Melbourne Baptist Church Hosts Same Sex Wedding

A story broke on DavidOuld.net this morning, naming a Baptist Church in Victoria which has recently opened its building to host a same sex wedding.

The focus on DavidOuld.net is of several ordained Anglican ministers from the Diocese of Melbourne who were present at the ceremony, and who appear to have formally participated during the service. It is not currently known who the official celebrant was, but presiding over a same sex marriage is a violation of the government marriage licence for both Anglican and Baptist clergy. Anglican and Baptist marriage celebrants can only conduct weddings according to the marriage rites of their said denomination.

According to the Baptist Marriage Rites, marriage is “the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

My concern is the news that a Baptist Church in Melbourne has hosted this wedding, and it appears as though at least one ordained Baptist minister was involved. This doesn’t project a view of Victorian baptists that will adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 11.14.14 am.png

 

Community Church of St Mark belongs to the association of Churches that is the Baptist Union of Victoria. I cannot imagine that they would have received permission from the BUV to conduct a same sex wedding on their premises. Such permission is not however required as local churches have significant autonomy.

There is a question as to whether the Community Church of St Mark rented out their building to a third party or were  formally hosting and supporting the event? In one sense, that distinction is a matter of semantics, for either option is a clear promotion of same sex marriage. Footage of the wedding procession clearly shows the banner of St Mark’s being paraded, thus indicating at least some involvement by the Church. In addition, an ordained baptist minister was also present and part of the procession, and it appears that she was involved in a formal capacity.

Why does this matter?

It is important for baptists for at least these two reasons:

First, Community Church of St Mark have misrepresented what Baptists believe about marriage. They have welcomed teaching and have blessed a view of marriage that contravenes the clear doctrinal position of the Baptist Union of Victoria. In so doing, they are sending confusing messages to local communities as to what Baptist believe about marriage, and in so doing they are leading people astray from God’s good purposes. 

Second, Churches who are affiliated with the BUV are in relationship with each other. There is rightly a significant degree of autonomy given to each church, however an association is not arbitrary or meaningless. Without clear theological common ground that is affirmed and practiced, churches can’t work together. To what point can we share an identity together when that name is being misrepresented in such grievous ways?  The question is, should our Baptist Churches allege unity with another Church who has decided to act against Baptist doctrine? Is it appropriate to call Community Church of St Mark to repentance?

The issue of marriage is not unimportant or secondary in the Bible. Indeed, during last year’s plebiscite debate advocates made it clear that they believe it’s about human rights and amending one of the great social evils in our country. For Christians, our Scriptures define sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage as porneia, it being alongside many other activities which prevent people from entering the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul includes homosexual activity as being “contrary to the sound doctrine  that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.” If the Bible defines this as a Gospel issue, then it is incumbent upon us to do so as well.

This morning’s news is incredibly sad but unsurprising. For some time there have been baptist clergy and churches agitating to redefine marriage and to be given permission to formally conduct same sex weddings. These numbers are small, only representing tiny fraction of the BUV, but they are persistent. We are being naive if we believe that this matter will eventually blow over and that these advocates will simply give up.

A precedent can easily become a pattern if we don’t speak up.

As it currently stands, Baptist marriage celebrants cannot conduct same sex weddings. The position for churches is however somewhat murky. The spirit of the law suggests that a Baptist Church should not facilitate a same sex marriage, either by renting out their building or by inviting a secular celebrant to preside. However, the strict letter of the law does not (to my knowledge), prohibit this practice. This ambiguity needs to be attended to and fixed in the near future.

 


Update (Monday 7pm): I can now confirm that the officiating celebrant was Rev James (Jim) Barr. Rev Barr was formerly the Senior Pastor at Collins St Baptist and at Canberra Baptist. He is now a Welsh Methodist credentialed minister, and thus no longer holds a baptist licence. It is however unclear how how substantive his role was in this service, given that Baptist and Anglican clergy were also participating. In other words, one question is answered, but the original concerns remain, and they are substantive concerns for Baptists and Anglicans alike.

Australia is Changing and Churches are unprepared

Note from today (December 7):

During the course of today, several MPs have offered amendments to the Parliament in order to ensure that religious freedoms and freedom of conscience will continue without threat, once the Marriage Act changes to legalise same sex marriage. As in the Senate, every single motion has failed to win sufficient support in the House of Representatives. No one is surprised by this. What has surprise me was when the member of Canning, Andrew Hastie, sought to table correspondence from religious leaders across the country and was denied. He was not even permitted to table the concerns from many of the nation’s most respected religious leaders.

The constant response to proposed amendments has been, fears of limiting religious freedoms are “baseless”, and they have ironically insisted upon this while the choir sitting in the public gallery have all day applauded and cheered when any MP has suggested religious freedom will be reduced.

One thing we can guarantee once the law passes, a point that I raised a couple of weeks ago, “As soon as the Marriage Act is reworded, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. This raises important questions for millions of Australians who with good conscience, do not support the corollary of expectations that will ensue throughout many parts of Australian culture.”

——————————

Since I was a child, Governments have promised to deliver a high speed train, to service Melbourne to Sydney. Last night, the Senate in Canberra began to deliver. The sexual revolution was offered a free upgrade which will ensure that it can accelerate toward its unaccommodating vision for Australia.

high_speed_rail_1920x1005

Social progressives have declared their agenda for many years now, but other progressives felt the need to either downplay or ignore their voices, at least in public. Their dream for Australia seemed too bold, too audacious, too big to swallow all at once. 

The Australian public was reassured that same-sex marriage had nothing to do with freedom of religion, although social commentators and even politicians, dedicated an awful lots of words to insist that opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to be silenced. Indeed, within minutes of the marriage survey results being announced, Fairfax had published an article calling for Parliament to ignore the of religious freedoms,

“So let’s not be hoodwinked into changing the law to pander to bogus religious freedom lobbyists.”

Even prior to the marriage survey’s announcement, there was a chorus of public voices explaining how the debate on marriage was connected to religion, and that marriage is the instrument of choice to erase religion from public life altogether.

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

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

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

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

We should not forget, that only last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff who subscribe with their values. By values, the Government was targeting beliefs that didn’t fall into line with the sexual revolution. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?

Remember all the assurances given to Australians during the same-sex marriage campaign, of how very little will change? Only a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister assured the nation that,

“I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, as strongly as I believe in that, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom…”

Last night in Canberra, we were given assurances that much will change. So what was decided in the Senate last night? In short, there will be no safety net for any person or organisation who oppose same sex marriage, except for clergy when it comes to performing weddings and perhaps also for official ‘church’ buildings (although, the ABC is reporting that religious institutions will not be able to refuse to hire out church halls for same-sex weddings).

Stephen McAlpine gives this helpful summary of the main points thus far (based on reporting from The Australian):

  • Protect Civil Celebrants refusing to marry gay couples
  • Create two definitions of marriage – one as between a man and a woman and the other as between two people
  • protect “relevant beliefs’ around marriage
  • prevent governments and agencies from taking action against people with a traditional view of marriage
  • Allow parents to remove their children from classes if they believe material taught is inconsistent with their view of marriage

McAlpine is spot on,

“I totally get points one, two…I didn’t expect anything different on those, and can’t really see an argument around them.  But to refuse protection around “relevant beliefs” about marriage?  That opens the door to all sorts of activism, and it will cost religious groups dearly.

But it’s that idea that the Parliament does not see fit to protect people with a traditional view of marriage from having action taken against them by governments and other agencies that is particularly unfortunate.  You can hear the knives sharpening already, can’t you?”

The prophets of the sexual revolution don’t appear so crazy this morning; they were right and they’ve won the social and political battle. This debate was never about equality, but always about social conformity with the new sexual milieu. There are certainly Australians who still believe that all this is solely about equality and human rights, but they are pawns being played for a much bigger game.

Social pluralism is on the way out, and adherence to the new gods of sexuality is obligatory. Pluralism in Australian could only continue so long as those in authority encouraged alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. The Senate has taken the next step to ensure that such freedoms will decline. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.

It’s not too late for the Parliament to deliver sensible legislation, but slowing down the train will be interpreted as a betrayal, and will likely have you thrown off. I’m not suggesting that Parliament puts on the brakes in relation to changing the Marriage Act. I’ve stated elsewhere that Parliament should not unnecessarily delay this process. However, it is incongruous to not fully address, the broader issues which are in fact the main issues.

It is important to remind ourselves that the future of the Gospel in Australia doesn’t ultimately need political assurances from the Government, for it is too good and too true. Charles Spurgeon was right when he said,

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

The Parliament is however, setting up the scene whereby being a Christian will carry more cost than it has in the past. It is time for Aussie Christians to take  their cross from under the bed, give it a good dusting, and start following Jesus.

Those who identify as progressive of course have nothing to fear from any legislation, because they eagerly jumped on board and abandoned the Gospel 6 stations ago. It doesn’t matter that their churches are dying,  they are happy to pay the price for a seat in business class.

I also suspect that many more Christians will go on pretending as though nothing has changed, until such time that they too have their convictions forced out of them and are then left vulnerable, having their dreams of a prosperous life derailed. When will we wake up and realise Jesus was telling us the truth all along?

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6)

The notions of liberal democracy and social liberalism lost some shape last night, and before this journey is over, we will have a nation that is less tolerant and less free. Christianity will survive because it is not defined by these terms, but we can no longer afford a cost free faith. Christians though are not the only ones who are likely to pay; eventually we will see people wanting to get off the train, and churches need to be there and ready to minister to the injured and hurting.

Are we ready?

 

 

 


An earlier report had suggest that Defence Chaplains were not given exemption. That was incorrect and have since made the correction here

A QandA Recap

The Age is right to publish Neil McMahon’s Qanda recap under ‘entertainment’, for it doesn’t belong under ‘news’ or anything resembling fair and factual reporting.

According to McMahon, Magda Szubanski is an angel, in contrast to  the rest of the panel who are presumably on the devil’s payroll.

I’m not having a go at Magda Szubanski and her contribution last night, but McMahon’s near superhuman selective hearing.

If you’ve only read McMahon’s offering in The Age, you’d be forgiven for thinking that last night’s QandA served up another staple diet of stupid Christians and thoughtful atheists, annoying anti-SSM campaigners and human heart beating advocates. I’m sure McMahon’s regulars will read his account with cheers, but for others who watched last night’s program, we are left wondering, through which smokey haze did he view Qanda?

QandA has gained a reputation for too often lacking finesse and nuance from its guests, but last night each panellist brought a healthy degree of intellectual argument touched with humility and empathy.

 

DM2i05VU8AAZ_FX.jpg

The entire program was dedicated to issue of same sex marriage, and important questions were asked, and all 4 panellists offered (for the most part) substantive comments and arguments, and yet McMahon fails to even acknowledge any of this.

McMahon latches onto one comment made by Karina Okotel, which was certainly less than convincing, but he concludes that she must be either lying or is at the very least untrustworthy in what she says,

“Okotel is a challenge in this debate: an all-smiling and apparent voice of reasonableness adept at speaking out of both sides of her mouth like the lawyer she is.”

Sure, she fluffed her answer, but it’s not as though there isn’t a clear and important response to this question (cf. https://murraycampbell.net/2017/09/02/fathers-day-telling/).

McMahon also completely ignores one important fact check from the episode, namely when Magda Szubanski repeated the old time myth of 10%. Alfred Kinsey’s now debunked study has nonetheless taken the status of undeniable truth for some in the community. After all, the temptation to inflate favourable numbers is understandable. According to most research, the real number of Australians who variously identify as LGBTI is closer to 2-4%. And according to the 2016 Census, 0.39% of Australians are living in a same sex relationship. Belonging to a small number doesn’t alter the humanity and worth of these Australians, but I would have thought that presenting misinformation isn’t helpful, no matter which side of a debate you are presenting.

Magda’s personal testimony is important and worth listening to. We (speaking to Christians here) do need to listen to such voices. It’s also worth hearing how she understands what Churches are saying about marriage. There are moments when Glenn Davies tries to correct some of her assumptions, without success it would seem, but the interaction does communicate something of the mishearing that is going on in our society.

If there was a “powerful” moment in last night’s program, surely it was Archbishop Glenn Davies stating that should holding Jesus’ view of marriage be declared unfit in Australians society, he would be prepared to go to jail. He would accept the democratic processes of our nation, but is not prepared to change his convictions even in face of imprisonment. But not even worthy of a footnote for McMahon.

Perhaps someone needs to give Neil McMahon their hearing aid, but then again, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. Photoshopping reality is sadly a far to common tool of the trade in journalism today. Journos from all sides are guilty of doing this as they win the applause of their facebook groupies. Let’s be honest, this is not only a journalist problem, but we see it among our politicians, and we even see it in ourselves. We may rightly object to the selectivity and agenda bogged journalism that’s muddying our media, but at the same time, we ought to ask the same about our own proclivities. 

 

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
    for the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)

Crucify Them!

Does history repeat itself? With a few drops of irony and a bucket full of ignorance, it appears that some Australians are trying their best.

Two Melbourne Churches were yesterday vandalised by a person(s). 

Waverley Baptist’s building was graffitied with the words,

“Crucify ‘no voters”

“Vote yes”

Glen Waverley Anglican Church was painted with,

“Bash Bigots”, and with a picture equating Christianity with Nazism.

 

DMJzz1jVwAAKJDy


This is not the first occasion when the threat of crucifixion has been used by campaigners on the ‘yes’ side of the marriage debate. It has been painted and proclaimed even in public meetings. No doubt, this is meant to be the worst kind of insult. Perhaps it’s an attempt scare people into silence. One is clear, they are venting anger toward Aussies who won’t fall into line and vote ‘yes’.

In light of the graffiti on these Melbourne Churches, it’s hard not to think of the most famous crucifixion of all.

On the night before his trial and crucifixion, Jesus and his disciples were praying in the Garden of Gethsemane when armed officials approached and arrested him. Peter responded by attacking a man with his sword. Jesus was quick to stop Peter, rebuked him for his wrongful action, and healed the injured man.

In contrast, throughout the trial before Pilate, the crowd repeatedly shouted out,

“Crucify him!” they shouted.

“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

They were responding not against the wishes of the political and religious leadership, but in accord with their purpose.

To be sure, there will be many ‘yes’ voters who are appalled by this latest vandalism on Australian Church buildings. But are we surprised? Of course not. When national political leaders and social commentators insist that voting ‘no’ equates to the worst kind of hate and phobia, it is no wonder that we are seeing this kind of behaviour being played out.

It is important to recognise that there have been some awful things said about gay and lesbian Australians; these are rightly reported and are widely condemned across the board. Any comment or insult that aims to dehumanise any Australian is reprehensible.

I can imagine people feeling unnerved when they arrived for Church yesterday morning; it’s not a pleasant welcome. Let’s not downplay the vileness of this threat: the practice of crucifixion was the most creative and cruelest form of execution, and it is still horrifically practiced in parts of the world today, including Iraq, Syria and Sudan, where Christians have been crucified. At the same time, the vandals are paradoxically offering the greatest complement anyone can give, for they are suggesting that these Churches be treated in the same manner as Jesus Christ.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2)

Of course, Christians can be insulted because we’ve done and said stupid things, and even sinful things. In the midst of the current national debate on marriage, I’ve heard some pretty nasty things spoken by Christians, rarely, but it has happened. However holding to the Bible’s understanding of marriage is not repugnant; it’s unpopular right now but it’s not hateful or wrong. Believing in heterosexual only marriage is not only in sync with the Bible, it’s stating the current legal view of marriage and it is also most logical understanding of marriage. 

When Christians are smeared with the kind of hate and threats that were publicised on those Church walls, we should not respond with fear but with joy, for we are being insulted because of Christ.

Jesus said,

 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

In the off chance that those responsible for Sunday’s vandalism read this blog post, understand that your words are a massive misfire. At the end of the day, you haven’t condemned these churches, you’ve commended them for following Jesus.

I also want you to know this, the very idea that you see as reprehensible may well be something good, and more wonderful than you realise. Just as we know that while humanity’s intent in crucifying Jesus was hateful, God used the cross for love. Jesus willingly went to his crucifixion out of love for the very people who despised him and called for his death. On the cross Jesus cried out,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”


This is how Drew Mellor, Senior Minister of Glen Waverley Anglican Church, responded, and that’s how we Christians need to keep responding. We can’t hold onto grudges or respond vindictively because we know how much we have been loved and forgiven by God. My own church has been graffitied over the years; it’s annoying, and I understand that it can also be hurtful. But then we remember how we once stood on the other side of the cross and tried to define reality without God.

It is because of Divine grace and love that Christians speak, and we want to persuade our fellow Australians about Jesus Christ, and yes, even about the goodness of marriage, and why it makes sense for marriage to remain between a man and a woman. Should the population and politicians decide otherwise, they can. Should the law change, it will redefine how we view society and how we treat those who cannot support those changes. While the graffiti is probably (un)intentional hyperbole, Australian Christians need to wake up to the fact that the culture has moved. The Bible has always taught that there is a cost for those who follow Christ. Through a combination of grace and complacency, most of us have we’ve avoided paying. We are just beginning to sense that things are changing, and that the historical bubble in which we’ve been living is about to burst, and we will find ourselves where Christians for most of history have lived, on the outside of society.

Therefore, in light of this probability,

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)

 

 

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

Since when has Christianity been so concerned about religious freedom?

Fairfax Contributor, Matt Holden, has asked the question,

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

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

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

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

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

He adds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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.”

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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.

Baptists, Bible, and Marriage

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

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

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

1. The Bible or human experience as supreme authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ExperienceScripture.jpg

2. The Gospel of love

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

He states,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apostle Paul again,

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

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

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

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

Leo asks, ‘How’d it go?’

Josh Lyman: Did you wait around for me?

Leo proceeds to tell Josh a parable,

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

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

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

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

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

3. A greater and more fulfilling identity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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