At the time of writing this blog entry, there is once more a bill before parliament proposing to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM). This is the second time this has been debated and we can expect the issue to be with us for some time, also being on the agenda in most Western countries. There has been much ink (or at least virtual ink) spilt on this issue on all sides and my humble contribution here is not aiming to be a detailed discussion on all the relevant issues. However, this whole debate does raise some things about how Christians relate to the wider culture that we should think clearly about, which is the direction this blog post is heading in.
What is this issue about?
This point seems to be lost in many quarters. This debate is not about homosexuality as such. It would be misguided to label it as pro- or anti-homosexuality. Homosexual practice has been legal in Australia for a long time.
The way the debate has been packaged and presented is as a discrimination issue, or even a human rights issue. We are asked to support ‘marriage equality’. In this context it is difficult to say no! Saying no sounds very much like discrimination; how can you deny marriage to homosexual people? It is cast as the modern day equivalent of denying women the right to vote or non-white people the right to enrol in school. How dare you? Of course, the issue is more about status than marriage, and the packaging of the debate doesn’t match the contents.
Many wiser people have written far more eloquently than I can on this topic, and I do not wish to unpack all the implications of this here. Suffice to say that this redefinition of marriage would be significantly different from the Biblical definition which is clear and not controversial in traditional church settings. Marriage is to be between a man and a woman and is an illustration of Christ’s love for the church (Eph 5). So human marriage is not intended to be the ultimate relationship but an illustration of Christ’s love for us.
But really, most people who are married in Australia today do not see God involved at all in their marriage or wider lives. Most people are married outside church settings now and vows are often watered down significantly from the traditional Christian marriage vows. So is this SSM debate a sign that the wider world is starting to move away from Christian values? No. It is a sign it is moving further away.
What we face is the reality that now legally the Christian stance on this and many other moral issues is significantly different from that of the majority. We differ on other issues too remember! Abortion is legal, homosexual practice is legal, and euthanasia is debated in many areas. Christian belief is different from the majority view. Does that mean we then change our behaviour to do things that are legal in our country but against God’s word? Of course not!
We are experiencing something God’s people in many places have experienced: we are in enmity with the world. Jesus tells us to expect this. Our views are not popular in our culture; neither was the church of the first few centuries popular with the Roman culture, or the Chinese church popular with the ruling parties and wider culture. We have just not experienced opposition to our views so strongly as we have been in recent times.
Being a Christian in a majority non-Christian democracy
So knowing that we hold different views from our culture, including on SSM, how should we react to this? Three things come to mind (after all, I am a preacher!).
- It is right that our voice should be heard
In a democracy all citizens have a voice. It is right that we speak up when we disagree. Make the most of your right to speak by writing to your member of parliament. Tell them that you disagree with the proposed law and ask them to vote against it.
However, it is critical that Christians engaging with culture are loving and respect those they disagree with. The way we speak is often as important as what we say.
- We should be aware that our views are ridiculed and not respected
Christianity does not have a respected voice in our cultural debates. Those who try to defend the traditional Christian view of marriage are labelled as being discriminating or worse. Again, remember that none of this should surprise us if we read the instructions of Jesus and the apostles.
- Our aim is not a new Christendom
What about if we succeed (at least for now) in denying this change to the marriage laws? What about if we manage to get all laws changed to reflect Christian teaching? Is that the aim of the church, to make a Christian state on earth? Well, no. As I have written before, trying to make those who do not trust in Jesus to live in certain ways won’t help them to come to trust in Jesus. This is one reason why arguing for the Christian position in the SSM debate makes no sense to most who don’t hold our beliefs about Jesus. They see no reason to respect the authority of God and His Word.
In fact, we don’t see Jesus and the apostles work at changing the wider culture. There is no command to change the way the Romans run society. There are many instructions to make disciples, to live in line with the gospel, and to be a real community who love one another. And there are instructions to bear suffering well and react in a godly way when others treat us poorly.
We should be part of the public debate. We should speak up. But we should make sure we are not distracted by the main mission we have, to glorify God and make disciples.