Ridley College explains its position on marriage

A good news story has come out of Melbourne evangelicalism this week. In what may be a first, an Australian theological College has produced a formal statement about their position on marriage.

 

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Ridley College in Melbourne has released a letter in which they affirm the biblical (or ‘traditional’) understanding of marriage. They explain the reason behind the decision to articulate the College’s position,

“Our purpose in writing this brief letter is to support our fellow Anglicans in wrestling with this issue by offering a summary of the scholarly discussion over what the Bible teaches on homosexuality, and an explanation for why we believe the traditional path on marriage and sexuality is the one that Christ is calling us to take.”

Ridley’s influence extends beyond the Anglican communion, touching denominations across Melbourne and indeed around Australia. Accordingly, this letter is an encouragement not only to Anglicans, but also to Baptists, Charismatics, Presbyterians, and others.

The document goes onto outline 3 primary views on marriage that are held by various people under the Christian umbrella. They explain why Ridley College rejects both the revisionist and the progressive view on marriage, and instead why they affirm the belief that “Bible teaches that sex is designed for marriage between a man and a woman, and that we should do what the Bible says”.

You can read the full letter here:

Two weeks ago I wrote about the mounting pressure on Christian organisations to either capitulate or accommodate to the current sexual morality. Many other denominations and leaders have chosen to defer or kick the can down the street, so to speak, as though avoiding the issue is dealing with the issue. Ridley College has chosen the third and only proper Christian option, faithfulness.

As the letter makes clear, Gospel fidelity doesn’t stand in opposition to love and grace, rather it is a rightly ordered expression of these virtues. Adhering to the classical understanding of marriage doesn’t diminish the beauty of the Gospel, but is a God-given reflection of the good news of Jesus Christ.

“We are convinced that the biblical vision for human sexuality is clear. We also believe that it is beautiful, and that God’s commands are for our good as well as for his glory.”

The letter opens by acknowledging that this no mere academic exercise for these scholars,

“We acknowledge that homosexuality is a difficult topic to discuss. This is not because the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is especially unclear, but because its implications are so deeply personal. We are Bible scholars, but we are also people. All of us have wrestled with God’s teaching on marriage on a personal level as it relates to those we love –  our children, our friends, those we pastor  –  and indeed to our own lives.”

The letter also rightly points out the wonderful example in our churches of same sex attracted believers, who have chosen fidelity and godliness over and above the narrative that is being fed to us in almost every part of the culture, and which is sadly becoming normalised within some of our churches and institutions. 

As I read this sentence, “The traditional path may be a hard one to travel, but it is the one we are called to take”, I was reminded of the College’s namesake, Bishop Nicholas Ridley. Almost 500 years ago, Nicholas Ridley taught against erring doctrine and practised what he believed was in line with Biblical Christianity. He did so in the face of severe opposition, which ultimately cost him his life. His famous example reminds the Churches that holding onto biblical truths rarely garners popular adulation, but it does prepare the soil for a Gospel harvest.

God honours faithfulness. I suspect that there will be some backlash as a result of this letter but isn’t that what the Lord Jesus taught us to expect as we follow him in this world? Faithfulness is almost always hard, and it may create some difficulties for us in the days ahead, but faithfulness never fails in the end.

 It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 3-4)

I am thankful to God for Ridley College’s public testimony in this letter. We can pray that other Christian colleges and institutions have the courage to follow suit.

Raising the stakes on sex

Jane Caro and John Dickson have been exchanging thought tweets over the past couple of weeks.  It has been an interesting and helpful dialogue. I think it’s important for us to listen to each other in order to understand what makes each person ticks and to find out why we believe what we believe. 

Over the weekend Jane Caro made a comment which appears (Jane can correct me if I’m wrong) to have been written as a way of closing down this conversation. Caro said,

“Dear right-to-life men, if u have sex without wearing a condom u have no right 2stand on any kind of moral high ground & compel a woman 2carry your stray sperm 2fruition. In fact, if u ever have sex without being fully prepared to raise any child who may result u are a fraud”.

John Dickson noted the pro-life position that Caro has unwittingly outlined, not only for men but also for women. He said,

“I agree with this. But I wonder if you do! You wrote: “In fact, if u ever have sex without being fully prepared to raise any child who may result u are a fraud.” Does that apply to women, too?”

He later responded to someone who objected to his question by saying,

“All of that is true. None of it negates the question: Shouldn’t both sexes be willing to take full responsibility for any life that is created by having sex? I say: yes! Is it really plausible to suggest this principle only applies to men?”

Again, it’s a fair question.

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I’ve noticed amidst recent commentary on abortion that there’s another piece of logic and ethics that has, in my opinion, gone astray. The logic goes like this,

  1. Leading up to and during sex, a man needs to take responsibility for his actions.
  2. If the woman falls pregnant, it is her decision alone whether she keeps or aborts the child
  3. Upon giving the birth the man ought to share responsibility for raising and supporting the child

I suspect almost everyone agrees with points 1 and 3. We need to acknowledge that there are some men who fail miserably on points 1 and or 3. The Proverb is true of them,

“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” (Proverbs 25:28)”.

While I have met such men, I know many more who behave very differently, and with great love, care, and responsibility. Notice, however, that this chain of responsibility has been cut in the middle?

Last week I was reminded in very adamant terms that men shouldn’t talk to the topic of abortion. The argument presented was that men don’t experience pregnancy and so they should simply shut up. The baby is nor forming inside the man, and so his views are not required….except for those men who publicly and without qualification support the course of abortion! Yes, men do not and cannot understand what it is like to be pregnant, with all its joys and fears, expectations and uncertainties, but that does not mean that most men do not care and that we have no sense of responsibility to protect and nurture young life. I began to wonder, should the ALP present their newly announced abortion platform to the Parliament, will male MPs be asked to sit out of any debate on abortion and will they be asked to refrain from voting? Will men who work on hospital boards be requested to abstain from commenting should the Labor position become law? What of male doctors and nurses who are faced with the ethical dilemma of abortion? What about the fathers of these children? 

Let me repeat, along with John Dickson, that I agree with Jane Caro’s comment. In fact, I suspect there is broad consensus in the community that men must take responsibility for points 1 and 3.  However, the logic that is today commonly espoused in our culture excises men during stage 2. Again, I appreciate that mothers have a peculiar relationship with their child in the womb that no man can fully understand. It is also true that fathers share a special bond with their children, even while the infant is growing inside the womb. To insist upon responsibility at the start and at the end, but not in the middle, is surely a moral mistake? This is not about men demanding anything, but it is a couple who have committed to the good of each other, giving and receiving in love. 

I would take it one step further and suggest that point 2 shouldn’t exist at all. The very notion that we are discussing whether to kill a baby or not is morally insane. But for argument sake, let’s assume the moral posture that Australian culture has adopted, can we not still see the problem with premise no.2?

It’s almost as though the very nature of sex communicates that it is not suited for the uncommitted and unloving. It is not a casual transaction. It is not without design and purpose. Sex is of such intimate and personal giving of oneself to another human being that it requires deep commitment and trust; dare I suggest, sex needs marriage. Yes, marriages can breakdown. Both men and women can fail in keeping their covenantal promises of marriage. Sadly, some marriages become like hell. But have the alternatives done better? We are suffering from myopia if we fail to acknowledge that when marriage is working (which it most often does), it offers the best framework to resolve the tensions and mistrust and fears that are involved in these issues surrounding raising children.

Jane Caro has made an important point. She hasn’t gone far enough, but it is a start. Men take responsibility for your actions. If you are unable to commit to raising a family and to do so with the character and longevity that is required, it is better for everyone that you practice some good old fashioned and virtuous self-control.

“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”(Psalm 32:9)

Bishop Curry: Preacher of love and Persecutor of the Church?

“give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” (1 Kings 3:9)

Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. (Hosea 14:9)

 

The world fell in love with Bishop Michael Curry last year as he delivered the sermon at the royal wedding. Even Christians were smiling and laughing at his wit and mesmerised at his storytelling, and nodding in agreement each time he spoke of love. He left convention behind, ignoring the stale, stuffy, and short sermonette that everyone has become accustomed to for a royal event, and he instead preached a long humorous monologue about love.

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Prior to this sermon which stole the news headlines around the world for days to come, few people had ever heard of Bishop Michael Curry outside The Episcopal Church (TEC), of which he is the Presiding Bishop. Within moments of beginning his homily, social media lit up with Christians and atheists alike, gleaming and expressing likes all-round.

Some voices dared challenge the message and the preacher; I was one of them. I understood why Curry’s sermon might appeal to non-Christians; his words sounded awfully like their own secular worldview, except that he added the idea of God to the conversation. But many Christians were disappointed and even angry by the fact that some Christian leaders questioned the royal sermon. Even when concerns were more fully expressed, some swiped them away as though we were throwing mud at a great man of God.

His sermon was stamped ex cathedra, out of bounds to any criticism. He mentioned love and God, and Jesus was thrown in somewhere, so what’s the problem? Jump off the critic’s chair and join the crowds in celebrating Bishop Curry and his message of love!

Earlier this week, a story reported that this preacher of love is perhaps less loving that he has been made out to be. Indeed, he is less like Apostle Paul who wrote 1 Corinthians 13 and more like Saul, the persecutor of the church.

Christian Today has reported that,

“The head of the US Episcopal Church has taken disciplinary action against the Bishop of Albany for opposing same-sex marriage ceremonies. 

Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev Michael Curry, moved to restrict part of Bishop William Love’s ministry after he introduced a policy in the diocese last year preventing churches from performing gay weddings.” 

The Bishop famed for his sermon on love has moved to discipline a local bishop who believes in upholding the biblical understanding of marriage.

In 2015, Episcopal Church’s General Convention protected dioceses who banned the practice of same-sex weddings, but those protections were removed last year. Bishop Love has instead chosen to follow what he believes is congruent with God’s word and to guard his congregations against damaging teaching and ceremonies. Bishop Love has responded to Curry’s disciplinary action, saying that his policy reflected the official teaching of the Church that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that no resolutions from the General Convention had overridden this. 

Before anyone assumes that this is the first of such instances, Michael Curry has a history of persecuting clergy and churches who don’t support his progressive views of sexuality and marriage.

This was one of the important facts that was whitewashed amidst all the public adulations being heaped on Michael Curry in the wake of the wedding; not only does he deny the biblical definition of marriage, he presides as Bishop over a denomination which has taken its own churches to court in order to remove them from buildings and property, on account that these churches won’t cave into theological liberalism. Michel Curry has been and continues to be one of the chief protagonists responsible for fracturing the Anglican communion not only in America but worldwide.

Curry’s latest actions against a local bishop are just another example of this man who preaches love and practices persecution.

It grieves me to know that while brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States are counting the cost for faithfulness to the Gospel, many other Christians remember that royal wedding sermon with fondness. It perhaps shouldn’t surprise us, but it ought to trouble us, that with a few slick words spoken at a wedding, Christians have sided with the world and decided that Curry’s heterodox beliefs and practices shouldn’t discount the warmth people enjoyed by his presence as he stood and spoke behind that pulpit in St Georges Chapel. It’s almost as though, for the sake of lapping up a captivating presentation, we are prepared to ignore reality and to toss out God’s loving truth, even when these things are made transparent to us.

Let us pray for and learn discernment. Let us side with those who are persecuted, and not with the persecutors. Pray for the churches and clergy who remain in The Episcopal Church and remain in Christ. And ask God that he might lovingly bring Michael Curry to repentance, just as God so graciously did for Paul on that road to Damascus.

Justin Bieber and The Meaning of Marriage

There have been many helpful (and unhelpful) books written by Christians about marriage. Tim and Kathy Keller’s, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, is among the best.

When I woke up this morning to see social media splashed with photos of Justin Bieber holding a copy of the Keller marriage book, I made the unusual step and took a second look at Justin Bieber. I would choose the music of Bach and Mozart over the sound of Bieber any day, but Justin Bieber has chosen a great on marriage

Apparently, the paparazzi have been doing their stalking thing again this week. Justin Bieber’s and Hailey’s Brooklyn’s private life is none of my business, so let’s leave those photos and speculations where they belong, in a bin on a New York City sidewalk.

Justine Bieber did, however, offer a comment to the media, and it was about this marriage book. As photographers asked him about why he and his fiancé had “been looking so emotional”, Bieber held up The Meaning of Marriage.

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my somewhat used copy

 

Great choice Justin and Hailey!

At Mentone Baptist we regularly use The Meaning of Marriage for both pre-marriage and marriage counselling.

The Daily Mail refers to the book as containing “controversial subject matter.” I guess it is controversial, in that Tim and Kathy Keller paint a view of marriage that differs from many of the relationship ideas that are trending.

Even in the way the Daily Mail tries to sum up the book’s teaching, it’s clear how fragmented our understanding of marriage has become. The cultural scene has become so weird that it seems as though journalists are now required (by some unstated code of ethics) to trigger warn readers whenever mentioning Christians and marriage in the same sentence. The now obligatory criticism toward classical marriage was presented in this way,

“it is unclear whether he [Bieber] is following all of the advice in the tome, which also tells men and women to abstain from sex before marriage, suggests that wives should submit to their husbands, and depicts the Bible’s view of marriage as being monogamous and heterosexual.”

Yes, all of these things are unpopular today, but none of these concepts are controversial, in that they are shared by Christians all over the world and have so for millennia. These are aspects of a marriage that are taught and encouraged in the Bible. However what the Kellers achieve (as does the Bible) is to frame marriage relationships in a consistent and attractive way, that helps makes sense of why marriage should be monogamous and why there are gender complementary roles in a marriage. 

Too often we parody and caricature ideas that we don’t like or comprehend, rather than taking the harder and more honest approach, which is to understand concepts on their own terms.

In reading the book, we discover that the Kellers are only too aware of how marriage is being reframed in Western cultures, and while critiquing these trends, they are not sending readers back to the conservative 1950s either.

That’s why it’s worth reading the book; it will surprise. Tim and Kathy Keller are neither mirroring the less than satisfying views of sex and relationships that we find on Netflix and Amazon, neither are they reproducing unhelpful marital myths from previous generations.

Grounding their ideas in the Bible, Tim and Kathy Keller present a compelling portrait of complementary love in marriage. Here are a few examples,

“In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more than fundamentally action emotion”

“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.” 

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.” 

Am I milking these Justin Bieber photos in order to promote a book that I really like? Yep, and unashamedly so, because The Meaning of Marriage really is a great book for marriage. It certainly seems as though this young engaged couple also believe it’s worth reading. Whether you are a Christian or a skeptic, I think you’ll find its pages intriguing and challenging, useful and surprising.

BTW, I wish Justin Bieber and Hailey Brooklyn all the very best as they prepare for marriage. May God in his grace and love bless your future together.

Bishop Curry and his Royal Sermon

“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

 

Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon has been the hot topic of conversation over the last 2 days. Newspapers, television shows, and social media are alight with opinions over the bishop and his sermon.

I have heard people speak favourably of the preacher because of his energy and enthusiasm.

Some people are admiring Michael Curry because in their opinion, he has broken with royal convention and stuck it up at English tradition.

There were voices praising how this is a sign of dismantling white privilege and power.

Others were warmed by Curry’s message of love

Other again, were annoyed because he spoke too long.

Some people, including Christians, thought he preached an amazing Gospel sermon, while others have criticised Curry’s message for being Gospel absent, perhaps even implying an alternate gospel.

In other words, there are many very different reasons why people responded positively and negatively to this wedding sermon.

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My reaction? I was partly pleasantly surprised, and also profoundly concerned.

Did Michael Curry say some things that were true and helpful? Yes. Did he speak too long? For a wedding, probably yes, but every preacher know that temptation. Was it positive to see an African American preaching at a royal wedding? Absolutely. Maybe in the future we’ll see a Chinese or Persian Pastors preaching the Gospel at such an auspicious occasion. Did the bishop say anything unhelpful or untrue? The answer is, yes.

One Anglican Minister made this astute observation,

“Here’s the biggest problem I have with it: The Archbishop has made our love of others the driving force of the renewal of the world.

“Dr. King was right: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love.

And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.”

According to Archbp Curry, Jesus dies to save us, but it’s *our love* of the other, including in marriage, that ultimately renews creation.”

If this is the case, then there is a significant theological problem with the message.

The one comment that I did share on social media Saturday night, wasn’t about the sermon or about Michael Curry’s ethnicity or personality, but one glaring point that was being overlooked. As someone who has the joy of marrying couples, I found it ironic, and sad, that the invited preacher doesn’t believe in the definition of marriage that was articulated in the wedding ceremony. I can’t imagine a church inviting someone to preach at a wedding service who doesn’t accept the understanding of marriage being declared, and who is also known publicly for their errant views.

The view of marriage that was read out loud at the start of service comes from the Anglican book of common prayer, and it is a beautiful expression, theologically rich and Biblically sound. The wording is so clear and helpful, that many other Christian denominations use the language themselves. As another friend noted, ‘it almost makes one want to be Anglican!’

Yes, it is great to see people talking about love and especially God’s love. We should pray that it will cause people to seek out a Bible believing and Jesus loving Church, and even to open a Bible for themselves to discover this extraordinary God who loves so much that he sent his only son into the world to atone for our sin. We cannot however ignore the fact, that despite his proclamations of love,  Michael Curry is partly responsible for leading an entire Christian denomination away from the Bible, and in so doing, is fracturing the Anglican Communion worldwide.

Michael Curry has not shied away from his belief in same sex marriage. He has publicly acknowledged that his views are out of sync with conservative Anglicans, and he has insisted that his American churches would not be returning to an orthodox view of marriage.

Many leaders in the Anglican Communion, including from Australia and especially from Africa and Asia, have explained their considerable concerns over Bishop Curry’s teaching and how it is causing harm both within the American Episcopal Denomination and Anglicans globally. The problem is most poignant for thousands of Anglicans in America who love God and his word, but who now face losing their church property and financial security, should they not conform to the newly fashioned views on marriage. Indeed, this is already happening.

My understanding is that in 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, agreed to the wishes of the International Primates, and so sanctions were imposed on the American Episcopal Church, whose presiding bishop is Michael Curry.

The decision made by the American Episcopal Church is not insignificant; our view on marriage has important corollaries including how we understand the cross, sin, the Bible, ethics, and many other matters. This is unsurprising given the connection the Apostle Paul made between sex, sound doctrine, and the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:9-11). Relevant to the running theme of love, it is worth grappling with Paul’s logic in 1 Timothy ch.1 and how love is integrally tied to what is taught.  Love is not without definition and intent, but promotes truth.

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 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, 10 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 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

This matters because both love and truth matter, and to deny one is to reject the other. Without God’s truth, what remains is a sentimental religiosity, powerless to change and save. 

When it comes to weddings, couples are of course free to ask for someone outside the local church to marry them or to preach at their wedding. The presiding clergy however have the right and the responsibility to say yes or no to that request. Given the present suspension over the American Churches, which the Archbishop of Canterbury had agreed to follow, it is difficult to fathom how this decision came about. No doubt, there were many closed door conversations and internal pressures, but at the end of the day, was the decision so impossible to make?

The sheer volume of excitement over Michael Curry should at least make us ask the question, why is the media and the public so enamoured by his message? Is it because the message of love is universal and it hit the right spot? Is it because his message of love was broad that most people found nothing offensive about it? Maybe, a bit of both.  Perhaps I’m a little skeptical, but I think Jesus was also skeptical about the world loving him and his Gospel.

Will the decision to invite Michael Curry help heal deeps wounds within the Anglican Communion, or further alienate evangelical congregations  and confirm to them that her leaders lack the courage to stand on their own doctrinal positions?

These are very difficult times for Anglicans worldwide, especially for our brothers and sisters who live and serve in Dioceses that are moving away from the Gospel. Is it helpful for the rest of us to be praising a preacher who is leading his denomination away from Scripture, and in so doing, straining and even dividing the Communion?

We can be grateful for things said that were true, but let’s be slow to join the Michael Curry facebook fan club. The issues at stake here are far greater than a wedding sermon. The excitement and enthusiasm will soon disappear from news headlines, but the word of God remains, and I reckon it’s better for us to keeping believing God and not getting swept away by a few moments in Windsor.

 

 

 

For a slightly different but helpful take on the sermon, read Michael Jensen’s piece in the SMH

Cheers for North Korea and Condemnation for Barnaby Joyce

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 3:3)

 

We live in strange and disturbing times.

Many in the  media are drooling over the North Korean women’s cheer squad and fawning over Kim Jong-un’s sister, and they are also salivating at Barnaby’s Joyce’s affair.

The first is insane: young women who have perfected synchronised smiles, cheering, and songs, while their families back home probably have a gun to their heads. Kim Yo-jong is being touted as the next saviour of the world. Forget the fact that she represents one of the most evil and oppressive regimes in the world, suppressing and murdering staggering numbers of people. Instead, The Age has painted her as the enlightened diplomat who outshone those dreadful Americans,

“When the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, decided to send a large delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea this month, the world feared he might steal the show.

If that was indeed his intention, he could not have chosen a better emissary than the one he sent: his only sister, Kim Yo-jong, whom news outlets in the South instantly dubbed “North Korea’s Ivanka,” likening her influence to that of Ivanka Trump on her father, President Donald Trump.

Flashing a sphinx like smile and without ever speaking in public, Kim managed to outflank Trump’s envoy to the Olympics, Vice-President Mike Pence, in the game of diplomatic image-making.

While Pence came with an old message – that the United States would continue to ratchet up “maximum sanctions” until the North dismantled its nuclear arsenal – Kim delivered messages of reconciliation as well as an unexpected invitation from her brother to the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, to visit Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.”

While the media are mesmerised by the not so mythical Sirens of North Korea, they also can’t get enough of Barnaby Joyce’s sex life. No doubt there is barn full of political hay making at work behind the scenes, but I also think that there is warrant for reporting this story. First of all, there are legitimate questions surrounding Mr Joyce’s new partner’s employment in his ministerial office and concerning his use of tax-payer funded trips to Canberra when Parliament was not sitting. Second, there are moral questions relating to Barnaby Joyce’s character and thus his ability to serve as Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister.

 

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As Australians consider this latest political story, here are three thoughts that I think are worth mentioning:

Firstly, marriage is both private and public

One can try to imagine the pressures associated with public life: extraordinarily long working weeks, considerable time away from home, constant political and media scrutiny.  A few moments tiredness while sitting in the chamber and snap, tomorrow’s headline photo with caption, “Prime Minister growing weary in the top job”. 

The end of Bill Shorten’s first marriage and his ensuing relationship with Chloe Bryce (whom he married one year later) received media attention at the time. In 2012,  Mr Shorten spoke out, saying, “personal lives and families should be off limits.”

Marriage is incredibly personal and private, and yet 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. The question is, to what extent should the personal life of our politicians remain private?

I err on the side of Mr Shorten and believe that we should respect their privacy, as we expect others to respect our privacy. Too often, salacious news and gossip about public figures dominates the news, and as the public we are responsible, because we are the ones who are intoxicated by the fountain of scandal. Having said that, there are circumstances where knowledge of personal circumstances is relevant. For example, their private life exhibits significant character and moral failing, such that it would cause people to distrust them or that it would impede their ability to do their job properly.

Second, love is not always love

At an event in 2016, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, suggested while speaking to the topic of same sex marriage that “it is not right to judge another person’s love”.

And yet the Canberra gallery is choked with opinion, judging Barnaby Joyce’s love, and the corridors of Parliament carry the whispers of others who are using the revelations to plot his political down fall.

Don’t mishear me, I think adultery is a terrible sin. It destroys marriages and families, and even careers and friendships. Adultery and casual relationships may be given kudos in television sitcoms and in Rom Coms, but in the real world, it hurts. Adultery isn’t wrong because of the potential consequences, there are consequences because it is wrong. Barnaby Joyce has acted immorally and repugnantly toward his wife, children, and toward his new partner. What is absurd however, are some of the voices who are calling Joyce a hypocrite, not because the charge is baseless, but because in making the accusation they are betraying their own standards.

For the last two years the nation has been marched into line by the drumming of those slogans, ‘love is love’ and ‘love equality’. I have been told that a person’s love is no one else’s business, no one has a right to judge someone else’s relationships. The suggestion has even been given that religion should stay out of marriage.

It’s been less than two months, but it appears as though someone has already dumped those placards into the recycling bin. Boy oh boy, how quick the media and leftist advocates have been to challenge and rip apart Joyce’s new found love.

Clementine Ford wrote in The Age,

“And so it turns out that not only is Barnaby Joyce a shocking hypocrite, he’s also a repulsive cliche.

The Deputy Prime Minister may have spent years defending the institution of “traditional marriage” from same-sex couples, but he’s carefully avoided applying his moral code to his own marriage of 24 years…This is where the cliche comes in. Because really, a 50-year-old man leaving his wife to start again with a 33-year-old isn’t a love story. It’s a midlife crisis.”

I happen to think that Clementine Ford could be right; Joyce may have caught that potentially deadly disease, known as the mid-life crisis. Ford calling Joyce out for hypocrisy is also fair, given his recent defence of marriage. 

However, you can’t have it both ways: either ‘love is love’ or it’s not. Either the only qualification for a sexual relationship is consent or there is more to it. You can’t work to liberate love from the supposed narrow parameters of heterosexual marriage, and then denounce a man for beginning a relationship with a woman who isn’t his wife. Are we going to let others enjoy their version of love, or are we going to own up to the fact that the insistent sloganeering of recent times was false advertising? Perhaps adultery is always wrong. Perhaps having sex with someone outside marriage is wrong. Perhaps casual sex isn’t such a good idea.

Third, Fidelity matters

If there is one lesson we can relearn from the past week, it is, faithfulness matters. Infidelity hurts. I can’t imagine what Barnaby Joyce’s wife and children must be going through at this time, especially due to the very public nature of Joyce’s betrayal. I trust they are being embraced by loving family and friends through all this.

Moral failings among leaders are far too common. Should we be so surprised? They are just like us. And yet we expect so much more of them, and indeed such expectations are important. Leaders ought to set an example for the rest of us. They should lead lives that demonstrate the values that we as a people wish to cultivate and be measured against. This is certainly true of Churches. While a Pastor is no more Christian than any other, having no greater access to God than the least in his congregation, and yet the Scriptures make it clear that character matters. Intellect and skills are important, but character is of greater worth. Should we follow a leader whom we cannot trust? Is it prudent for us to hold political representatives in office when their families have been betrayed? 

“Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)

 

As I rummage about the street to pick up a stone, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, words that dismantle our hypocrisy, words that don’t minimise the weight of wrongdoing, and words that offer grace, and it is with this message that I want to finish.

On one occasion with a crowd gathered, a group of men brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. Jesus first spoke a word to the crowd,

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”

With no one coming forward, Jesus turned to the woman and said

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Public anger because Carlton won’t say “yes”

Disclaimer: I’ve been a Carlton supporter since I was 5 years old!

 

Like it or not, the debate about same sex marriage has become less about the definition of marriage, and more about freedom of speech.

I believe that the first and central question is about how we define marriage. I would love to see the nation sticking with the question and arguing the merits, for and against. In my opinion, beyond a few slick slogans, I don’t think the ‘yes’ campaign has a substantive argument. Apart from the fact that the UN and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that none of the major treaties require recognition of same sex marriage as a human right, ‘love is love’ and ‘equality’ are phrases that ultimately mean that marriage can be anything, and therefore, is meaningless. In contrast, I remain convinced that current legal definition accurately reflects logic, biology, and the purpose of marriage.

It is become clear though that this debate is largely about which Australians are permitted to speak and hold a public opinion. It is not as though I’m conflating one or two examples, but media are citing examples on a daily basis, and many more never reach the attention of journalists.

Yes, there is freedom of speech, as a group of Catholic students from the University of Sydney experienced last week. Members from a Catholic club were surrounded by 200 protesters screaming abuse at them, destroying posters, and hurling objects.

Yes, there is free speech for the 18 year old Canberra girl, Madeline, who was sacked by her employer this week for doing nothing more than posting on her private Facebook page, “it’s ok to vote no”. 

Yes, Australian Rugby star, Israel Folau, was free to tweet, “I love and respect all people for who they are and their opinions. but personally, I will not support gay marriage.” The national outrage was immediate and so were the calls for Folau’s removal from the national team.

There have also been reports of a couple of religious schools sending letters to parents, asking them to vote, ‘no’; I don’t think that’s right. In contrast, we are seeing many companies, local councils, sporting codes and clubs, and celebrities siding with the ‘yes’ campaign. Which each endorsement there is wide spread praise in the media and by various politicians.

There is a question worth asking about whether companies and sporting clubs should take a public stand on marriage, either for or against; I think there are legitimate arguments both ways. Undoubtedly, adopting the truncated rainbow colours is an opportunity for a photoshoot, free promotion in the newspaper, and loud applause on twitter. However, for those employees and supporters who are either unconvinced by SSM or intend to vote no, there is little room for them to dissent.

Groups who public campaign for SSM need to seriously consider how they will treat employees and customers who don’t agree with the position they are taking. In the United Kingdom, all volunteers of the National Trust were forced to wear rainbow bands in support of same sex marriage. Anyone refusing to wear the colours was stood down until such time as they received education and changed their minds.

On the other hand, can you imagine any Australian company, local Council, or sporting club, promoting a ‘no’ vote on same-sex marriage?

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Yesterday we learned that it is not even ok for a sporting club to remain neutral on the issue. The Carlton Football Club released a statement, explaining that they won’t be tell supporters how to vote.

“THE Carlton Football Club prides itself on being inclusive, and a leader in engendering equality and a deep sense of belonging.

The issue of ‘same sex marriage’ is essentially one of equality; and so the Club encourages all of its people to have their say in this important national vote.

As a Club, we respect that this is about personal choice, and as such don’t intend to campaign on the issue, but we do strongly reinforce our Club’s absolute commitment to equality – and a community that is free from any form of discrimination.”

Carlton’s stance is entirely reasonable and in keeping with true democratic principles, and yet their twitter feed is now congested with complaints and denouncements. Let’s be perfectly clear, the Navy Blues aren’t encouraging anyone to vote against SSM, their sin was that they did not come out in favour.

This reveals how the marriage debate is about so much more than just marriage. Last week in The Age, Aubrey Perry urged readers to vote ‘yes’, so that we can rid the public square of religion. Days later, Matt Holden, argued that the days must end when religious ideas can be allowed in political and public debate. These admissions are an embarrassment to some folk campaigning for ‘yes’, and so they’re obliged to stay course and insist no one is arguing for the diminishment of religious and public freedoms. Like climate change, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the evidence.

Once the Titanic hit an iceberg in the Northern Atlantic, the temptation to leave the sinking ship must have been almost irresistible. The urge to survive understandably drove many to fight their way onto the lifeboats, and even to leap into the icy waters below.

Free Speech in Australia hit the iceberg in March of this year. It was no accident. Social progressives had already hijacked public discourse in the country and been navigating toward the destruction of civil disagreement.

The initial scene looked innocent enough; the Bible Society sponsored a video conversation between to Government MPs, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie. The two men sat down over a Coopers’ beer and enjoyed a civil conversation about marriage. The civility was too much, and within minutes pubs across the nation were boycotting Coopers, and tirades of abuse hit social media. So incensed were non beer drinkers and craft-beer drinkers across the nation, that they bought bottles of Coopers beer only to smash them in allys across the nation until Cooper’s management fell obliged to jump and join the fight for same-sex marriage.

The AMA (Australian Medical Association) was quick to join those supporting a change in marriage. Hundreds of doctor responded saying, ‘hang on, we don’t agree’, but apparently the only doctors  who understand medicine are those who support same-sex marriage

When a Fairfax Columnist and television comedian recently suggested that MPs should be sexually assaulted for not supporting same-sex marriage, there was broad silence among almost all media outlets. He later insisted that the tweet was a joke (as though sexual assault is funny).

What is this national conversation about? It is about our understanding of society’s basic and best building block, marriage. Should it be removed and an alternative inserted? It is also incumbent upon Australians to also recognise that this debate has further reaching consequences, including freedom to speak and expression an opinion without fear of being sacked or being publicly shamed for disagreeing with the self-appointed moral judges of our time.

 

 

 

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.