An Open Letter to LGBTI Australians about the marriage debate

Dear LGBTI Australians,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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.

Does Australian Christianity need a Nashville Statement?

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

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

The Preamble states,

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Nothing will Change!

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The people advocating for marriage equality in Australia are not attempting to impose their beliefs on to any church, they are simply objecting to churches imposing their definition of marriage onto the rest of us.”¹ (Jane Gilmore, Freelance writer, 18/10/16)

What happened in Ireland, and Great Britain, most of continental Europe, most of the Americas, New Zealand, Canada and all the rest?

Again.

Nothing.”² (Lisa Wilkinson, 14/10/16)

I challenge people here to demonstrate that changing the Marriage Act will lead to negative changes in religious freedom.”³ (paraphrase of a statement spoken by Mark Dreyfus at the recent Freedom For Faith Conference, 23/09/16)

It is unsurprising to hear a growing cacophony of voices dampening suggestions that changing marriage in Australia will lead to any negative consequences for society and religious freedom. To acknowledge such impact would probably weaken their position. But it is important for Australians to recognise that the argument of ‘no change’ is simply untrue.

Scott Sanders from The Geneva Push recently sat down with Mikey Ovey (Principal of Oak Hill College, London) to talk about what has been happening in the UK since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014. It is worth taking time to listen to these 4 short videos. Keep in mind, Mike is speaking directly to the situation in the United Kingdom. There are also examples coming out of Canada and the USA which demonstrate how same sex marriage undermines not only freedom of religion, but also freedom of conscience. Al Mohler’s program, The Briefing, is a helpful resource for gauging the shifting climate in North America.

Even here in Australia, and this being prior to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, there are clear examples of how this issue is rearranging and limiting religious freedoms. For example, it is no longer possible to win preselection in the Australian Labor Party unless you agree to same-sex marriage. In recent weeks, in light of the now unlikely plebiscite, politicians across Parliament have been discussing which people and organisations will receive legal protections, should same-sex marriage be introduced. If there are no negative outcomes, why is the Government drafting legislation to protect certain groups?

Reshaping marriage means reshaping society and society’s laws and expectations, and reshaping the contour of religious freedom and practice. Lisa Wilkinson and Jane Gilmore can argue otherwise, but it is the logical flow on effect, and we are 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 a few years ago this view of marriage was an assumed good, 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.

To Christians reading this, be assured, 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. If God can redeem 50 million Chinese in communist China, and millions under persecuting Roman Emperors, cannot God still work in Australia? 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.


1. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/gay-marriage/opinion-the-logic-fail-of-christian-objections-to-marriage-equality/news-story/bc247a193538625138d6f86f5c7cde65

2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/lisa-wilkinson/what-will-happen-if-we-legalise-same-sex-marriage/

3. https://freedomforfaith.org.au/

Same-sex marriage narrative isn’t so neat

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It wasn’t that long ago that we were listening to advocates for marriage change insist marriage wasn’t about children, and that it was misleading to use children as part of an argument for classical marriage.

For example, last year on QandA, the Federal Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, shouted down a fellow panellist for daring to connect marriage with raising children. The panellist was Katy Faust, an American blogger who was raised by two lesbians (one being her mum). She speaks affectionately about both women who raised her, she nonetheless believes children ought to have a mother and father.

“While my mother was a fantastic mother and most of what I do well as a mother myself I do because that’s how she parented me, she can’t be a father. Her partner, an incredible woman — both of these women have my heart — cannot be a father either.”

Penny Wong is also on the record, rebuffing Eric Abetz who submitted same-sex marriage would deny children the basic rights of a mother and father.

Di Natale’s and Wong’s outrage in not unique to them,  it has been mimicked by other politicians and social commentators. Indeed it has become part of the narrative: don’t bring children into the marriage conversation.

The only problem with this plot line is that SSM advocates have now found ways to use children in support of their own case. Hence, it’s anathema for one side to mention children, but it is only right and natural for children to be front and centre waving rainbow flags.

Last weekend in Melbourne at a marriage change rally, young children were organised to be on the platform and talk about their positive experiences of living with 2 mums or 2 dads. These children then featured in weekend newspapers across the nation.

Today in Canberra, Bill Shorten and Mark Dreyfus met with ‘rainbow families’ at Parliament, and the ensuing photo-op has been splashed all over social media tonight.

This dramatic shift in narrative has taken an even stranger twist today; while children from gay families were being welcomed by Mr Shorten and Mr Dreyfus, in Canberra was another woman raised by 2 lesbian mums. But for some reason, Labor representatives were not keen to meet with her, and certainly no photography and selfies for their twitter accounts. Why were some children raised by 2 mums or dads put in the political spotlight, and  24 year old Millie Fontana was refused even a casual chat?

It appears as though her story doesn’t fit with story that is being written for Australia’s history books.

In an interview in Triple J today, Millie Fontana says,

‘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’.

Fontana is not alone in her belief that children should have a father and mother; there are numerous similar stories of children who were raised in same-sex contexts, but for the most part these testimonies are being ignored. Why? They don’t fit into the narrative being spun by certain political and social scriptwriters. 

The changing story goes something like this: children are not relevant to this marriage debate…except now those raised by lesbian or gay parents…so long as those kids don’t believe that children should have a dad and mum. 

Millie Fontana’s testimony is especially awkward because unlike someone like Katy Faust, Fontana is an atheist and even supports same sex marriage, but she does not believe children should be denied their mum and dad.

The reality is, there are many different Australians concerned with same-sex marriage and with its consequences, and they can’t be put in a box labelled, ‘heterosexual religious bigots’. In fact, very few people can accurately be described as such, but again, that’s not the story Mr Shorten, Ms Wong, and others want Australia to believe.

I’d love to see Mr Shorten and Mr Dreyfus meet with Millie Fontana, to hear her story. More important, the Australian public ought to be aware that the SSM narrative is not so neat and tidy, and contrary to reassurances from political leaders, there are real consequences that will flow from changing the definition of marriage.

Read more of the Triple J interview with Millie Fontana

While she’s for same-sex couples marrying, she has deep concerns about what same-sex marriage would mean for family structures. Families like hers.

“Same-sex parenting is not something I’m against,” Millie told Hack. “It’s got to be done ethically. There’s no easy way of raising a child in a same-sex scenario.”

“Same-sex marriage coming in basically says we don’t need biology,” she said. “Marriage itself has been so intertwined with child reproduction, and what I want to see happen is the preservation of child rights, regardless of who gets married.”

Not knowing her dad denied her “genetic integrity”, Millie said.

All children have a right to know who they are.”

Millie didn’t meet her dad until she was 11 years old. His absence had a big impact on her life.

She’d asked her mums to meet him as a young child, and they’d said no. She started acting out and having problems at school.

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

‘There was always something missing’

No one ever teased her at school, and her mums were loving and provided all she needed for a stable home life. But Millie said she still clung to the “missing gender” in her life.

“There was always something missing for me, and I can honestly say that I always wanted to know who my father was.”

Millie is against same-sex couples denying their children access to their mother or father. She’s also against single people choosing to have children, for the same reason.

More Christian leaders weighing in on the plebiscite issue

Two thoughtful articles were published today by two Australian Christian leaders, critiquing the pros and cons of the marriage plebiscite.

While they are addressing different points, they could be read as complementary pieces.

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Mike Frost asks the question, ‘is Australia really mature enough for a plebiscite on this matter?’ His answer? No. His reason?  ‘Are Australians capable of debating this matter without descending into a cruel and divisive fight about intensely personal matters like people’s religious views and their sexuality? I very much doubt it.’ Sadly, it is not difficult to find examples, many from people supporting SSM, but deplorable comments have also been made toward LGBTI Australians.

Ray Galea is also concerned with the rhetoric plebiscite; he is concerned for the well being of gay and lesbian Australians, and he is also conscious of how Christianity may be presented to the public during this debate.

This Pastor from Western Sydney offers sage advice for Christians, that we must not let this issue confuse, lessen, or hide the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also right to point out that personal testimony is a powerful tool to persuade people of Christian theology and ethics:

“Our ongoing focus should be on where the battle is really fought. Its in our homes. It’s when we get to present to our family and friends spouses who are loved and respected.”

Whatever the outcome on the plebiscite the real battle for marriage is first and last on the ground, as the world sees husbands and wives under the Lordship of Christ living out order and equality, love and respect (Eph 5:33).

The better our marriages the more powerful is our argument that God’s way is indeed the best way.”

Without taking away anything they have said, the fact remains, someone needs to decide whether the Marriage Act will change to include same-sex marriage or not. If not the people, then the Parliament, but of course  many of the malicious and slanderous comments have come from the lips of our political representatives. If we can’t trust the Australian people with a plebiscite, we certainly can’t trust the Parliament.

The question then is, where can serious discussion take place on this issue?

There are of course many positive examples, although few come to public attention because calm, intelligent, and respectful conversation doesn’t send the news cameras racing to the scene.

I don’t think we should give up on highlighting attractive examples of public debate on marriage, and to encourage Australians emulate these. Sadly, there will always be some who insist on fighting dirty, and we trust that these dreadful tactics will be exposed and seen for what they are. Perhaps some of the vitriol stems from fear, certainly much of it is hate, but most disgraceful of all are those who are using hate and insult as a weapon to silence other points of view. Such methods are unChristian. Indeed, we must go further and not only set an example of gracious dissent, we must be prepared to call out that mud when ‘Christians’ are throwing it, and we should be ready to take those hits for our gay and lesbian neighbours.

Always remember the Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ remains the most true and compelling example of how to engage in conversation where there is significant disagreement. He would never compromise the righteousness of God; the New Testament records many events where Jesus disagrees with the views of 1st Century Jewish society. But Jesus didn’t stop with disagreement; he went much further: he volunteered to lay down his life for the very people with whom he disagreed. His death and resurrection provides us not only with the example par excellence, but it works, it brings about forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

It is encouraging to see more Christian leaders expressing views on this issue of marriage. I share the concerns that my brothers Mike and Ray have raised, but I do not think any of the alternatives will prove to be more reasonable and civil. However, whether there is a plebiscite, a Parliamentary vote, or no vote at all, the Gospel doesn’t change, the way we view our fellow Australians shouldn’t change,  and the partnership of love and truth must remain in our mouths, hearts and lives.

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)

Julia Baird defends John Dickson…sort of

“It is easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree.” (Leo McKern)

Like an episode of ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’, Julia Baird yesterday came to the defence of John Dickson, although in a somewhat less convincing performance.

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One week ago Rev Dr John Dickson raised a question on his personal Facebook page, concerning the manner in which the same sex marriage debate is being conducted in Australia. Within hours the post was taken down by Facebook, and then reinstated one day later with a somewhat fuzzy apology attached.

In yesterday’s The Age, Julia Baird came out swinging, first of all using testimony from Prince and then proceeding to argue, ‘Dickson’s questioning should not be slammed but aired, and he is right to argue conservative viewpoints should not be so rapidly shut down or dismissed as hate. It was very odd of Facebook to delete this post.’

At the same time, Baird didn’t hold back in offering her own view on Dickson’s comments,

‘This is a massive, inadvertently inflammatory call and one I do not agree with. Surely acceptance, tolerance and absence of judgment about difference would make LGBTI youth feel better. But, isn’t it up to them, to say what makes them feel better? It is also highly provocative to accuse those who either belong to, or are allies of the LGBTI+ community of augmenting the very hatred they have spent their lives trying to fight and diminish.’

The fact that a journalist in Australia has freedom to speak her mind and to disagree with another Australian, and to do so in the most direct manner, is a sign of a healthy society. Would we want our sitz im leben to be less than this? 

In her closing statement, rather than reiterating Dickson’s right to offer an opinion, it seems as though Baird crossed the floor to the prosecutor’s table, and it is these remarks that I find most odd.

Baird finishes by quoting another Facebook post, that of Sydney Chaplain, Garry Lee Lindsay,

I can’t see how this helps anything. Please don’t try to convince me that it is intellectual debate or you are approaching the subject with an open mind and a loving heart. You might be, but why do you have to say it? And why is it so important to make comment about other people’s lifestyle or culture on Facebook? Just go out and make friends with people because they are people, made in the image of the Creator, inseparable from God’s love.

“What about calling people to prayer for those poor people in Japan and Ecuador that lost their lives and family in the earthquakes? To start with!!! What about we stop writing posts like this one, make some soup and sandwiches, go and hand it out to the hundreds of rough sleepers on our streets every night and give them some company? Why don’t I? Because I’d rather whinge about the terrible people that aren’t like me, don’t think like me, don’t live like me. And do it from a distance, because then at least I know I’m OK. What a wretched man I am? Who will save me? Thanks be to God.”

First of all, Lee-Lindsay (and presumably Baird, given she is appealing to the quote) dismisses the importance of people offering comments about lifestyle and culture matters on Facebook. Although I wonder, does  Lee-Lindsay realise that he is guilty of the very thing he is accusing of others of doing? ‘Others mustn’t use Facebook to express opinions about sexuality issues, like I am doing right now…!’

Do Lee-Lindsay and Baird not realise that these issues of marriage and of transgenderism are very much public issues? Marriage may be a personal relationship, but it is also a societal one. If it were not, why are wedding ceremonies held in the presence of witnesses, and why does Government have a role and why do we have a national marriage registry?  Similarly, recent discussions on transgenderism demonstrates it is not merely a private issue: should boys be allowed to use girls toilets in schools? How is society to relate to people who don’t wish to identify with their biological sex? It is incongruous to suggest these issues cannot be discussed in public forums; these matters effect families, schools, communities and Governments. And if they are discussed, are only agreeable voices to be allowed?

Second, the quote implies that Christians such as John Dickson are whinging as they make public statements about SSM, when what they should be doing is ‘making friends with people’ and helping people where they are at. This is not only a very smug caricature of Christians, it is hugely presumptuous. How do they know we are not providing food for the hungry, and not praying for victims of those earthquakes?

Can we not do both? John Newton was a preacher and an anti-slavery campaigner. John Wesley preached more sermons than most and he started orphanages. Jesus preached, taught and addressed all manner of social and spiritual issues, and even daring to question the political realms, and he cared for the poor and broken. Christians I know are committed both to speaking and sharing, preaching and praying, and I have no doubt John Dickson does likewise.

Despite initially supporting John Dickson’s right to post on Facebook, Baird lands on what is becoming an all to common place; while John Dickson technically has the right to freedom of speech, he really shouldn’t say anything unless he is offering unqualified support for those who wish to pursue non-heterosexual lifestyles. In fact, Christians should stick to helping people and leave public discourse to others.

Ultimately, Julia Baird falls for the false antithesis: disagreement equals hate. Why is Baird propagating such poor logic? The latter may be an expression of the former, but not necessarily. For example, as a parent there are occasions when I disagree with my children’s choices, and yet I still love them. Indeed, love necessitates that I sometimes disagree with them. More than that, Jesus Christ lived and spoke constant love, and yet this love sometimes manifested itself by offering correction to people, even rebuke.

If Christians are to be anything like Jesus we will continue to trust and graciously speak his words, the gospel, and seek to love others as Christ has loved us. As far as John Dickson has tried to emulate his Lord and Saviour, he given us a worthwhile example to follow. It is clearly unpopular, but popularity is often a poor test for what is truly good and right.

What did John Dickson say? Facebook outrage

What was so shocking about a John Dickson post that Facebook found it necessary to delete it? What vindictive or vilifying comment did Rev Dr John Dickson make? What disgusting accusation did he write?

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mug shot of the accused

Here is the full gross hate-filled speech that has caused Facebook to act with swift justice, resurrected from the hidden vaults of a computer’s history:

“I might be wrong, but I think I detect a pattern of argumentation over same-sex marriage that potentially harms LGBTI youth and, yet, is partly the fault of those advocating for gay marriage.

It is true that demeaning insults were once part of the stock language against the LGBTI community in the public square. I can only imagine the damage that did to young (and old) people wrestling with their sexuality. It is a terrible part of our recent history. God, forgive us!

But I haven’t seen many demeaning insults directed at the LGBTI community in the public square in the last few years. Whether on The Project or ABC’s Q&A, it seems that all or most of the intemperate language and spiteful tone comes from advocates of gay marriage, while defenders of classical marriage—even if they are wrong and loopy—seem to have learned to engage in this contest of ideas with respect and civility.

But here is the thing that intrigues me most. At the climax of many of these public debates, as advocates of gay marriage raise their voices and deliver their insults, they frequently declare with unnoticed irony something like, “And this is precisely why we shouldn’t have a national Plebiscite on gay marriage: the discussion is so negative and hate-filled, and it can only reinforce feelings of rejection among LGBTI youth.” They sometimes cite a recent surge in calls to LGBTI helplines to prove it.

But my fear is that by heightening the tone of the debate and reiterating the hatred which classical marriage advocates allegedly have for the LGBTI community, it is advocates of gay marriage themselves who are unwittingly entrenching in young gay and lesbian men and women the sense that there is something wrong with them, that there is a whole segment of Australian society that despises them and sees them as second-class citizens. In short, isn’t it possible that the LGBTI community’s frequent claims of being a despised minority are exacerbating feelings of being hated among LGBTI youth?

But imagine an alternative scenario. If gay marriage advocates chose tomorrow to emphasise in public debate that it’s entirely possible to disagree with same-sex marriage and be deeply respectful of LGBTI people, isn’t it possible that young gays and lesbians listening in would be spared some of the harm this debate could cause? If calm and civil discussion was the order of the day, instead of tribalism and slurs, wouldn’t LGBTI youth feel better about who they are and less ‘under attack’ from other segments of society?

I realise I see all this through the lenses of classical Christian convictions and centuries of social power. I have tried to assess my motives and look at it from the perspective of others. But I am left wondering if gay marriage advocates bear as much responsibility as traditional marriage advocates for ensuring that LGBTI youth are not harmed in the lead up to the Plebiscite.”

The offence is as easy to spot as a Facebook algorithm…well, no, it’s not.

Facebook stipulates that,

“We remove content, disable accounts and work with law enforcement when we believe that there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety. Learn more about how Facebook handles abusive content.”

Fair enough, but where are any of those things in John’s post? Perhaps someone wrote a comment in the thread, so appalling that it required the entire discussion to be erased? Unfortunately the entire discussion has been deleted and so we cannot verify, although I did read many of the comments while the thread was still available and I only read civil dialogue, even when disagreement was proffered.

No one is surprised by the fact that Facebook contains millions of appalling groups, pages, comments, and images; things that are truly sickening and derogatory, toward all kinds of peoples. If Facebook was genuinely concerned with bullish, defamatory and hateful speech, perhaps they might consider visiting the pages of some football clubs, or ABC’s QandA, or The Age newspaper (I’m referring to comments posted by members of the public).

Let us be clear, John has raised a reasonable question, one based on valid observations about current conversations on LGBT issues. He was not preaching a message; he offered an opinion and then asked what other people thought. He was respectful, and called for  ‘calm and civil discussion’. He made it clear (at the end of his original post) that he would delete any harmful comments. As anyone can see for themselves, John expresses concern for LGBT people, and bemoans the fact that too often debate on SSM resorts to insults.

And yet, Facebook determined to have this respectful conversation taken down. Why? At this point in time Facebook have not responded to John’s enquiry, nor that of others who have written and asked questions.

The famous American Chef, Anthony Bourdain once said, “I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”

It appears as though Facebook is joining the league of those who haven’t read Bourdain’s recipe!

Disallowing serious and legitimate discourse is not a sign of a mature society, but of a regressive culture that has become enslaved to an absolutist and oppressive ideolog. This is increasingly the case in Western societies as we see politicians,  media personalities, and entertainers insist the population adhere to their self-defined and unprovable moral truths. The fact that their definitions frequently change doesn’t get in the way of them demanding unquestionable allegiance. Under such a system it is irrelevant whether one speaks with compassion and clarity, and with evidence and grace; it is enough that the secularist’s sexual proclivity has been questioned.

We are somewhat stunned by Facebook’s actions, but let’s remember, this is nothing new. During his life Athanasius found himself exiled 5 times for speaking his views. William Tyndale was burnt alive for giving the English people the Bible in their own language, and John Bunyan had freedom of speech snatched from him and a prison cell given instead. This is not the first time in history when sensible speech has been censored, and it won’t be the last. Yes, it is irrational and intolerant, but such was the experience of the gentlest, most loving, rational, gracious man to have ever walked the earth, Jesus Christ.  The full beauty of glory of God dwells in Him, and yet the world disdained his talk of peace and love, and people despised the fact that he showed grace toward people, even those with him he strongly disagreed.

With perspective, last night’s actions by Facebook are pretty small, but they are certainly symptomatic of a broader issue that ought to concern not only Christians but all people who believe in fair, truth-seeking, and respectful debate.

What price should we attach to marriage?

The media has been abuzz with the announcement made by accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC), that the proposed marriage plebiscite will cost Australians $525 million.

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The cost attached to the plebiscite itself is $158 million. Another $30 million has been estimated to deal with mental health issues that may arise for LGBTI people from potential hate-speech and acts, $66 million set aside for the yes/no campaigns, and it is estimated that while we duck off to the polling venue on a Saturday afternoon to vote, there will be productivity loss around the nation to the sum of $280 million.

It needs to be said that despite how some media outlets are reporting the PwC modelling, this figure is not factual, but is an educated opinion, and one which is already being disputed. It is also important to note PwC is not acting as an impartial third party, but they are a strong supporter of same-sex marriage and of the group Australian Marriage Equality.

Despite these qualifications, let’s assume the sum is accurate. Given all those factors I would call myself a reluctant supporter of the plebiscite.

Bill Shorten has said of the plebiscite, “what a waste”. I sympathise with this view, for I can see how the money could be used to assist any number of important social concerns: mental health, housing for indigenous Australians, addressing domestic violence, and refugee assistance are just a few of a hundred issues requiring attention and support. Having said that, the notion of changing the definition of marriage is no small thing, and it is naive for anyone to suggest so.

The proposal is not a tiny amendment to the law, but the radical and complete alteration of society’s most basic building block: from marriage comes the family unit, and from family communities are formed, and with communities a society and nation is shaped. Marriage is not everything, but it is an important thing and it is one which has held an almost universally accepted definition since history began. Until recently very few societies would even consider the question, and today the vast majority of nations remain opposed to same-sex marriage. Let us understand that no one is quibbling over a few words, at stake is rebooting the very notion of marriage. There are already community voices arguing that this rewrite is simply a steppingstone to further changes and even the eradication of marriage altogether:

Last year, Simon Copland, a columnist with the Sydney Star Observer, argued that equal marriage might unfortunately limit expressions of sexuality, saying that ‘while monogamous marriage still works for many, our society is increasingly questioning whether it should remain as the only option’.

At the 2012 Sydney Writers’ festival, Dennis Altman, was among a number of speakers who declared their hope that the Marriage Act would be eventually repealed altogether.

The point is, it is not hyperbole to suggest that should marriage redefinition take place, it will be considered a watershed event in Australia’s history, one which will have inevitable and enormous repercussions for society.

Australians are not choosing whether to adopt a new tax or funding more schools or creating the NBN, as important as such things may be; we are deciding how Australia will view what is the most essential and basic unit of every society on earth, marriage.

Yes, $525 million is a lot of money, but when one breaks down the cost per capita, it comes to $21.88 for each Australian. For the cost of little more than a movie ticket, I can have a say in deciding the direction Australia will take on the most fundamental social unit

A separate concern surrounding the plebiscite has been raised by various advocates for marriage change, including Rodney Croome who said,

“The damage an ugly and divisive campaign will do to vulnerable members of the LGBTI community, their families, and youth will have far-reaching consequences that cannot be quantified,”

As someone who has a voice in the community, albeit a small one, should the plebiscite be presented to the nation, I want to state publicly that hateful speech and actions against LGBTI people are unacceptable. A marriage plebiscite does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act. Throwing bile at another human being is detestable, whether it is done in person or on twitter.

“A marriage plebiscite does not justify spite or slander toward those who wish to change the Marriage Act”

As important as this plebiscite is, there is something of greater consequence, and that is the good of others. I have no desire to sacrifice people for the sake of a vote. I do not wish harm on any homosexual and lesbian Aussies, and will gladly speak against such behaviour. But please do not erroneously fuse disagreement with hate as though there is an inextricable link between the two, for this is not the case. To disagree civilly is not to hate, and to think that it is risks undermining the foundation of democracy.

The logical terminus of Croome’s argument is a prohibition on disagreement; that is not healthy for democracy and would set a bind on the conscience of those who disagree with the change to the marriage law. A society that forbids the public articulation of civilly expressed views that come out of a long, thoughtful and widespread tradition is on the road to becoming the very thing it claims to stand against.

It is possible, indeed desirable, to show kindness in disagreement. I realise that kindness like marriage is a disappearing norm in Australia today, but showing gentleness and respect toward those with whom there is a different view ought to be basic to our humanity. Is this not one of the reasons why Donald Trump leaves us shuddering?

Indeed, the essence of Christianity is Jesus Christ showing kindness to a world that had no room for his beliefs,

“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.”

While bullish and malicious behaviour toward same-sex marriage advocates is rightly called out, I wonder whether those leading the charge for marriage change insist that their supporters don’t resort to hate speech toward those who believe marriage can only be between a man and a woman?

Will they pledge to publicly denounce individuals who disparage the millions of Australians who do not support same sex marriage?

Will they call out public figures who time and time again call people homophobes and bigots for believing only in heterosexual marriage?

Australians are increasingly recognising that this decision is of major consequence, not only for the way we build society, but this may have enormous implications for ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of religion’. We only have to look at Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom to see how same-sex marriage introduces a wave of intellectual and moral oppression on those who cannot for reason of conscience affirm it.

The Labor Party have made it abundantly clear that they will not allow their members to vote against same-sex marriage. This is hardly the stuff of a dynamic democracy. Only two weeks ago, Labor Senator Joe Bullock was forced to retire because of his Party’s unwillingness to allow a conscience vote on this issue. Such political censorship has given cause for the public to doubt that a fair vote can take place in Parliament.

I share concerns over the cost of a plebiscite, but given what is at stake the Australian public ought to have their voice. If John Howard believed in taking the GST to an election, how much more should the question of marriage, which is insurmountably more important, be given a say by the people.