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.

Father’s Day is telling

“For I too was a son to my father,

    still tender, and cherished by my mother.” (Proverbs 4:3)

 

For many families tomorrow is a special day. It’s a wonderful opportunity for family to get together, to enjoy pointless $2 gifts from school Father’s Day stalls, and to eat more cake.

I’m not a big Father’s Day enthusiast, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s not me. I love my Dad, and I adore my 3 children, but I’ve never felt as though I needed a special day to remind me of Fatherhood.

During the week, Channel 9’s breakfast show, Today, ran a poll asking the question,

“Should Father’s Day be renamed “Special Person’s Day?” 

Why? Because, according to University of Sydney academic,  Miriam Giugni, such celebrations need to be more inclusive. Father’s Day excludes, well, non Dads, and in today’s society that’s unacceptable. Wait for May next year and see how that idea flies for Mother’s Day!

It is all very ridiculous, except that ridiculous has become the new standard for public morality. It’s as though we went to bed last night and have woken up on the set of Inception. We are living in one of the craziest generations: boys and girls should no longer be called boys and girls, marriage isn’t what all the world has always thought it was, the Victorian Government tried to allow its citizens to change the gender on their birth certificate (once every year), and Father’s Day should become Special Persons day.

 

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Leaving aside the question of Father’s Day, there is something natural, good, and wholesome about Fathering, as there is with the irreplaceable role of Mums. We can’t always pinpoint why, but mums and dads compliment each other, and together they form a dynamic duo for the raising of children.

Every child has a mother and a father; it is of course a biological impossibility for there to be children without them. We know that in some families children are raised without one or both parents, and others grow up in homes where a parent is abusive. I have friends who have been in these situations, and none believe that having a loving Father and Mother is undesirable and unnecessary. Not for a moment I am suggesting that other families are lesser; I know too many single parents doing a wonderful job at raising their children, and there are adults excelling in life despite growing up in an unloving and even abusive home. Very few people would however argue that those situations were ideal.

In Sara McLanahan and Isabel Sawhill’s recent essay, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited:Introducing the Issue”, they explain,

“Whereas most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes, there is less consensus about why.” [1]

New research also shows how Father loss impacts the wellbeing of children, even their physical health. [2]

Father’s Day reminds us that Dad’s play an integral role in their children’s lives. It may take a village to raise a child, but the village can’t replace mum and dad. In those situations where children can’t be raised by their mother and father, we grieve them not celebrate them.

Millie Fontana is an Melbourne woman who was raised by 2 lesbian parents. She loves her 2 mums, and even supports same-sex marriage, however she is deeply concerned by the practice of raising children without both biological parents. She said in an interview on Triple J,

“I’m an atheist. But our story needs to be told. It’s natural to want a mum and a dad. But when we speak, we are told we are homophobes and Christians’.

“It was very hard for me to establish a stable identity,” Millie said. “It was negatively impacting my development.”

‘There was always something missing.”

I realise that some people are claiming that this marriage debate has nothing to do with children. Penny Wong, on the other hand, gave an impassioned speech in Parliament recently about her children while advocating SSM. The reality is, while marriage is about more than just having children, marriage provides the natural and ideal context for raising children.

However, should the Marriage Act change by removing the language of man and woman, Australian society will require an  increasing number of children to grow up without their father, or in the case of a gay marriage, without their mother. There is a world of difference between instituting marriages where children have no chance to be raised by both biological parents, and a society that lovingly practices retrieval ethics when children sadly cannot be at home with both mum and dad.

The question is quite simple, should children ideally be raised by their mother and father? And if so, should the State sanction marriages that will prevent this from happening?

On Friday, ABC television host, Charlie Pickering sent out this tweet in response to an Sky News interview with Liberal MP, Andrew Hastie,

“What an incredible load of bullsh!t. If ideas like that make it through, you have to recalibrate your bullsh!t filter.”

What did Andrew Hastie say that was so awful?

“If we expand marriage, we also redefine it and we render it genderless.”

No matter what side of the marriage debate one takes, Andrew Hastie’s statement is true. It is the logical outcome of removing gender requirements from the Marriage Act. If marriage is no longer between a man and a woman, then it is a genderless institution. Which of course then raises the question, what then is marriage? Instead of engaging Hastie with any semblance of argument or intelligent rebuttal, Pickering chose to join those who belong to the team called slander.

I’m not suggesting that there are not individuals on the ‘no’ side, who haven’t said awful things. There have been, and we should call those offences for what they are.

To the detriment of this country, reasoned discourse is being for the most part, shouted down by a flood of vitriol and threats. If we can cool our heads for a few moments, and consider this,

We know that kids deserve a mum and dad, and we want society to continue to reflect this common good. Given that, should we redefine marriage?

 

 

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[1] Sara McLanahan is the editor-in-chief of the Future of Children, as well as the director of the Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and the William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. Isabel Sawhill is a senior editor of the Future of Children, as well as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

[2] “Father Loss and Child Telomere Length”, Pediatrics (Aug 2017), vol.140/2, by Colter Mitchell, Sara McLanahan, Lisa Schneper, Irv Garfinkel, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Daniel Notterman.

Why David Marr is wrong about Religious Freedom

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Case for heterosexual only marriage

Increasingly, Australians have been led to believe that same-sex marriage is the great inevitable. The legal definition of marriage may well change in 2017, but the case for change has been less about cogent reasoning, and much to do with emotive stories and slick slogans. One should not ignore peoples personal experiences, but if we are to be fair, we will also listen to the equally powerful stories of same-sex attracted people who are asking us not to change the marriage definition. Yet, stories alone should not dictate Australian law.

Disappointingly, many people have been driven to silence, following a constant tirade of abuse from numerous politicians and media personalities. To even question the validity of same sex marriage is paramount to a new social heresy according to some. But it is possible, indeed desirable to speak for the dignity of LGBTI persons, and to seek their well being, without making the logical misstep of calling for marriage redefinition.

My local member, shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, suggested on the weekend that, “Anyone who thinks they can delay marriage equality in Australia further is standing in the way of history. Time to catch up with reality.”

While I’m impressed with Mr Dreyfus’ Delphic like insight, we also know how history shows that people often make the wrong choices. It may well be that there are good reasons for holding to the classical definition of marriage, and therefore, having sensible recourse for explaining to the Australian people that we should refrain from any change.

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You see, the question remains, what is marriage?

What is it about the nature of marriage that requires us to remove man and woman from its definition?

Is it love?

Love is of course a wonderful thing, and there are many kinds of love, but is this argument sufficient? Surely, not every loving relationship should be called marriage? The reality is, there must be more to marriage than love, otherwise even the proposed redefinition is discriminatory and inadequate.

But Australia has already changed the definition of marriage

Another argument that has been put forward is the view that marriage morphed throughout history, therefore it’s okay to once again institute change. This thesis however is nothing more than an example of historical revisionism. The 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act did not change the nature of marriage, it simply spelled out what was already established belief and practice. And when the Marriage Act was enacted in 1961, it was not reinventing the definition of marriage, but delineating what was known to be true about marriage; it was a self evident truth. Similarly, the Family Law Act 1975 which established the principle of no-fault divorce, did not alter the meaning of marriage, but wholly depended upon it.

What about the argument of equality?

The phrase ‘marriage equality’ is often cited, and it’s a clever piece of marketing, but it is also self-defeating and potentially disingenuous.  First of all, all sides in the marriage debate believe in marriage equality, but equality depends on how one defines marriage. Second, if the current debate is really about honouring equality, for whom is it attaining equality? The draft definition will continue to discriminate against polygamists and polyamorists, and it will also discriminate against those who believe marriage should have fixed term rather than ‘being for life’. If proponents of ‘marriage equality’ are in fact wanting equality for all, it makes sense to ask, why do they insist marriage should remain between 2 persons and be intended for life?

Such questions are not difficult to answer for those holding to the traditional and historical understanding of marriage, but I am yet to hear a persuasive argument from those advocating change. Indeed, I am keen to hear one.

As far as I can see, pretty much everyone in the marriage debate discerns a level of discrimination, but the question is at what point? What is it about marriage that requires 2 persons and life long commitment?

After an interesting dialogue last year, one interlocutor wrote to me saying, “marriage is about what people want it to be, whether it’s about love, convenience, social acceptance, children, getting a visa or whatever.”

I appreciated his honesty, and it demonstrated that when nudged, the reasoning for marriage change frequently ends in this same place of vagueness and imprecision. But arguing that the meaning of marriage is malleable is a fast track to making marriage meaningless. Conversations such as this one revealed the argument boils down to individualism, and to the belief that I am free to determine meaning as I like. As appealing as that may at first sound, it’s ultimately fallacious and counter-productive for a healthy society.

If I walked along the Monash freeway, I would soon find myself in trouble because the Monash freeway is not designed for pedestrians. Others may join with me and begin campaigning for pedestrian access along the Monash freeway, but it’s illogical because Freeways are not designed for any and all modes of travel.

Similarly, marriage is and has always been designed for a particular type of relationship: a loving consensual relationship between a man and a woman, intended for life, for personal relationship, for procreation, and for the building of society. There is something inherently unique about this covenantal relationship that we call marriage, and which can only be fulfilled by a man and a woman. As an example, biologically, the act of procreation requires 2 persons: a man and a woman. And such is the intimacy of this sexual union, that it requires the kind of loving commitment that marriage provides. We all know  children who grow up without a father or without a mother, but I don’t know of anyone who believes that this is a good thing. It is sometimes necessary given the awful reality of domestic violence, or the tragic death of a parent, but does anyone truly believe that the ideal context for raising children is without a mum and dad?

If Australia is to change the Marriage Act, we need better reasoning than what we have heard thus far. And 2016’s argument, ‘well, the Americans have done it’, probably doesn’t hold so much weight anymore!

I trust people won’t confuse my frankness here with glibness or insensitivity, for I do not wish to cause hurt to any for whom this is a personal issue. I genuinely desire for you to have life to the full, as Jesus spoke about (John 10:10). It is also possible that there will be a few ‘religious’ people who will read my words and use them to agitate views about homosexuality that I do not share; they will not find an ally here because the God whom I know and serve has made every human being in his image and they are deserving of love and dignity. That marriage is for a man and a woman is a good thing,  which even many gay and lesbian people recognise and affirm.

Is it wise to redefine marriage? Which ever way you respond to that question, we need to also answer these questions: what is marriage, and with what reason(s) do you define at such?

 

 

 


 

This post is a updated version of a piece published last year

Calls for Macquarie University to distance themselves from Christian Academic

And gladly teche   (motto of Macquarie University)

In the latest case in a growing line of stories, Dr Steve Chavura, a Senior Research Associate at Macquarie University, has been the subject of calls for his dismissal from the university.

What is Dr Chavura’s sin? Dr Chavura is on the board of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, a Christian organisation which serves  to foster critical thinking and robust Christian contributions to public policy.

Mr Michael Barnett, who is questioning the university’s integrity by employing Dr Chavura, admitted in an interview that he did not know whether Dr Chavura (or even the Lachlan Macquarie Institute) had ever ‘issued any anti-gay material’. Apparently it is suffice that a university should employ an individual who belongs to a Christian organisation.

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It should be noted that Dr Chavura is not the first LMI board member to receive attention in recent days, indeed these stories a fast becoming common place around the country.

For example:

  • The Australian Labor Party currently prohibits any person (Christian or otherwise), to stand for preselection should they hold to the classic definition of marriage.
  • An Australian business that associates with a Christian organisation will not only suffer a tirade of abuse, but have other businesses pull their product off their shelf in protest. In the mean time, Australian businesses that associate with the case for gay marriage are praised.
  • Federal Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has indicated that  Labor is considering expanding section 18C, to include banning speech that same-sex marriage advocates find offensive.

According to The Australian editor, Chris Merritt,

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

I wonder if Labor are prepared to provide similar protections for those who believe in the classical definition of marriage?

The issue at hand is same-sex marriage, but as Michael Barnett has elsewhere explained, the agenda is not limited to same-sex marriage, but includes a whole range of matters pertaining to sexual ethics and expression.  It is important for us to understand that it doesn’t matter if a person’s work has no bearing on the ethics of marriage, or if they have never publicly stated a position on marriage, the sin is one of association. 

For too long we have lived in the haze of relativism, and have wrongly trust this murkiness to protect us, but truer and deeper cultural realities have become clearer. In his excellent volume, Political Church: The local Church as embassy of Christ’s rule, Jonathan Leeman writes, ‘secular liberalism isn’t neutral, it steps into the public space with a ‘covert religion’, perhaps as liberal authoritarianism…the public realm is nothing less than the battle ground of gods, each vying to push the levers of power in its favour’.

Accordingly, Michael Barnett has helpfully signalled the sentiment of our age when he says, “No one is stopping him going to church, being a member of a faith,” he said. “Being a member of a board is not religion.” Granted, Michael is but one voice, but it is not a lone voice, the example of Coopers Beer bears testimony to that fact.

In other words, it’s okay to be a Christian at home or in Church, but not at work and in public. Of course, this call will result in potential outcomes for Christians in this country, none are enviable:

  1. Cultural capitulation, with Christians abandoning Christian teachings in order to keep their jobs and reputations.
  2. Hypocrisy, Christians believing one thing in private and another in public.
  3. Gospel fidelity, being prepared to suffer loss for the sake of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.

Free speech (as popularly conceived) is not only a thing of the past, but so is philosophical pluralism. The ‘God is dead’ movement has skilfully used classical liberalism to stamp out God talk in the public conscience. This authoritarian secularism now finds itself in a dominant position in our culture, even though in all likelihood the majority of Australians do not subscribe to its radical theories. We are witnessing the beginning of a social purge, removing from  public office and space those who do not bow before this self-defining imago sexualitatis.

Within our Australian universities are many Christian academics (and students). They are members of different Christian organisations and they attend local Bible believing Churches. Do Australian universities wish to be bereft of some our finest minds? Do our companies wish to rid our boards of some of the nation’s most creative businesspeople? I suspect the answer for most is, no. It nonetheless requires a new courage to not only say we believe in free speech, but to practice it.

Our society once taught us to tolerate those who disagree with us. Today, we are told to shut up and fall into line. The Christian ideal is so much higher and costlier: Jesus teaches us to love those who disagree with us, and to seek their good. Listen to their concerns and fears, so that we rightly understand them.

I should point out that Michael Barnett is a casual interlocutor on this blog, for which I am grateful. His comments and those of other gay advocates are helpful to me in understanding their own fears and dreams.

So what should Christians do? As Jesus once said to the Church in Thyatira, ‘hold on to what you have until I come’.

Two Misnomers about Free Speech, Coopers, Qantas, and Gay Marriage

After a day or two, most news items have disappeared into Google’s search engine, which is telling, because the furore over the Bible Society and Coopers Brewery is still being reported, 1 week on. For anyone still thinking this story is a bit of froth, think again.

As with any contentious issue, emotions are high, misinformation is blended with facts, and various sides argue against caricatures, create straw men, and second guess peoples’ motives.

I have already offered an analysis of these events, and how Christians can respond, but two misnomers abound and need correcting. The first concerns the way some Christians are reading the situation, and the second relate to society more generally.

The first mistake concerns conflating a shift in the nature of public speech with progress of the Gospel or the future of Christianity. The two are not the same, and latter does not depend on the former, although they can work well together.

If Australians wish to be a pluralist society, which we are, then it is important that Australians pursue keeping this space open and available. Sadly, the events of the past week have demonstrated that this is no longer the case. There is free speech for some, but if you don’t fall into line with particular secularist agendas, watch out, because speaking up comes with a cost. The cost is nothing like it is for citizens in many other nations (think North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc), but neither is it diminutive, and this week have shown that the stakes are increasing. How many people feel comfortable to share their belief in heterosexual only marriage in the workplace? How many Australian companies will sense the liberty next week to publicly align with classical marriage? The pressure to say nothing or to conform with the self-determined moral elite has increased several degrees over the past 7 days.

Let’s be clear, a pluralist society is not the be all and end all, and neither is free speech. It does however offer a societal paradigm for respecting not only those with whom you agree but also those with whom you disagree. Christians have an interest in upholding this privilege, in part because we have somethin to say, but also because one cannot force a person to become of follower of Jesus Christ. We persuade and urge people by articulating, teaching, and reasoning with the words of God. Freedom of speech makes sense to us because honest conversation matters, truth matters, life matters, and we want people to believe for themselves, not because of compulsion.

History however demonstrates that the Gospel can advance regardless of the contemporary socio-politico milieu. Did not the Gospel grow rapidly in the first centuries when Christianity was held with suspicion and even banned for seasons? And where does the Bible ever promise that Christianity will be perennially embraced by a society? The hope of the world is not liberal democracy and our own Areopaguses, but Jesus Christ.

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A second misnomer has appeared over the last 48 hours, and while it is not immediately connected to the Bible Society video, its relevance is clear enough.

The Australian newspaper has detailed a letter that is being prepared for the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. 20 CEOs of some of Australia’s largest businesses have written a letter to the Prime Minister. They are trying to pressure the Prime Minister into breaking his election promise, which is to hold a plebiscite on marriage.

The issue is not that these 20 CEOs have expressed a view, or that they have written this letter to Mr Turnbull. Should they not be free to do so, despite the protestations of some? Indeed, it could be seen as hypocritical for one to defend the Bible Society and Coopers, and not these corporate leaders.

There are two qualifications worth considering first of all:

First, the CEOs letter is trying to accomplish a different goal to that  set out in the Bible Society video. The videoed dialogue between Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie was demonstrating how Australians can speak civilly about same sex marriage while disagreeing, whereas this letter is pushing a specific position on marriage, namely advocating for the law to change.

The Australian reports, “The same-sex marriage lobby hit back, saying all Australians should be free to voice their views and lobby politicians, including business leaders.

National campaigner for just.equal, Ivan Hinton-Teoh said many CEOs recognised the importance of equality for their employees and customers and had a right to represent that to law-makers.

“It’s not appropriate for a government minister to attempt to shut down views he doesn’t agree with,” he said.

In other words, it would be immoral for anyone to shut down these business people as they agitate for same-sex marriage.

Second, notice the irony. Unintended I’m sure, but these words drip with more irony than an upside down jar of honey oozing all over the floor, “Australians should be free to voice their views and lobby politicians, including business leaders”? Clearly someone has been flying in transit all week, because one Australian company, Coopers Brewery, were subject to a torrent of abuse, and so was the Bible Society, not because they were arguing the classic definition of marriage but because they were seen to sponsor a conversation where two politicians civilly disagreed with each other about marriage. Where were these executives defending Coopers Brewery? Did any speak up for them?

It was soon clarified that the brewery was not sponsoring the video, but that was not enough to end the abuse. Only when they completely distanced themselves from the Bible Society and break their agreement with them,  and signed on the dotted line to the same sex-marriage campaign, was all forgiven and people once again happy to drink Coopers beer.

I haven’t heard anyone calling to boycott Qantas, CBA, or ANZ, nor have I read any bitter herbs being tossed around on social media. There is a Government minister making some unusual comments (it appears as though there is politics at play between the Government and these organisations which I am not across. Nonetheless, I did find Mr Dutton’s comments odd).

There is an ethical question relating to the role of a company CEO speaking to moral issues when their name is attached to a company. For each of the signatories, does the coinciding Board affirm their view? Do their shareholders share and support the position with which the company name is now attached? Are employees permitted to dissent with this view? The same questions can of course be asked of Coopers.

These are questions, not answers, and none points to these CEOs keeping their views on marriage quiet; Except in the case where speaking directly contradicts the values of the company, I  would have thought executives can speak publicly as with any citizen of the country. The trouble is, one company did speak out (well, everyone thought that had for a few hours) and they were condemned in the strongest language, obscene language, and with smashed bottles and pubs boycotting.  Before the dust has settled 20 corporate executives have publicly aligned themselves with same-sex marriage, and the same vitriolic public are now applauding with tremendous approval.

Let’s be clear, I am not criticising these executives for speaking out, but our social hypocrisy reeks.

A Qantas spokesman today said on the ABC,

“The freedom to discuss issues of public concern is a freedom we all hold dear.”

This is true…so long as one doesn’t subscribe to the heresy of believing marriage is only between a man and woman. So yes, the nature of public speech has changed in Australia. It’s ok to be saddened by this, because our nation is losing a cherished ideal, but we do not despair for as the Apostle Paul wrote,

‘We do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.’ (2 Corinthians 4:1-12)

In the Coopers wash up, let’s revisit the Beatitudes

In the sticky wash up that has come about from the flood of broken beer bottles, I wish to offer one more comment. In some ways it is to clarify and build on where I wish to take Christian conversation in the public square.

Two days ago I said that with a new morning we’ll see that not everything has changed,  although in the public realm something has altered.  The outrage over the Bible Society’s video is not entirely new, but it does signal with with its greatest yet clarity, that public speech in our society won’t come without a cost.

My purpose is not to repeat things from the previous post, rather, I would like to explore in a little more detail the portion of Scripture to which I turned in my conclusion: the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Beatitudes don’t detail how may enters the Kingdom of heaven, but the life of those who belong to this Kingdom, and are in some ways pre-empting the final manifestation of the Kingdom by exhibiting its qualities in the here and now; to use Jonathan Leeman’s analogy, it’s much like an embassy in a foreign country.

Some Christians hold to some of the Beatitudes, and play loose with others. Some of us focus on peace-making while sacrifice righteousness in order to achieve this goal. Some grab hold of righteousness with clenched fists, while ignoring how Jesus begins, with confession and contrition of our own sins. It is important to see how the Lord Jesus ties them together in an unbreakable bond.  All 8 Beatitudes belong together and work together to build godly character and a life that imitates, albeit imperfectly, the Lord Jesus.

Jesus leads us to begin with confession and contrition, acknowledging our complete dependence on God’s grace, which is his loving gift to us through the atoning death of Christ. The more we grasp the astonishing nature of God’s grace we can no longer look at other Aussies with any disdain or wanting anything other than their good.  In light of the last few days, we can be asking ourselves, how can be better love and serve our gay and lesbian friends. If we don’t have any gay and lesbians, why not?

I suspect some of my Christian friends believe that if we follow the first 7 Beatitudes, the outcome will be peace and happy relationships with everyone, but that’s not where Jesus lead us. He says, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

It is true, we can be shouted down because we’ve said stupid things, hurtful things, and saying the right things wrongly; I know I’m guilty of all the above.  Nonetheless, Jesus indicates that living the Beatitudes and being concerned for God’s righteousness may still result in people being offended and not liking us and attempting to silence us. For Christians to think we can escape verses 10-12 is understandable but somewhat naive.

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Bible Society

The steady but sure retreat by Cooper’s Brewery was disappointing to see. Whatever the connection between Cooper’s and the video (which appears to be an informal one at most), there was nonetheless a real partnership on a different stage, and for them to cut ties feels announcing on Facebook that you’re getting a divorce. Instead of throwing out our Cooper’s beer, which would make us somewhat hypocritical, we ought to pray for them and be gentle. One can only imagine that the pressure they were submitted to would have sunk the heaviest of beers.

The way of Jesus is not capitulation or watery compromise. Our posture should not be silent defeat or angry defensiveness, but always truth in love, clarity and conviction. Expressing our Gospel convictions is longer an easy option, but we should not give up speaking truth with grace because that is how God has treated us, and his love and joy is too good not to share with others. We won’t persuade everyone, but you’ll discover that someone is intrigued and away from cacophony of public noise, they will ask about this Jesus of whom we speak so passionately.

Remember how Paul’s sermon in Athens ended,

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.”

If we want to speak in public, or anywhere anytime, more than ever we must not only believe the Beatitudes, but with the help of the Holy Spirit,  practice them. I love this Ernest Hemmingway quote that one Facebook friend quote this morning,

“Courage is grace under pressure.” Ministers will face inordinate pressure. The challenge is to fight this stress with God’s grace and not by our own strength, coercion, manipulation, or self-medicating manners. We walk in grace by keeping the gospel’s story of a suffering Savior at the center of our thoughts.

How would you define marriage?

Last week a Senate report was released, following the Inquiry: the Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.

The scope of the inquiry was deliberately narrow, limiting discussion to consequences for law and society, should the Marriage Act change and include non-heterosexual marriage. The Senate Inquiry was not asking for arguments for and against same-sex marriage; indeed the committee outlined that such submissions would not be published. Unfortunately though, this important fact has been overlooked by some journalists who have painted the report as an argument for the inevitability of marriage change.

Deliberations concerning the fall-out from redefining marriage are important, and concerns are warranted given what is happening in some countries who have adopted same sex marriage. There are real consequences relating to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and there are genuine questions relating to the rights of children having a mum and dad, and to the issue of surrogacy and assisted reproduction. It is simply naive for us Australians to assume that nothing will change.

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As important as those conversations are, there is the preceding question, the question not tackled by the Senate Inquiry and is now assumed by many as a given: what is marriage?

According to the report, the new definition will involve deleting the phrase, ’man and woman’, and substituting it with ‘2 people’. Thus marriage would become in Australian law, ‘the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’.

Increasingly, Australians have been led to believe that same-sex marriage is the great inevitable. The legal definition of marriage may well change in 2017, but the case for change has been less about cogent reasoning, and much to do with emotive stories and slick slogans. One should not ignore peoples personal experiences, but if we are to be fair, we will also listen to the equally powerful stories of same-sex attracted people who are asking us not to change the marriage definition. Yet, stories alone should not dictate Australian law.

Disappointingly, many people have been driven to silence, following a constant tirade of abuse from numerous politicians and media personalities. To even question the validity of same sex marriage is paramount to a new social heresy according to some. But it is possible, indeed desirable to speak for the dignity of LGBTI persons, and to seek their well being, without making the logical misstep of calling for marriage redefinition.

The question remains, what is marriage?

What is it about the nature of marriage that requires us to remove man and woman from its definition?

Is it love?

Love is of course a wonderful thing, and there are many kinds of love, but is this argument sufficient? Surely, not every loving relationship should be called marriage. The reality is, there must be more to marriage than love, otherwise even the proposed redefinition is discriminatory and inadequate.

Another argument that has been put forward is the view that marriage morphed throughout history, therefore it’s okay to once again institute change. This thesis however is nothing more than an example of historical revisionism. The 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act did not change the nature of marriage, it simply spelled out what was already established belief and practice. And when the Marriage Act was enacted in 1961, it was not reinventing the definition of marriage, but delineating what was known to be true about marriage. Similarly, the Family Law Act 1975 which established the principle of no-fault divorce, did not alter the meaning of marriage, but wholly depended upon it.

What about the argument of equality?

The phrase ‘marriage equality’ is often cited, and it’s a clever piece of marketing, but it is also self-defeating and potentially disingenuous.  First of all, all sides in the marriage debate believe in marriage equality, but equality depends on how one defines marriage. Second, if the current debate is really about honouring equality, for whom is it attaining equality? The draft definition will continue to discriminate against polygamists and polyamorists, and it will also discriminate against those who believe marriage should have fixed term rather than ‘being for life’. If proponents of ‘marriage equality’ are in fact wanting equality for all, it makes sense to ask, why do they insist marriage should remain between 2 persons and be intended for life?

Such questions are not difficult to answer for those holding to the traditional and historical understanding of marriage, but I am yet to hear a persuasive argument from those advocating change, and I am keen to hear one.

As far as I can see, pretty much everyone in the marriage debate discerns a level of discrimination, but the question is at what point? What is it about marriage that requires 2 persons and life long commitment?

After an interesting dialogue last year, one interlocutor wrote to me saying, “marriage is about what people want it to be, whether it’s about love, convenience, social acceptance, children, getting a visa or whatever.”

I appreciated his honesty, and it demonstrated that when nudged, the reasoning for marriage change frequently ends in this same place of vagueness and imprecision. But arguing that the meaning of marriage is malleable is a fast track to making marriage meaningless. Conversations such as this one revealed the argument boils down to individualism, and to the belief that I am free to determine meaning as I like. As appealing as that may at first sound, it’s ultimately fallacious and counter-productive for a healthy society.

If I walked along the Monash freeway, I would soon find myself in trouble because the Monash freeway is not designed for pedestrians.

Similarly, marriage is and has always been designed for a particular type of relationship: a loving consensual relationship between a man and a woman, intended for life, for personal relationship, for procreation, and for the building of society. There is something inherently unique about this covenantal relationship that we call marriage, and which can only be fulfilled by a man and a woman. As an example, biologically, the act of procreation requires 2 persons: a man and a woman. And such is the intimacy of this sexual union, that it requires the kind of loving commitment that marriage provides. We all know  children who grow up without a father or without a mother, but I don’t know of anyone who believes that this is a good thing. It is sometimes necessary given the awful reality of domestic violence, or the tragic death of a parent, but does anyone truly believe that the ideal context for raising children is without a mum and dad?

If our Australian Parliament is to change the Marriage Act, we need better reasoning than what we have heard thus far. And last year’s argument, ‘well, the Americans have done it’, probably doesn’t hold so much weight anymore!

I trust people won’t confuse my frankness here with glibness or insensitivity, for I do not wish to cause hurt to any for whom this is a personal issue. I genuinely desire for you to have life to the full, as Jesus spoke about (John 10:10). It is also possible that there will be a few ‘religious’ people who will read my words and use them to agitate views about homosexuality that I do not share; they will not find an ally here because the God whom I know and serve has made every human being in his image and they are deserving of love and dignity. That marriage is for a man and a woman is a good thing,  which even many gay and lesbian people recognise and affirm*.

Is it wise to redefine marriage? Which ever way you respond to that question, we need to also answer these questions: what is marriage, and with what reason(s) do you define at such?

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*Sam Allberry is an English Anglican Minister who recently spoke to this issue, albeit in the British context,

“I am same-sex attracted and have been my entire life. By that, I mean that I have sexual, romantic and deep emotional attractions to people of the same sex. I choose to describe myself this way because sexuality is not a matter of identity for me, and that has become good news,”

“My primary sense of worth and fulfillment as a human being is not contingent on being romantically or sexually fulfilled, and this is liberating,”

“The most fully human and compete person was Jesus Christ. He never married, was never in a romantic relationship, and never had sex. If we say these things are intrinsic to human fulfilment, we are calling our saviour subhuman. “

“I have met literally hundreds of Christians in my situation, and know of thousands more, who are same-sex attracted, and who joyfully affirm the traditional understanding of marriage being between a man and a woman, and the only Godly context for sex. If you do not hear from more of us, it is because it is really hard to stand up and describe ourselves in this way…”

(https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/two-minute-clip-homosexuality-every-christian-should-watch)

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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