Drumming along to the wrong beat

Yesterday’s The Drum invited two Anglican ministers and an atheist to discuss the question of marriage and homosexuality.

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Panellist Jane Gilmore came out and suggested, ‘Logically, I can’t see how Christian stance on homosexuality and ‘marriage equality’ makes sense’.

Her reasoning for this Christian’ illogic’ is that Christianity is about accepting ‘Jesus as the Son of God and the Gospels as the word of God’ but that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality and so Christians should support both homosexuality and Same-sex marriage.

It is true, accepting Jesus as God’s Son and believing the Bible to be the word of God are both essential (and might I add, sublime) parts of the Christian faith, but is her rationale about marriage accurate?

I understand most Australians no longer read the Bible, and rarely listen to sermons expounding the Bible, but when one goes on national television and erroneously suggests the support of Jesus Christ, I can hear someone shouting fact check!

When we open and read the Bible we soon discover that Jesus often spoke about marriage, and when he did he repeatedly affirmed these two points: First, he affirmed the Old Testament view of marriage, that it is between a man and a woman intended for life. Second, Jesus called all other sexual behaviour porneia, meaning sexual immorality. It is important to note that Jesus was not towing the normal cultural line  of his culture; often he spoke about marriage in front of people who contravening Old Testament teachings by divorcing their wives for all kinds of crazy and wrong reasons. He challenged the marital norms of his day by reaffirming one woman and one man for life.

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh,” the words of Jesus in Mark‬ ‭10:6-8‬.

According to Jane Gilmore, not only did Jesus have nothing relevant to say about current questions over marriage, homosexuality is only mentioned in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, Gilmore also gets this wrong. The New Testament speaks of homosexuality on three occasions. We shouldn’t make more of it than there is, but we cannot ignore the fact that on every occasion the New Testament speaks of homosexual behaviour, it does so negatively.

It should be said, none of these passages are pitching their argument against people who experience same-sex attraction or sexual confusion, but of practice. Indeed, there are many Christians who live with same-sex attraction, and have chosen to live a life of abstinence.

Abstinence is of course portrayed as one of today’s deadly sins; a vice not a virtue. But perhaps this says more about our society than it does about the good of self-control.

Gilmore is guilty of one further error, although it’s understandable for those who haven’t read the Bible: It is a mistake to pit Jesus’ words against the rest of the Bible, for it is believed he is the ultimate author of all Scripture, and as Jesus himself said, all the Scriptures point to him. Again, the 3 New Testament mentions of homosexuality are found in the midst of discussions exploring the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what is considered ‘sound doctrine’.

The two Anglican ministers on the panel unfortunately did not correct Jane Gilmore, and I suspect the reason is, revising her lack of Bible knowledge would expose the hypocrisy of their own views. Let’s be clear, these two men were on the program specifically because they support same-sex marriage, a position which Julia Baird pointed out is not supported by most Anglicans. The truth is, all major Christian denominations in Australia share what we might call, the classic view of marriage.

Rod Bower, of Gosford Anglican, tried to give some credence to Gilmore’s miss-exegesis when he claimed the Bible authors only knew of heterosexuality and nothing of homosexuality. To back up this allegation, he suggested that the Bible’s only issue with homosex is when heterosexuals are doing it. This is a very poor reading of Romans ch.1, and only few scholars would even entertain this as a possible interpretation. The phrase ‘abandoned natural relations’ (Romans 1:27) does not mean heterosexuals acting contrary to their nature. The noun phusikos is used in both Scripture and Hellenistic Jewish traditions to speak of created order. Neither Paul, nor any Bible writer, differentiates between“homosexuals” committing acts of homosex and “heterosexuals” committing homosex. Homosexual behaviour, regardless of how one might define one’s sexuality, is contrary to God’s created order, contrary to phusikos.

Our atheist professing panellist did get something right, Jesus did speak about love. It’s true, Jesus said a lot about love, and he wasn’t just a preacher, he practiced love, and he loved those whom others were unwilling to love. But this love Jesus taught and modelled was not expressed in a moral vacuum, such that we can fill it up any way we like, and his definition of love was not derivative of popular morality or from religious shibboleths. Rather, his love is an expression to human beings of Divine love, a Trinitarian love, a holy love.

Jesus had plenty to say about sex and marriage, but arguing that Jesus would support same sex marriage is as incongruous as predicting Sydney Swan supporters will be barracking for the Doggies at Saturday’s AFL Grand Final. In Jesus we will not find an ally for progressive sexuality, we do however discover a God who demonstrated profound love and concern for those who found themselves in alternate situations, some by choice, others forced upon them. He gave up his life to promise a new kind of life that is more ultimate and satisfying, no matter where we have found ourselves.

The Sri Lankan evangelist, Ajith Fernando tells the story, ‘A convert to Christianity, when asked what attracted him to Christ, said “what other God would die for people like me?’

People may choose to disagree with Jesus but let’s not debase these important conversations by misrepresenting him, or anyone for that matter. At a time when our national discourse is often overrun with stereotypes and misinformation about opposing views, is it asking too much that we get the facts right?

Freedom For Faith in Melbourne

For my review of last week’s  Freedom for Faith Conference in Melbourne, go to The Gospel Coalition Australia site – https://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/freedom-for-faith-melbourne-conference

 

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Mark Dreyfus on the Marriage Debate

My local member of Federal Parliament, Mr Mark Dreyfus QC, gave a keynote address at today’s Freedom For Faith Conference, held in Melbourne.

Mr Dreyfus spoke to the topic of Marriage Equality & the Proposed Plebiscite. I appreciated his candour and contribution, for what has become a stimulating day thinking through issues of Religious Freedom.

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I wish to offer 6 brief comments in response to Mr Dreyfus’ presentation.

First, Mr Dreyfus began by asserting that the main concern of persons opposing SSM is the issue of religious freedom. Indeed, there are a range of questions and issues relating to freedom of religion should the Marriage Act be changed, and no doubt these are a concern to those not supporting SSM. It is however a mistake to suggest these concerns are the main reason for opposition, which I would argue is, the reasoned belief that marriage by definition is between a man and a woman.

It is important for the public to understand that issues surrounding religious freedom are an important corollary, but  the primary concern relates to the definition of  marriage, and that marriage shouldn’t be redefined to allow two persons of any sexuality for the very reason that marriage refers to the life long covenantal relationship between one man and one woman.

Second, Mr Dreyfus made his argument for SSM saying, ‘it comes down to a simple truth – love is love’. Such an argument however is inadequate. There are many forms of love,  and most of them should surely not be grounds for marriage. Love is a necessary ground for marriage, but it does not stand alone. There are other necessary prerequisites, which include biology, gender, children, social order and good.

Third, Mr Dreyfus suggested that ‘it is not right to judge another person’s love’. I am happy to go a long way in agreeing with this statement, except it must be noted that marriage is not merely a private matter; by nature it is public. Marriage is the formal declaration of a new family unit, separate from other familial relationships socially, physically, personally, and legally. Thus by definition, it is only appropriate that society has a role in determining our understanding of this institution.

Fourth, Mr Dreyfus presented 3 reasons why Australia should refrain from holding a plebiscite.

  1. it will acts as an unhelpful precedent
  2. the cost
  3. the danger to LGBTI people

I have argued elsewhere that the precedent argument is somewhat fallacious, given that Australian Parliaments (both Federal and State) have undertaken 60 referendum and plebiscites since Federation.

Mr Dreyfus’ second and third objections have warrant, although there are reasonable responses to these as well (cf. https://murraycampbell.net/2016/09/08/labor-party-proposal-deserves-attention/)

Fifth, Mr Dreyfus admits that altering the Marriage Act may well lead to significant social changes to society. This is a significant admission, one that we shouldn’t overlook –  as Australia’s Shadow Attorney General, and as a supporter for marriage change, Mark Dreyfus indicated that changing our definition of marriage will forseeably change the fabric of society.

Sixth, Mr Dreyfus challenged the room (filled with lawyers and academics!) to prove that changing the law will lead to restrictions in religious freedom. Several lawyers and academics took up the challenge, citing examples from overseas and even from within Australia, in relation to employees being forced to choose between their conscience or compromising in order to keep their job.

As Mark Snedden noted during the question time, the cost to religious liberty is already being demonstrated including in the Australian Labor Party, where if you wish to gain preselection you must now either give up belief in heterosexual only marriage or be denied preselection.

Once again, I found it helpful and insightful to hear my Parliamentary representative speak to this important issue. However, the concerns of many Australians will not be alleviated as a result of his address, if anything, they have gained substance. But one thing was positive, I witnessed another example of a  civil and serious engagement on the topic of marriage.

Study shows huge flaws with Safe Schools

Where are we leading our children?

The Safe Schools Program made the front page of my local newspaper this week. One of the local councillors, Paul Peulich, raised concerns over the program at a recent Council meeting. He proposed a motion to bring attention to the issues with Safe Schools, but it was met with ‘silence’ from his fellow councillors.

Following the failed motion, another Councillor,  Steve Staikos, referred to Mr Peulich’s comments as ‘disgraceful’, and Kingston Mayor, Tamsin Bearsley, said no local resident had raised Safe Schools with her as an issue.

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The lack of letters and phone calls to the Mayor’s office is probably due to the fact that Safe Schools is a State and Federal issue, rather than one for local Council, but we are  mistaken if we believe that Kingston City residents are not profoundly concerned with Safe Schools.

While the Federal Government has proposed revisions to the program, parental concerns have been repeatedly ignored by the Victorian Government. Disappointingly, rather than responding to questions with reasoned argument, Government members persist with name calling and accusations of phobia and bigotry.

It is one thing to discount the views of opposition politicians, and even to spurn the concerns of families; but it will be interesting to see what will happen in light of an academic  paper that was published last week, The Controversy over the Safe Schools Program – Finding the Sensible Centre.

Professor Patrick Parkinson AM is one of the nation’s most respected legal academics. He has been researching Safe Schools and has deemed it ‘dubious’, ‘misleading’, and ‘containing exaggerated claims’. 

To be begin with, I fully affirm Professor Parkinson’s words, “it is axiomatic that children and young people should be protected from bullying.” As a parent (and as a Pastor), I do not wish to see any child suffering from bullying. Our schools, churches, and communities ought to be safe places for children.

Throughout the 32 page paper, Professor Parkinson gives detail of the research used by La Trobe University to form the basis of Safe Schools, and what he reveals is shocking.

First of all, the numbers don’t add up. Safe Schools material claims that 10% of the population is same-sex attracted, 4% are transgender or gender diverse, and 1.7% are intersex. None of these statistics are true, in fact all these numbers of wild exaggerations.

For example, when it comes to transgenderism, if 4% was true, it would mean that 1 in every 25 students (approximately one child per classroom) would be transgender. We know anecdotally this is not the case. Where does this number come from? The only citation offered by Safe Schools is from a New Zealand study, which, when read, does not purport that 4% of people are transgender.

Professor Parkinson then quotes the actual report, which says,

“About 1% of students reported that they were transgender (a girl who feels like she should have been a boy, or a boy who feels like he should have been a girl…). Ninety-six percent were not transgender and approximately 3% were not sure.”

Parkinson then states, ‘To count the 3% who answer ‘not sure’ as being ‘gender diverse’ is academically irresponsible. People who answer ‘not sure’ in surveys do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they don’t understand what the questioner is asking.’

He then follows to summarise a series of notable studies, none which found more than 0.52% of people are to some extent transgender.

He concludes the section with this damning assessment:

“A likely explanation for the exaggeration of transgender and intersex conditions is that it is regarded as necessary to support the authors’ belief system to show that gender is “fluid” and can even be chosen.”

This is not science, this is uncontrolled ideology, and one that is aimed at our children.

Professor Parkinson also demonstrates how Safe School’s depends on theories of sexuality that counter best knowledge and practice in psychology and medicine, how it offers flawed legal advice, and how it is creating unsafe environments for children and families who don’t adhere to the program’s contentious views. He even argues that Safe Schools poses genuine risk to students who are struggling with aspects of their psychosexual development.

Safe Schools must be challenged, because our children matter and because truth matters. No doubt a reader will inevitably mis-hear and accuse me of hating LGBTI people; for their good and the sake of all children, should not our education programs be grounded in proven research? Should we not frame school curricula with the best available research, rather than ‘erroneous information’?

Mr Peulich’s concerns have been substantiated, and rather than being met with silence, we must speak and address this, and we must resolve these issues before we abuse a whole generation of children with unscientific pop-psychology. We want effective anti-bullying programs in our schools, but Safe Schools is not it.

More Christian leaders weighing in on the plebiscite issue

Two thoughtful articles were published today by two Australian Christian leaders, critiquing the pros and cons of the marriage plebiscite.

While they are addressing different points, they could be read as complementary pieces.

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Mike Frost asks the question, ‘is Australia really mature enough for a plebiscite on this matter?’ His answer? No. His reason?  ‘Are Australians capable of debating this matter without descending into a cruel and divisive fight about intensely personal matters like people’s religious views and their sexuality? I very much doubt it.’ Sadly, it is not difficult to find examples, many from people supporting SSM, but deplorable comments have also been made toward LGBTI Australians.

Ray Galea is also concerned with the rhetoric plebiscite; he is concerned for the well being of gay and lesbian Australians, and he is also conscious of how Christianity may be presented to the public during this debate.

This Pastor from Western Sydney offers sage advice for Christians, that we must not let this issue confuse, lessen, or hide the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also right to point out that personal testimony is a powerful tool to persuade people of Christian theology and ethics:

“Our ongoing focus should be on where the battle is really fought. Its in our homes. It’s when we get to present to our family and friends spouses who are loved and respected.”

Whatever the outcome on the plebiscite the real battle for marriage is first and last on the ground, as the world sees husbands and wives under the Lordship of Christ living out order and equality, love and respect (Eph 5:33).

The better our marriages the more powerful is our argument that God’s way is indeed the best way.”

Without taking away anything they have said, the fact remains, someone needs to decide whether the Marriage Act will change to include same-sex marriage or not. If not the people, then the Parliament, but of course  many of the malicious and slanderous comments have come from the lips of our political representatives. If we can’t trust the Australian people with a plebiscite, we certainly can’t trust the Parliament.

The question then is, where can serious discussion take place on this issue?

There are of course many positive examples, although few come to public attention because calm, intelligent, and respectful conversation doesn’t send the news cameras racing to the scene.

I don’t think we should give up on highlighting attractive examples of public debate on marriage, and to encourage Australians emulate these. Sadly, there will always be some who insist on fighting dirty, and we trust that these dreadful tactics will be exposed and seen for what they are. Perhaps some of the vitriol stems from fear, certainly much of it is hate, but most disgraceful of all are those who are using hate and insult as a weapon to silence other points of view. Such methods are unChristian. Indeed, we must go further and not only set an example of gracious dissent, we must be prepared to call out that mud when ‘Christians’ are throwing it, and we should be ready to take those hits for our gay and lesbian neighbours.

Always remember the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ remains the most true and compelling example of how to engage in conversation where there is significant disagreement. He would never compromise the righteousness of God; the New Testament records many events where Jesus disagrees with the views of 1st Century Jewish society. But Jesus didn’t stop with disagreement; he went much further: he volunteered to lay down his life for the very people with whom he disagreed. His death and resurrection provides us not only with the example par excellence, but it works, it brings about forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

It is encouraging to see more Christian leaders expressing views on this issue of marriage. I share the concerns that my brothers Mike and Ray have raised, but I do not think any of the alternatives will prove to be more reasonable and civil. However, whether there is a plebiscite, a Parliamentary vote, or no vote at all, the Gospel doesn’t change, the way we view our fellow Australians shouldn’t change,  and the partnership of love and truth must remain in our mouths, hearts and lives.

Two Campbells and a Bird sat down to chat

Nathan Campbell has responded to recent articles written by Mike Bird and myself, criticising the tone and contour of what we said.

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First up, I want to say that I’d be happy to play the bagpipes and swap stories about the MacDonalds with my fellow Campbell any day of the week. More than that, I love my brother Nathan’s passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ; his faith in the power of God’s good news is an example for Christians across the country.

I agree with so much of what Nathan has written: Yes, the laws are dumb, yes Christ is triumphant, yes Daniel Andrews’ policies are small fish in comparison with what many believers are suffering in the world. His reminders of the Christian hope are wonderfully important and refreshing in an age where we can get bogged down in some of the daily mud of life.

At the same time, Nathan has profoundly misunderstood our tone, and his critique of our alleged lack of Gospel-centredness is disappointing and off the mark.

First, he conflates voicing concern with fear and panic. I don’t feel afraid or panicked, and neither am I suggesting that we should feel as such. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to express legitimate concerns over legislation that will impact religious freedom in Victoria. 

Second, I sense as though Nathan doesn’t appreciate the role of rhetorical devices when illustrating points for readers. Of course Daniel Andrews is not Henry VIII or Julius Caesar; but his disdain for opposing viewpoints and his desire to squash religious liberties is real enough, and that’s the point.

Third, and this one troubles me the most, Nathan has confused us expressing concern over a current issue with having a myopic view of God’s Kingdom, and of diminishing Christ’s victory over the grave.

I am happy to concede that if my latest blog piece was the only thing people ever read of mine, readers might misconstrue the reality which drives me; as they say, context is everything. But of course, this is only one of many articles dealing with multiple theological, social, and political matters. For the most part, the Gospel is front and centre, and when it is not, the Gospel is nonetheless serving in the background as the framework in which I express my views. Must every article contain an explicit ‘this is the Gospel’ clause?

Indeed, it is our confidence in the Gospel that give us courage to respond to current issues. We are not afraid to speak and even to lose these battles, because we know who has ultimately won.

Nathan wrote, “I capitalise this because we’re worried about a piddling little thing like the Premier of the State of Victoria; not exactly a global superpower”. 

That is easy to say if you’re not one of the 5 million piddling Victorians living in this State. To be honest, I think our friend from Queensland has on this occasion  denuded the situation in Victoria in a way that is a little unhelpful. Evangelicals should never put too much emphasis on our present circumstances, but neither should we make it altogether redundant.

As a way of outlining some Gospel perspective to the matters Nathan has raised, let me reiterate portions of a piece that I wrote for TGCA in June this year,

“We must concede that Churches no longer occupy a position in the middle, but we don’t want to evacuate the public space altogether. I want to argue that it is worth fighting for a voice in public discourse, but we do so with the belief that the Gospel does not depend upon it. So why should we defend notions of ‘freedom of speech’.

First of all, we have something to say. We have good news to speak and show our neighbours, and so why would we walk away from secular principles that give us freedom for speaking and contributing?

Secondly, we should defend the right to speak for the sake of those who speak against us. Is this not a way in which we love our neighbour?  Is it also not a sign of a mature society, one that is big enough to allow a plurality of voices, and to say ‘I disagree with you, but let’s hear you out and then talk it through’.

Thirdly, we are members of a democratic society, which in principle gives permission for Christians and atheists alike to speak and offer their opinion.

Our democratic liberties give Christians a platform and context for doing public ministry, and we are thankful for this, but the Gospel is not curtailed by the limitations or freedoms of liberal democracy. Indeed, history demonstrates that Churches have often flourished where they have been most resented. More importantly, Jesus Christ taught a theology of the world which lives in opposition to God and which hates those who follow Jesus. Why should we assume Australia is any different?

Are, as Greg Sheridan suggests, ‘churches in crisis now on all fronts’? It depends on how one defines the mission and role of the church.

Our aim is to love others, whether our convictions are affirmed by others or not.

Our goal is not relevance, for the Gospel we believe is not defined by a popularist epistemological current, but by the word of the cross, which is foolishness to the wise and powerful of this world. Instead, our purpose is to preach this foolishness for through it God works to redeem and heal.

Our mission is not to set up power structures at the centre of society, but to speak the Gospel and to love others no matter where we find ourselves situated in relation to broader society.

Freedom of speech has become the gordian knot of our day. Politicians, lawyers, and academics will ponder and debate and try to find a way to navigate through the many layers of twisted and knotted rope, and while their answers will have implications for Christian speech and life in public, our hope does not lay with them, but in the Gospel, a word that is sharper than a two edged sword. Our hope rests in the Christ who has promised that he will build his church and not even Hades can stand against it.

Sadly many Christians have sold their soul in order to buy a place at the centre of public life, and they are now being marshalled into following the lead of the social progressives, and others are instead holding tight to their conservative neuroses. There are however exceptions; across the land there are churches growing and people are becoming Christians, and there are Bible colleges in Australian cites who are training more men and women than in the previous generation. There are Christians serving in Parliament, teaching in universities, and working in a thousand different jobs. And to these men and women, keep preaching and living the Gospel, loudly from the centre or whispering it from the edge, and through it God will keep working his grace and growing his Kingdom.”

Van Gogh is Coming to Melbourne

French impressionism and Melbourne are a perfect match, like truffle and risotto, or Debussy and the piano.

40 paintings and 25 drawings by Vincent Van Gogh will be displayed in a special exhibition at the National Art Gallery of Victoria next year.

Bring on Winter 2017

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For details

Victoria about to Pull the Plug on Religious Freedom

“Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt.”

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Victoria has moved one step closer to undoing one of Australia’s most basic doctrines, that the State will not interfere with or control religious organisations. In a series political moves that may well remind us of a Henry VIII or Vladimir Putin, Daniel Andrews has decided to pull the plug on religious freedom.

Yesterday, a Bill was presented to the Legislative Assembly for debate: an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act, making it unlawful for religious organisations to not employ persons on account of them holding to different religious views to those believed by the organisation.

Mr Andrews has said, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

Should the State force Churches and religious organisations to employ persons who don’t subscribe to their values and vision? Of course not, but then again, Henry VIII shouldn’t have pronounced himself the head of the English Church and Julius Caesar probably shouldn’t stuck his nose into Gaul, but they did.

Schools, Churches, Synagogues, Temples, and hundreds of organisations, will be required to pass a test, demonstrating to the Government that advertised positions inherently require an employee to affirm the beliefs and practices of that institution. The tribunal will then have authority to decide what is religious and what is not, and which roles require a person to hold to the beliefs of the organisation and not; a pontifex maximus for Victoria!

Soon there will be all manner of religious organisations lining up outside a brick Government building, waiting to prove that their employees ought to be on the same page as their school or charity.

Yes, I know, all this sounds like one crazy dream built on an evening of Roquefort and Sauternes, or perhaps the plot line for a whacky comedy. But no, this is real and it is serious.

Victorians who conform to Labor’s strict interpretation of religion and sexuality have nothing to fear, but for 100,000s of Victorians who send their children to religious schools, attend churches, and who support religious organisations, there is genuine reason for concern.

The Bill will be voted on this afternoon (15/9) and is guaranteed to pass the Lower House, given that the Government has the numbers. The final outcome will then depend on the Legislative Council. Common sense ought to prevail, but then common sense would have ensured this Bill had never left cabinet room.

Concerned Victorians should contact their local members of Parliament. We can also pray that common sense will be followed and this Bill rejected.


For further details read:

https://murraycampbell.net/2016/09/06/letters-for-members-of-the-victorian-parliament-re-inherent-requirement-test/

https://murraycampbell.net/2016/09/04/petition-to-uphold-freedom-of-association-and-freedom-of-belief-in-victoria/

The Secularized Erastianism of the Daniel Andrews Government in Victoria

The Primate is right, but don’t twist his meaning

Like many Australians I appreciated Philip Freier’s letter, and there is much to like about his message and the tone in which it was written. There is little with which I disagree.

In relation to the potential fallout from altering the Marriage Act , I suspect Freier’s optimism is misplaced; not that I want to dampen his hope, but there is substantial evidence pointing to the likelihood of decreased religious freedoms in event of the law changing. One only has to look at Canada and the UK to see the growing mountain of legal, political, and social disarray created by legalising same-sex marriage. Indeed, look at the State of Victoria, my own home state, to see a Government using sexuality issues to restrict public conscience and religious freedom.

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My attention here, however, is to point out the way this letter is being interpreted by some folk. For example, the headline for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age reads, “Religious shift on same-sex marriage.” The underpinning logic is, Archbishop says follow your conscience, rather than the Bible.

The Archbishop is following a long tradition in esteeming the human conscience. *Evangelical Christians have long held that the conscience is an important part of the human psyche, and it should not be easily ignored and contravened.

Perhaps the most famous example from history is that of Martin Luther. As he stood before the council at the Diet of Worms in 1521, Luther is reputed to have said,

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”

This conviction about the importance of the conscience goes back to the Scriptures itself:

Speaking of people who had not been raised with the Mosaic Law, the Apostle Paul writes,

‘They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.’ (Romans 2:5)

Elsewhere Paul says, ‘My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.’ (1 Corinthians 4:4)

‘One of the requirements for Church leaders is that they, ‘must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.’ (Titus 3:9)

It can be sinful and dishonest to act against the conscience, but this doesn’t mean that the conscience is morally neutral or always right. The conscience is corruptible as is every part of the human being:

“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” (Hebrews 10:22)

In the volume, Conscience in the New Testament, C.A Pierce notes that the conscience does not provide a set of moral norms for the person, as much as it functions as an alarm, alerting a person to their moral oversteps.

All this together means that the conscience is a subjective guide but not the ultimate guide for determining moral and spiritual truth. Of course I don’t expect my non Christian friends to agree with this point, but rather I am explaining a Christian perspective of the conscience. This is important, because while Christians affirm the the role of the conscience, we do not place it above or on par with the Scriptures.

To place the conscience on par with Scripture is to subvert the authority of the Bible and inevitably place the human mind over the Bible. Throughout life there are decisions to make where one must decide, do I accept what the Bible says or what my conscience is saying? Neither is it the case of having two equal but different axiomatic authorities, but when the conscience contradicts Scripture, it ought to be corrected and reshaped according to those words of God.

Philip Freier is right to encourage people not to act against their conscience, but it would be misleading to therefore conclude there are  multiple valid Christian positions on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Archbishop’s words are being celebrated today as a shift in Christian thinking about homosexuality. That is not the case, even as Philip Freier indicated, the Anglican Church is holding to its understanding of marriage; this is true of all major Christian denominations in Australia.

In other words, no Australian should ignore their conscience when deciding their view on marriage, but as far as Christians are concerned, it is the Bible not our subjective consciences, that defines the Christian view of marriage.

Finally, I agree with the Archbishop in that Australian Christians ought to respect the decision made by the Australian public. It may well be that the majority decide to retain the current definition of marriage, but in the event of change, we should respect the democratic process. One question remains, however, will dissenters be permitted freedom of conscience to continue teaching, officiating, and practicing the Christian view of marriage, without fear of litigation?

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* Evangelicalism has nothing to do with right wing American politics. That is a recent sociological phemenemon, which has stripped the word of its theological and historical roots. The word means, euangelion, the Gospel. Evangelicals are Christians who believe & live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ (which of course, by definition is foundational for all genuine Christianity)

Labor Party Proposal Deserves Attention

This afternoon news broke that the Federal Labor Party are considering agreeing to the marriage plebiscite, so long as this set of conditions are applied:

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  • plebiscite is self executing or binding
  • No public funding for either side
  • Voting is compulsory
  • question is fair and reasonable

In my opinion these are reasonable requests and deserve due consideration from Malcolm Turnbull and the Cabinet. The Age is reporting that ‘Christian groups’ will be angered by list, but I don’t see any reason for objecting.

Of course, the big question is, what will the question be, and it is understandable that people will wait for this announcement before making a final call on support for the plebiscite; I don’t envy those who are responsible for framing the question.

My only qualification to Labor’s suggestion is that it is unreasonable to expect MPs to vote against their conscience, that is, should the Australian public vote to change the law. If the majority of Australians vote to change the Marriage Act, I don’t think MPs should vote otherwise, but should their conscience not permit them to support same sex marriage they should have freedom to abstain from voting. Therefore, a self executing  plebiscite is preferable (I’m not a lawyer, and so I don’t know whether this is possible and how this would work).

There is one vital  matter that has not arisen, either today or in most public discussions on the issue, and that is how redefining marriage will impact many other aspects of Australian law and life. Changing the Marriage Act is not so simple,  as though all we are doing is removing a couple of words. Rather there will be a significant ripple effect throughout  many areas of law, including discrimination laws, family law, and property and finance laws. For example, when the U.K introduced same-sex marriage, they produced a 62 page document outlining many of the laws that would require reworking in light of the change. The point is a simple one, we mustn’t think that should we vote to change marriage, the discussions are over. It is only fair that in the lead up to the plebiscite, the Government outline to Australians, details of the many implications that will arise from altering marriage.