The sidewalk in front of the Federal Courts Building in downtown Richmond on Tuesday morning was much more crowded than it usually is, but less crowded than it should have been. In the early moments of the Family Foundation’s Stand for Marriage rally, my mind was awash with deeply spiritual reflections like, “It’s way too hot for this early in the morning on the second week of May”, and “If I had gotten here earlier, I bet I could have parked closer,” and “If some reporter decides to talk to me, I hope I can remember not to slouch—Diane hates it when I slouch,” and “I think I know that guy over there, but he’s shaved his head, and now I don’t know whether I know him or not—wonder if he shaved his head because he’s having chemo—if I could remember his name, I’d speak to him, but it may not even be him—anyhow, I think he’s too tall. He should be shorter without hair, and he’s not. Lord, please heal that guy’s cancer—unless he just shaved his head ‘cause he’s hot.”
I did ponder more serious questions as I stood there shoulder to shoulder with a few hundred of my closest friends, like what would actually unfold as the morning went on, and what it would all mean. We were gathering from around the state for the purpose of engaging in collective public prayer, and to exhibit a show of support for natural marriage. Virginia’s Constitutional Amendment supporting the traditional definition of marriage was declared ‘unconstitutional’ by a Federal Judge earlier this year, and arguments before a panel of judges regarding an appeal of that ruling were taking place as we assembled outside to pray. If asked whether I think we effectively accomplished our mission to do that, I would respond with a definite, ‘Yes.’ But, if the follow-up question was whether I think there would be any lasting impact, or any significant difference made, my response would not be so positive.
Bear with me just a bit while I say something that some of you aren’t going to like. First a question, ‘Do I think we should have been there?’ Absolutely. Do I think that multitudes of others who identify themselves as Christians, and who could have been there, should have shown up? Absolutely. But those questions don’t address the issue of whether our gathering was significant, or how significant it was. Clearly, there were decisions of some import that were being deliberated inside the courtroom, but there was none of that on the street. Now, here’s the difficult thing. Aside from the possibility that our presence might have afforded some degree of encouragement for the valiant lawyers arguing for us inside, what took place on the street probably looked on the surface like not much more than choreographed posturing for the press. Ouch. Truth sometimes bites, doesn’t it? Let me hasten, then, toward the point.
We stood around like forces arrayed for battle on Tuesday, a necessary representation for our point of view, but this was not the field of battle where the victories we need to achieve in this war could be won. The nature of the contest unfolding on opposite sides of Bank Street seemed less about the sides engaging each other over the merits of their opposing views, and more a test of ‘PR’ proficiency. Tuesday’s gathering played out like a struggle over things like who could turn out with the most warm bodies, which side had the cleverest slogans, whose tweets garnered more re-tweets, who had the most noticeable signs, and whose skilled geek could grab a ‘You Tube worthy’ video of anything weird. Beyond that, there was not much to see. The ever-present, hyper-vigilant press, prowled on both sides in search of anyone who might see the event as an opportunity to go after his or her 15 minutes of fame, and maybe establish their candidacy for an ‘extremist of the year’ award, but nothing noteworthy erupted in that category. Doubtlessly, some of the reporters left disappointed, like NASCAR fans who have to go home from a race without seeing at least one wreck. There were definitely some influence points to be gained or lost on the street, but the chroniclers of this war will not recall any of them. The opposing sides would each walk away hoping for some acknowledgment of victory in the media—perhaps even claiming to have achieved it, but I wonder if most of them could define what ‘victory’ really means to them in the context of this particular war. Is it supremacy at the ballot box, or in the courtroom, or in the halls of academia, or in the church council meetings?
The representatives of God have always been engaged in a war, and it has always been a war of words and the ideas they convey. Even in instances where physical engagements have ensued and blood has been shed, it didn’t begin with that. Words were exchanged before swords were drawn. If that sounds overly simplistic, let me remind you that when the serpent entered the Garden, he brought no weapon with which to beat Eve into unwilling submission (assuming he had any means to carry or use one). He brought no arsenal along with him other than his words and his own dictionary of definitions. The lethal venom he injected into the entire race was not done physically. The description of his devastating attack begins with simply this, “And he said to the woman…” The war for the souls of men was launched with an invasion of words and ideas alone, but the pain and physical destruction that was spawned out of those words and ideas has been incredible.
God gave us words, but He did more than that. He demonstrated what they meant. We are losing this war, not because we relinquished the words God gave us (though many have indeed done that), but because we abandoned the authority of the One who gave them, and in doing so have impoverished them of any real definition. Hence we have surrendered any hope of effective dialog involving their use. Therefore, we tend to run away from the dialog altogether. Stripping God’s definitions from His words leaves us shooting blanks in this war. Declarations were thrown about on the street on Tuesday, and I saw God’s words on signs carried about by both sides. The rallies are important, but if we hadn’t been losing the war already, there would have been no gathering on the street needed. We’re losing in the places where the real battles take place—in our churches, our homes, our stores, and our work places, places where we define who we really are. We still have the words, but we’ve allowed sin and hypocrisy to hijack our dictionary.
The enemy has no fear of us simply mouthing the words God gave us, even if we’re shouting them out in King James English, but he trembles at exposure to their definitions in our lives. The One who sent us to represent Him did not intend that we should merely explain His ideas and define His words with more words, but that we should be living demonstrations of their meaning, and that’s where we’re losing this war. The serpent’s crowd is not shy about exposing their ideas. They demonstrate them openly, by engaging in the behaviors that their words represent, and the impact of that has been devastating. We, on the other hand, have not done so well. Perhaps we have much to learn from them.
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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