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Erik Burgess, Published October 10 2012

Council conducts its own marriage amendment debate

MOORHEAD – During an election year, where political opponents publicly criticize one another and attack ads run rampant on TV, it may be hard to imagine a discussion of the issues that doesn’t quickly get overheated.

But that’s precisely what the Minnesota Council of Churches facilitated at First Presbyterian Church here Wednesday night – a space for respectful conversation about the Marriage Amendment.

The event was a part of the group’s Respectful Conversations Project, which has hosted similar meetings across the state.

“The conversations are designed to soften hearts, not change minds,” said Victoria McWane-Creek, lead facilitator for the event.

The Marriage Amendment will be on the ballot Nov. 6 in the general election. If passed, it would amend Minnesota’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Minnesota state statue already defines marriage in this way.

McWane-Creek said the Council of Churches does not officially support or oppose the amendment but wants to encourage open dialogue about it.

“On November 7th, we’re still going to have to get up and work together no matter what the outcome of the election is,” she said.

Holding the conversations in churches also allows people to discuss how their religion coincides with their definition of marriage.

“Our church is probably a good example of a Christian group of people who are pretty conflicted about this whole issue,” said Diane Wray Williams, the church’s music director. “We have people on all sides of the issue.”

The two agreed that it is difficult for some people to separate their faith from their civic life.

“For all of us, it touches our values and beliefs, so it can become divisive,” McWane-Creek said.

During the event, the crowd of about 25 people was split into three small groups and began having round table discussions about the amendment.

Participants were encouraged to use “I statements,” and were not allowed to interrupt, make large, generalizing comments or grandstand about the issue.

At the end of the day, Wray Williams said, if the congregation can have a civil conversation about this tough issue, they will have succeeded.

“I think it’s a good idea to do it without yelling at each other, to really try to understand each other,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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