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?

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