night.
(For the record, I did not speak at last night’s town hall meeting. I approached last night unsure of the role I should play. Should I speak or simply sit quietly and let others do so? I know that oftentimes, folks look for pastors/leaders to speak on their behalf but I know that God can use the most unlikely of people to speak powerfully and persuasively on His behalf. Those folks may also struggle much less with pride than, say, a pastor would as they speak. So, as I spent time praying beforehand and then attended the meeting while striving to be sensitive to God’s leading, I sensed that my role was to simply observe, applaud, and learn from the experience.)
While more than half of the folks who approached the microphone were in favor of the proposal (I assume they read it), I believe last night’s meeting was very positive in that many eyes were opened. If we can understand the true nature of a problem and the magnitude of that problem, we are in a better position to fix it.
Here are some of my reflections:
1. Murray residents are able to discuss a potentially explosive issue in a very civil way
One of the many stipulations last night was that each person who approached the microphone had to be a Murray resident. So, as I listened to Murray men and women, who were for and against the proposal, I was pleasantly surprised and pleased at how respectful virtually everyone was.
There were a few folks who gave some jabs and cutting remarks but overall, it was civil. The moderator (who was not a Murray resident) acknowledged at the end of the meeting that he had no idea what he was walking into but was relieved that things went so well.
This is how community discussions should be handled. We should stand up for what is right and even do so with passion. Yet, we live in a country where ideas should be freely expressed and the best idea typically wins. That was evidenced last night. I saw why Murray was called “the friendliest small town in America” by Rand McNally in 2012.
2. Murray is on a slippery moral slope like the rest of America
Anyone who thinks that Murray is extremely conservative simply because it is a small, rural city in western Kentucky (the buckle on the Bible-belt) is dead wrong.
Most certainly, there are very conservative tendencies in this city. Yet, because of so many influences, (e.g. television, movies, music, the local university, etc.), this community is doing the same thing that so many other communities are doing. While it has segments of society that are more liberal than others, the community as a whole is slowly moving away from traditional values.
While I love the city I now call home, Murray has so many things in common with other communities:
- Marriages fall apart here, too. It would seem that adultery and divorce are as much a part of society as anywhere else.
- Children are growing up and leaving the church just like in larger, more liberal cities.
- Church attendance is down and some churches are only a few funerals away from closing. Thus, the influence of churches on their communities is declining.
- Religion is something that is performed on Sunday but often neglected and forgotten throughout the week. Yep, just like your town.
- The local university has many professors and other faculty that are steeped in liberalism that are highly influential in the lives of the students who take their classes. We’ve also got some compassionate Christians who are in positions of influence but know that whatever they say may be noted by those who hold their job in their hands. (Liberalism can be proclaimed from the rooftops but compassionate, conservative Christianity can barely be whispered. Go figure.)
- Yet another of the many illustrations of the non-traditional values that we experience here is that there’s a gay pride float in one of our annual parades. #LifeInSmallTownAmerica
So, with the decline of convictional, life-gripping, influential Christianity that affects every aspect of a Christian’s life as they go about their day, we shouldn’t be surprised that our city, like so many others, is on the moral slippery slope to … no one knows where it ends up.
In fact, last night, the word “steps” was used a few times. Folks who spoke in favor of the proposal said things like: “This is a ‘step’ in the right direction.” Well, doesn’t that kind of language imply that there is a next step and then a next step? One gentleman (in opposition to the ordinance) noted that pedophilia may not be out of the question if we look down the road far enough. While there was an immediate negative audience response, he made a reasonable point worth considering. What is bizarre today may become normative tomorrow if we’re making up the rules as we go. If Christians aren’t taking their walk with Jesus seriously and influencing their culture and if very few people are being positively impacted by the Gospel, (let me say it again), the bizarre today may become the normative tomorrow.
In regard to the lack of biblical knowledge, I was disappointed to hear a few local ministers horribly misinterpret Scripture. If they were doctors, they would have been guilty of gross negligence and malpractice. They were in favor of the ordinance because they claimed that every resident of Murray needed to realize that God is love (and apparently ONLY love, nothing else) and is interested in social justice. Everything else (theology!) was essentially peripheral. As they continued to talk, I wondered why in the world they had crosses in their facilities. What did Jesus have to die for if either sin doesn’t exist or it is so trivial that it doesn’t matter?
Anyway, my point is that our city is like so many others. We’re on a slippery moral slope. If the tide is not turned soon, it will only grow harder and harder to get things back on the right track.
So, what’s the application: We had better realize that what happens today affects the trajectory of where we will be tomorrow. If society in our city has morally declined, then we should assume that if nothing changes we will continue in this direction. We must pray, share the Gospel and work for change.
3. Christians in Murray do not agree on some of the most basic issues found in Scripture
It was interesting to listen to how “Christians” on both sides of the issue used the Bible to proof-text their point last night.
Now, to someone who isn’t familiar with the Bible, last night could have made it seem that the teachings of Scripture are so unclear and ambiguous, even contradictory, that there’s good reason to shelve the Book. Yet, it was so clear to those who have studied and love God’s Word that it was being horribly misused last night. (I found myself wanting to approach the microphone simply to correct much of what was being said. After all, what my Heavenly Father said in His Book was being horribly twisted and distorted.)
Yet, the point remains that people on both sides of the issue used God’s Word to ‘prove’ their opposing points. Some of the misuse was by pastors.
So, what’s the application? You’d better realize that knowing God’s Word is vitally important. You’d better be able to know it so well that even your reflexes will tell you when something is wrong.
Acts 17:11 (New Living Translation) “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”
4. Many Murray residents are crying out for more rights
While I am primarily surrounded by folks who are in opposition to the ordinance, everyone I have spoken with is thoroughly in favor of every single American enjoying the rights afforded them in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Further, Christians believe that since every single individual is a descendent of Adam and Eve and is thus made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), then every single person has value. Regardless of age, gender, color of skin, intellect, education, or even what sin they are presently engaged in … everyone has value. We do not feel the burden to affirm sinful lifestyles in order to agree that every single person has value.
So, while many of us are in opposition to the ordinance, we still believe that those in the LGBT lifestyle need to have the same rights as the rest of Murray residents … as long as those rights don’t infringe on the rights of others.
See, this is the dilemma of a me-centered, rights-oriented society. We fight for our rights. We come to believe that we have rights simply because we have a pulse and so we fight for as many rights as we can get. Yet, I wonder how many have actually looked down the road to see where this mentality will take us.
For instance, let’s say that the proposal passes in Murray. LGBT folks will become a protected class of citizens. Well, what if one of them goes to a small-business bakery and wants a wedding cake. Or, they go to a small business print shop to get shirts made for a gay pride event. Or, they go to a local church and apply for the custodial or secretarial job that recently appeared in the newspaper.
Most Christians I know would gladly provide services to folks in the LGBT community … as long as the provision of those services is not seen to be an affirmation of the lifestyle. At that point, conscience comes into play. (Think First Amendment – Freedom of Religion). And by the way, freedom of religion in the First Amendment is not aimed primarily at churches. The individual citizen is in view.
So, if the proposal passes and the LGBT community gains new rights and protections, wouldn’t that strip small business owners and eventually churches of some of the rights that are afforded them in the very First Amendment? Wouldn’t it limit their ability and right to act according to their conscience informed by their religious views?
It really is true that when everyone has “rights,” no one will. We will cancel each other’s out.
What’s the application? We need to treat every single person we meet with dignity and as a person of value. Yet, we need to realize that the incessant talking of rights is a self-centered discussion that will give something to us and take away something from others. If “the friendliest small town in America” becomes that self-centered, we’ll never earn that award again. Ever.
5. The ultimate wellbeing of Murray (or any other city) will never be achieved in the voting booth or City Hall. It will be won one heart at a time
I have felt strongly about this point for years. (Click here for an article I wrote in 2008 on this issue.) Yes, there is a desperate need for good men and women in positions of governmental authority. After all, Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah were used by God in governmental positions. We also need good laws on our books.
But, our city and nation doesn’t primarily have a politician or a policy problem. We have a heart problem. If hearts aren’t changed by the Gospel, then discussions like last night at City Hall will only make the very people angry that we are commanded by Jesus to love and serve.
It seems to me that the White House, at some time in the past, looked to the Church House to provide the moral compass for our country. Yet, it seems as if the tables have completely turned. The Church House is now looking to the government to fix our problems. When will we learn that we have the greatest weapon, the Gospel, that has turned the world upside down in the past (Acts 17:6)!
What is the application? We need to realize that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is written to followers of God, not the world in general. If God is to bless us once again with His presence, it will be when those who call Jesus “Lord” comply with that Old Testament principle:
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)
“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”
6. As we stand against sin, our love for the sinner should be just as loud (or louder).
The LGBT community knows that Christians stand against sin. We’ve done it so well that they have come to think that it is ALL we do. We have also periodically erred by acting more like the self-righteous Pharisees who judged others than we do Jesus who recognized sin but loved the individual. We have failed to acknowledge that we, too, are sinners that needed forgiveness by Almighty God.
As we take a stand against what we believe is wrong for our community, we must realize that our motives will be misjudged. We will be seen as bigots. We’ll be written off as hatemongers.
So, with great intentionality, we need to make our love for others clear. We need to love so loudly that anyone who accuses us of being hateful would immediately be written off as crazy by the communities in which our churches reside.
What’s the application? We’ve got to love folks. We’ve got to love our neighbor. And, we’ve got to love them so much that we stand against what would bring them harm … including a very bad ordinance.
So, I think that for at least these 6 reasons and the lessons learned, last night was a very good night. Our community conversation exposed some problems. Now, we can prayerfully consider how God would have us join Him in remedying it.