The level of diversity among my church congregation on how to approach the same sex marriage postal vote is well beyond that of the progressive elite and their much vaunted diversity agenda.
Let me be clear: When it comes to permission to differ on how to approach this vexing topic, our church knocks rainbow coloured spots off the sneering, sarcastic and dismissive cultural narrators in the mainstream media and on social media in the lead up.
Let me also be clear: Our church’s position on marriage is the non-revisionist, orthodox Christian tradition that has not been under question from either within the church or from without it until the start of the sexual revolution. That is not going to change in our church.
However we do have Christians in our congregation who believe that SSM marriages should be affirmed as marriage. We also have people who would vote “Yes” in a postal vote, not because they necessarily recognise SSM as marriage, but because they believe it is a matter for the state to settle for itself, and that Christian marriage is different.
We also have people who would vote “No” with a heavy heart, knowing that it is (has already) going to result in difficult conversations with family members who disagree or who have reason to hope for a “Yes” vote.
We also have those in our congregation who would align themselves with the many Australians, including the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby, wit the view that to change the definition of marriage will do damage to language, and that that is ultimately theological at root, because such language and meaning is based in the creation mandate of God.
I do not agree with some of these positions, and I have concerns with how all of them will play out in the public square to one degree or another. But politics has been brought into this, and since politics is the art of the possible, then each of us has to make some sort of decision.
The real shock, however, is that these people with vastly diverse opinions have been known to sit in the same rows as each other in church and even to break bread and share meals together. When it comes to diversity of opinion among a group of people on this matter, our church leaves the hard line progressives for dead.
As do many churches. And I am talking about those within the orthodox tradition of Christianity, not the progressive liberal frame that has shed pretty much every orthodox view on everything, and of which this issue of sexuality is just the latest in a long line of things to junk.
Now, contrast that with the uniformity coming out of so much of the mainstream media. The Guardian newspaper decided that it won’t countenance any opinion pieces from the “No” side, because, as they put it, there is not a cogent argument for it.
Really? After thousands of years and hundreds of cultures across thousands of miles, there are ZERO cogent arguments for maintaining the definition of marriage as it is?
And then there’s Tim Minchin’s lovely little ditty, reprising Peter Allen’s I Still Call Australia Home, and his four lettered tirades at those who think other than he does, in which he employs the celebrated “c” word.
I actually think this could be the “Yes” campaign’s equivalent of the “Coopers: Keeping it Light” storm set off by the brewery and the Bible Society, in which a gay MP and a straight MP argued their case over a beer. Maybe Tim could call it “Keeping it Scornful” or “Keeping it Arrogant” or some such. Not a few “Yes” campaigners groaned at his efforts, figuring that it did them more harm than good.
And then how about last night’s ABC clanger in which news presenter Joe O’Brien questioned whether the ACL’s Lyle Shelton could in all integrity cheer the sports achievements of Ian Thorpe because he is gay.
O’Brien made this statement/accusation:
“What right do you have to participate in that joy and take national pride in those achievements if you now deny him the right to feel like an equal and experience the joy of marriage?”
What a nonsense. While I do not share Lyle Shelton’s approach to lobbying (I am more than somewhat suspicious of seeking political leverage at all), it’s a reflection of what it is like in the progressive echo chamber.
Whatever next? Those opposed to same sex marriage cannot listen to albums produced by; read books written by; enjoy paintings painted by; live in houses designed by; gay people? Or more to the point, have meaningful friendships with gay people?
Here’s what struck me, and I noticed it on my Facebook feed too. If you are a Christian and you’re living in the West, the chances are that over the years you have read material or listened to techniques that explain how to engage with people who believe and act differently to you.
Chances are you’ve read a book on world views. Chances are you’ve done a workshop. It’s called apologetics. And it’s designed to engage Christians with viewpoints that differ from theirs, with the dual aim of winning a friend, not merely winning an argument.
I’ve watched on Facebook as many Christians (though not all) have expressed their reservations about SSM, but been willing to see that there are ways to behave and attitudes to preserve in the context of this debate. There is humility to many people’s response.
Now doubtless this is also true of many proponents of SSM in run-of-the-mill life. But so poisoned has the debate become that I rarely if ever mention it to friends who are not Christian. I’ve started to just keep my head down.
But nuance is clearly not the case further up the food chain in the progressive elite bubble. How can Tim Minchin express genuine surprise, followed by sheepish denial about his motives, when he writes such a foul mouthed rant? Here’s how: Tim’s dinner parties, drinks-out-with-the-lads, coffees in downtown Sydney, are never with people who think differently to him on this issue. He lives in a bubble. Just as the ABC commentariat does. Just as the editor of The Guardian does.
None of these groups ever sit with, and eat with and pray with and life live with people who view things differently to them, least of all in these matters. Their call for diversity is a hollow call, given it springs from a deep implacable uniformity.
Let’s be clear again: I do not regard SSM as marriage, but I am not so stupid or closed minded to see that serious arguments for it being introduced into a secular context are both possible and probable. And I can sympathise with many of those who do hold to that view, whether they be Christian or not. I think there will be intended and unintended consequences for religious freedoms in this matter, but we have to deal with that as it arises.
And I am most certainly not going to scorn those who disagree with me or reduce their status to physical body parts. I am not going to imply that because they don’t agree with me on one matter they cannot agree with me on anything or be in any sort of relationship with me. Nor am I desperately in need for my position to win the day. There is a complication to living in a hard secular context that I must navigate, and I can see that all too well.
But sadly, I recognise that even by spelling out this nuance, I now open myself up to a rant somewhere along the line, either on this blog or Facebook. I hope not, but even if I does, I would say to my detractors:
“Despite the fact that we hold an orthodox line on marriage, come and see what true diversity of opinion looks like. Come and see what a community that doesn’t always agree on everything looks like. Because you’re going to need it when, once again, as has been the case in the past, this utopia you seek step by brittle step, stubbornly fails to arrive.”
Steve currently works as a pastor and church planter for Providence Church, and in his writing dabbles in a number of fields, notably theology StephenMcAlpine.com.
In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Michael Kellahan of Sydney for Freedom for Faith.
Freedom for Faith is a legal think tank that protects and promotes religious freedom in Australia and beyond.