Our country is about to engage in a public debate that has the potential to be incredibly spiteful and harmful. On one side, we have those who say that any pair of adults, regardless of gender, should be able to legally marry. On the other, are those who want to retain the legal status quo and maintain marriage as the legal union of one woman to one man.
In general, Christians are characterised as wanting the maintain the current legal definition. But that's a generalisation that will fuel further divisions in our already fracturing society.
I'm a practicing Christian. I go to church almost every Sunday, sometimes twice. I listen to a lot of Christian music, a sermon or two via podcasts each week, go to a fortnightly "growth group" (bible study in the old days) and studied at a theological college. I suspect many of my friends will disagree with me about this. But that's okay - as long as they do so in a respectful and loving way.
I support marriage equality - with one caveat.
The caveat is that ministers of ANY religion should not be forced, by law, to marry ANY couple they believe is in a relationship that is counter to their beliefs. At this point, I believe that civil celebrants should, without discrimination, marry any couple who is legally allowed to do so.
If that is considered to be discriminatory then so be it. But I don't think the law should make anyone do something that is contrary to their personal faith. Down a slippery slope that leads.
Why I am not against marriage equality
I get that my views are contrary to those of many Christians. And that many will quote numerous Bible verses at me about why I'm wrong. Frankly, if you want to play Bible-verse ping-pong then find another place because I'm not interested. Besides, that's a game you play on almost any matter you want. Heck, I'm damned for all eternity if you're a fan of Leviticus 19:28 seeing as I sport a fair bit of tattoo ink on my chest and shoulders.
Marriage is a topic that is important to me. I'm going to be married for the second time later this year. According to some churches, the fact I'm divorced and remarrying will label my wife and I as adulterers.
Assuming ministers of religion are not compelled, by law, to marry a couple who's relationship falls outside what they consider lawful (in a theological sense) then the changes in law are largely irrelevant in a practical sense.
What worries me are bodies such as the Australian Christian Lobby. I've disagreed publically with the ACL before. While they are a very vocal group, it's important to understand they are not representative of all Christians - I'm not even sure they represent a majority of Christians, particularly among my circle of friends.
The rhetoric that comes from such groups can be incredibly divisive and unhelpful.
Christianity is not one set of religious practices
While Christianity is not a single set of beliefs and practices there are a set of core beliefs that I think are not negotiable.
- God sent his son, Jesus, to earth
- Jesus' earthly ministry, including a sinless life, culminated in his execution on the cross
- Three days after dying on the Cross, Jesus body was resurrected
If you believe those core values, then I think you're a Christian. And that deep belief drives YOU to a lifestyle that follows all of Jesus' teaching as revealed in the Bible.
Outside those core matters, churches have wildly divergent views on many things such as the roles of women in ministry, infant versus adult baptism, what age children can participate in the rite of Communion, and any other number of things.
Churches should not follow society Some will argue that it's the role of Christianity to follow the needs of the society. That's not correct in my view.
The church ought to act as a beacon or leader, not be a follower.
In an ABC interview John Anderson highlighted the thing that most disturbs me, as an Australian Christian. The "debate" we are hearing is poorly framed and the extreme ends of the debate are engaging in hateful speech and vilification.
Saying somemone's religious beliefs are irrelevant is, at the very least, disrespectful. We are all guided by some moral compass. Frankly, I think knowing someone's faith background is helpful. At least you have some clue as to how they'll make decisions.
I love the musical Hamilton. Aaron Burr's "Talk less, smile more. Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for" refrain is a reminder that knowing what someone believes is useful - whether you agree with them or not.
A Christian response
There are many areas in the law that challenge Christians. The best response a Christian can make is to pray, vote in the postal poll according to their conscience and pray that, regardless of the outcome, God's will is served. For non-Christians, that might seem a little piss-weak. But as someone who has seen, first-hand, the powerful effect on prayer in situations that seem otherwise hopeless I assure you it is not.
While I don't want to engage in Bible verse ping-pong, there are some parts of scripture that I think can be helpful.
1 Corinthians 10:23 says
"I have the right to do anything," you say - but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything" - but not everything is constructive.
In other words, just because something is legal you don't have to do it if it is not helpful to your faith. For the vast majority of Christians, the fact that two people of the same gender can marry doesn't mean they (as in Christians) should. Similarly, there's clear advice of how sexual intercourse should be reserved for marriage. So, while it is legal for a pair of consenting heterosexual adults to have sex outside marriage, it doesn't mean they have to.
When it comes to the debate, I go back to the two laws Jesus told his followers to obey before all others.
Matthew 22: 37-40
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If Christians approach this debate in anything less than a loving way then they are not acting as God intended. We don't have to like someone's actions or lifestyle, but we are to love them nonetheless. That means being thoughtful in what you say and write. Telling someone they are going to go to Hell for voting a particular way isn't just unhelpful. It's theologically wrong (at least in the way I have been taught and studied theology).
For non-Christians - please do not assume that everyone coming from a faith background different to you will instantly be against marriage equality. And if they are, understand that believing something that you don't agree with doesn't make them a bigot.