David and Lisa Zimmerman of Mendota Heights didn’t shy away from talking about the proposed marriage amendment this fall. After their “vote yes” sign was defaced in early September, rather than replacing it they added another sign that said “Come and talk next time.”
No one came to talk about the amendment, but several neighbors with “vote no” signs called to express sympathy over the vandalized sign, and one of those neighbors opened up when Lisa approached her to talk about it, said David, who attends St. Joseph in West St. Paul with his family.
“I feel like they respected us for having the courage to come over and wanting to talk,” he said. “And in the end, they would say we just need to agree to disagree.”
While the proposed marriage amendment carries enough emotional charge to prevent some Catholics from talking about it with anyone outside their immediate circle, others have found it to be an opportunity to define their views and share them with those who are on the fence or disagree with them.
After Election Day
When the ubiquitous lawn signs, bumper stickers and buttons disappear after Election Day, Nov. 6, many of those interviewed said they’re confident that relationships between neighbors, family and friends will remain strong and could even grow deeper because of efforts to dialogue.
Randy Lehnen, also a St. Joseph parishioner, said he believes the Lord is calling him to share his views on the amendment and encourage deeper discussion in his St. Paul neighborhood. He created a flyer featuring reasons he supports the amendment that he plans to give to neighbors. Lehnen also hopes to encourage neighbors to share their views without conflict at a meeting in his home.
He said he hasn’t talked to many neighbors about the issue, partly because they aren’t outside as much in the fall. While he has a “Yes” sign in his yard, he said he wonders if signs without discussion create the potential for misunderstanding.
“If the signs are out and they say “no, I disagree with you” and you never talk about it, it can kind of build up a sort of suspicion or resentment or a feeling of them and us, a separation and division,” he said. “But if you talk to people and say I’m open to hear your viewpoints, I think it opens it up for people.”
The signs can be more flag waving than dialogue, said Ed Steinhauer, Lehnen’s neighbor who has a “vote no” sign in his yard. He said he’s sensed that people have strong emotions about the issue and talking about it could be unproductive.
Drawing a distinction between the issue and values that make good neighbors, he added, “People’s politics are not getting in the way of being neighbors.”
Politics weren’t a topic at Michael Kraemer’s recent family gathering, so he didn’t bring up the amendment, though he said he’s had other opportunities to talk about it.
Kraemer and his wife, Linda, both St. Alphonsus (Brooklyn Center) parishioners, put up two “yes” signs in their yard, the only ones in their Brooklyn Park cul-de-sac. So far, no one has approached them about the signs. “My sense was they have to know where we stand,” said Michael, who is in the diaconate program.
Molly Stommes talks about the amendment frequently with her husband, Matt, and with friends. Facebook has been a place for positive discussion about it, she said.
Stommes said she prefers one-on-one conversations over signs, so she and Matt didn’t put a “yes” sign in the yard of their Minneapolis home. Safety was a factor for the St. Mark parishioners.
When two men harassed Vivian Sutch for wearing a “yes” button in downtown Minneapolis recently, she said she didn’t think they’d hurt her, though the experience was unsettling. She said she believes God helped her to calmly share her views, which she’d thought about in advance.
“God really was there,” said Sutch, who attends St. Peter in Mendota. “His presence was very [calming]. It was not a standing-on-a-street-corner-yelling-and-screaming type of thing.”
She doesn’t believe the men were open to her views but plans to pray for them. “That may be the whole reason for wearing the button and engaging people,” she said.
Discussions rooted in love
Will it be possible to engage people and have dialogue with them after the election? Lehnen thinks so, and imagines the election will come up at the next block party.
Stommes said she is sure it will be talked about at her Halloween block party, and definitely after the election.
“I’m sure no matter what the outcome there will be challenges to it either way,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be voted on and done. I am just not a big fan of yard signs so I’m kind of looking forward to them being gone.”
Zimmerman said he hopes “things will thaw a little bit” in his neighborhood. “My wife had a clear sense when she went to talk to the neighbor that this won’t be the only conversation,” he said. “She didn’t have to convince her on every point but this kind of opens it up for more conversation.”
It’s not clear whether relationships will be affected by the election, Steinhauer said. “It’s an interesting conversation,” he said. “All feel invested in it. I think relationships in the neighborhood are stronger than the ability of political skirmishes to harm them.”
When Kraemer has another chance to talk about the amendment, he said he wants to bring love, not hate.
“It’s hard for me to see people being lambasted and pushing for the wrong things and saying the wrong things on TV commercials, and not be upset with them but turn around and bless them and love and send a prayer in their direction,” he said.
“That’s really what we’re called to do and I hope I will be able to share what people need to hear.”