Knowing how to talk about the current same sex marriage debate as a Christian who opposes it is tough, and Christian leaders from around the country say it’ll only get tougher as claims of the inevitability of same sex marriage get louder.
But is the legalisation of same sex marriage inevitable? And if it is, how hard should Christians be swimming against a losing tide?
Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton says nothing is inevitable.
“It will be inevitable if we don’t speak up. If people are silent and afraid to speak then we’ll leave a vacuum for other ideas to take hold.”
But even Shelton sounds as if he’s praying for a miracle. “Was it inevitable that the Philistine army were going to overrun the Israelites? Was it inevitable that the Egyptians would overrun the Israelites as they were fleeing? Do we believe our faith? That can sound glib, but I do mean it. The seventeen-year-old David with five stones in his sling didn’t say it was inevitable [that he would be beaten by Goliath]. I think we need to think about what we really believe,” he says.
“From a public policy perspective, it’s not inevitable. The numbers are tight in the parliament, there’s no doubt. But if we speak up and play a part in the participatory democracy we live in, we can have an influence.”
Keith Jobberns, the national ministries director of Australian Baptist Ministries says that despite a sense of inevitability about same sex marriage, there are some issues on which Christians can’t afford to give up the fight.
“This is something we should fight hard on. In our society the last thing you want to be seen as is intolerant – intolerance has become the scourge of society. And yet there are some issues that we have to recognise are fundamental things which are not negotiable. This is a foundational issue to our society … it’s a critical discussion for us.”
Blogger and Anglican minister in south-west Sydney, David Ould believes Christians have no choice but to engage with this issue.
“It’s not a choice of engaging or not. It’ll be pressed upon us.”
Ould believes that same sex marriage is the battlefield for a more fundamental clash of worldviews.
“This isn’t about equal love, it’s about what the nature of marriage actually is. How do we view fundamental relationships? And it’s about trying to understand whether we can live with moral difference, or whether we have to have everything affirmed.”
It’s how to live publicly as a Christian who holds the minority moral view that many today are struggling with, particularly in the face of what looks like – at least viewed through the lens of secular media – an unstoppable tide of change.
Take, for example, a full-page ad that ran in The Australian newspaper in May, taken out by 50 of Australia’s biggest companies in support of same sex marriage.
Steve McAlpine, pastor at the evangelical Providence Church in suburban Perth says the ad was a “conflation of power and money” coming to bear on the same sex marriage debate that served to herald what Christians should already know: the culture has changed, and it changed rapidly.
“The Christian looks at that ad and says, well if I work for ANZ, I guess I better keep my head down,” says McAlpine. “The landscape’s changed, and not just on this issue.”
In a blog post that went viral this week, McAlpine declared that Christians are facing a ‘second exile’: we’re in Babylon.
“Babylon is not interested in trying to out-think us, merely overpower us. Apologetics and new ways of doing church don’t cut it in Babylon. Only courage under fire will.”
And courage is what Christians who oppose same sex marriage will need right now. McAlpine believes Christians can still be clear about what they believe, even if same sex marriage in Australia is inevitable. But our expectations on how we’re heard in the public sphere – and how we feel while we’re there – need to be reconsidered.
“People want to live in a secular state because we think it grants us the freedom to have ethical communities that are different to us, co-existing. But I don’t think that’s going to play out. There’s certainly a sense [from those advocating marriage equality] that ‘it’s our turn now’.”
But, he says, despite claims that those who oppose same sex marriage are ‘against history’, McAlpine says Christians mustn’t be cowed.
“Jesus is the Lord of history. We can be clear about what we believe, but often we fight as if we own the culture. We don’t. We’ve got to love people and serve them, but hold to our own opinions while we do that.”
Similarly, author and Christian historian John Dickson, while upholding “the institution of marriage as classically understood” says Christians have no right to tell the nation what to do. “Persuasion, service, and prayer are all we’ve got, and all we really need.”
And, perhaps, a little bit of humility. McAlpine and Ould suggest that Christians have an authority issue on the subject of marriage that can’t be overlooked. How marriage plays out in society is not the ideal that many Christians are holding it up to be in the current same sex marriage debate. Divorce and abuse have tainted the ideal.
“I think we gave up the real battle when we decided that it was OK that what God had joined together, man could put asunder. It’s hard to say now that what God has not joined together, man can’t either. We let [true] marriage fall away,” says McAlpine. “We haven’t played the ‘Godly community’ as well as we should have.”
Ould says, “What we’re seeing here is a crystallisation of choices we’ve made about marriage over the last three or four decades as a western culture. So, in one sense, it’s too late.”
John Hunt, senior pastor at Centro Church in Brisbane, and the head of the Australian Christian Churches in Queensland and Northern Territory says the failures in upholding our ideal of marriage shouldn’t negate the ideal itself.
“Scripture gives us an ideal of what
a family is. A lot of experience doesn’t live up to the ideal. That’s the ‘real’. But we have to accept the fact that there’s a tension between the ideal and the real, and not capitulate to the temptation to redefine the ideal just because our ‘real’ doesn’t meet it.”
Even if it is too late – if same sex marriage is inevitable or not – all agreed that Christians still need to have the courage to speak about what they believe.
“If gay marriage goes through, the sun will come up the next day,” says Lyle Shelton. “But the time to speak up is before change is enacted. That’s what democracy is about.”
Ould says that even if Christians are feeling “boxed in and marginalised” in a society fast changing against them, they can still offer an opposing view with love.
“We have a chance to be very distinctive and talk in different ways. And offer that love in the face of a world that doesn’t want it. But there’ll be some who do. But I want to say to Christians, hold your nerve, hold out real, justifying love and be prepared to take a kicking. And that’ll pretty much line you up with Jesus, I think.”More