Category: Sexuality

Where Wong gets it Wrong (pt. 2): The idea of a secular society

This is the second of two posts responding to a recent speech by Senator Penny Wong on the rationale for same sex marriage ‘rights’ to be granted to gay and lesbian Australians. Please read Part 1 first and perhaps take the time to read Senator Wong’s speech for context.

Penny_Wong_in_Perth_2014-07-31[1]

Assertion #2: Australia is a secular society & religious belief has no part in law-making

People of faith (as Wong herself claims to be) would be wise to reject the categorisation of Australia as a “secular society” – or at least insist on strict boundaries on what such a phrase is intended to mean.

We undeniably have a secular government: in the sense that there is no religious test for holding public office (a problem that long plagued the United Kingdom, but which was partly demanded by their unique historico-political circumstances). Nor is there any constitutional power held by the federal government to establish a national religion, nor any appropriate role for the government to interfere in spiritual, liturgical or theological matters.

But when we speak of a “secular society” or “separation of church and state” we must always be careful that we are not ceding too much ground to “secularists.” By secularists, I mean those members of society who take a combative attitude towards all forms of organised religion, supernatural belief and transcendent morality and seek to bar it from every aspect of public life and prejudice the national mind against all kinds of faith.

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We see a very active secularist push in the United States, where many political figures, educators and commentators are uncomfortable with the potential for enormous influence on the nation’s politics by a sizeable devoutly religious segment of the population. A more hardened form of secularism is entrenched in modern France, where the revolutionary spirit has driven the political culture to seek to completely sideline the Catholic Church from exercising its once powerful influence in the country. The most extreme and – arguably the most successful – projects in secularism have been Communist countries, where the regimes have eliminated both religious and political freedom, made Marxism a kind of religion of its own and thus kept religious views completely out of public life (N.B. secularists in democratic societies would likely contest my categorization of communist countries as secular, but I am suggesting it is the probable end-point of a secularism pushed too far).

Wong pays lip-service to the idea of ensuring that secular is not interpreted as meaning “anti-religious,” but her attitude toward religious beliefs she disagrees with suggests that she is masking her secularism to make her intentions appear more benign than they actually are. She doesn’t believe that Christian (or any other) religious beliefs about marriage should have any bearing upon the legal definition. And she seems happy to silence those voices in favour of exclusively heterosexual marriage by trumpeting her idea of secularism.

Australia should be more helpfully understood as a ‘pluralistic’ society. People of faith do have a right to express their views publicly (because we are a democracy) and seek what they think is best for the nation (because we are a ‘commonwealth’). Citizens who vote – and participate in the political process in other ways – have real beliefs about life, God and the universe and these views will naturally affect how they approach political and social questions.

Just as we might be exhorted not to leave our brains at the door when going to church, we should not be expected to leave our soul at the gate when we enter the polling booth.

secularism

Secularism prejudicially preferences atheism, humanism, agnosticism and religious indifference over sincerely held religious beliefs. Pluralism recognises that society is a complex combination of people with certain shared absolute values and beliefs and certain disputed ones. Secularism seeks to silence religious voices by telling them to keep their personal beliefs private. Pluralism accepts that people of any or no religion can freely express their honest opinions on a subject in the public sphere. These views will then be assessed and either accepted, modified or rejected by politicians and other members of the public in the course of the debate.

Secularism attempts to safeguard the religious neutrality of the state and government by limiting religious freedom and denying religious individuals and organisations political influence. Pluralism achieves a multi-religious society by legally enshrining religious freedom and preventing the establishment of a state religion. But it welcomes the input of all citizens in political life – irrespective of how much their religion shapes their political views.

Principled pluralism is a better way forward than hardened secularism.

  1. “Liberal democracy is not compatible with fundamentalism of any description, whether ideological or spiritual.”

There is a deep irony and lack of self-awareness in this statement. Senator Wong implies that you mustn’t take your religious beliefs “too seriously” (the majority of Australians would agree with the sentiment): because this might come at the expense of the paramount values of a liberal democracy. But she fails to acknowledge that there is a kind of sexual fundamentalism raging across Western civilisation which is seldom condemned as incompatible with liberalism and democracy by those who share its understanding of sexuality.

Perhaps the average Australian can more easily identify the difficulties posed to social cohesion by hardcore adherents of Christianity and Islam or the threat to political liberty that is inherent in communism and fascism. But it is time to wake up and acknowledge that a cultural revolution that idolises sexual orientation but detests religious liberty is continuing to unfold in this country (and others). Sexual fundamentalism and progressive fundamentalism promote their own forms of strict orthodoxy and are not hesitant to use tools of coercion and oppression to enforce their views and punish dissent.

“Religious freedom means being free to worship and to follow your faith without suffering persecution or discrimination for your beliefs. It does not mean imposing your beliefs on everyone else.”

This is one of the central themes of Senator Wong’s address. Religious beliefs are being wielded as weapons which harm the rights and freedoms of other members of society who do not share such views.

She later adds:

“Religion-based moral codes continue to limit the freedoms and the rights of those who, in the view of religious groups, do not ‘conform’ to their views. In advocating, and indeed proselytizing, their own views, they too often restrict and constrain the rights of others.”

This is proof that the Senator is herself a hardened secularist. She purports that secularism entails: “the ability of everyone to believe what they wish, to practise their religion as they see fit, to express their ethical and moral preferences, to say what they wish – but all without imposing their beliefs and views on anyone, and without inflicting injury or hurt.” But this amounts to saying that freedom of religion (and associated acts of free speech) must be exercised separately from any freedom to participate in the political process. If you have religiously-influenced views on marriage you can express them (until those rights are taken away by a future government anyway), but you are disqualified from acting in any way that advances those views in the political process.

Because Wong argues that “In a secular society, ‘the norm’ is not the view of the majority,” there can be no question of persuading the majority of your fellow Australians that your view of marriage is the one society should recognise and celebrate (especially by way of getting them to accept your religious worldview). Even if 15 million of the 16-17 million eligible voters in Australia could be convinced that marriage should legally remain defined by the current definition indefinitely, Wong’s moral casuistry would demand that the government still legislate in favour of SSM, because it supposedly proceeds from an inviolable principle of equality (the idea of which was rejected in part 1).

Arguments made from a non-religious stand-point are not inherently better than religiously-informed ones. Politicians seem to recognise that certain moral issues are better decided by a conscience vote in Parliament when there are serious ethical questions involved. In Australian history, such issues have naturally been resolved by MPs voting in accordance with their deeply held beliefs about life, death and humanity – often overtly religious in nature. Matters of marriage and sexuality have been resolved in this manner in previous Federal parliaments and funnily enough, the ALP repeatedly calls for a “free vote” on the issue, in which members from both sides could be expected to vote with their conscience and beliefs.

If politicians are entitled to vote in accordance with their conscience and core principles (something which the Senator and her party only believe in when it suits them), surely people of faith who vote, pay taxes and contribute to the well-being of society are entitled to vote according to their own deeply held values and petition their representatives to advance those views inside and outside of parliament? A hardcore secularism that won’t allow for this is no longer liberal or democratic. If Senator Wong pursues this path, she risks committing the very crime against the heart of our society that she accuses opponents of SSM of doing.

Unless something changes soon, a future government in which people with the same attitudes as Senator Wong hold the reins of power will foreseeably damage freedom of religion in Australia; pass laws that open the doors for persecution and discrimination on the basis of genuinely held beliefs; and impose their own (non-religious, but nonetheless ideological) beliefs upon the rest of us.

It’s time to stop being complacent and apply the blowtorch to politicians that want to use the idea of a secular society to curb religious freedom. Because they need to start feeling the pressure they’re trying to put on people of faith. Australian democracy must learn to thrive as a principled pluralistic society, or it will be slowly choked to death by a secularism that will squeeze the life out of religious liberty and silence millions of voices.

For more Christian responses to Senator Wong’s speech, check out David Ould’s sterling effort on ABC’s the Drum last week or my former theology lecturer Dr. Michael Bird’s response at The Thermidorian. John Piper has also written about the Christian commitment to pluralism – instead of secularism or religious coercion – in the context of seeking to glorify God as supreme in all things. 

[1] Orderinchaos “Penny Wong speaking at an event in Perth on 31 July 2014” CC BY-SA 4.0 wikipedia
[2] David Goehring “Hey, You Got Your Church In My State!” flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Where Wong gets it Wrong: The Nature of Marriage, ‘Rights’ & Australian Society

This week, Australia’s most prominent homosexual politician, ALP Senator Penny Wong, gave a lecture promoting the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in Australia. While endless ink has been spilled and air expired concerning this ongoing social debate, it is important that Australian Christians listen, consider and respond to the latest arguments being made by perhaps the most significant proponent of same-sex ‘marriage’ in federal politics.

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Senator Wong makes a sweep of assumptions and assertions in this speech that must not escape our notice. I will not deal with each point individually, but have provided a summarised list of these below:

1) Legal Marriage is a ‘right’ for all loving relationships, irrespective of sexuality.

2) “At the centre of the opposition to equality of marriage rights for gay & lesbian members of the community is the conflation of religious concepts of marriage with secular concepts of marriage.”

3) Social conservatives “remove from marriage the idea of love, companionship, common enterprise and the creation of family” and make it about ‘utilitarian’ child-rearing

4) a. Australia is a secular society and religious belief has no part in law-making
b.
“Liberal democracy isn’t compatible with fundamentalism of any description, whether ideological or spiritual.”

5) “Discrimination against people on the basis of an innate characteristic, like sexual orientation, is anti-liberal and anti-democratic.”

6) “Religious freedom means being free to worship and to follow your faith without suffering persecution or discrimination for your beliefs. It does not mean imposing your beliefs on everyone else.”

7) Safe Schools style education programs are “essential” for Australian society

8) Why “should the gay and lesbian community be merely ‘tolerated’ when the heterosexual community takes for granted ‘acceptance’ and recognition of their sexual preference as ‘the norm’?”

9) A secular society is the creation of its own freedom, which is itself a consequence of the basic equality of human beings.

10) “the strongest argument for equality by lesbians and gay men rests on the assertion that . . . respect for natural rights depends on a foundational commitment to equality as the first moral good and a defining feature of our political and legal traditions”.

That’s way too many to tackle in a blog post, but the core of Senator Wong’s lecture boils down to two main assertions.

1) Same-sex marriage is a legal right being denied to homosexual couples (mainly) at the behest of religious opposition.

2) Australia is a secular society in which personal religious beliefs and convictions have no place in forming public policy or legislation that affects the wider community.

Or we could distill this further to problem and proposed solution.


Problem:
Same-sex couples in Australia are being denied a basic right: the right to marry. The law must change.
Solution: The Marriage Act can easily be changed if religious-based objections to change are discredited and dismissed as irrelevant in a secular society.

I will deal with these fundamental assertions that lie behind the rest of Senator Wong’s arguments, by arguing two counterpoints.

1) We should reject the idea that Same-sex marriage is a genuine legal right.
2) We should reject the suggestion that Australia is a “secular” society – to the extent that this means silencing religious viewpoints in the public sphere.

Same-sex marriage is a claimed and invented (human/legal) right, not a genuine, fundamental right

In opening her speech, Senator Wong sends a signal to “those who deny marriage rights to gay and lesbian Australians.” In doing so, she assumes a point that is in fact at the very centre of the same-sex marriage debate.
Is it actually a “legal right” (or even a “human right”) for two gay men or two lesbian women to have their relationship recognised by the rest of society as a “marriage”?

Homosexual individuals have real human and legal rights that must not be encroached upon. But the right to redefine the legal and social meaning of marriage to suit their own preferences and desires is not one of them.
No one in this debate is trying to deprive homosexual people of their basic rights to life, food, shelter, welfare, health care, political representation, free speech, religious freedom and protection under the law from violence, deprivation of liberty and discrimination in the workplace.

Homosexual citizens enjoy the same rights and freedoms in these areas as heterosexual ones do. And in fact, it is not facetious to say that they enjoy the same marital rights under Australian law as well.

The Marriage Act of Australia’s definition of marriage reflects the reality of a unique kind of human relationship.
An exclusive social, sexual, economic, domestic and legal union between a man and a woman for life is qualitatively different to any other kind of relationship – romantic or otherwise. That’s what marriage is and every Australian adult – even gay or lesbian ones – could legally enter into such a union, irrespective of their race, language, skin colour or religion.

The fact that most people who are not sexually or romantically interested in members of the opposite sex would not wish to make use of this right – and prefer an alternative arrangement under the law – does not mean they are being denied a right. Their quest to have marriage redefined – according to their idea of what it should be – is an option they can pursue in a democracy. But it is in no sense a human or legal right.

But even if the gay lobby succeeds in changing the legal definition of marriage (as has happened in other countries) – it does not change what marriage is. Homosexual relationships are inherently incapable of becoming marriages, because marriage is by definition a lifelong union between two members of the opposite sex. Changing the Marriage Act so it no longer reflects this reality is simply misdefining a different kind of relationship as though it is the same as marriage, when it isn’t

You can’t be entitled to a right where the thing being claimed doesn’t actually exist. Nor is it reasonable to seek such a redefinition as a legal right, when this novel view will then be imposed upon every member of society. There is no right to “forced recognition” of homosexual unions as marriages. To dress up such an incursion on other people’s liberties as a core right is dangerous sophistry that must be rejected.

Regrettably, we already see an analogous example of this at work in our society. The ability of a woman to wantonly engage in whatever sexual activity she wishes and then avoid the natural biological outcome of sexual intercourse by contracting the murder of her child is constantly defended as her fundamental “right to choose.” In this case, the freedom to behave promiscuously and then avoid the consequences of sex is dressed up as a fundamental right of bodily autonomy. But this supposed “right” requires the negation of another human being’s essential right to life, if it is to be exercised.

In the SSM debate, the purported right “to redefine marriage so that other people have to recognise my homosexual relationship as completely equivalent to a heterosexual marriage” is dressed up as a fundamental issue of people being free to marry the person they love. But like the abortion issue, this concocted right comes at the expense of a more fundamental right held by others. Freedom of speech and religion will be curtailed to force people to recognise homosexual relationships as something they aren’t. Members of society who sincerely believe that marriage is between a man and a woman will suffer – legally and socially – for maintaining this stance.

Senator Wong is wrong to suggest that there are religious people in Australia trying to deny a basic right to others. There is no genuine right being denied to homosexual people under the legal status quo. But can the Senator explain how people’s genuine, fundamental rights to religion and free speech will be protected if marriage is redefined by Parliament and the new definition is enforced with legal penalties?

I’ll address the question of whether Australia should be understood as a “secular society” in the next post…

 

[1] Kate Lundy “Penny Wong May 2012” wikipedia (CC BY 2.0)

Let’s talk about Sex

It strikes me as peculiar that 90s RnB group Salt’N’Pepa had a hit with a song that presented the irresistible invitation: “Let’s Talk about Sex.” After all, it hardly makes sense to suggest a conversation topic that everyone already talks about almost incessantly…

Perhaps “Let’s keep talking about Sex”, “Let’s not talk about Sex” or “Let’s talk about sex less” would have been more apt suggestions. And yet, a quarter of a century later, there’s certainly no shortage of talk about sex in the media, workplace, playground and cyber-world.

 

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Salt’N’Pepa performing in Canberra a few years ago [1]

When it comes to the intersection between Christianity and topics relating to sex, many people have the unfortunate impression that Christians view sex as dirty and dangerous or, at best, a necessary evil. While some who bear the name of Christ have undoubtedly contributed to this public perception, it is in fact a terrible misrepresentation of the biblically informed, Christian position.

In an age which manages to somehow worship sex while simultaneously treating it as something base, common and profane – Christians simply believe sex is sacred without being absolute.

It is sacred precisely because it is a good gift from God, designed to affectionately and physically communicate the committed and lifelong, social and relational bond that exists between a man and woman pledged to one another in marriage. Its potential for pleasure and procreation are positive elements, naturally flowing from such a bond, and intended for enjoyment exclusively in such a relationship.

To divorce sex from commitment and the possibility of procreation is to exalt the aspect of pleasure at the expense of all others and cheapen sexual activity to a mechanism for achieving physical stimulation. Personal gratification becomes the absolute feature, which eliminates the possibility of expressing one’s sexuality in a meaningfully loving manner or channelling one’s sexual desires into something that can contribute positively to society through a stable, loving marital relationship and potentially the production of the next generation.

For many, sex has become a sort of “gospel” in and of itself. We constantly hear “preaching” that tells us we need it; that our lives will be better if we have it; and even, at times, that we can’t possibly be fulfilled as a person without experiencing it.

If you are having sex and it isn’t making you happy and fulfilled, the problem can’t be sex itself. Either you’re doing something wrong, or you’re having sex with the wrong person. In the words of the RnB artist, Lecrae, we are constantly encouraged to feel the kind of discontentment that leads us to search for “A new somebody to lay with, coz the last 5 just ain’t make it.”

On the one hand, our secular culture’s gradual, debilitating abandonment of all things spiritual and transcendent leaves the sensory stimulation of sexual climax as possibly the closest thing someone can have to an ecstatic or transcendental experience in their dull, material existence. Hormonal rushes, chemical reactions and positive psychological responses have necessarily replaced any hopes for heavenly euphoria or even a soul-enriching encounter with the Divine – since such things are held to be impossible.

 

On the other hand, some cultic groups and New Age versions of spirituality mysticise sexual intercourse, so it becomes a supposed means of spiritual elevation. While the appeal of such an idea is not hard to see (i.e. how many people could honestly say they wouldn’t enjoy experiencing both sexual pleasure and a spiritual high for the price of one?), it is nothing other than a deceitful tool of manipulative “spiritual teachers” who find opportunities for their own base sexual gratification by enticing naïve seekers of spiritual advancement with the promise of enlightenment or elevation through sexual participation with their guru or cult leader.

For Christians, sex can never be the gospel, since in the context of Christian marriage, its sacredness consists especially in its role as a symbol of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. The marital union, including the sexual aspect, reflect the loving, committed relationship between Christ and His Church (see especially Ephesians 5:22-33). While any element of sexuality between Christ and His people is absent, the sexual intercourse between a loving husband and wife is analogous to the spiritual intercourse and perpetual, mystical union between the Lord Jesus and those He died to purchase as His Bride.

This is important, because it allows a Christian to live a happy, faithful and fulfilled life without sex if they remain single. Not only did Jesus Himself never require a sexual experience to fulfil Himself while on earth (and therefore we can take comfort if we are called to follow His example in this regard), but the single Christian can be confident they will receive the glorious enjoyment of spiritual union with Christ that Christian, marital sex signifies – irrespective of whether they ever enjoy the short-lived pleasures of the sign in this age.

It’s equally important for married Christians, who are able to live in committed relationships and enjoy sex as a good gift from God, without relying on it to bring us ultimate fulfilment and satisfaction. If sex isn’t all you dreamed it would be, it could due to any number of reasons, eg; your own unrealistic or sinful expectations; the fallenness of our broken world (which can mark even some of the best things in life with difficulties and imperfections); or even the design-limitations of sex itself.

Because sex points us towards the grand truths of the gospel, you don’t need “better sex” and especially not a better partner/spouse to make you happier and fulfilled. You both need Jesus and the unfailing, all-satisfying enjoyment of Him that He promises to give to all who believe at His coming.

Sex is good. But even the “best sex” in the world falls far short of the best things God offers us in Christ. Those who fail to come to Christ and receive the greatest enjoyment possible for a human being may in fact find the most pleasure they’ll ever experience in sexual activity. But that’s a tragedy – not something to be envied.

6 things Jesus said about homosexuality (pt. 2)

In part one, we looked at several things Jesus did say, which have implications for questions about sexuality and marriage (homosexuality in particular). In this piece, we continue with 3 more. 

4. The Law: Jesus took the Law given by YHWH in the Old Testament very seriously. Consider:

Do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I have not come to destroy them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one tiny letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all takes place. Therefore whoever abolishes one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever keeps them and teaches them, this person will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19).

3370859327_ca39731af9_z                        [1]

Christians for centuries have needed to wrestle with the fact that Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law included Him upholding or reinforcing many of the precepts and principles that were already familiar to the Jews of His day – while also revolutionising the way people related to YHWH and recasting our framework for ethical living in numerous ways.

In what is perhaps the key Old Testament text on YHWH’s boundaries for human sexuality, Leviticus 18, we find the command: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (18:22). It’s right there, nestled amongst commands forbidding incest, adultery and even bestiality. When God spoke to His people concerning acceptable, sexual behaviour He forbade men engaging in sexual acts with men (as though it were the same as the sexual norm: a man sleeping with a woman).

According to Jesus’ statement above in Matthew 5, He didn’t come to abolish or destroy Leviticus 18. Its outline of what is sexually unacceptable still stands as a good and true command of God. In fulfilling the Law, it is possible that Jesus may have recast the way we understand this prohibition against homosexual sex – but if He didn’t, it remains legitimate to think of the act as an abomination in the sight of God.

In this case, Jesus’ silence on homosexuality works against those who attempt to use it as an argument in their favour. His ‘failure’ to speak specifically and directly about homosexual sex – in a manner that would lead his followers to view it in a new light – strongly suggests that He allowed the force of the Law’s condemnation of it to stand.

Significantly, when Jesus goes on in Matthew 5 to engage with the Old Testament Law which He came to fulfill, and deals with issues of sexuality and marriage – He recasts them in a more comprehensive (dare I say stricter) way than the original law. For example the commandment “You shall not commit adultery” is recast to include not only sleeping with another man’s wife – but sexually fantasizing about any woman other than one’s spouse.
Likewise, Jesus tightens the legitimate grounds for divorce so that they only cover cases of “sexual immorality” by a guilty spouse.

Jesus does not tighten or extend the prohibition against homosexual sex (although condemning homosexual lust would be a completely legitimate application of His extension of the seventh commandment against adultery), but He does not mitigate it either. It remains an abomination within the framework of His Jewish sexual ethic, based on the foundation of God’s law.

In fact, there’s every reason to believe that Leviticus 18 is the biblical background that informs Jesus’ use of porneia as a catch-all phrase for sexual immorality (which we discussed in part 1). When a first-century Jew heard “sexual immorality”, their minds would have gone to the sexual prohibitions in this well-known passage of the Law.

Therefore, Jesus didn’t need to use a “special” word to condemn homosexual sex in particular, because His hearers would have already  known that it was included in the term He did use. Much the same as “(all kinds of) theft” could refer to a range of specific acts that all involve the unlawful acquisition of someone’s property or resources.

5. Sodom & Gomorrah: Jesus very readily employs the example of God’s condemnation and utter destruction of these two ancient cities by the Dead Sea as an illustration of how great God’s judgement will be upon those who reject His disciples’ preaching of the gospel.

And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. (Matthew 10:14-15, ESV)

John Martin's terrifying rendition of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah
John Martin’s terrifying rendition of the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah function as one of the most severe displays of divine wrath in the Old Testament. But what were they judged for? While there have been numerous, recent attempts to suggest they were condemned for other sins like pride or inhospitality, the weight of the Genesis 19 account points towards their aggressive homosexual desire for the two (angelic) visitors to their city. Certainly that was how Jews and Christians understood the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the first century – we see this clearly in the writings of Peter (one of Jesus’ closest followers) and Jude (Jesus’ younger brother)  [see Jude vv.6-7; 2 Peter 2:6-10].

Jesus appears to not only hold to the fact that these cities were destroyed – His words seem to suggest they will yet face God’s intense wrath at the final judgement. Thus it’s no comfort to anyone that Jesus doesn’t mention homosexual sex specifically, when He forecasts eternal judgement for two cities that were chiefly known for it.

6. Paul: [Ok, this one is the trickiest, but bear with me…]

Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and commissioned Him to be His messenger to the non-Jewish peoples of the Mediterranean. This is the best biographical explanation for Paul’s turn-around from persecuting Christians to embracing their faith and propagating it more than probably anyone else in the First Century. Jesus really spoke to Paul.

6800520620_552fbe6fd3_bSaul (later known as Paul the Apostle) meets Jesus en route to Damascus to persecute Christians [3]

And Paul heard Jesus say the following words to him: “…because for this reason I have appeared to you, to appoint you a servant and witness both to the things in which you saw me and to the things in which I will appear to you, rescuing you from the people and from the Gentiles to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me.‘” Acts 26:16-18.

Because Paul really did see Jesus, what Jesus said to Paul during that encounter has relevance to Jesus’ teaching concerning homosexuality. Because Paul – speaking as Jesus’ handpicked representative to share the gospel with the Gentiles – condemns homosexual behaviour very clearly.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done(Romans 1:26-28)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:8-10)

Because Jesus essentially says, “Paul will speak for me”, we could say that Jesus’ most direct statements about homosexuality, genuinely come through one of the spokesmen He appointed.

Part of Paul’s ministry of seeing people turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God and receiving forgiveness of sins was to call them to repentance for their sexual immorality: including the homosexual variety. Without this, they could never have their share among those who are sanctified by faith in Jesus – the very thing He sought by commissioning Paul to be His apostle.

If Paul doesn’t speak as an authentic representative of Jesus, Christians have much bigger problems than whatever issues people might take with our understanding of sexuality. But if he is, advocates of homosexuality and “same-sex marriage” would do well to take note of what Paul said on this issue, on behalf of Jesus Himself.

Summary

So if you encounter this shallow claim that Jesus was silent on homosexuality, here’s what you might want to remember and respond with…

1. Jesus affirmed a biblical perspective on Creation, which emphasised humanity being made by God as sexually complementary creatures: “male and female.”

2. Jesus advanced an understanding of marriage based on the above premise.
Marriage, for Jesus, is foundationally based on a heterosexual union: it doesn’t leave any room for a homosexual (per)version of marriage.

3. Jesus condemned “sexually immoral” behaviour. This includes any expression of sexuality that deviates from the above pattern of sexual intercourse within a marriage relationship. Thus Jesus opposed homosexual sex.

4. Jesus said He didn’t come to destroy or abolish the Law. He gives no indication that “lying with a man as one would with a woman” (i.e. homosexual intercourse) is no longer to be considered abominable (as per Leviticus 18).
In fact, His use of porneia (see #3) would have been understood by the Jews in line with these perimeter for human sexuality.

5. Jesus refers negatively to the two cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, which were famously condemned for their exhibition of homosexual lasciviousness. He upholds the fact they were judged by God and seems to anticipate further judgement of their sins at the end of time.

6. Jesus commissions Paul to be His representative and messenger to the non-Jewish world. Paul speaks for Jesus, when he explicitly condemns homosexual behaviour as ungodly and deserving of God’s wrath, while instructing Christians from a Greco-Roman background.

Other articles like this one

https://gotquestions.org/Jesus-homosexuality.html [Got Questions?]

https://carm.org/did-jesus-talk-about-homosexuality [Christian Apologetics Research Ministries]

http://www.tms.edu/preachersandpreaching/jesus-never-address-homosexuality/ [Master’s Seminary]

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/04/06/did-jesus-talk-about-homosexuality/ [Scot McKnight]

Picture Credits

[1] Lawrie Cate “Torah” flickr (CC BY 2.0)

[2] John Martin “Sodom and Gomorrah” Public Domain

[3] Sabdiasep Mercado “The Conversion of Saul circa 1986” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

6 things Jesus said about homosexuality (pt. 1)

Straight to the point, here they are:

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6. Plenty of things that have definite relevance to any claims about human sexuality (but which are conveniently ignored by shallow interlocutors who seem to think “One punch can kill” is an effective debating ethos, rather than an anti-violence campaign slogan).

That’s right, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, except for a bunch of stuff He did say that have fairly clear implications when it comes to various approaches to sexuality.

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A picture of Jesus saying nothing about homosexuality… [1]

I’m sure you’ve encountered some variation of the above list by now (unspoilt by my #6 of course). The numbering varies, or sometimes the claim is just made outright (eg; “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, therefore…), but the substance of the assertion is the same. Because Jesus either didn’t have an Aramaic or Greek synonym for “gay” in His vocabulary, or did but chose never to use it in His extensive teaching ministry – we’re to believe that homosexuality can’t have been a big deal in His eyes.

The problem is that the biblical evidence suggests that Jesus was not only well aware of the existence of homosexual sex, but He was in fact against it. That He chose not to name it exclusively on any number of occasions (or that, perhaps, the Gospel writers simply did not include what He did teach on this issue for unknown reasons), was probably largely to do with the demographic make-up of His usual audience. Or perhaps it has something to do with “queer” sexualities not being viewed as “special” then in the manner they are now (instead they were just one of several ways a person could conduct their sexual urges in rebellion to God). But more on those points later.

Here are six things Jesus said that really have an awful lot to say when applied to questions surrounding homosexuality. [Most of these points have been made by others at different times, but I’m seeking here to collate them in a way that presents a clear picture on the issue. I’ll include links to several similar articles at the end of part 2].

1. Sexuality: Jesus spoke of human sexuality in terms of exclusively binary sex/gender categories: “Have you not read that the One who created them from the beginning made them male and female…” (Matt 19:4, LEB).

In context, Jesus is responding to marital relationships between men and women. He begins His answer with the above statement of complementary sexuality. God’s original creation involved a male human and a female human, with complementary sexual organs, capable of being joined together to bring about pleasure and procreation.

book_of_genesis_chapter_2-10_bible_illustrations_by_sweet_media
Jesus saw significance in Adam and Eve as male and female [2]

While the old “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” slogan is trite (and guilty of attempting the same throwaway-line debating tactics I’m criticising here), the point behind the poor framing is valid. Jesus had no theological notion of humans of the same sex being created to enjoy each other’s bodies in a sexual way. He approached all questions of sexuality and marriage from the starting point of Man and Woman being specially created by God as sexually distinct from one another.

2. Marriage: Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexual union naturally flowed on from this framework. “And [Jesus] answered and said, “Have you not read that the one who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘On account of this a man will leave his father and his mother and will be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, man must not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

Jesus moves from his opening statement of binary human sexuality to a consequential picture of human marriage and sexual union. Marriage and sex (which are properly inseparable in Jesus’ mind, teaching and social/religious context) take place when an adult male leaves the familial arrangement founded by his parents (the very sexual/marital relationship that resulted in his own existence) and enters into his own, new, familial and sexual relationship with a woman. When the man and woman are “joined together” in matrimony as husband and wife, their social identities become inseparably linked and their bodies come to share in a oneness as a result of natural, sexual intercourse.

2607861005_9c667a9ef6_b                                                      Marriage between Man and Woman [3]

It’s at this point that Jesus’ silence on homosexuality should trouble LGBTetc; advocates, rather than buoy them. Because the manner in which Jesus has framed human marriage and sexuality makes the idea of male-male sex or female-female marriage a completely foreign concept. Jesus need not go through every possible example of what wouldn’t constitute a legitimate marriage or sexual relationship, as He has stated very clearly (using Creation as His theological foundation) what the genuine article looks like and it doesn’t leave room for innovation or clever redefinition.

3. “Sexual immorality”: Jesus spoke disapprovingly of porneia, which is a catch-all Greek term for immoral sexual practices, i.e. those which do not conform to the moral standards of what is held to constitute legitimate sexuality by the speaker/author.  “For from the heart come evil plans, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, abusive speech.” Matt 15:19

I’ve already attempted to show above (and will continue to do so in the next post), that homosexual intercourse was very much beyond the pale of Jesus’ binary understanding of human sexuality and complementary, heterosexual view of marriage. For Jesus, sexual immorality was any expression of sexuality that deviated from the picture of male-female marital intimacy we’ve seen described already.

While Christian(ish) and non-Christian proponents of gay and lesbian relationships have long sought to emphasise the similarity between committed, loving, homosexual couples and monogamous heterosexual relationships – this is not a relevant objection at this point, as Jesus seems to place the sexual complementarity as the foundational element of marriage – not monogamous exclusivity (this goes a-ways toward explaining the higher level of biblical tolerance for polygamy – as an albeit far-less-than-ideal arrangement in the Old Testament – than homosexual relationships. But that’s one for another day!).

There are three more things Jesus said that help us grasp His “position” on homosexual sex, but they’ll have to wait until part 2.

[1] Carl Bloch, “Sermon on the Mount” Public Domain.

[2] Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing “Book of Genesis Chapter 2” wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

[3] Peter Kenjerski “Wedding” flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A Tale of Two Minorities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way
–in short, the period was so far like the present period,
that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received,
for good or for evil,
in the superlative degree of comparison only
.
-Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

How can the Australian public and their elected representatives stand in the way of marriage equality? Why on earth should so many, otherwise fair-minded people obstruct simple changes to the law – changes that could enable a historically marginalised community within our society to enjoy an enhanced and dignified status in our social and legal system? The changes we are talking about would not cause the sky to fall in, nor would they undermine so-called “traditional marriages” – in fact they would barely have any widespread ramifications beyond the people they are designed to empower, embrace and celebrate.

How many people in this country are truly hellbent on denying recognition of loving relationships – many of which already involve sexual intimacy, cohabitation and even dependent children?

What could possibly stop us from ensuring we secure marriage equality for the Islamic community?

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[1]

Surely it’s time to stop denying members of a vulnerable minority in our community the right to be with the man or women they love?

Surely it’s time to stop telling the second and third female partners of some Muslim men in this country that their relationship is second-rate; that they’re inferior to traditional, monogamous, heterosexual marriage partners; that the love, intimacy and family responsibilities they share with their ‘husband’ should never be legally recognised by the law?

Imagine the pain these women feel when their brothers and sisters can get married to the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with, but their relationship is relegated to a lesser status, just because they weren’t ‘first in line.’

Imagine the pain of the second ‘wife’ when our law and society marginalise her by treating her like a concubine or mistress – while their darling’s first ‘wife’ is fully recognised as such by law.

Imagine what the children of these women have to endure, if the wider community treats them as though their father and mother aren’t really married and their living arrangements are somehow strange or unpalatable.

As Professor Kerryn Phelps put it so well:
Denying one group within a society the right to marry deliberately cuts right to the core of the emotional world of those individuals. Today, most people can’t imagine a situation where blacks and whites, or Jews and non-Jews would still be banned from marriage, not here in Australia. But some of us do not need to stretch our imaginations because we are living in a state of marriage apartheid… in Australia… right now… “[2]

And as others have eloquently expressed: “Marriage equality is primarily about ending social exclusion and giving all Australians the same basic rights.”[3]”An equitable society, free of discrimination, allows all members to function at their best. Legalised discrimination in one area allows discrimination to flourish in all areas. Australia is a robust democracy with a proud history of social reform. We believe this should continue, with all citizens being treated equally, including those who are currently excluded from the institution of marriage.” [4]

Bigoted attitudes, Islamophobia, right-wing religious views and arcane social conventions must not stand in the way of this important reform. There is no good reason that two people who love each other, and can legally enjoy a sexual and domestic arrangement with one another shouldn’t be allowed to marry: the fact that one of them happens to be married to someone already just shouldn’t matter

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When the dominant narrative in our society says that the law should be changed to legally compel millions of Australia to recognise ceremonialised same-sex relationships as completely equal to heterosexual marriages and that homosexuality should be celebrated as something wonderful – it is bizarre and prejudicial not to grant equivalent rights and recognitions to a minority community that constitute roughly the same percentage of the national population.

There are plenty of objections that may be raised against this line of argument, so let me deal with a few pertinent ones.

There is no equivalent case for polygamy here – because Muslim men are not actually legally prohibited from getting married. It’s unfair to compare a man who can’t legally “marry” a second woman to a gay man or lesbian woman who aren’t allowed to get married at all. 

This really highlights one of the significant issues at hand when it comes to Marriage law. Do we want to change the law because of arbitrary legal discrimination against a certain group in our society that prevents them from marrying? Or do we want to change the law to give equal recognition to committed – potentially lifelong – romantic and domestic relationships?

On face value, there is no discrimination against gay men or lesbians in the Marriage Act. Everyone in Australia is legally bound to the same definitions and prohibitions around marriage. Gay and lesbian Australians have the same right to marriage that all other citizens enjoy – they can legally marry a consenting, non-related, adult of the opposite sex who is not already in a legal marital relationship. What they’re asking for is not the removal of discrimination, but a special right to have their relationships with people of the same sex recognised as marriages.

So the question becomes one of whether or not Australians have the freedom to have their relationships – based on sexual attraction, romantic feelings and permanent domestic arrangements – recognised as marriage. And since we all have the same freedom and rights under the definition presented in the Marriage Act, the question then becomes one of whether other types of relationship should be given the same legal recognition as marriages that meet the current provisions of the Act.

The popular argument for same-sex marriage is to recognise gay and lesbian relationships (where the partners wish to be recognised as “married”) as completely equivalent to heterosexual marriages, on the strength of their sexual attraction, romantic feelings and permanent domestic arrangements. The gender aspect (i.e. man + woman) is abrogated as unnecessary, because these other factors are seen as more essential to the concept of marriage.

A case for polygamy would simply alter or remove the numeric provision of the Marriage Act and make it less exclusive. The Muslim man who wishes to take a second wife should not have this right dismissed on the grounds that he can already legally marry a woman under the Act. A gay man has that exact same right!

If a man is sexually or romantically attracted to another woman and wishes to spend the rest of his life in a domestic relationship with her as his wife (and she consents) – why would anyone who supports “marriage equality” want to deny their relationship this special, equal recognition? The basis is the same – we’re just calling for a different, but similarly archaic portion of the Act to be changed for the sake of letting love be love.

Members of the Islamic Community are not actively pushing for polygamous marriage to the extent that the LGBTIQ etc;etc;etc; community is advocating for same-sex marriage.  

This objection is largely irrelevant because there are many Muslims in Australia that would happily enter into such marital relationships if they were legally permitted to do so. Significant figures in the Islamic community do in fact advocate for marriage equality for Muslims under Australian law.

One plausible reason that many more do not vocally call for law reform, is because they fear the same kind of bigoted reprisals that gay or lesbian activists would have experienced if they had called for marriage equality years ago.

While homophobia still exists, it is mitigated by a powerful and still-growing groundswell of pro-gay community support. Islamophobia is frequently decried by respectable voices within politics and the media, yet it is tolerated to a much larger degree and the pro-Muslim voices within Australia are much fainter. [The recent polls showing nearly half of Australians support a ban on Muslim immigration highlights this dramatically].

Disgustingly, there are virtually no significant non-Muslim Australians advocating for an expansion of the definition of marriage to include the beautiful sexual and relational diversity found in many expressions of Islamic identity.

Similarly, Australians are quiet in their support for Muslims being able to express their identity under sharia law – the adoption of which would be an enormously symbolic gesture of acceptance and dignity towards them, which ultimately wouldn’t affect the lives of non-Muslim Australians whatsoever.

Polygamous marriage is not intrinsic or essential to Islamic practice or identity and therefore is a poor comparison with marriage equality. 

This is simply refuted by the fact that having homosexual relationships recognised as “marriages” is in no way intrinsic or essential to their identifying as “gay” or “lesbian” (they’ve been doing that for decades without the appendage of legalised same-sex marriages) or living a homosexual lifestyle.

It doesn’t matter that Muslims can live out their Islamic identity in many ways without polygamous marriage; nor that many of them would not avail themselves of the opportunity to marry multiple women or wed an already married man; nor that some would be very content for the law not to change. Why? Because all of those things are comparatively true when it comes to same-sex marriage and the LGBTI community.

The fact is we unjustly restrict Muslims from exercising their freedom to express their love and sexuality in a recognised marital relationship between two partners, simply because our society has understood the mathematics of marriage differently.

This is not morally or philosophically different to the current Marriage Act’s restriction on gay and lesbian couples from having their sexual, romantic and domestic relationships recognised as marriages, simply because our society has traditionally understood the gender equation of marriage differently.

We can and should reject amending marriage to include polygamous arrangements, while supporting same-sex marriage, because polygamy is not about equality, but enables the subjugation of women. 

This may be one of your strongest objections, but it doesn’t matter, because you’re an Islamophobic bigot, whose prejudicial views aren’t welcome in this discussion.

You’re stereotyping Muslim men and Islamic culture as harsh and wife-oppressing, whilst completely devaluing a relationship that you don’t understand: one that is entered into willingly more often than not. It’s your bigotry that forces these women to live in relationships that are treated as second-class by the law and who are constantly made to feel their status is inferior.

Denying recognised marital status to potentially hundreds of women on the grounds that a few of them might be abused is not only faulty, but cruel and misguided. It does nothing to help women who may already be in unrecognised relationships with abusive men and everything to discriminate against those who are happily in a culturally and religiously approved sexual and domestic relationship with a man who already has a wife.

Furthermore, Islamic law requires wives in polygamous marriages to be treated with complete equality by their husbands – so charges of inequality and abuse can be seen as nothing more than hatred by people who don’t understand what they’re against.

Conclusion: The Tale of Two Minorities

If the media is to be believed, up to 70% of Australians support changing the law to enable recognition of homosexual relationships as state-sanctioned marriages.

We’re told this is about human rights for a vulnerable minority. A minority that should not only be tolerated and legally protected, but fully affirmed and celebrated by conferring a new and special status upon their way of life and their relationships.

On the other hand, support for changing the law to recognise polygamous relationships (permitted under Islam as a positive thing) as state-sanctioned marriage appears to be extremely low. In stark contrast to support for homosexual “marriage equality” there would seem to be significantly less non-Muslim Australians who support polygamous marriage equality for their fellow citizens, than there are Muslims in Australia.

Why this massive discrepancy? Surely it’s because polygamy is itself manifestly inferior to same-sex marriage; completely undesirable to many Muslim women; and out of line with mainstream Australian values? Is that the case? Or could it be Australians have chosen to play favourites with minorities in our community?

When it comes to getting what they want, LGBT folk are encouraged to yell louder because “change is at our fingertips”, “victory will be won”. But for Muslims, the message seems more like, “Be quiet and behave yourself and your nice, powerful white friends will make sure you don’t cop too much vilification.” “Don’t go and do something like promote polygamy or sharia – you’re not helping yourselves!”

Homophobia is vehemently denounced, while Muslims seem to struggle to gain more tolerance in society than their Islamophobic opponents are implicitly granted by the lack of true pro-Muslim advocacy. LGBTIQetc; interests are officially promoted to the point that they’re widely encouraged to seek to radically change a fundamental element of our society – while the Muslim community is typically encouraged to shy away from calling for any radical changes to customs or institutions. They’re to embrace the Australian life the way they found it and do their distinct “identity stuff” quietly, where it doesn’t get in people’s faces.

To be clear, I don’t support the legalisation of polygamy for Muslims in Australia (just as I don’t support altering the Marriage Act to include same-sex relationships). But I know some people who probably also don’t, but should. That is to say, same-sex marriage advocates should support polygamy, if they don’t want to be guilty of arbitrarily supporting the sexual, domestic and social interests of one demographic minority in Australia, while inexplicably failing to do so for another.

So what’ll it be Australia? Full marriage equality NOW? Or tacit Islamophobia and faulty social favouritism?

[1] Tord Sollie “One is not enough” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Kerryn Phelps http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/quotable-quotes/
[3] Headspace http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/quotable-quotes/
[4] Open Letter from Australian Academia http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/academic-support/

An Open Letter to Australians who support same-sex marriage

Dear fellow citizens,

I am writing to you to address perhaps the most vexed societal issue in Australia in 2016. That is the question of whether the Australian Marriage Act should be changed to allow two people of the same sex to have their relationship legally and socially recognised as a marriage.

I understand that you may feel strongly about this issue. I also recognise that your support for this cause is probably based on a strong desire to see the values of equality, fairness and non-discrimination prevail in our society.
Furthermore, I acknowledge – not least because of my own views on other important matters of social justice (eg; infanticide) – that it can be difficult to have a civil and respectful discussion about an issue like this with people you perceive to be advocates of oppression, discrimination, bigotry or hatred.

When I see people whose desire is for justice, fairness and dignity in our nation, these are qualities and values I wish to affirm. I too want to live in a land where the law reflects what is good and right, where people do not suffer unfair discrimination and where every human being and citizen is treated with the appropriate respect and courtesy.

While for many of us today, our inclination might be to promote such values by allowing people the freedom to express themselves in whatever way they choose to (so long as it does not have a significantly detrimental impact on the lives of others), when it comes to changing the legal definition of marriage in Australia we’re actually inescapably delving into deeper issues of what we fundamentally regard as right or wrong.

For many Australians, one of the most problematic instances of wrongdoing in our society today is when someone attempts to restrict someone else’s self-expression by suggesting their behaviour is unacceptable or wrong. In some areas of life this simply is not an issue.
For instance we do not tolerate the abusive man’s violence towards his partner and his children as freedom of expression. We vocally condemn the drunken antics of rugby league players as unacceptable and even disgraceful behaviour. We decry broadcasters when they make racially insensitive comments on air. We applaud when people such as these are penalised for their socially unacceptable behaviour. It’s not only fine, but easy to tell them that what they did is morally wrong.

But increasingly, speaking publicly about certain issues – notably those involving human sexuality and relationships – as anything but morally positive or neutral, has become something many regard far more wrong than the matter being called into question.

Every Australian would instinctively know in 2016 that to place the sexual activities of two consenting adults in a similar moral category to any of the above examples would be a grave cause of offence to many people.
That’s because for the most part, our society accepts that violence, drunken public indecency or nuisance and racism are either objectively wrong or at least condemned by societal consensus. Because consensual sexual acts and relationships seem to have limited detrimental impact on third parties, many Australians are willing to adopt an each-to-their own approach. This is why many (perhaps most if certain polling is correct) Australians would reject the idea that a certain variety of sexuality or a loving relationship between two adults can be considered morally wrong to the point that they should be restricted by the law.

However, there are some Australians, myself included, that do believe in an objective standard of right or wrong when it comes to sexual behaviour and a predetermined definition of marriage. The difficulty we find ourselves in when publicly discussing an issue such as same-sex marriage with a passionate advocate for full relational equality (such as yourself) is not so much that people are now unwilling to accept our position that certain consensual expressions of sexuality may be morally problematic and socially undesirable. It’s actually more so the fact that many see it as their moral and social duty to prevent us from expressing the alternative view on sexuality.

Some of us believe it’s wrong to practice and promote homosexual activities. Many of us have stopped saying that publicly, because the tide of public opinion has turned against us. It seems the view that once enjoyed a clear societal consensus has recently become something of a minority report. And so now in the present debate on whether to legally redefine marriage, you’ll hear virtual silence on the morality or desirability of particular sexual lifestyles and more focus on other matters. Certain lobby groups oppose same-sex marriage by appealing to the impact on children, the potential of further redefinitions of marriage or the potential for punitive legal actions against groups who do not openly endorse the LGBT movement’s philosophies and recognise lawfully wedded gay couples as “married.” Because they’re afraid of being labelled homophobic and run out of town by a mob with torches and pitchforks, they remain silent on the actual issue of homosexuality, but instead point out how successive state and federal governments have removed all forms of legal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.

My friends, I share your noble desire to protect homosexual people from violence, vilification and unnecessary, unfair discrimination. I don’t believe that my beliefs regarding sexuality and marriage automatically promote any of those things. And while you might disagree even on that point, I am nevertheless writing to you to ask you not to support the suppression of people’s voices who believe that this type of sexual expression is wrong and that celebrating it in marriage is unhelpful to all involved.

I ask this because you like me hold the belief that certain expressions of sexuality are indeed wrong. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I know that LGBT people get very upset when their sexuality and relationships are compared to forms of sexual deviancy that are uniformly condemned by most sections of society. I am not equating homosexual relationships with other acts you and I would agree are grotesque and have no place in society: such as bestiality, incest and paedophilia. I am saying that in a pluralistic society, there needs to be freedom for people to define the rightness and wrongness of human sexuality differently. For you, consensuality and privacy may determine the vindication or condemnation of a sexual act. But surely it is unhelpful to attempt to silence or legally suppress those whose understanding of divine; cultural; or natural laws requires them to use a different criteria in evaluating the legitimacy of a relationship or sexual activity?

I respect your right as a citizen in this country to hold your own personal beliefs about this issue and others and to advocate for what you believe to be the best social outcome for all Australians. But I’m asking first of all that you would not join in the attempts of certain forces in the media and the political arena to prevent those who sincerely believe differently from openly expressing what they belief to be true. It is not helpful for social goodwill and does not promote the freedom of speech that is essential to our society; the freedom of expression that many would cite in support of same-sex marriage; nor the freedom of religion that has been a cornerstone of the best societies for many years.

But I don’t want to write to you about this issue without making it clear why I won’t support any changes to the Marriage Act in Australia as it currently stands. I am a Christian and while I don’t wish to force my views onto others through coercion, revolution or heavy-handed legislation, I find myself in a democratic, pluralistic society where – at least theoretically – my vote, voice and opinions are of equal standing to those of each of the 16.5 million citizens who are eligible to vote in state and federal elections. In cases where a large majority of Australians do not hold my particular views on any given issue, I am content in most instances not to attempt to force radical change on them through legislation that many would find completely unpalatable. However, I will not support any changes to the status quo that I believe would be detrimental or unbeneficial to the health of Australian society.

I have sincerely held views concerning sexuality, which I don’t see as any less valid than many other areas of conviction that are held by voters and people holding public office.
My sincerely held view about homosexual sex is that it does not promote a healthy, natural or commendable view of human sexuality; nor is it beneficial for those involved; nor does it have a positive impact on our society. There is one authentic, natural, God-ordained expression of human sexuality, which takes place in the context of marriage as it is presently defined in Federal law, through sexual intimacy between one man and one woman who are exclusively committed to each other “as long as they both shall live.”

I have no plans to push for the recriminalisation of sodomy or to attempt to make life more difficult for LGBT people. My agenda as a Christian is not to implement policy and legislation in Australia that are based solely on religious convictions. While I believe some sexual acts are sinful and express a rejection of God’s will for human sexuality – I hold the sober belief that each man and woman (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or other) will have to give a personal account for how they’ve used their bodies to glorify or dishonour God while on earth and to benefit or negatively impact others. Ultimately these questions will be resolved in a higher court than those available within the Australian justice system and evaluated by a higher standard than the laws enacted by our Federal Parliament.

Instead of pouring my energy into some kind of heterosexual activism, I’d much rather my fellow Australians know that heterosexual members of society are just as guilty of rebellion against God as their homosexual neighbours are. Whether it’s how we’ve expressed our sexual desires or how we’ve spoken to others, used our money, respected others’ property, treated the poor or expressed ourselves in relation to the God who graciously gave us life – we’ll all have a case to answer before God when we come before Him in His glory.

The God I strive to honour with my life does not accept me because of some claim I have to sexual purity, superior morality, or ethical perfection. I deserve immediate relegation to the eternal scrap-heap – the place that burns hot with God’s wrath against all kinds of evil – including the evil found deep within my heart. The reason I have something to celebrate today is because God is gracious and provided a way for people who have rebelled against Him to be forgiven. While the good news of Jesus has become increasingly less understood in our society, His death on the cross was a sacrificial act of love and He became a substitute for sinners – willingly enduring our punishment as though He was us, so that we might receive mercy instead of judgement.

Out of my love for God and for my neighbours, I want everyone to hear that message of forgiveness and reconciliation with God through Jesus. I want every Australian to have the opportunity to enjoy God and the eternal life He offers through the good news. And out of love for God and for my neighbours, I cannot promote any kind of sexual expression (whether heterosexual, homosexual or other) that constitutes an act of rebellion against God. An act that Jesus had to die for, in order for people to have any hope of life with God.

I understand that in the sphere of politics, many people would wish I would keep these views to myself. That I would live and let live. I acknowledge that many Christians and non-Christians might feel that the message of Jesus is less attractive when those who promote it also publicly confront issues of sexuality and that this often leads to offense and derision. But love means I must speak – even when the truth is unpopular. And while I refuse to coerce others into accepting my position on sexuality, I feel that love compels me to use my voice and my vote to promote the view of sexuality and marriage I believe is most beneficial to individual people and wider society.

I often hear it said that this issue is all about love. And I have come to understand that you and I probably have different understandings of what love is. For many Australians “love” – defined as affection for another person, that leads to a desire for private intimacy and public expression of permanent commitment – is the main factor that should determine whether consenting adults should be able to have their relationship recognised as a marriage. This affection and consequent desire for intimacy and commitment is real and I don’t deny for a moment that it exists in non-marital and non-heterosexual contexts.

But “love” as I and others like me understand it is not primarily romantic or sexual nor necessarily marital. Love is a genuine concern for the well-being and best interests of others that translates into concrete expressions like how we act, speak and use our time and energy in the pursuit of the welfare of others. Christian love is defined in relation to Jesus’ own sacrificial expression of love and therefore, my expressions of love must be prepared for the possibility of sacrifice or suffering when promoting the good of others.

To believe what I believe about sexuality and affirm same-sex marriage as good, acceptable or even morally neutral would simply be unloving towards everyone involved. I earnestly don’t believe it’s helpful to individual gay and lesbian people to encourage them to think of themselves as married or to believe that homosexual sex is morally innocuous or even healthy and positive. I know that when I say my opposition to this issue is consistent with a view of love that seeks what is best for the people who are the object of that love that LGBT people may find this attitude condescending. That is not my intention. You must make your own decisions about your life and what you promote in seeking the good of others. I have done and will do nothing to restrict your ability to make your own sexual choices and hold your own beliefs about what marriage should be. I simply won’t encourage you to take any course of action I don’t believe will benefit you or others.

On another note, yes there are religious bigots who vilify LGBT out of hatred, rather than seeking their interests in love. Let me take this opportunity to repudiate them and ask that you do not mistake every opponent of same-sex marriage for the worst examples of self-righteous prejudice. I am sorry that people in religious communities, including my own, have made their opposition to homosexuality heard much more loudly than their love for all people created in the image of God – irrespective of sexuality.

So as we head toward a probable plebiscite on this issue in 2017, I want to be encouraging my Christian brothers and sisters to be getting on with our primary business of sharing the love, grace and forgiveness available in Christ with all members of our community. But when I’m asked about issues of marriage and sexuality or there’s a particular time that seems appropriate to say more – I will endeavour to “speak the truth in love” as our Scriptures require and promote what I sincerely believe is the best understanding of these issues.

I’d love it if you’d give consideration to what I’ve said above and what I might say in those future moments. And I want to be willing to listen and participate in civil discussion with you when you share your perspective on these issues with me. Thank you for being willing to read such a long letter – especially one that is written by someone who many suggest you shouldn’t waste any of your time listening to on these issues.

Sincerely,
Yarran