Short responses to Nathan Campbell’s 10 reasons for abstaining from participation in the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
[N.B. This is a postscript to my recent article on the issues surrounding the plebiscite. NC’s comments ennumerated and italicised, my responses in bold. I have added [a] & [b] to his original text for some points to enable ease of response].
1. I believe the Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them treat you) isn’t just a nice idea, but an important command for Christians to pursue as we live together with neighbours who disagree with us
Response: I believe the second greatest commandment (as cited by Jesus): “Love your neighbour as yourself” precludes the encouraging, endorsing or enabling of any behaviour, activity or attitude that is inherently harmful to one’s neighbour(s).
2. [a] I believe the Christianity we see in the New Testament assumes a society and moral order that is fundamentally different in outlook to the way of being in the world produced by the Gospel, and [b] it’s not our job to police sexual morality outside the church (1 Corinthians 5).
a. Agreed, but the conundrum of how the apostles might have responded to imperial proposals to change any law from approximately agreeing with biblical morality to rejecting it – is an open question.
b. Agreed, but neither are we called to indifference towards sexual morality outside the church. Almost no churches or Christian leaders are calling for renewed legal penalties for private sodomy – that would be policing morality. Public recognition of what constitutes a marriage is different.
3. [a] I believe the best version of a liberal, secular, democracy is pluralistic; that our life together as citizens of Australia works best when we allow for and accommodate a diversity of views on what a good or flourishing human life looks like. [b] If I want my definition of marriage recognised by law, and it comes from my convictions, as a Christian, about what God says a good and flourishing life looks like, then I should be prepared (because of the Golden Rule) to make space for others to have their definition of marriage recognised by law.
a. I broadly agree, in the sense that I too am a political pluralist. What ‘liberal,’ ‘secular’ and ‘democracy’ mean to NC and whether I agree with his appropriation of these concepts as a fellow Christian with differing views on our participation in society, I’m not sure.
b. This logic is concerning, as it presumably surrenders any meaningful say for Christians in the limitations of what can be regarded as marriage. This Golden Rule ethic can’t realistically stop at male-male “marriage” and “female-female” marriage…
4. I believe that religious freedom is a big part of pluralism, and that all people are worshippers, whether they worship God, or something like sex and marriage; that worship is about our primary love and our vision of the good or flourishing life. That’s part of our humanity. This means everybody defines marriage through the prism of their worship, or love, or vision of the good life (Romans 1 seems to make a connection between what we choose to worship (creator or created things) and how we live in the world. I believe that if I, as a Christian, want the legal freedom to define marriage as God defines it within our church community, and as a Christian in the community, then I should allow my neighbours to have their definition of marriage receive the same legal freedom within the context of a liberal, secular, democracy.
Response: This doesn’t differ in substance from 3b above, except for the introduction of the freedom of religion element. Some people could be said to absolutise their relationship with their pet dog or cat in the same way that self-identifying LGBTI&c people absolutise their sexuality and relationships. Surely we are not proposing pagan marriage to animals if it represents what our neighbours treasure most in life?
5. [a] I believe the plebiscite is a bad idea (and poorly executed); that democracy is not about populism and ‘majority rules’ but about balancing competing and different visions of the good life, and making space at the table for all views to be protected and represented in our life together. [b] I think Christians should be particularly concerned about how minority groups in our society are treated both while we have power (because of the Golden Rule), but because I’m not sure we’ll have that power for much longer.
a. This is confusing democracy with pluralism. NC may be a principled political and religious pluralist, but many of his fellow citizens aren’t. The only thing that stops democracy from becoming populism or ‘majority-rules’ is a commitment to something deeper or higher than democracy itself. I fear those deeper commitments are disappearing across Australia.
b. There isn’t much to disagree with here on the surface, except to flag that adherence to the “Golden Rule” shouldn’t necessarily anticipate reciprocation. That is, the goal of treating minorities well is not to be treated well when one becomes part of a minority.
6. I’d much rather encourage people in my congregation to love their neighbours, regardless of their religion or sexuality, because it’s in our Christ shaped love for those who are different (our following of the Golden Rule), that the message of the Gospel as the ultimate account of human flourishing actually has sense. I don’t want to fight for Christian morals apart from the Gospel, because seeing the world God’s way and living in it as those being transformed into the image of Jesus actually requires his Spirit (Romans 8).
Response: Loving people who are different and earnestly seeking to share Christ with them is not mutually exclusive in relation to opposing change that is bad for society. Voting NO to changing the Marriage Act is not necessarily forcing non-Christians to accept Christian morals apart from Christ. It’s simply expressing what you believe is the best for the society in which you dwell. SSM does not promote the good of homosexual people, nor children, nor Australians who uphold the traditional understanding of marriage, nor the wider nation because of the adverse side-effects it will bring about.
7. I believe that our current public posture (as the ‘institution’ of the church in Australia, or the political arm of Christendom) is damaging the Gospel by, amongst other things, failing to take points 1-6 into account. I want to be a different voice to those voices (also by failing to speak the Gospel at all, a Crikey essay on the ACL I read this week claims they deliberately avoid religious language in their lobbying).
I too have concerns about the way in which some Christian organisations approach social issues – especially if their engagement is carried out in the name of Christianity, but devoid of meaningful representation of Christ Himself. I do however feel that disdain for the ACL drives NC to over-correction with respect to Christian political involvement.
8. I have big problems with any ‘Christian’ activity that feels coercive or manipulative, or like an attempt to apply our power or clout to the lives of others outside the church. I don’t think coercion is consistent with the Gospel of the crucified king who ultimately renounced human power and influence; and I believe the Cross is the power and wisdom of God, not the sword (or the democratic equivalent). I think lobbying and special interest groups distort the operation of democracy.
I also believe that coercive use of power by Christians – and especially the institution of the Church – is dangerous. I don’t believe that acting in a way that upholds the legal definition of marriage in Australia is inherently coercive. Furthermore, voting to prevent “forced recognition” of same-sex relationships as marriage is simply using legitimate democratic participation to say NO to coercion being used against our brothers, sisters and neighbours. You don’t vote for things that restrict religious freedom, nor should we remain silent when they are proposed.
9. [a] I don’t want to talk to my gay friends and neighbours about why the church doesn’t want them to enjoy what they understand as a basic human right in the context of telling people how to vote in the plebiscite, I want to talk to them about the goodness of Jesus, and the (I believe objectively) better life that is produced if we worship the God who is love, and created us to love, rather than what’s wrong with their ‘worship’… [b] I believe, like the old preacher Thomas Chalmers, that what is required for people’s loves to be changed is ‘the expulsive power’ of new loves, not the creating of a vacuum.
a. I can appreciate this and I think it shows the heart behind the approach. A sincere desire to engage non-believers with the gospel and not get sidetracked by red herrings, hobby-horses and rabbit-trails is positive and commendable. It is too easy for non-Christians to mistake the church’s core business as involving being against those we think are the problem with society. We don’t want anyone, gay, straight or whatever to make that mistake.
But it is not a one-sided matter of Christians driving people who identify as homosexual away by our stance on marriage – it is also their sin driving them away from the truth. Not voting in the plebiscite might seem like a way to build a bridge, or at least avoid burning one down, but I don’t know that it will appease anyone or make them more receptive to the truth.
b. Chalmers was right on the money. I doubt very much that he’d say that the power of an expulsive affection leaves no place for the civil law to uphold a certain understanding of marriage though.
10. I don’t want to bind people’s consciences to follow my lead, or my vote, because I recognise that within my church community, and denomination, there are many different views on the last 7 points, and coercing or manipulating people to act according to my understanding of the world fails the Golden Rule too.
I also hope that none of my Christian brothers and sisters feel coerced to go against what they think and feel about this issue and how to approach the plebiscite. But because I believe voting NO is critically important, I’m hoping that many will agree and act accordingly.