Editor’s note: The Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC), the publisher of The Layman and The Layman Online, does not support same-sex marriage. Instead, the PLC “believes with Scripture that God ordained the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman in the very order of creation and that Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, blessed and sanctified this relationship. The article here was posted as a news story about the Covenant Network’s 2013 conference on “Marriage Matters.”
He held the Covenant Network national “Marriage Matters” audience in rapt attention. There is no denying the compelling nature of the personal snapshots of his past nor the use of his 10-year-old daughter’s presence at the event. He adeptly demonstrated his command of presentation principles, and he could have led his listeners virtually anywhere he had wanted to go. But that was precisely the lesson being taught by Macky Alston, director of Auburn Media.
Through his own presentation Alston demonstrated the very thing he was seeking to equip others in the room to do: target a particular kind of “conflicted Christian” and lead them by your own “journey narrative” to believe your truth.
In introducing the speaker to the 250 people at the opening plenary of the national event, Covenant Network board member Jon Walton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, New York, N.Y., said, “Macky’s passion is to help others give voice to the issues of our time from a progressive perspective and the enormous power of media to change hearts and minds.” Macky then masterfully demonstrated how to do just that.
Alston said that he intended to share his family’s story “to serve as you engage in conversations at this conference and in the future” with the particular goal being able to use “the power of religious testimony in story to move people on the fence.”
Who exactly is on the fence?, you might wonder. “Conflicted Christians,” including those in your church, who only hear consistently Biblical and distinctly Christian arguments from those who oppose the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) agenda. Alston argued that these “conflicted Christians like us,” and they very much want to find a way out of the uncomfortable reality of the clarity of the Bible’s teachings on the subject of homosexuality and their desire to be nice to all people.
Described by Alston “as your Cousin Katherine at the Thanksgiving table,” Alston then laid out the process of “helping” people work through this apparent conflict by “using the Bible, but not as they use it and not the way you learned in seminary.”
Using research done in 2010-2011 paid for by an ARCUS foundation grant, Alston shared how he saw “people’s minds changed.” The research included a two-year audit of all media coverage in the state of Michigan on the subject of same-sex marriage wherein researchers observed “equal coverage” for those for and against the redefinition of marriage in that state. “The bad news,” Alston said, was what marriage equality supporters advocated “sounded like social psychologists, not like people of faith. Michiganders heard the only consistently Christian message coming from Christians who were against marriage equality.”
He then described how researchers found the key to changing minds and hearts on the issue. “After the audit, we gathered the best arguments on both sides. And we gathered conflicted Christians to hold up the strongest cases presented by equally credible spokespeople.”
The full research study and report are available from Alston’s Auburn Media group: http://www.auburnseminary.org/mindchanged
Alston said, “The takeaway that moved the needle … number one, use the Bible but not the way they do and not even the way you were taught in seminary.” He told the Covenant Network to “Go for the core: What’s it all really about? Love. That’s it. The rest is commentary.”
He said that the as-of-yet-uncommitted Christians are “moving because they like people like us and they want to be nice to neighbors like us. They’re looking for a way to reconcile what they’re feeling and their religious convictions. So, use Galatians 3:28 and tell them that” gender falls away.” Referencing Matthew 7, he counseled, “Use ‘thou shalt not judge,’ and give them permission to not have to leave their Christianity behind” even as they allow others to go their way.
What not to do
Alston then told them what not to do: “Romans and Leviticus reinforces their frame. But at the Thanksgiving table it doesn’t play.” Making reference to President Richard Nixon’s on-air claim that he was not a liar, Alston said, “When you say ‘I’m not an abomination, I’m not an abomination,’ it doesn’t play, so don’t touch it.”
What does play at the Thanksgiving table with conflicted Christians, according to Alston, is “The journey story that’s the home run, hands down.”
Alston is more than a cradle Presbyterian, his family has served the Presbyterian Church admirably for generations. His Presbyterian pedigree is rich, and Alston acknowledged that he was talking to his old church, the Presbyterian Church (USA). Raised in Nassau Presbyterian Church, Princeton, N.J., as the son of the pastor whose name he bears, Alston said, “Princeton, like most towns, was not looking for the gay boy coming out. So, thank you Presbyterian Church, I do believe you saved my life.”
Macky Alston is an award-winning documentary film maker, including “Love Free or Die,” the movie about openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, and the Covenant Network’s own video “Turning Points: Stories of Life and Change in the Church.”