Why David Marr is wrong about Religious Freedom

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

David Marr had his very own Marie Antoinette moment yesterday, when he exuded incredible ignorance on the issue of religious toleration in Western society. 

It is of course incumbent upon same sex marriage advocates to tell us that ‘nothing will change’. Admitting otherwise  impacts their chances of seeing the Marriage Act redefined.

David Marr asks the question, “Whatever’s happened to free speech?”

What a great question to ask in light of a string of public outings this year: Coopers Beer and the Bible Society, Rev. Markham Campbell in Tasmania, Dr Steve Chavura of Macquarie University, and others.

None of these people or organisations were acting maliciously toward LGBTI communities. In the case of the Bible Society they were simply modelling a respectful conversation about marriage. Dr Chavura hadn’t said anything publicly about same sex marriage, but being associated with an organisation was reason enough for a kangaroo court.

In addition, following the next Federal election, it will be no longer possible to win preselection in the Australian Labor Party unless you agree to same-sex marriage.

Earlier this year, Federal Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, indicated that Labor is considering expanding section 18C, to include banning speech that same-sex marriage advocates find offensive. According to The Australian editor, Chris Merritt,

“Under Labor’s proposal, advocates of same-sex marriage would be empowered, for example, to take legal action under 18C-style laws if they felt offended or ­insulted by those who publicly ­defended the traditional definition of marriage. Those at risk would include priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.”

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While criticising a recent article by journalist Paul Kelly, Marr alleges that,

“He seriously oversimplifies those conflicts but this is not the place to go into detail. Most are examples of citizens, governments and institutions fed up with church gay bashing. Equal marriage was a side issue.”

Marr doesn’t try to prove these ‘oversimplifications’, but immediately turns to the trusted ad homimen, those people must have been gay haters. Really?

Should the Marriage Act change, it automatically places people who affirm classical marriage on the wrong side of the law. It is inevitable that this will lead to all manner of anti-discrimination claims and litigations, maybe not straight away but they will come. How can one publicly teach that marriage is only between a man and a woman when the law says otherwise? How can one refuse their premises for a same-sex wedding? What will happen in our academic and educational institutions for anyone arguing for heterosexual only marriage? And let’s keep in mind, there are already individuals being threatened with legal action and with loss of employment, and the law hasn’t yet changed!

While David Marr would have his readers believe that Christians are only interested in self-preservation, the contrary is in fact true. Christians are concerned about freedoms for other groups. For example, when a local council recently refused the building of a Synagogue in Bondi, Christians leapt to support the local Jewish community.

Marr adds, “Calls for religious freedom are now rolling across the landscape, but they remain strangely vague. We never see a neat list of them.”

That’s not entirely true. Dean Smith’s Bill outlined potential protections. And earlier in the year, a Parliamentary Committee sought submissions in light of the exposure draft legislation from Brandis. Many groups, including the  Aussie think tank, Freedom for Faith, made submissions and these arguments are available for anyone to read.

It is true however that the Government is yet to release details of any potential marriage legislation, and it is imperative for them to do so quickly. How can the Australian public make up their minds when they are unable to read what is being proposed?

I am not arguing for special protections, but am simply making the point that the evidence is already here, and it is already being played out in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere; changing the marriage law will change society and it will impact religious freedoms for millions of Australians.

Having said this, I don’t for a moment want anyone to get the idea that the health of Christianity depends upon the graces of Government or society. On this point I offer partial agreement with David Marr: religious organisations do enjoy certain privileges in society, and we ought not assume them. Having said that, religious organisations have done enormous good for Australian society, such that without them we would be intellectually, socially, morally, economically, and spiritually poorer. And do we want Australia to be the kind of nation that interferes with peoples religious freedoms? History is littered with Governments that have tried to control religion; do we really want to follow their examples?

It is rather ironic that David Marr can so glibly speak about ‘privilege’ while sweeping the ashes of religious freedoms under the carpet. Reshaping marriage means reshaping society and society’s laws and expectations, and reshaping the contour of religious freedom and practice. David Marr can argue otherwise, but it is the logical flow on effect, and we are already seeing this in practice around the world.

With all this talk about religious freedom one may be forgiven for thinking that this is the chief reason why Christians are arguing against changing the Marriage Act. This is not the case. Christians believe that the Genesis paradigm for marriage is a creation mandate that is a good for all humanity, not only for Christians. Until very recent, almost everyone accepted this view of marriage and believed it was good for society,  but now we are aiming to persuade our fellow Aussies that it remains a good for society today. At the same time, it is imperative that we understand the kinds of changes that will issue from this watershed redefinition of marriage.

With a final swing of sarcasm, David Marr ponders the future: “Can’t their faith, they wonder, win a free debate? How will it survive bullying demands for protection and privileges? How will it survive the hatred in the air?”

I’m sure Mr Marr reads history and will know that Christianity often flourishes when the State or society derides it. Christians have nothing to fear. While Australia remains a pluralist society, we will seek to persuade people, as Christians have done so for millennia. We do so, being assured that our ultimate confidence is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not in Australian law. The future of Christianity is not contingent upon any current or future legislation. No matter the socio-ethical landscape, we know God will continue his work through the Gospel and Churches will continue and people will become Christians. This of course includes implications for how Christians love and serve our gay and lesbian neighbours, whether the definition of marriage changes or not. I trust we are already making every effort to befriend and support them, and to show them the love of Christ. For we remember that we too, in all manner of ways, once defined morality and truth in ways to fit with personal inclinations, and in that moment God graciously revealed Christ to us.

Whatever position one takes on this national survey, whether to vote or not, to say yes or no, no one is served well when journalists whitewash the facts that don’t suit them. Indeed, one might ask David Marr, “Can’t your faith win a free debate?”

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2 thoughts on “Why David Marr is wrong about Religious Freedom

  1. Dear Mr. Campbell, an old school mate of mine posted your article. To his f-b post I offered the following commentary. ‘Ah a classic ‘Thin Edge of the Wedge’ argument. For Mr. Campbell, “Reshaping marriage means reshaping society and society’s laws and expectations, and reshaping the contour of religious freedom and practice. David Marr can argue otherwise, but it is the logical flow on effect, and we are already seeing this in practice around the world.” Marriage Equality WILL re-shape Australian society: it will further bring a measure of equal recognition to loving unions that are currently left out. In that way, it will continue to work towards complete fairness, in the way that recognizing divorce once did, allowing marriages where there was no hope of children, and allowing people to get re-married at all. To say nothing of recognizing as legitimate marriages between *shock gasp* protestants and Catholics, or middle and working class people, or differing races. At each point, the notion that “Christians believe that the Genesis paradigm for marriage is a creation mandate that is a good for all humanity, not only for Christians” was revealed to be an incredibly narrow definition and serves not to include people but stigmatize and exclude. Mr. Campbell is able to hold this view, and good luck to him. But if he truly believes in this definition of both “Christians” and “marriage” he should not only argue against same-sex marriage but also equally against divorce itself. If he seeks to halt the flow (and it is a halting that King Canute also tried), then he cannot merely pick and choose only the ‘man+woman’ bit of that Genesis marriage definition but must accept it all and defend it all. Otherwise, he is just a hypocrite and thus Marr is correct in that “that Christians are only interested in self-preservation.” Likewise, given Campbell’s definition, his brand of “Christians” are already “automatically places people who affirm classical marriage on the wrong side of the law.” Why hasn’t this caused the same outpouring from him? Instead, please entreat Mr. Campbell to embrace all those that are still outcasts from Australian society, especially though hardly uniquely, the LGBTQ community. Go support them for they are you too. Romans 13:8-10 ESV “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments … are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

    As you say, these issues must be debated fully and openly. I look forward to further posts from you on this issue!

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  2. Thanks Murray, Really appreciated this piece and your reminder and encouragement that the Gospel stands regardless of the environment granted it.

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