Is it (really) OK to vote YES?

“It’s OK to vote NO” I’m told by some of my friends’ Facebook profile pics. But as the same-sex marriage (SSM) postal survey gets mailed out this week, we also need to ask: is it really OK to vote YES?  

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When I ask, this question – I’m primarily concerned with Christians who may be entertaining the possibility of responding in this way. I’m not asking whether Christians have the right as democratic citizens to express a YES to the question being put to Australia. We do.

I’m asking whether it’s OK to vote YES if we’re seeking to live faithfully as disciples of Jesus, witnesses to His gospel and loving neighbours?

I’m asking whether the reasons a Christian may think justify saying YES to SSM make it OK to invite the Australian government to alter a fundamental, divinely-sanctioned human institution so that it includes an expression of sexuality abhorred by God?

In short I’m asking whether God will be OK with Christians saying YES to SSM?

I’ve identified 3 main motivations that might lead Australians who identify as Christians to support a change to the law to allow SSM.

  1. A sincere belief that the current Marriage Act enshrines discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians and denies them one of their human rights.
  2. A sincere belief that Christians should promote a vision of society where people are free to pursue whatever they understand to be necessary to living “the good life,” without being constrained, compelled or coerced by Christian beliefs about virtue and morality.
  3. A sincere belief that SSM is an inevitability and that voting YES now would enable better legislated protections and exemptions for conscientious objectors to SSM (including Christians), because the current government is more sympathetic and responsible in this regard than the opposition would be.

I will attempt to deal with each of these possible justifications for a Christian to vote YES. Because a detailed response is necessary, I’ve tackled the first one below and will follow up with a response to the others in the near future.  

  1. The current Marriage Act enshrines discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians and denies them one of their human rights.

This has the potential to be a powerful justification. Denying people their human rights is a serious matter that fair-minded people are naturally inclined to avoid. But the fact is, the Marriage Act doesn’t discriminate unfairly against homosexual couples. And calls for “marriage equality” are more demands for social recognition than they are claims of a genuine human right.

Discrimination?

The Marriage Act defines marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” This 2004 amendment to the 1961 Marriage Act simply clarified what marriage had meant in Australian law and society since the time of federation (and for a much longer time in the British legal tradition from which the legal and social frameworks of modern Australia are derived).

This does prevent gay and lesbian unions from being interpreted by Australian law as “marriages,” but it equally precludes bigamy, polygamy, forced marriages and marital unions where one or more parties are incapable of legally giving consent. It’s all there in that definition. No unfair discrimination exists, because all Australians have the same right and freedom to marry under the law. Any adult can marry a consenting, non-married adult of the opposite sex who isn’t a close biological relative.

The fact that some citizens of homosexual orientation choose to seek fulfilment in committed relationships with members of the same sex and can’t legally call that relationship a marriage is not unfair discrimination. It’s simply the case that they’ve chosen to pursue a relationship that has never fit the definition of marriage in this country.

Denying people their human rights?

But that brings us to the human rights claim. We often hear that being able to marry the person you love is a basic human right that needs to be enshrined in Australian law.
But is that really the case?

As I’ve argued elsewhere, what is really being claimed – even demanded – by SSM advocates, is that all Australians be compelled to legally and socially recognise committed homosexual relationships as marriages: even if they don’t personally believe them to be so.            

International law has refused to recognise same-sex marriage as a genuine human right or hold nations accountable for human rights violations if they fail to legislate SSM. The courts in Northern Ireland – where SSM remains illegal – recently found that a gay complainant had no claim to his human rights being abused by the government’s refusal to recognise gay partnerships as marriages.

“Marriage equality” may feel like a right to those who are passionately fighting for a change to the law. But it just isn’t a right the way that our rights to life, political and religious liberty and basic essential provisions are true, universal human rights.

Everyone has the right to marry. But no one has an innate right to redefine what marriage means and compel their fellow citizens to accept the new definition.

So if a Christian is inclined to tick YES in the postal survey, because they believe they need to support gay and lesbian couples in their struggle for freedom of discrimination and enjoyment of human rights – that’s unfortunate. Because our laws do not unfairly discriminate, nor deny anyone their human rights.

POSTSCRIPT: When “Christians” adopt this position because they affirm homosexuality as good in and of itself…

There’s actually a more serious issue that could be at play for some who identify as Christians and want to say YES for the above reason – which I’ll attempt to deal with briefly in closing.

It may be that someone who adopts the anti-discrimination/human rights rationale does so because their underlying view of homosexual relationships is that they’re good for those who are involved in them and that homosexuality is a neutral or positive – rather than negative – expression of human sexuality.

This is a serious problem, because if someone calls themselves a Christian but affirms homosexual relationships as good, they are giving support to a change in the law due to a completely unbiblical understanding of human sexuality and marriage.

Australian Marriage law corresponds with the biblical vision of marriage as affirmed by the creation account of Genesis, Jesus Himself, the apostles and the climactic vision of the Book of Revelation. To want the law in Australia changed because you believe the Bible gets it wrong on marriage and sexuality is an untenable position for a Christian to hold.

While I believe that other reasons a Christian might have for voting YES are mistaken and misguided, actual in-principle affirmation of homosexuality as good and acceptable is of more serious concern than all other motivations. Because when someone adopts such a position it is no longer a case of a difference in opinion over political and personal engagement with this issue and those affected by it.

Affirmation of homosexuality is nothing other than a step on the path of apostasy. If you hear someone who’s supposed to be a Christian leader doing this, beware of them. They don’t speak with God’s authority behind them. If you know a Christian who’s thinking this way – it’s much more important that you seek to win them back to the biblical truth than it is to convince someone to vote NO in a survey…

 

 

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Protestant Profiles #24: Fanny J. Crosby

Fanny J. Crosby (1820 – 1915)

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Born: Putnam County, New York
Role: hymn-writer; evangelist; mercy missions activist
Emphases: closeness to Christ; mercy of Christ; blood of Christ; heaven/beatific vision
Protested against: slavery; intemperance;

Most of this profile is adapted from a biographical sermon on Crosby’s life, as it related to Psalm 71. As a result, it is longer and more detailed than most of the other installments in this series. 

Frances Jane Crosby or “Fanny” as she was known, was born in 1820, in New York State, America. At six weeks old, she was permanently and completely blinded by a botched medical procedure to treat an infection in her eyes. Before her first birthday, she also lost her father who succumbed to an illness.

Her mother and grandmother, raised her well – going to great lengths to vividly describe the visual world, so that Fanny could picture in her mind what she could not see with her eyes. She was well instructed in poetry and the Bible. In fact she’s said to have memorised the first five books of the Bible, all four Gospels, Proverbs, Song of Songs and most of the Psalms.

Importantly, she didn’t let her blindness make her bitter or dejected, or hold her back in life. At age eight, she wrote her first poem, expressing her attitude towards blindness and life itself:

Oh, what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
CONTENTED I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t
So weep or sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot, nor I won’t.

This content attitude didn’t mean Fanny lacked aspirations in life. Her eager prayers for an education were answered when she was enrolled in the New York Institute for the Blind, where she earned a reputation as the resident-poetess and worked hard to become a teacher there after her studies. She often read poetry to important people, including Presidents, when they visited the Institute and in 1844 she became the first poet to address the U.S. Congress and arguably the first woman to speak to Congress.

These things make Fanny a remarkable and noteworthy woman – but not really a hero. We get an early glimpse of her heroic potential when cholera swept through New York and several of her students at the Blind Institute were affected. Fanny worked diligently to prepare medicines and risked her life nursing sick pupils and volunteering at the local hospital. She herself had a brush with death, when she began to display early symptoms of the disease.


In God’s kindness she survived, but this event dramatically changed her life. Fanny was challenged by the question – if she had died from cholera – would she have been ready to come before God? She’d had a belief in God her whole life – but she was troubled by the thought that she might not have truly lived for Him and she was unsure of her spiritual state. She needed peace –
a Blessed Assurance as her famous hymn would later describe it. 

One night as she prayed at a local church service during the hymn “Alas and did my Saviour Bleed?” the line “Here Lord I give myself away” resonated deeply with her spiritually and she had something of an epiphany. In her words: “I realized that I had been trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in the other.”

She experienced the conversion or spiritual awakening that she needed, to know she had peace with God. The trajectory of her life was altered, as she sought to live to the glory & praise of her God & Saviour.

Fanny was easily the most prolific hymnist in Christian history. Her life was so devoted to praising God and encouraging others to do so that she wrote anywhere between 6000 and 12000 hymns during her lifetime.

A theme in many of her hymns was Fanny’s yearning for heaven and coming to see Jesus. The connection between her heavenly hope and earthly blindness is beautifully expressed in her comment to a man who remarked it was a pity God had not granted her physical sight.

“Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Saviour” 

God also used Fanny’s praises to Him, to transform the lives of others. Her friend Ira Sankey recalls how a young man testified that he became a Christian upon hearing her hymn “Pass me not O Gentle Saviour,” as it resounded from a nearby chapel. He was deeply troubled by the thought of Jesus passing him by and cried out “O Lord, do not pass me by!” The young man confessed that Jesus indeed did not pass him by that day and he was saved.

Another powerful story is that during the Finnish Civil War, seven soldiers had been captured and were sentenced to execution. One of them not long before the execution began singing “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.” He had learned it only three weeks earlier from the Salvation Army. Pondering his imminent death had led him to come to the Saviour he had been told of from a young age, but up to then rejected. His co-condemned comrades were all executed after singing the hymn together. One of their captors was so touched by the comfort and peace these men had in facing death that he himself was personally challenged to come to Jesus for salvation.

Fanny Crosby is not a heroic Christian example simply because she lived an inspirational life of great achievements and wrote more hymns than anyone before or since. She’s exemplary because she used her talents, her profile, her connections, her life to reach people for Jesus. And she was active in these endeavours well into her nineties.

Even in her old age, Fanny yearned to tell others of God’s saving power and righteous help and to proclaim His greatness to the next generation. She worked with one of the greatest evangelists of her time, D.L. Moody and his music team to produce songs that could complement the preaching of the gospel. This legacy continued well past the Moody era, with her hymns later accompanying many Billy Graham crusades and other evangelistic meetings.

But it didn’t stop there. Fanny spoke evangelistically at countless meetings and personally encouraged many people to come to Christ for salvation. She became heavily involved with America’s first urban rescue missions – set up in New York and elsewhere to provide aid and the hope of Jesus to the homeless, destitute and impoverished people of the inner-city. She was known as “Aunty Fanny” to many of these men, women and children to whom she gave so much of her time, money and love, while also sharing with them the greatest thing she had – access to a loving Father through the good news of Jesus Christ.

Fanny had moved to a rough part of the city when she was sixty and was still speaking and seeking the lost when she reached her nineties. It’s been reported that her goal was to reach one million people for Christ. Her dedication to this work is well reflected in what I regard as one of her greatest songs “Rescue the Perishing, care for the dying. Snatch them in pity from sin & the grave. Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen. Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save. Rescue the perishing care for the dying, Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

When Fanny Crosby died at almost 95, she had praised God many days and touched lives in many ways. She praised Him with music and song from a redeemed soul and she spoke and sang to innumerable people of the righteous help God had given her and would give to any who came to Him in faith. God’s work of salvation was the subject of her praise and God’s work of salvation was what she longed to see in the lives of others.

 

If you use the music streaming service Spotify, you can listen to some of Fanny J. Crosby’s best known hymns, including Blessed AssuranceTo God be the GloryPass Me Not O Gentle Saviour and Rescue the Perishing here.

Protestant Profiles #23: J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1815-1900) Born: Macclesfield, Cheshire, England Role: Bishop of Liverpool; church revitaliser; pastor; preacher; tract-writer; author Emphases: sola Scriptura; total depravity; justification by faith; Jesus as sole mediator; regeneration; holiness Protested against: high church ritualism and sacramentalism; Catholic idolatry; “higher life” spirituality; modernism; episcopal … Continue reading Protestant Profiles #23: J.C. Ryle

Protestant Profiles #22: David Livingstone

David Livingstone (1813 – 1873)

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Born: Blantyre, Scotland
Role: Missionary to Africa; Explorer; Scientist
Emphases: Reform of Africa through the spread of the gospel and benevolent British trade and colonisation
Protested against: Oppression of Africans through slavery

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” – the question posed by American reporter Henry Morton Stanley upon discovering a long-lost British missionary deep within the African continent – has become a well-known phrase throughout the western world. It encapsulates some of the public fascination, in Britain and America, with the fate of the famous explorer David Livingstone in the mid 19th century.

David Livingstone was a unique figure in the history of Christian missions and of the British Empire. He traveled to Africa with his family as a missionary while still a young man in 1840-41. He made an enormous impact upon the continent and its religious future – but is only connected to one convert directly.

Over time he would turn his efforts to other endeavours, such as inland exploration and scientific expeditions, which he saw as complementary to the advancement of God’s Kingdom in Africa. From 1858 until his death in 1873, he was not a missionary as such, yet he regarded his pursuits as pivotal for opening Africa up to further Christian influence and combating the pernicious exploitation and human trafficking of Africans by Arabic and European merchants.

The early years of his time in Africa were dedicated to mission work on the frontiers – moving progressively inland and away from European settlements. During these years, Livingstone baptised an African chief named Sechele, who despite his questionable personal conversion, went on to have an enormous impact on the religious outlook of his fellow tribesmen. When missionaries came to the area many years after Livingstone had been there, they found the locals practicing a form of Christian worship initiated by the Christianised chief.

Livingstone’s ‘discovery’ of Lake Ngami (a fascinating body of water which is prone to disappearing completely and then reappearing for decades at a time) in 1849 appears to have been a significant event that paved the way for Livingstone to turn to more and more expeditionary activities. His quests to chart and locate water courses and sources served as the central element in his strategy to see Africa gospelised and the inhumane enslavement of Africans gradually eradicated.

His aim of Christian control over the Zambezi River would enable non-slave free enterprise in the inland regions of Africa to severely diminish the profitability of the trade routes used by slave owners and traders. Furthermore Livingstone sought the personal acclamation that would come if he could locate the source of the Nile, which he intended to use as social capital to mobilise the British Empire against the slavers. Thus he became a sort of heroic explorer, not as an end in itself, but with the constant goal of seeing the soul and societies of Africa reformed through the gospel of Jesus and the benevolent actions of the empire.

Livingstone’s lifestyle was very hard on the health and well-being of his family and some have suggested that his minimalising of the harsh realities of life in Africa contributed to an unpreparedness that resulted in the deaths of other missionaries. Like so many frontier missionaries from this period, his determination is admirable (He famously said “I am prepared to go anywhere, so long as it is forward”), but his methodology and practice are questionable. Without a certain amount of stubbornness, tenacity and perseverance there is certainly no way he could have functioned in 19th century Africa to the extent that he managed.

Livingstone remains one of the greatest British explorers of the Victorian era and was voted one of the 100 Greatest Britons (in history) in a 2002 BBC survey. He has a wide range of places and institutions named or founded in his honour around the world.

But Livingstone is better remembered by his fellow Protestant Christians as someone who attempted to look at the big picture and strive for the African continent to be transformed by Christianity and its derivative blessings. He was by no means a typical missionary, nor an ordinary explorer, but a man who endured great hardship and suffering while seeking the spiritual, physical and social welfare of the African peoples – whose humanity and dignity he recognised and defended.

 

Sources

T.J. Thompson, “LIVINGSTONE, David” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals

“David Livingstone,” wikipedia.org

Protestant Profiles #21: Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson (1788 – 1850)

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Born: Malden, Massachusetts, USA
Role: Missionary to Burma; Bible Translator; Author
Emphases: non-coercive, indigenised propagation of the gospel; optimistic postmillennial outlook on mission; credobaptism; self-denial

Adoniram Judson’s early twenties saw several incredible changes take place in his life. He experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity at age 20, leaving behind the deism of his late-teenage years for the truth of the gospel. Over the next few years he became active in his family’s church, applied to serve as a missionary in Asia, married his first wife Ann, had a theological shift from Congregationalism to a Baptist position and began his ministry in Burma just before his 25th birthday.

The Judsons were the first Baptist missionaries to set out from America – indeed they were some of the very first American overseas missionaries. Adoniram was also the most significant figure in the early history of Christianity in Burma. Over a number of years he strove to learn Burmese well enough to communicate the gospel effectively and from 1819 he began a preaching and teaching ministry, with a Burmese zayat or meeting place in Rangoon (now Yangon) as his base.

Judson saw his first converts relatively early and during his years in Burma the Christian population went from non-existent to around 8000 believers. He worked hard to ensure that the Scriptures were available in the local languages and that Burmese Christians were trained as gospel workers to effectively reach their own people in subsequent generations.

He suffered greatly as an innocent man caught up in the First Anglo-Burmese war  (1824-26), being subjected to imprisonment and torture under the misapprehension of the Burmese that he was a foreign spy.

Piper describes his mistreatment in his biography of Judson:

His feet were fettered and at night a long horizontal bamboo pole was lowered and passed between the fettered legs and hoisted up till only the shoulder and heads of the prisoners rested on the ground.

He lost his first wife to illness a few months after his release and his young daughter also succumbed to illness six months later. This led to a period of great personal isolation, grief and spiritual depression. Though this looked like it could have easily been the end for the overwhelmed missionary, God had other plans. Judson experienced a resurgence in the early 1830s and gradually saw more fruit from the gospel work.

Judson would not marry again for another seven years, but he wed a fellow missionary, Sarah Boardman in 1834. They would be married for just over a decade before she too succumbed to illness. The loss of his two wives and seven of his thirteen children are a testimony to the extreme hardship of missionary life in 19th century Burma.

He met and married his third wife, Emily, while in the United States following the voyage upon which Sarah had died. They returned to Burma in 1846, where Judson would have just four more years of ministry before his own death at 61.

Adoniram Judson’s impact on Christianity among the Burmese and Karen people has endured for the many years since his death. Piper again:

[T]oday there are close to about 3,700 congregations of Baptists in Myanmar who trace their origin to this man’s labors of love.

His ongoing significance is also felt in the development of American Christianity – with the Baptist churches who joined together to support the Judsons effectively constituting the first national Baptist denomination in North America. “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions” was pivotal in mobilising American Baptists for global missions and the largest denomination in the US today, the Southern Baptist Convention, is an offshoot of this original convention.

Judson is another wonderful example of a man whose life was radically transformed by the gospel and who took great pains to ensure that the Word of God was made available to those who lacked access to it – that they might receive life in Christ through its testimony. His life will no doubt continue to inspire many to follow his footsteps in taking the good news of Jesus to the unreached parts of the world.

You can read John Piper’s account of Judson’s life here.

Other sources consulted

K.P. Mobley, “JUDSON, Adoniram” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

“Adoniram Judson” wikipedia.

For Goodness’ Sake, Vote NO

Recently I posted my thoughts on why a postal plebiscite may be the best way to resolve the same-sex “marriage” issue politically. Now it seems we’re having one (barring the government’s proposal being struck down by the High Court of Australia). But I’m worried that there will be a number of Australians who understand marriage to be an exclusive, lifelong, legal, social, sexual and domestic union between one man and one woman – but fail to express their convictions by voting NO in the upcoming plebiscite.

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One of my points in favour of holding a postal plebiscite in the current political climate was: “A postal plebiscite will see the side that can best mobilise people to vote for their convictions win.” And so I feel a burden and responsibility to encourage people who believe in marriage (as presently defined) to participate in this process, in order to achieve what is now the best chance we have at preserving the proper definition of marriage in this country.

A while back, I would have taken it as a given that almost all of my Christian friends would vote NO in a public vote like the one we’re anticipating will be held over the next few months. But I’ve realised recently that the mood amongst Christians in Australia has shifted a bit, not only in terms of how we think through relating to those who identify themselves according to their sexuality (LGBTI&c), but how we respond to their totemic issues (including “marriage equality”).

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will decline to participate in the plebiscite out of fear they will have to give an answer to their gay, lesbian and pro-SSM friends, colleagues and family members – and that confessing that they voted NO will be an alienating element in those relationships.

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will take their cues on this issue from online pieces by Christian leaders advocating non-participation in the plebiscite – as the balanced approach after taking all things into consideration – such as this recent post by one of Queensland’s most prominent Christian bloggers.

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will decline to vote because they can’t be bothered participating in the potential resolution of such a vexed and drawn-out social issue. And I’m even concerned that some will vote YES because they don’t want to be guilty of any kind of discrimination or oppression against sexual minorities and see the plebiscite as a matter relating to fundamental human rights.

I’m not out to coerce or intimidate anyone into voting or voting a certain way – but I do think it’s really important that as many people as possible vote NO, so I am out to persuade you to a particular course of action. To that end, I want to do my best to tackle some of objections and alternatives to voting NO, while encouraging anyone who’ll listen to vote NO for the best possible reasons, without unnecessary fear or guilt about doing so.

REASONS TO VOTE NO

For this initial post, I hope to briefly outline reasons I believe Christians in Australia should actively reject any proposed changes to the Marriage Act, by using the postal plebiscite to express their objections to the redefinition of marriage. My aim will be to write further on some of these points, as time permits, in the coming days and weeks. I’d also like to address genuine concerns people might have about the plebiscite and the consequences of voting NO, in the hope of removing barriers to them taking what I strongly believe is the best course of action in this situation.

1. The Christian voice can be legitimately expressed on social and moral issues in a pluralistic democracy

There is nothing inherently wrong with Christians (or indeed others) participating in a pluralistic democracy by expressing their deep convictions about the goodness of marriage. In fact such involvement can be very good! This includes voting to reject proposals for legal changes to the Marriage Act when we are unconvinced of their capacity to promote the common good in our society.

2. The language of the Marriage Act represents a true understanding of marriage.

The definition of marriage that currently exists in the Marriage Act appropriately describes what marriage is in reality and should not be altered to make marriage mean something other than what it is. Redefining marriage is endorsing a lie about the fundamental distinctions between heterosexual marriages and committed, long-term same-sex relationships.

3. Only the present definition of marriage has close to unanimous, voluntary recognition in the Australian population. 

The establishment of an exclusive, legally-contracted, social, sexual and domestic union between a (consenting and biologically unrelated) single adult male and a single adult female is socially and philosophically recognised by almost all Australians as a marriage.

The same cannot be said of relationships that do not meet the above criteria, which creates problems as to why recognition of a widely unaccepted definition should ever be legally enforceable. Voting NO is about rejecting forced recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages, by people who sincerely believe they’re not marriages.

4. To vote NO is to reject bad legislation that could forseeably lead to encroachments upon fundamental civil liberties and human rights.

It is entirely feasible that forced recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages will lead to the Marriage Act and anti-Discrimination laws being weaponised against people who sincerely hold a different belief about marriage. It has been noted that there are completely insufficient protections for religious freedom and freedom of conscience to protect Australian citizens under current legal arrangements, should the definition of marriage change and politicians appear negligent in addressing these issues.

5. Invented rights should not be allowed to trump fundamental ones.

The right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of speech are genuine, fundamental human rights and it is dangerous for any government to impinge upon them. The right to legally compel your fellow citizen to recognise your relationship as a marriage against their conscience or will is an invented right which is dangerous to the free exercise of the aforementioned genuine, fundamental rights.

To Vote NO is to assert that contrived rights relating to sexuality are not equally or more important than internationally recognised rights to freely practice religion and express personal convictions. It’s important that everyone’s most basic rights are protected before invented ones are enshrined.

6. Christians fundamentally disagree with SSM-proponents about the capacity for homosexual activity and relationships to bring good and happiness to those who pursue these things.

From a Christian perspective, homosexual activity itself contributes nothing positive to anyone in Australian society – including for those who embrace it as a core part of their identity and lifestyle.

This is not the same as saying that people who identify as homosexual contribute nothing positive to society or to the lives of their friends and relatives, or even the children they may have in their care – that would be grotesquely untrue. But proponents of SSM and Christians fundamentally disagree over whether homosexual activity is itself positive and fulfilling or negative and destructive – and this leads to diametrically opposed ideas of its relationship to human flourishing (see Romans 1:24-27).

Christians should take an absolute stance against the promotion of homosexuality. From a biblical perspective acting out on same-sex attraction is not a matter of pride or something to be celebrated.
But I’d suggest it is also important to resist pushes to further normalise it as a positive lifestyle or conflate gay relationships with the concept of heterosexual marriage.

Voting NO in a plebiscite is saying no to the further normalisation of something we sincerely believe brings no good, in and of itself, to any affected parties.

7. There are genuine concerns about the impact that enshrining SSM in law will have upon future generations of Australians 

The more entrenched in law the supposed goodness of same-sex relationships and their equivalence to heterosexual ones (especially marriage) becomes, the more pressure there will be on institutions (especially government ones) to promote a certain understanding of sexuality.

We don’t believe its beneficial to children for them to be indoctrinated from a young age by systematic untruths about human sexuality (as they are being through government education systems already in some parts of the country).

And irrespective of whether the laws of some states already allow for homosexual couples to adopt children or undergo surrogacy processes – we have grave concerns about the impact upon children if our society continues to move in a direction that says we no longer recognise the importance of a child being brought up by a mother and father wherever possible (and most preferably their own biological parents).

8. Loving our neighbours means seeking what we honestly believe to be good – for everyone involved.

Following points 6 & 7 directly above, I believe that voting NO in the plebiscite is a means of loving our neighbour through political engagement. Some may be motivated to vote against same-sex marriage by hatred for gay and lesbian people. I’m advocating the opposite.

Voting NO says, “I sincerely don’t believe that affirming your relationship as the equivalent of a heterosexual marriage is something I can do if I’m truly seeking your good as a person. I don’t want to come across as arrogant or paternalistic, but I believe God has shown us what is best for human sexuality and relationships and that anything other than sexual fidelity between a man and woman in an exclusive, lifelong relationship is not conducive to happiness. And I believe the law should reflect the special role of committed, heterosexual marriages as the overall, best environment to produce and raise the next generation of Australian children.”

You’re free to disagree and keep pushing for recognition if you wish, but I express my NO out of sincerity and love.”

8. In conclusion, voting NO in the plebiscite is an important means for Christians to express their sincere beliefs about the goodness of divinely-ordained marriage and sexuality for the benefit of Australian society. 

Australia isn’t a Christian nation. And so, if we were promoting a certain ideal of marriage under the reasoning that it was the way Christians should behave in a Christian society – our approach would be flawed. But Australia is a society in which the culture, traditional values, social institutions and legal system have all been significantly impacted by Christian ideas and in which Christians continue to have a legitimate role in the democratic process.

Voting NO in this plebiscite is not about attempting to initiate a Christian Raj over an unwilling, non-Christian populace. It isn’t about requiring non-Christians to obey Christian moral teaching. It isn’t about coercing political opponents to bow down before us against their will, nor is it about denying human rights to a small sector of the population and promoting ongoing discrimination against them.

Voting NO is part of promoting goodness in Australian society: seeking what we believe is best for the nation as a whole – even when it proves unpopular. It is entirely consistent with the biblical concept of seeking the welfare of the city (Jer 29:7) and with the political ideal of a commonwealth – where law and governance reflects the common, public good to the greatest extent possible.

And many Christians have come to the conclusion that it’s in the greatest interest of society as a whole for marriage to remain defined as it currently stands in Australia.

So I urge, and will continue to urge my friends to vote NO – for goodness’ sake.

I have written a postscript dealing with the 10 points listed by Nathan Campbell as his justification for abstaining from the postal plebiscite, but decided to post it separately to this piece. You can find it at this link.  

[1] duncan c No (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr. 

Responding to a Christian leader’s 10 Reasons for abstaining from the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage

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).

Response:
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.