This post is written to evangelical Christians who believe the Bible is the Word of God. Feel free to read and interact if you are not the intended audience, but realise that this is written to a specific people with presuppositions that you may not share.
[Please forgive the poor editing. Will tidy things up as I'm able.]
With the Labor Party’s National Conference this weekend, it seems appropriate to write something about how we as Christians can address the aggressive push to legislate same-sex marriage. I very much appreciate Christians who put across a biblical perspective on the issue in the public square, yet the strategies that I have seen so far don’t go too much further than a secular lobby group – petitions, letters to and meetings with MP’s, rallying public support and sending out press releases. Is there something more we can throw into the mix? Is there a “Jesus-way” to address same-sex marriage?
Perhaps. Here are some ideas.
Jesus never needed to repent for his own sin, but if we are to become more like him, we definitely do. Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage we tend to adopt a “we’re good/they’re bad” paradigm. This is not only inaccurate, it’s Pharisaical. What to do?
I think we need to see the push for same-sex marriage as part of God’s judgment already falling on Australia. God uses an increase in sin as a form of judgment (Genesis 3:16b, Deut 28:53-57, 64, Romans 1:24-32) and I don’t see it as illegitimate to understand this push for same-sex marriage as one of the signs of judgment in Australia at this time. Certainly Australia, as much as I love this country, has enough pride, arrogance, injustice, and corruption to warrant God acting in judgment.
So what is the Church to do? We wake up and repent. Surely we don’t think we share no responsibility for the sins of this nation! Let’s see this push for same-sex marriage as a wake-up call to our own complicity in the sins of Australia and go to the Lord in repentance. And as we recognise ourselves as sinners fighting against the spiritual forces of darkness that blind other sinners who push for same-sex marriage, let’s trust God to help us let go of some of our self-righteousness.
- We need to seek the Lord about where we direct our repentance. It is incredibly tempting to use corporate calls for repentance to say, “I told you so”, but it’s not just “the Church” that needs to repent, we the Church need to repent. And I suspect our basic sin will turn out to be a something akin to that of Laodicea (Revelations 3:14-22).
- Repentance may well avert the introduction of same-sex marriage legislation in Australia (Jonah 3:10). And it may not. We can hope for the ultimate defeat of the same-sex marriage campaign, but we need to make sure we repent because this issue has opened our eyes to the need to repent, not just because we want God to stop such legislation going through. Even if Australia does adopt same-sex marriage legislation, the church needs to continue its repentance in prayer and deed.
Jesus spoke in a way that people understood. We need to give supporters of traditional marriage – right down to Joe Blogs of the General Public – the tools to express their opposition to same-sex marriage. As it stands, the explanations we give clash with our culture’s strongest moral categories. What do I mean?
In our hyper-individualistic culture the greatest good is being true to yourself. The most powerful moral arguments are therefore centred around the concepts of the freedom or oppression of the individual. This creates a no-win situation for those of us who continue to operate with an external standard of right and wrong. We only have to use the words, “wrong” or “bad” or “deny” or “restrict” in relation to the idea of same-sex marriage and we are on the side of Hitler, Stalin and whatever other oppressor you care to mention.
For that reason, we have to learn to re-phrase our arguments to avoid those connotations. I don’t mean we avoid saying same-sex marriage is wrong. We say, “Yes, same-sex marriage is wrong, but that is not all we have to say,” and then we present our arguments using the same moral framework of the culture. For example:
We don’t agree with same-sex marriage because it traps people into a relationship that stops them from being true to themselves. Same-sex marriage would institutionalise the conflict of people’s sexual activity with the biological design of their body (genitalia, hormones etc).
We can also add the culturally acceptable and biblical categories of health and ill-health. Here is an example explanation about the effect of same-sex marriage on society.
We also disagree with same-sex marriage because it would have a detrimental effect on society. To legislate in favour of same-sex marriage is to institutionalise an unhealthy conflict within an individual rather than encouraging their healthy, holistic integration. A society that promotes the ill-health of the individual cannot itself be considered a healthy society. We want a healthy society.
We would win no prizes from the pro-same-sex marriage campaigners for such arguments – they disagree with us, after all – but by using the heart concepts of the culture to explain our position means some of the extra negative baggage we have been saddled with up to this point is greatly diminished. Those not committed to same-sex marriage will also find themselves empowered to disagree.
Note: I have been encouraged by the ACL using concepts of freedom and oppression as relates to the children in their arguments against same-sex marriage, but while that has had some positive effect, they are arguing one step removed from the most powerful moral argument in our culture, i.e., the freedom of the individual. In our culture children are important, but I’m afraid they lose out to the “oppression” of individual homosexuals when oppression of children seems theoretical and future. It is for the “rights” of the individual that the proponents of same-sex marriage are arguing. We also need to talk about the individual in order to be persuasive.
A couple of extra points:
- using culturally appropriate terminology would be useful whatever the outcome of the push for same-sex marriage legislation. We will still need to explain to people why we do not agree with same-sex marriage and even homosexuality whether same-sex marriage is created as a legal institution or not.
- it is not just those supporting same-sex marriage who need to be spoken to in cultural categories, we need to speak to Christians in our culture in the same way. Otherwise, there will continue to develop an internal conflict within the Christian who believes what the Bible teaches, but can’t help but interpret commands and talk of good and evil as oppressive.
(To read more about these ideas, click here.)
Jesus’ singleminded pursuit of his Father’s will didn’t include a political career or appealing to authorities for favourable laws, but some of his followers are called to be salt and light in the political arena, and in countries like ours that are governed by constitutional democracies, we all have some political responsibility. Lobby groups like the Australian Christian Lobby work to represent evangelical Christian interests in the political realm and help us to make our voices heard. It’s right to support their work and lend our voice through their petitions and campaigns.
However, some cautions about such activism:
- political victory does not change hearts. Nor does it bring people to Jesus. What it does do, though, is provide societal structures where righteousness can more readily flourish and where discipleship is to some degree supported by a basic understanding of righteousness people in society grow up with.
- the motive behind such action should not be the anger or fear of people fighting for what they think they are entitled to, but that of love for others – both individuals and society.
- the Church’s main mission is not to transform society through politics, but to transform society through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This mission is not to be overtaken by political activism.
(To read more about these ideas, click here.)
Jesus didn’t just preach morality, he changed people by redirecting them to him. For us to merely say same-sex marriage is harmful to people and society is unhelpful. We need also to be able to provide the opportunity for people to be transformed through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, much of the church seems unable to effectively redirect people to Jesus. Therefore, it is important that when churches speak out about same-sex marriage that they also have easily accessible resources to help them. Some ministries that are out there are listed below:
Some extra points:
- this whole area is very volatile. Gay activists often targeting and trying to discredit these types of ministries and pick up and broadcast real and imagined failures. To engage in this type of ministry can be at times a lesson in responding in love in the face of very aggressive opposition.
- overcoming homosexual sin is like overcoming other sin – different people respond differently to help offered. This does not negate the possibility of change, but highlights the reality that Jesus sometimes helps us manage the remaining sin in our lives instead of rooting it completely out. Sanctification should progress, but it is truly progressive sanctification.
- in my small involvement with Living Waters, the emphasis has not been solely on homosexuality, but all types of sexual and relational brokenness. In fact, Ron Brookman, the Australian director of Living Waters, sees the programme as a discipleship programme where the focus is on learning to apply the basic Christian disciplines in order to grow in Christ. There need be no significant sexual and relational brokenness for anyone to participate in the programme, though many enter the programme for those very reasons. Growth in Christ is the ultimate goal of these resources, not overcoming sin.
Is this what Jesus would do?
Are these four points really what Jesus would do?
Yes, with allowances made for our sinfulness and his sinlessness, I think it can be shown he did or taught all these things. And all four of these points are to be applied whether same-sex marriage legislation is passed or not. A bigger question, though, is how are we to apply these things within the over-arching paradoxical kingdom principles which culminate in the death and resurrection of Jesus – overcoming by turning the other cheek, responding to hate by loving our enemies, dying to live, losing to win?
Ah, but that is a question for another post.