The move by the government to ask Australians about changing marriage legislation to include same-sex couples has brought the spotlight onto Christianity. Debates about how to vote on this issue have a tendency toward the rhetoric of catchy ‘one-liners’ which are at one level compelling, emotive and effective, but at a deeper level are superficial, lacking nuance or much actual rationality behind them.
The topic of same-sex marriage is deeply personal, especially for those directly affected. For the LGBTQI community, to have society vote on this issue is ultimately a question of whether your lifestyle is accepted as ‘normal.’ For many, any suggestion that homosexuality is abnormal or wrong is unavoidably offensive. It seems there is no way someone can hold the “no” position without being seen as hurtful, hateful, insensitive, old fashioned, unloving, disconnected or bigoted.
It’s also brought out disagreement within Christianity in Australia. Some churches are putting up signs in support of marriage equality, while others are actively speaking out against it. Pastors have taken to social media to explain ‘what the Bible really says about same-sex marriage’ – and for something you think would be an obvious question (‘is it sin or is it not?’) – there are a variety of opinions.
My hope in this series of posts is not to argue for the ‘no’ position. If you follow my Facebook feed, you’ll know that I’m a fairly outspoken ‘no’ voter. There are plenty of articles, comment threads, and ‘one-liners’ getting thrown around for you to look at if you want to hear the arguments either way. Here are some of the best articles I’ve come across for why we should keep the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman:
My primary aim instead is to decrease hate and increase love. My method will be to try and increase understanding. Who we are and what we believe is a result of so many different factors – our upbringing, traumatic experiences, genetics, education – I could go on. I’ve never met anyone whose aim was to hate people or hurt people. There’s always a reason why someone acts the way they do. I reckon’ if we can just understand each other better – then there can be less hate and more love. Working as a doctor, I’m often asked to go and speak with angry patients and family members. Pretty much every time, the issue is not that they are horrible angry people, but there has been a breakdown in understanding. Much of what a doctor’s job is involves increasing understanding to help people make informed choices about their health. So it’s something I’m passionate about and have seen the results of both positively and negatively.
Religious, social, and political contexts are no different to the health setting. Understanding each other is the key if we’re ever going to love those who are different to us. In a society that is so diverse and largely individualistic, it’s great to finally be talking about some areas where difference of opinion actually matters. And as I’ve seen this debate unfold, and have been involved in and observed many discussions with the passionate, well-meaning SSM advocates and opposers, I think most anger, frustration, harm and outrage comes from a place of not understanding each other. If we can try and put emotional knee-jerk responses and personal attacks aside and just have a thoughtful, careful discussion about ideas, seeking to really understand each other, I believe we can reduce the hate and increase the love in this heated debate.
There are two types of people I have in mind particularly: the first are same-sex marriage advocates who haven’t had much to do with Christianity and just can’t fathom how a religion of love and forgiveness can be so judgmental and unfair. The second are Christians who are despairing at those speaking out for the ‘no’ vote, feeling that they are damaging the church and the gospel, and making it almost impossible for our LGBTQI neighbours to come to know the saving love of Jesus.
Like I said, I won’t be trying to convince these people to change their mind (although I hope it will help the Christians in the latter group think hard about their position). I just want to increase understanding, with the hope that you might see that people like me don’t hate gay people, we aren’t using the Bible to discriminate against people we think are ‘yucky’, and we aren’t just being old fashioned coz we’re opposed to change. That we’re actually thinking really hard about these issues, and are not speaking in order to hurt people but because we really feel it is actually for the best.
Why is this important to me? Because far more important than where marriage ends up in Australia, is where each person in Australia ends up when Jesus returns to judge the world. And far more important than making convincing arguments, is making arguments in a loving and respectful way. Jesus died to bridge the impossible chasm between humanity and God resulting from our sin and his perfection. So that people who were enemies of God could be restored in their relationship with him. There is no greater love than this – that Jesus would give himself to save sinners like me. So I want to honour Jesus in everything I do and say, especially on this sensitive topic. And to honour Jesus means, first and foremost, to love.
Here are some questions that I’ve heard people asking, which will form the topics for my future posts:
- Aren’t Christians just cherry picking the Bible? What about rules about stoning people, slavery, working on the Sabbath and not wearing clothing of different threads?
- How can you say you’re loving and reject homosexuals at the same time?
- Surely gay marriage is more godly than gay not-marriage?
- How can you impose your morality on other people?
- Isn’t Jesus silent on homosexuality?
- Surely there are more important things for Christians to be advocating for?
There could be volumes written on these questions. And while I have been studying theology for the past 2 and a half years, I’m far from a leading expert in this field. But I’ll do my best to increase understanding about what I (and what I think most bible-believing Christians) believe, as clearly and succinctly as I can.
If there are other things about Christianity that you find confusing or ridiculous then please comment and I’ll do my best to address them. And if you are feeling misunderstood by me, then please consider helping me understand you better too. Maybe if we work hard to understand each other better, there can be more love and less hate in this debate.