The ongoing offence of the Gospel and of Sydney Anglican Diocese

My brothers and sisters in the Sydney Anglican diocese have donated $1 million to aid the ‘no’ vote on the marriage campaign. The almost instantaneous public backlash following the announcement was as surprising as hay fever in Spring. Critics jumped on board to advise the Diocese as to how they should be using their money.

A balanced media report would have explained how the Diocese uses all its funds, including the near million dollars raised to help Syrian refugees, the huge sums invested into Anglicare, and the even larger sums that are raised annually within churches for many different projects. Naturally, there is more to the story than social media is sharing, but examining the fuller picture isn’t what critics do best. Fairfax once again performed valiantly as they lifted a facebook comment by one Sydney Minister, cutting and pasting his opinion with the surgical skill of my 3 year old pet dog.

I am not saying that I finally agree with their decision (Baptist blood runs thick!), it was not my decision to make and I am not privy to conversations inside the Standing Committee. I am grateful though that the Sydney Diocese is treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, and they are prepared to back up their words with action and money. Archbishop Glenn Davies is correct in his analysis of the current debate and of the consequences that will inevitably follow should marriage be redefined.

“I believe that a change in the definition of marriage is unwarranted, not just because it is in opposition to the teaching of Scripture and our Lord himself in Matthew 19, but because I believe marriage, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman, is a positive good for our society, where marriage and the procreation of children are bound together as the foundational fabric of our society, notwithstanding the sad reality that not all married couples are able to conceive. Moreover, I consider the consequences of removing gender from the marriage construct will have irreparable consequences for our society, for our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. It is disingenuous to think otherwise, given the evidence to the contrary in Canada, the US and the UK.”

Same-sex marriage is about redefining society. It is about degendering  the family unit, and removing the rights of  children to be raised by their biological mother and father.  Numerous social activists are telling us how marriage is only the next stage of the much larger agenda to remove gender altogether and remove religion from public society.

Mauvre Marsden wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry argued in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

If the same-sex marriage activists are telling us the truth about their aims, surely we are loving our neighbours by trying to speak up about the good of marriage.

 

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There is one particular criticism over the Diocesan donation that I wish to comment on, and it is coming from a few Christians who are suggesting that this will make evangelism more difficult. I understand the point, but I don’t buy it.

People will always be offended by the Gospel and by Christians expressing God’s righteousness.

Society has its own grid for defining moral rights and wrongs, and this isn’t always in tune with God’s righteousness. Sometimes when the culture says I’m a hypocrite, I am acting like a hypocrite. Other times, society just doesn’t like the fact that I’m not agreeing with them. Believing something different to the culture doesn’t make me hypocritical.

As Christians we want to be wise and not glibly explain away offences people may take at us, for it may well be that we ourselves have been blinded by our own sins and it takes an unbeliever to point it out to us. The reality is, the Sydney Diocese has a positive track record of acknowledging wrongdoing and seeking restitution. Last night’s domestic violence policy is the latest testimony to this. I even suspect that Sydney Anglicans are doing a better job than most in serving society’s vulnerable and needy. This may be partly due to the means available to them, but it’s partly because they’re living out what they preach and believe. It is however foolish to suggest that any current social milieu holds truth captive and is the arbiter of moral axioms, and that’s precisely the problem here – the Diocese isn’t conforming to the controlling pattern of our culture.

Same sex marriage was only one of several important social issues being addressed at Synod, including their important policy dealing with domestic abuse. This news story has received some media attention, but pales in comparison to the $1 million donation. Why? Because Sydney Anglicans gave the money to the “wrong” side. Alan Joyce’s $1 million donation and the free advertising given by the NRL are lauded because they conform to the set narrative. I guarantee that if a Christian denomination had donated money to the ‘yes’ campaign, the media would be praising them for their love and boldness.

I don’t believe Sydney’s donation will make evangelism harder, it simply affirms how hard it already is. Who knows, instead of fearing that critics and heretics will take another swing at the Church, perhaps in God’s kindness, this may create new  Gospel opportunities as people in our community see that someone has the guts to stand and be counted.

My caution to Christians is this, be very careful about defining our decisions by public opinion. I’m not saying that the beliefs and ideas of people around us don’t matter to us, but it’s the wrong starting question. We ought to first ask, how we can faithfully and wisely apply what we believe to be true and good in God’s word. We won’t always get this right, but I am thankful for those Churches and denominations who are trying.

 

 

In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Murray Campbell , of Melbourne, Victoria.

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An Open Letter to LGBTI Australians about the marriage debate

Dear LGBTI Australians,

I am writing this open letter to express some thoughts in relation to the issue of same sex marriage. My intention is not to address every question—for that would require a very lengthy letter indeed—but I do wish offer a few reflections.

I want to begin by saying that I truly want you to live happy and fulfilling lives. I am sorry for the abuse and hate you have experienced from the community, even at times from Christians. 

Not for a moment will I pretend that I have always treated others with the dignity and love that I should. I am far from a perfect human being. I do however grieve the fact that so many LGBTI Australians have experienced much pain and sorrow.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, I understand that there is great diversity of opinion in our society. Even among LGBTI Australians, there is a wide range of views. Some folk wish to legalise same sex marriage simply because they believe in the institution of marriage and want the opportunity to marry. Others argue that legalising same-sex marriage is part of a broader campaign to dissolve marriage altogether along with all structures associated with a conservative and non-socialist agenda. Yet other gay couples have shared that they believe marriage should not be redefined. For example, Ben Rogers and Mark Poidevin who have been in a relationship for 15 years recently spoke out against gay marriage,

“If we make one exception for one community, that being the same-sex couples, where does it stop?” 

Again, other people are professing Christians and believe that celibacy, unless married to someone of the opposite gender, is the best way to live. 

I mention all this because it is very easy to make generalisations and to assume the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps are without nuance. I realise that not everyone laughed at Benjamin’s Law’s “humour” about sexual assaulting MPs, and not everyone is okay with last week’s violent protest at the University of Sydney. Similarly, the assault on Kevin Rudd’s godson was absolutely wrong and cannot be defended.

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In the last few years I have written several articles on the topic of marriage and sexuality because, while marriage is incredibly personal and private, it is also a public institution. Marriage is a way in which society self-defines and divides according to family units. Governments involve themselves in marriage because of children—to safeguard children so that they may be raised by their biological parents, except in unfortunate and extreme circumstances.

Given the public nature of marriage and how Acts of Parliament are purposed to influence society, I believe it is reasonable for fellow Australians to have freedom to speak and to argue their case. 

Sadly, in the same way that some journalists and social groups paint all LGBTI Australians with the same brushstroke, we are unfortunately seeing politicians and social commentators taking the same approach to caricature any Australian who opposes same-sex marriage. 

Contrary to a series of recent journalistic efforts by Fairfax writers, believing in classical marriage is not forcing a view on to society, rather it is bringing to the public square a view on why the current legal definition makes good sense. If we cannot have freedom to do this in Australia, we no longer have freedom. If public dissent from popular opinion is no longer allowed, we are moving toward a very precarious view of society.

I wonder, even for a moment, if you might consider the possibility that someone might vote ‘no’, not because they are hateful, but because they believe love requires us to say ‘no’ at times? For now, I’m not assuming the rightness and wrongness of any particular position. But can the word ‘no’ ever be tied to good intentions?

Regrettably, there are a small number of people who, for reasons that are hateful, don’t want marriage laws to change. The reality is, most people arguing for the status quo are doing so because of good reasons and out of love, even love for those who hold a different opinion. I will return to this below.

You may disagree with my understanding of marriage, but surely it’s possible to see that it is not illogical for people to believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Until a few years ago, this was the universal understanding of marriage. Indeed, many of the now vocal advocates in Parliament for same sex marriage were, until recently, vocal supporters of heterosexual only marriage. And while a few societies throughout world history have embraced homosexual relationships, none believed that they should be defined as marriage. To believe that marriage is for a man and a woman committing to life-long union is deeply rooted in history and logic and biology, and yes even theology. 

Many relationships can be described as loving, but not all are marriage. While I believe in dignity and inherent worth of every individual, we should not confuse equity with equivalence, for that ultimately makes marriage a meaningless word. Have we forgotten the two heterosexual men from New Zealand who in 2014, married in order to win free tickets to the Rugby World Cup? Also, we should not continue to build societal structures where more children will be raised without one or both of their biological parents.

I understand that for some Australians, the ‘no’ word will be unacceptable unless it is accompanied with a ‘yes’ vote. But I wish to convey to those who can cut through the piles of unhelpful rhetoric, it is possible to stand against bigotry and to believe that marriage should not be redefined.

Hate and violence derives from commitment to a worldview that cannot tolerate difference. This worldview may be have a religious orchestration or its shape may be that of secular humanism.

In my mind are the words of Jesus, who once said that it’s relatively easy to love those whom you like and who agree with you; it takes grace to love those with whom you disagree. We all fall short of this ideal, which would leave us hopeless, except there is one who lived the ideal without ever misstepping.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

In the life of Jesus, we learn that he maintained the Bible’s view on marriage, that it is between a man and a woman intended for life. Jesus insisted on this even when the governing authorities of the day tried to change his mind (they were looking to justify divorce for any reason(s). At the same time, Jesus went out his way to spend time with and care for people who were often made to feel left out and were pushed aside by mainstream society. He could love a Samaritan woman without approving of her sexual past. He would choose the poor over the wealthy, or befriend the ‘sinner’ over the religious.

A Christian must not hate, because we have been on the other side; we have belonged to the crowd who have hurt others and thrown stones of hate, pride, and greed. Christians, if they are Christian, confess their spiritual and moral destitution, and yet we have come to experience the undeserving and loving grace of God who forgives our trespasses through Jesus. Once the human heart has experienced Divine forgiveness, we cannot walk back into old attitudes of disdain for other people, nor hold onto some cold and languid acquiescence toward popular moral thought. When God replaces hate with love, it is a commitment to affirm what is good as defined by God.

I understand the difference between religious and civic marriages, and so I’m not trying to conflate the two. The point I’m making here is that disagreement and hate are not synonymous. Cannot love lead us to disagree with fellow human beings?

I do not hate you. I would willingly stand alongside you against those who insult and assault you. These same values also convince me, by reason and love, that marriage should remain as currently defined.

 

 

In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Murray Campbell , of Melbourne, Victoria.

Since when has Christianity been so concerned about religious freedom?

Fairfax Contributor, Matt Holden, has asked the question,

“since when has Christianity been so concerned about religious freedom?”

With a skilful display of not letting truth get in the way, he has answered,

“Not ever, really, is the short answer.”

The question is not, have forms of Christianity ever led to the diminishment of peoples’ religious freedoms, for history gives us such examples. However, history give many more examples where Christianity provides the philosophic undergirding for a genuine pluralist society. Holden cites the campaign against the Bendigo Mosque in 2016, asking, where were the Christians then? The truth is, there were Christians in Bendigo doing the very thing Holden claims was not happening. Perhaps he should be asking, why did the media not report it? More recently, when Waverley Council in Sydney refused the building of a Synagogue in Bondi, Christian groups were vocal in calling for the Council to change their position.

 

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In a recent article for the Gospel Coalition, Dr Russell Moore (President of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention), wrote,

“when we say—as Baptists and many other Christians always have—that freedom of religion applies to all people, Christian or not, we are not suggesting that there are many paths to God, or that truth claims are relative. We are fighting for the opposite. We are saying religion should be free from state control because we believe every person must give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ.”

Have Christians always done this well? No, but more often they have, and the reality is, the social pluralism we enjoy in this country relies upon a Christian worldview. It is not irreligion that brought religious pluralism to our shores, but the Christian view that we ought to love our neighbours, and that authentic belief in God comes about through persuasion not coercion. This is another unfortunate mistake made by Holden. It seems as though he has swallowed the now popular myth that Christians are forcing their views onto society and that evangelism amounts to bullying. The reality is very different. By definition, Christianity is a conversion religion. No one is born Christian, but people become convinced by the claims of Jesus Christ; that he is true and good. Christianity is a persuasion religion, speaking and articulating and convincing others of what the Bible says.

Holden gives himself away when he insists, “‘the best guarantee of religious freedom is keeping religion out of politics”. In other words,  he doesn’t want religious Australians having the freedom to present their point of view. As it is, we enjoy one of the safest and most stable society’s in the world, where people of faith and none are free to express their beliefs, and to persuade others of their opinion. Holden says, those days must end.

He adds,

“This sudden defence of religious freedom by churches and religious lobby groups just doesn’t wash.”

I’m not sure how Holden would define ‘sudden’, but 116 years ago, in 1901, the framers of the Australian constitution used Judeo-Christian principles to establish a secular nation. By secular they did not mean banning religious thought from politics and public discourse. true secularism means the freedom to speak regardless of ones religious affiliation, or lack thereof. Indeed, this understanding of religious freedom can be traced back to the Bible and to the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The issue is, certain elements of the community don’t like what Christian have to say on about marriage and other social issues, but instead of engaging reasonably with argument, folk like Matt Holden are aiming to shut down those who disagree. Whether he is aware or not, Holden is not proposing secularism, but State imposed atheism; it is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse must void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we have is exclusive and intolerant atheism.

We know how anti-religious world views have had a shot at taking charge of nations, and they have produced for the world Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and North Korea. I’m fairly sure that this is not the kind of country most Australians are wanting to become.

Last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?

Finally, despite various politicians and social commentators insisting that same-sex marriage has nothing to do with freedom of religion, they are dedicating an awful lots of words to argue how opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to silenced. Two weeks ago another Fairfax Columnist, Aubrey Perry, argued that the debate on marriage has everything to do with religion, by which she meant, let’s use marriage as a weapon to remove religion from public life altogether.

Pluralism in Australian will only continue so long as those in authority allow alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. To the surprise of many, the global movement in the early 21st Century is not away from religion to irreligion or from faith to reason, but away from philosophical pluralism to both religious and secular authoritarianism.  We are a long way from where things could lead, but we are no longer standing from the sideline and pontificating the possibilities. As Sherlock Holmes would say, ‘the game is afoot’. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.

 

 

 

In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Murray Campbell , of Melbourne, Victoria.

Meaningless Marriage on QandA

If you watched QandA last night, you may be left wondering why is Australia  having a discussion about marriage at all? It’s not because reason shows us that marriage should remain between a man and a woman, and it’s not because of impassioned stories from gay couples, but because we were told by two QandA panelists that we ought to get rid of marriage altogether.

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English philosopher, AC Grayling, claimed that the origins of marriage were sexist, but now “there’s another sense of the word marriage which is the commitment that two or perhaps more — I don’t know — people make to one another about pooling their resources, mutually supporting one another.”

He added that he doesn’t support the institution of marriage (despite the fact that he is married), although he does support same-sex marriage.

Merav Michaeli is a former journalist and currently serves as a member of Israel’s Parliament. Like Grayling, Michaeli has a very negative view of marriage and thinks society expunge marriage altogether.

“This is not something that we should maintain in the world when we realise all of us are human beings.”

Why?

“Marriage has nothing to do with love but is a tool created to dominate women, and not somethin that should be sustained”.

“In many countries … your parents make you marry someone because of their social status, because of the family they come from, because they want to keep the property in a specific family or another family.”

Any audience member wearing their ‘love is love’ t-shirt last night, must have felt a little awkward…or enraged. Don’t worry, Michaeli was about to insult almost everyone on the planet. Not only is marriage not about love, it is an indictment on society for it is, according to Michaeli and Grayling, a system of oppression. Merav Michaeli went even further and alleged that marriage is a danger to children,

“The core family is the least safe place for children”.

“The custody, this total custody that we have in this structure of marriage which still gives men domination, complete domination over their children and too often over their women … is a part of the ongoing hurt in children.”

When host Virginia Trioli asked Ms Michaeli what is her alternative to marriage and the nuclear family, the answer was, the State should take responsibility for determining who will raise children. In other words, it should not be assumed that biological parents will raise their own children. In fact parents should not have inherent  rights to raise their children, but the State should be given authority to allocate children to what Michaeli calls, ‘share households’.

If your jaw dropped last night, I understand why. Pause for a moment and hear what Michaeli is suggesting; parents should not have the right to raise their own children. I’m guessing that Australians are sensible enough to know how absurd and immoral that idea is. It’s crazy. It’s George Orwell revisited. While we may not be in 1984, we do however need to appreciate that should marriage be redefined, the State will encourage children to be raised without one or both biological parents. Same sex marriage, even more than existing adoption laws, will institutionalise the raising of children without both biological parents. Not for a second am I suggesting that the State will be knocking on doors and taking children away without parental consent, but it does encourage a culture where children can and should be raised without mum or dad.

I have no doubt that there are Australians who have had a terrible experience in marriage. I know couples today whose marriages are not the beautiful and safe relationship that they imagined it would be. There are however many more examples where marriage does not reflect, in any way, the negative and abusive regime model that Michaeli describes. And where marriages have failed and are broken, most couples celebrate this situation, they wish that their experience was one where marriage was full of love and security and flourishing.

it is also important to note that, Michaeli and Grayling were not describing marriage as it was in the beginning, or the countless wonderful ways in which marriage has been expressed throughout history in different cultures. Instead, their arguments depend on taking poor historical examples of marriage, and fallaciously presenting them as normative.

The very first marriage is described in terms of goodness and intimacy and faithfulness,

“for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs  and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’

    for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”

The Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 5 speaks of marriage with tenderness and other person centredness: a husband should lay down his life for his wife. A wife can choose to respect her husband, and help him be the kind of man he ought to be.

While both AC Grayling and Merav Michaeli said marriage was bad, both they, and Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, presented the concept of marriage as relative and so not fixed in any ontological or purposeful way. Despite this, every historical example of marriage that was inferred in last night’s program, depended on the fact that marriage is between a man and a woman. Why is that? Could it be that no matter the extent to which a society tries to recalibrate marriage, in less than helpful ways, some things remained unchangeable?

The program also revealed that debates over marriage are much more complex than often presented. Among those who support classical marriage, are arguments grounded in biology, ontology, sociological reasons for raising children, and at times theology. Common among those advocating for marriage change is the view that marriage is a malleable and ultimately groundless institution that should reflect what people want it to mean. The logical extension of this view is exactly what we find Merav Michaeli advocating: let’s get rid of marriage altogether.

The lesson from history is not that marriage is wrong or that marriage is relative, but that we grieve when marriage goes awry.  When society adopts the less than ideal of marriage, surely the answer is not to further walk away from the ideal, but to return to it?

Listening to last night’s conversation on QandA once again reminded me that the first question Australian should be asking, what is marriage? Is marriage love is love, or something more? Is marriage a meaningless term that everyone has the right to use however they choose? Is marriage about property rights?

 

 

 

Yes, SSM is about more than just marriage

Australians have been told again and again that the marriage debate is only about love and equality for marriage. Fairfax columnist, Aubrey Perry, has today argued that “it’s about much more”. Perry admits that changing the Marriage Act is about removing all influence of Judeo-Christianity in Australian political and public life:

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

 

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Inadvertently, Aubrey Perry has just torn a sizeable hole in the ‘yes’ campaign for same-sex. Readers who share her fears about Christianity will no doubt be elated, but other Australians are left wondering, so this whole debate is really about religion? And it is about education, politics, and even abortion? As though mediating Roz Ward, who has insisted that she authored the Safe Schools curriculum to program children toward socialism, Perry presents marriage as the front line fight against Christianity in this country.

Unfortunately though, Perry’s presentation of Christianity often looks more like a cartoon than it does authentic Christianity, and in doing so she makes a series of factual errors.

For example, contra Perry, Christianity cannot be defined as right wing politics. There are many Christians who feel comfortable across the political spectrum. Is Perry whitewashing the Christian convictions of members of the Australian Labor Party? Christian theism is neither defined by left or right politics but by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This good news from God cannot be squeezed into the small and narrow reaches of any political party, for it counters all such human categories and gives us a greater and more stunning alternative.

Also, in a fantastic revision of history, Perry alleges that, “Religious intolerance has kept the possibility of same-sex marriage an impossibility for decades”. Well, no. Until recent years no one, anywhere, in the world would have believed marriage was anything other than between a man and a woman. It didn’t matter whether one believed in God or not, same sex marriage was a non starter. It remains the case today, that many religious and non religious people simply don’t believe that same sex marriage is logical or good for society.

Finally, it needs pointing out that true secularism is not the absence of religious thought, but the freedom to speak regardless of ones religious affiliation, or lack thereof. Perry’s argument for a secular state is not true secularism, it’s imposed atheism. It is anti-pluralism. If the only permitted discourse is void of language deferring to God and religion, then what we will have is exclusive and intolerant atheism.

Anti-religious world views have had a shot at taking charge of nations, and they have produced for the world Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot,  and North Korea. I’m fairly sure that this is not the kind of country most Australians are wanting to become.

The reality is, it is a Judeo-Christian framework that enshrined into law how no single religion would control public policy, but instead the people should persuade and argue their case. Is this so bad? According to Aubrey Perry it is worse than bad, and we must use the marriage survey as a demonstration that we will no longer tolerate religious views in the public square.

Perry has done Australians a great service though, in being honest enough to show Australians that same sex marriage is not really about marriage, but is about removing the religious and social foundations that have given this country the freedoms, prosperity, and security that we today enjoy. I hope Australians will read her article and consider their decision in light of these confessions.

Does Australian Christianity need a Nashville Statement?

Today, The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW) announced the Nashville Statement, a manifesto designed to bring clarity to the Christian view of human sexuality.

Evangelical leaders from across the USA and the UK are signatories, with many more names being added, from across churches and different denominations. They share in common a belief in the truth and goodness of God’s word and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are also expressing concern over  the culture’s reconstruction of sexuality, and are calling Churches back to the Bible and to trust God’s purposes.

The Preamble states,

“Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.”

 

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In recent days we have seen a number of Christian leaders in Australia reject the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, and doing so with the intent of persuading the public, both Christian and non Christian, that God supports sexual unions that are not within covenant union of marriage between a man and a woman. One can understand why so many Australians and even Australian Christians are confused on these issues when recognised Bible teachers come out with their hermeneutical trickery. Other Christians feel unable to speak to these issues, not because they lack conviction, but out of fear of being ostracised.

It is the case that almost every major Christian denomination in the country has a formal position on marriage, one that reflects the Bible’s presentation. However, these are often unaccompanied with adequate theological and pastoral reflection, and they don’t speak to other matters of sexuality.

In our current climate, could we do with our own Nashville Statement? How could it be helpful for Churches? Obviously we would need to change the name to something more Aussie: perhaps Bourke or Newcastle, or Frankston! Which of the 14 articles would need recalibration for our context, if any?

There may be reasonable objections to putting together a nation wide Christian oracle, and it would be helpful to hear and consider these. One thing though has become increasingly clear in recent weeks, and that this is not a season for Aussie Christians to become unclear about or lacking confidence in God’s good purposes, and in the beauty of the Gospel.

Baptists, Bible, and Marriage

In the midst of all the public conversations surrounding same sex marriage, are some issues of greater importance than how the State defines marriage; among them is the Gospel fidelity of Churches and of their ministers.

Simon Carey Holt is the Senior Minister at Collins St Baptist Church in Melbourne. He has written a piece in support of same-sex marriage. This is not anything new as Simon has made his opinions known for some time, but his latest advocacy has reached the attention of The Age newspaper.

Simon has made a series of strong assertions about why Christians should support same sex marriage, and allegations about how Christians relate to LBGTI people. Throughout the afternoon pastors, journalists, and friends have been asking me about it.  While not  intending to respond to everything he’s written, some sort of response is warranted.

1. The Bible or human experience as supreme authority

Simon admits that a key factor for shaping his view of marriage is experience; the personal stories of people whom he has encountered. In contrast to the historic understanding of marriage he says, “my experience says otherwise.”

To be fair, Simon does believe that the Bible is important for Christians, but as he admits, his experiences are what most influence his position on marriage.

Of course experience is powerful, personal, and emotive. Experience informs us of peoples fears and concerns, their values and dreams. But experience is not synonymous with what is true or best. Just because I may feel something deeply and personally does not automatically prove it to be right or good.

It is also true that everyone comes to the Bible with a mixture of personal history, experiences, ideologies, presuppositions and traditions. And those things colour our reading of the Bible, but this does not mean that experience should be read over the Bible, as Simon Carey Holt implies.

This approach to Scripture is fraught with danger. If experience is allowed to speak over Scripture then whose experiences do we listen to? Which ones are authoritative? Our different experiences need to be interpreted by Scripture, not the other way around. Not only that, the Bible’s self-testimony is that life needs to be interpreted in light of Scripture. Here are some examples:

‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path’ (Ps 119:105). It is God’s word that directs our lives, not the other way around.

‘Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction’ (2 Tim 4:2). The word of God preached has a threefold effect on the hearers: correction, rebuke and encouragement. God’s word stands over the Church and influences believers’ lives.

While we appreciate the logic of non Christians refusing the authority of the Bible, the consistent approach of Christians is that the word of God has authority over us. Genuine repentance and faith involves submitting to this Word and letting it interpret us and change us. To put experience over the word, or tradition over the word or human intellect over the word, is to put ourselves God and that is to make ourselves god.

At one point in his article, Simon appeals to the Bible,

“In his letter to the church in Rome, Saint Paul speaks of sexual failings as far more impacting than all others. “Don’t be immoral in matters of sex,” he writes, “that is a sin against your own body in a way that no other sin is.”

First of all, these words are not from Romans, but from the Apostle Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians (6:18).

Second, the Greek word for ‘sexual immorality’ (porneia), is used in the Bible to refer to any sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman.

Third, the very same chapter of the Bible earlier describes a range of porneia which all keep people outside the Kingdom of God, and homosexual practices are among them (v.9).

Fourth, if Simon does in fact wish to appeal to Romans, what he will find is another volume of Apostolic teaching that doesn’t support his ideas.

Simon is spot on about one salient point though, and that is, his views are at odds with his own denomination: “The Baptist Union of Victoria defines marriage as being the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

ExperienceScripture.jpg

2. The Gospel of love

Simon also wants his readers to be suspicious of Christians who love LGBTI people. He suggests that such Christians are in fact disingenuous, unless they also support same sex marriage.

He states,

“In much church commentary of recent days, church leaders are at pains to underline their love and respect for LGBTI people, claiming that their aversion to same-sex marriage does not equate with their denial of the integrity of same-sex persons or the worth of their families. The availability of civil unions, they will say, is an expression of this; never have the rights of the LGBTI community been more protected, they argue, and rightly so, but marriage is surely a step too far…despite the current tenor of conversation, the underlying belief has not changed: homosexuality is a dysfunction of personhood. Indeed, the entire argument against same-sex marriage rests on it. To claim otherwise is not only misleading; it is dishonest.”

Sadly it is true that there are religious people who say and do dreadful things to LGBTI people; homophobic behaviour is unChristian. But Simon’s logic is simply untrue. He leans awkwardly toward that polarising rhetoric which so many politicians have adopted – if you don’t support same-sex marriage you are unloving, if not a bigot. Simon is too polite to use some of these words, but that is his meaning.

The reality is of course very different. It is possible to love a person even though you disagree with them. It is quite possible to not affirm a friend’s relationship and yet genuinely desire their good. Can disagreement never be a loving act? Is it never possible to so love a person that you sat to them, “no, I don’t think this is best”?

Love that only ever agrees is a shallow love indeed. A virtue of love through disagreement not only belongs close to the heart of Australian democracy, but comes to close to the centre of the Christian message:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8).

The Gospel isn’t God saying, ‘I agree with you’, but  it is God declaring that he disagrees with us and yet loves. The Bible speaks of a God who acted beyond helping his friends. His Son gave his life for people who are disinterested in him and who don’t approve of him. God didn’t wait to win a popularity vote before acting to redeem and reconcile, but he took the initiative and in doing so God refused the path of blind relativism. God loves too much to agree with every desire and ambition we ignite.

Equally concerning is the way Simon frames his argument around his ‘Gospel formation’. I don’t know Simon well enough to speak to this in any general sense, but on the issue of sex and marriage, the Bible’s position is clear:

The Apostle Paul again,

“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” (1 Timothy 9-11)

Over the years I have read all the spectacular hermeneutical gymnastics that tell us how this text means anything and everything other than what it actually says, as though a simple reading of the Bible is the only wrong answer. Perhaps, just perhaps, Paul intends what he says, that the activities listed in verses 9-10 are contrary to the sound doctrine which conforms to the gospel.

While Simon’s argument for marriage contradicts the Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus is for those who have supported views of sexuality and life that are at odds with God. This point is crucial to grasp, for Christians and non Christians alike, because it ought to change our posture toward our neighbours, whoever they may be.

There is scene in The West Wing where the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Joshua Lyman, had been receiving counselling for PTSD, following a shooting in which he was one of the victims. Joshua’s colleagues had grown increasingly concerned for his well being as they observed his even more than usual brittle nature and explosions of anger. Following this counselling, Joshua steps into the hallway of the Whitehouse and notices his boss, Presidential Chief-of-Staff,  Leo McGarry, sitting nearby.

Leo asks, ‘How’d it go?’

Josh Lyman: Did you wait around for me?

Leo proceeds to tell Josh a parable,

“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.

“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on

“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”

Christians must not be and cannot be those who see someone down a hole and walk on by, or who throw a stone or hurl insults. If we have been justified in the sight of God it is solely on account of God’s grace and love. Having known this wonderful justifying grace, how can we look down on people around us? We can’t walk away, instead we climb down and sit with whoever it is down there, and we point them not to ourselves, but to Jesus.

3. A greater and more fulfilling identity.

A third issue with Simon’s presentation is that he has bought into a popular view of sexuality, one that alleges, “There is nothing that goes to the heart of human identity as much as our sexuality.”

This is of course not the case. I am not diminishing the role of sexuality in a person’s life, but the Gospel pushes back on the idolising of human sexuality, which leaves many single people feeling as though they are lacking, and it leaves many same sex attracted men and women sensing that celibacy is a barrier to true self realisation.

Sam Allberry is a minister in the Church of England. Speaking as a Christian who is same sex attracted, he writes,

“We in the West find ourselves amid a culture that increasingly encourages us to seek ultimate human meaning in sexual fulfilment. Our core human identity is found in our sexuality, which in turn is defined by our desires and attractions. Yet this is an appallingly inadequate way to account for a human being.”

Responding to an author who was advocating ‘Christian’ same sex relationships, Allberry contends,

“this is not a biblical understanding of what it means to be human. My sexuality is not to be found in my feelings but in God having created me male; it is not primarily psychological but bodily. So I am not to read my core identity off my sexual desires, but to receive the sexual identity God has already granted me as a male as a good gift to be lived out and enjoyed. My sexual desires are part of what I feel, but they are not who I am.

This is incredibly significant. If my sexual feelings are who I am at my core, then they must be fulfilled in order for me to even begin to feel complete and whole as a human. My sense of fulfilment is cast upon my sexual fortunes, and everything seems to depend on it. But being a Christian gives me a different perspective. My sexual desires are not insignificant; they are deeply personal. But they are not defining or central, and so fulfilling them is not the key to fullness of life. I suspect our culture’s near-hysterical insistence that your sexuality is your identity has far more to do with the prevalence of torment, self-loathing, and destruction than we have begun to realize.”

 

I have no doubt that Simon will receive much public adulation today, after all a Christian minister has laid aside the Bible and accepted the cultural milieu. Everyone loves a Pastor who repeats the popular mantras of the day. Sometimes though love requires something more, a harder path. As unpopular as it is right now, perhaps following Jesus and trusting his word is the best way to love people.