five tips to speaking out in the public square

“For us, number 1 is to create a generation of leaders, young people who are willing to speak and who are unafraid,” Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, told LCMS pastors this morning.

It all seems pretty simple. “We need heroes.”

Mr. Brown explained that conservative young people today are afraid to speak their mind, that when they do pipe up in defense of marriage or life or religious liberty on social media, their friends attack them so viciously that they are frightened into silence.

But for those of us who believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, that life begins at conception, that Americans ought to be able to live and worship and play in the way they see fit, fear and silence are not options.

We may be bullied. Our beliefs may be beat up. We may suffer verbal black eyes.

But the Word of the Lord endures.

And that’s good enough for us.

A pastor and I had a conversation recently about how to talk about these things winsomely but honestly. So let’s get to it!

5. Practice.

Remember speech class in college? Your professor made you stand in front of a mirror or your half-asleep roommate and practice your delivery. He made you do this so that when you stood up in front of a room full of people, you didn’t pull a, “Uhhhh . . . ummm . . . . well . . . ” and embarrass yourself while the rest of the class looked on in painful awe.

Do that same thing now. Write down what you believe about marriage. Put those bullet points into categories. See which ones naturally fit with others. Ask yourself, “If the other person only takes one thing away from our conversation, what would it ideally be?” Don’t go crazy with it. Keep the list short and succinct.

  • As Lutherans, we believe that marriage consists of and is based on more than just feelings.

  • We have history on our side. Marriage has been defined as being between one man and one woman for 2,000 years.

  • As an American, I support the right to live as I choose, but I do not support the government’s right to redefine how that looks.

And then practice. Start by talking with your wife. Let her play devil’s advocate and shoot holes in your argument. Then refine what you say or how you say it. Then, try it out on your barber. He’s a captive audience, and the only downside is that you may walk away with a lop-sided haircut. (Hey, it’s spring. Tell people you wanted a fresh style.)

The more you practice articulating what you believe, the easier it will be to do when you’re in a discussion with someone who doesn’t agree with you, the time when silence just won’t cut it.

4. Dig deep.

Get some thick skin. (Where you’ll find it, I’m not sure, but I’m confident you can.)

People won’t like to hear that you believe marriage is good for children and good for society, or that the government’s unilateral decision to redefine marriage is out of its purview (unless they’re going to let you start redefining “taxation” as “optional” . . . no, wait.).

You’ll get asked hard questions: “Why don’t you want two people in love to be able to get married?” “Why are you so bigoted?” “How does a same-sex union affect your marriage anyway?”

You will be tempted to back peddle, to throw your hands up, and blame the Church and point fingers in every direction except for yours.

So you’re going to have to get used to not being popular, to getting weird looks. People may even back away from you slowly while motioning for their kids to get in the car as quickly as possible, and you’re going to have to learn to be okay with that.

Christ has given you the truth, and it is freeing, and that’s all that matters.

3. Don’t be a jerk.

As Christians, we don’t speak out in the public square to get the last word. We speak out because it’s what we’re given to do in our vocations as citizens. We don’t corner the market on the truth; we spread it around like cream cheese on bagels!

Earlier today, for instance, in preparation for the March 25 SCOTUS hearing on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga (the Mennonite family who makes cabinets now also forced to partake in the HHS mandate requirements), congressmen in support of the HHS mandate, which requires that employers cover abortifacients and birth control and even abortion in their healthcare plans, hosted a tweet chat using the hashtag notmybossbusiness. (Where were the English majors on that one? notmyboss’sbusiness, people, notmyboss’sbusiness!)

They tweeted things like, “BirthControl is vital to women’s health and equality. Bosses shouldn’t interfere with women’s access to it. #notmybossbusiness”

To which I wanted to respond in my best Dr. David P. Scaer impersonation, “You’rrrrrrrrrrrrrrre RIGHT! So why are you laying down a universal mandate that puts bosses directly in the MIDDLE of a woman’s business?”

Ahem. Sorry. Got a little carried away there.

Let’s take a look at a scenario. And by “scenario,” I mean, “a real life situation that proves I am still learning this communication thing myself.”

While heating up my husband’s lunch, I retweeted a few key points from Alliance Defending Freedom (which is a great organization with a website that any concerned American ought to nose around). Things like: 

  • Government shouldn’t force bosses to be involved in their employees’ healthcare decisions #Notmybossbusiness
  • Let’s talk about unfair: $36,500 fine PER employee for not violating conscience and getting in line with the #HHSmandate #Notmybossbusiness
  • It’s wrong to fine family businesses who provide fair wages and generous benefits #Notmybossbusiness

And that’s when I saw it: a tweet by a young twenty-something gal that said, “Resisting the urge not to give in to the #notmybossbusiness trolls”

Public Service Announcement: I don’t like being called a troll. Instead, I like to think I’m a somewhat intelligent, semi-articulate woman with a masters degree.

So I tweeted her back: Concerned American women aren’t trolls.

Her: people who do not believe birth control not only improves a woman’s health but can save her life are ignorant trolls

Me: Any time one woman calls another woman “ignorant” and a “troll,” we take a profoundly sad step backwards.

Her: oh please, you’re fighting against women’s right to affordable birth control under the guise of “religious freedom” take your twisted take on feminism and shove it.

Me: For one who’s advocating for tolerance, you seem awfully short on giving it to others. Best wishes for your Thursday.

Her:  I’m advocating for basic human rights: affordable access to life-saving medication. oxoxo

At this point, I set my phone down and finished my lunch. (Homemade pizza, by the way. It was even better on day 2. There’s hope for my cooking yet!)

What we can learn:

  • This conversation was doomed from the start, namely because we were never going to agree with one another.
  • I shouldn’t have dangled the worm. She said she didn’t want to engage, and I should have been a kind neighbor and helped her not do so.
  • It takes an incredible amount of willpower not to respond in kind, especially to all the issues in her last tweet.
  • It’s really hard to have a conversation with someone who redefines terms.
  • I shouldn’t have pulled the tolerance line. Looking back at it, it’s snarky. I should have said something like, “I’m actually fighting for EVERYONE’S rights of conscience, not just the government’s or yours or mine.”

The point is this: It’s easy to get vindictive and frustrated and annoyed.

Like, reallllly quickly.

But this is how we learn. (See number 5.) And it’s how we figure out that bitterness and anger and a need to be right doesn’t help the conversation along.

You’re there to dialogue, to discuss, to listen and understand, and to state calmly and firmly why you believe what you do without apology.

So be kind. Be calm. Be honest. (And as my sisters would undoubtedly add, “Be awesome.”)

2. In the words of Kenny Rogers, “You gotta know when to hold ’em . . . know when to fold ’em . . . know when to walk away, know when to run.”

As in the case of the gal above, know when a conversation is going nowhere and end it tactfully. Just because someone wants to engage you on why you believe all children–no matter their size or stage of development–are valued and have worth both in God’s eyes and our own doesn’t mean you have to talk to them.

If you can’t agree on terms or definitions, you can call it quits.

If the other person is loud and getting out of hand, walk away.

If they aren’t hearing what you have to say and are too busy formulating their next response to listen to you, let it go.

It’s okay. You’re not the one who will change their hearts and minds when it comes to taking God’s Word seriously when He talks about marriage and life. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. You’re just bearing witness to what you’ve already been given in your Baptism–Christ!

1. Read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly Digest. (And no, I’m not referring to the day-old pizza.)

Too often I hear people say, “Well, I had no idea that the government was doing X” or “Well, it doesn’t really matter to me so I don’t pay attention to it” or “I’m too old for that. I fought those battles in the 70s.”

As the lawyers say, “Objection, your honor. Non-response.”

Translation: That excuse doesn’t cut it.

We have the joy (and sometimes the duty) to be reading and researching, boning up on why the definition of marriage is really important, why babies and the elderly matter, why the government can’t suddenly start calling a square a circle when it comes to freedom and religion.

So, check out the LCMS’ Free to Be Faithful initiative. Or the Alliance Defending Freedom website. Or all of the countless others. The information is out there and it’s free.

Get to practicing. Get to reading. Get to walking away when you need to. And get to feeling bold and courageous, because in Christ, you are.

No excuses now!

{This post brought to you by a heightened sense of pro-active behavior and a general take-charge attitude caused by working my way through Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer.}

8 thoughts on “five tips to speaking out in the public square

  1. Hey look, you wrote this! Look what you just did!

    p.s. Way to set an example by walking away from Mike. There’s no way to talk through these issues with him when we fundamentally disagree about the point of the Bible and how it’s used — i.e. not as a book of rules. Every question that starts with “Where in the Bible does it say…?” is a tip-off that they don’t believe it’s all about Jesus and our salvation and rather think it’s a how-to guide. That never works.

  2. Where in the bible does it say marriage is only between a man and a woman (where has that ever been officially defined), where does it say that the government can’t observe as equal same-gender marriages (and if, by your logic, the government doesn’t have the right to do that, why does it have the right not to recognize same-gender marriages?), where in the bible is birth-control, abortion, or anything about a woman’s body (other than how much control a man has over it – like the right to rape and murder it) mentioned, and how do you twist Jesus’ message of caring for people into one of callous antipathy while simultaneously ignoring the brutal violence endorsed by the Old Testament? Moreover, how do you reconcile yourself with all the maddening cognitive dissonance you must experience? Lots to mull over; take your time. And I agree: you are somewhat intelligent and semi-articulate.

    1. It sounds to me like the Church has hurt you at some point along the line or been cause for great frustration in your life. If that’s the case, I’m sorry.

      1. Nearly every person alive can say that the church has in some way caused him or her pain. That’s not the point. What about coherent answers to my questions?

    2. I asked because it seems you’re coming at these discussions with some anger or frustration, and that can make productive conversation difficult. Mike, I’d encourage you to talk to your pastor about these questions face-to-face. From what I see here and because we likely don’t agree on definitions of the issues you bring up, I’m not sure a conversation online regarding these questions would be fruitful.

      1. Oh, I can’t talk to my pastor; I’m an atheist. But I do have a pretty strong knowledge of the bible and Christian theology in general and was curious if my knowledge was lacking or if you were merely trying to hijack scripture to suit your own sociopolitical prejudices/beliefs. By your response (or lack thereof) I’m guessing it was the latter.

  3. Thank you for getting Kenny stuck in my head 🙂 Good stuff… learning when to walk away has been probably the hardest for me (especially when it means letting someone have an ignorant and rude last word).

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