Archives For gay marriage

Heard this?

It’ll probably hit somewhere near the top of the Hottest 100 today (UPDATE – it got number 15, but it is number 1 on the ARIA charts at the moment).

It’s pretty powerful. It’s catchy. Its mix of perspectives works as a stand alone song, and is intensified in video form, where you get the additional benefit of seeing a young man, presumably the singer’s uncle, find happiness in his gay relationship.

That’s the fundamental premise of the song. Happiness is the ultimate end, and how can we deny someone the warmth and fulfilment a relationship offers.

It’s fairly convincing. Sort of. It’s just a shame it gets so much wrong. At the very least it’s persuasive, in the technical sense, and it got me questioning why I’m more persuaded by a song like this, than by the same premise put forward in dry argument.

For those getting ready to throw stones at me for being bigoted, or a heretic, let me remind you of my position – I am willing to cede the point that so far as our legislation is concerned this is the “same love” – in that it is voluntary, between two free individuals, and because I’m not huge on letting the government dictate what morality is and isn’t, I am not opposed to changes to the marriage act that reflect the wishes of the population – we live in a democracy, after all. But I’m also not willing to budge on the theological question – God says proper sexual expression that is in line with the order he established at creation (before the fall), and is good for the flourishing of humanity, is the kind of expression found in a loving, heterosexual union, for life, where man and woman become one… though neither, as individuals, were “less than one” beforehand – and it’s absolutely ok to be single without feeling like you’re missing out on an aspect of humanity – which this Same Love thing kind of glosses over in its bid for sameness. Pushing same sex attracted people towards heterosexuality isn’t really the answer, showing all people that the ultimate form of love and identity is found in a relationship with Jesus, and the community of the church (and being a community that people want to be part of) is ultimately far more valuable for everyone.

Anyway. Back to why I felt my head moving as my heartstrings were tugged by this song…

Part of the power of music is that as a song is catchy, and as it bounces around in your head, and as the lyrics start to resonate with your experiences and observations of the world, suddenly you find yourself giving assent to whatever conclusions the songwriter offers.

Old Testament theologian Gordon Wenham has some great things to say about the power of music in shaping our ethics, perhaps especially if we sing along to something, via the power of a little speech-act connection where the words we say become the words we think, a little bit of reader-response theory being applied through something called democratisation, where use of the first person can make something feel like it’s about us, and via this reality regarding the value of some sort of performance in shaping our thinking, which he describes in a piece on the teaching value of ritual:

Educational psychologists tell us that we remember 10% of what we hear, 30% of what we see but 70% of what we do”

Anyway, in a piece called “Reflections on Singing the Psalms,” Wenham makes the following points about how music is perfectly geared to shape our thinking on moral and ethical issues…

“But even mere recitation is a more powerful instructor than listening to stories, commands or wisdom sayings. Listening is passive, indeed the message can be ignored by the listener, but recitation and especially singing is an activity which involves the whole person and cannot be honestly undertaken without real commitment to what is being said or sung…”

Here’s a little on the power of first person – which the song Same Love uses extensively. We become part of the story and identify with the protaganist.

“Another device inviting the worshipper to identify with the sentiments of the Psalm is the use of the first person. The psalmist often speaks in the first person ‘I will bless the LORD at all times’ (34:1). Someone singing or praying this Psalm later is thus invited to do the same… This switch between first and third person encourages the user of the Psalm to identify with the viewpoint of the psalmist. But particularly the use of the first person encourages such identification: ‘The experience of the I of the psalm embodies a religious ideal, whose reality is open to the reader to experience…

And here’s a little more on why music is more powerful than other mediums.

I have already observed that the Psalms differ from other parts of the Bible in that they are meant to be recited or sung as prayers… This involvement of the worshipper in expressing assent to these sentiments makes the Psalms quite different from the other modes of teaching ethics in the OT. The OT narratives were presumably recited by storytellers within the family or in the tribes, but they rarely make explicit their judgments on the actions that are recited, so the moral of the story might have been missed and certainly did not have to be endorsed by the listeners. They could have just ignored the point, as I suspect many listening to worthy sermons often do… When you pray a Psalm, you are describing the actions you will take and what you will avoid. It is more like taking an oath or making a vow… Promises for example change the situation and impose obligations on the speaker and create expectations in the listener. A promise is an example of a speech act.”

It’s powerful stuff – and I reckon Same Love will form a pretty powerful part of the case for gay marriage in Australia, it makes me think we need to do heaps better at writing music that is artistically good for a bigger portion of the world than our congregations on a Sunday. It worked for Luther.

But as powerful as it is – it makes some pretty interesting assumptions about what Christians believe about homosexuality, and about the motives of Christians in shutting down love.

Here’s a little bit from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis themselves…

The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing god, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And god loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
I don’t know

Look – I’m sure reparative therapy (the cure with treatment and religion) has been harmful when people have been forced to undertake it against their wishes by bigoted parents or something… but the only real research I’ve seen that does something like a longitudinal study, by Jones and Yarhouse (it’s a fairly controversial study – as is anything Christians write on this issue), on the effectiveness and effects of such therapy found that it doesn’t actually cause harm, even if it doesn’t always work. And it doesn’t always work – contented celibacy is a statistically more probably result. I’m not sure that this is a “right wing conservative” issue either…

I’m also not sure that for a Christian the idea that something is a predisposition means that it shouldn’t be changed – or at least not acted upon. We call constantly try to challenge ourselves to leave predispositions behind. I’m lazy, I’d say all the evidence suggests this is my predisposition. That’s bad for my ability to be productive. We do this all over the aspects of our person, identity, and personality – without being accused of “playing God” – and the notion that “predisposition makes right” is patently impossible to demonstrate as soon as you throw in an example of someone who is predisposed to doing something heinous. The Christian account of human nature which sees us as simultaneously “children of God” made in his image, and broken by sin, such that the child-God relationship needs restoring through Jesus, the true child of God, means we can simultaneously say God loves all his children, while he punishes some for the broken relationship, and the broken acts that result. You don’t need to paraphrase the Bible to find this either. It’s right there. Especially in Genesis and Romans, but also in Psalms – the Bible’s biggest insight into what it means to be human but want a relationship with God.

There are some great bits about the song – it really nails why we need to be careful in how we speak of those who are homosexual in orientation, and who identify according to that orientation. There’s not much to disagree with here – except to say there’s a tragedy that you could easily replace hip-hop with “church”…

If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
“Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily
We become so numb to what we’re saying
A culture founded from oppression
Yet we don’t have acceptance for ‘em
Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate, yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins
It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!
Live on and be yourself

That is a powerful reminder – even if it’s feeling the hate somewhat vicariously – that we’ve got to be sensitive and clear when we talk about issues that surround the areas people choose to identify themselves by… The song doesn’t really seem to be all that interested in letting one or two categories of humans be themselves though – Christians who want to disagree with the stance it takes, and perhaps more importantly, those who are same sex attracted who do want to make the choice, free of coercion, to not pursue a relationship with a member of the same sex. That is an ultimate act of “being yourself” – but it’s implicitly, and somewhat explicitly denigrated by this song.

The chorus, where we hear from Mary Lambert, singing in the first person, about her love, who keeps her warm, is where the real thrust of the song’s argument is – we’re talking about denying somebody this love. This happiness. How could we?

And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
I can’t change
Even if I try
Even if I wanted to
My love
My love
My love
She keeps me warm
She keeps me warm

The same sentiment is repeated in the final verse…

“Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up”

Again – he attributes opposition to gay marriage or “equal love” to “fear”… I don’t doubt that some of the negative aspects of the way  those in the GLBTI community are treated is the result of fear, but I’m not sure that’s always true.

Sometimes it’s love.

The love that counts.

Sometimes we do actually disagree with somebody, and say something is wrong, because we love them. It’s not just possible to disagree with somebody and do it with love, it’s possible to disagree with somebody out of a greater love. Sooner or later, to be really loving – we’ve got to stop saying it and keep loving people despite this disagreement. But it is never loving to stay silent.

 

Not all love is the same. That’s why there are five Greek words for love. The song ends with a few little snippets of the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage about love (love is patient, love is kind), but there’s a better passage about love in the Bible – one that shows that not all love is the same, and where real love is found.

It’s from 1 John 4… and while Macklemore, Lambert, and Lewis would like you to think that because we’re all God’s children this means everything we do naturally is good – John, who wrote this following passage, also wrote that famous bit of the Bible that describes the manner of God’s love as tied up in the death and resurrection of Jesus – which had to happen precisely because everything we do is naturally bad… anyway that’s there in verse 10 of this passage too.

Here’s 1 John 4 on real love, the kind of love that makes singleness a possibility if we do community well (we need to be much, much, better at this – we need to be very noticeably different from the comments section on YouTube), and makes giving up eros or epithumia (greek words for lust and desire) worthwhile in the pursuit of the true happiness that comes from knowing God.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

This must surely be a joke. I’m assuming it is. The alternative is just too bizarre to fathom. There are much better arguments against gay marriage than this… This is from, allegedly, a 14 year old New Zealander.

 

Via the Twitters, @Leigh_howard

For the last 18 months or so my friend and co-worker Dave Bailey and I have been on the ethics and communications committee for the Presbyterian Church of Queensland. This committee is now called the Gospel in Society Today committee. Because everybody likes an acronym if you get my gist…

Our committee recently drafted this letter to Julia Gillard, CCd to Tony Abbott, on the issue of Gay Marriage. I think it’s fantastic. For obvious reasons. I wasn’t sure if I could post this – but Dave has on his blog – so it must be ok…


 

The thinking and wording in this letter reflects a changing emphasis that will go into a redrafted position paper on homosexuality and gay marriage at some stage in the near future.

I think one of the slight weaknesses of this letter is that it is potentially legislatively short sighted. I’ve said before here, and elsewhere, that we might need to shift the goal posts a little, by explicitly, rather than implicitly, arguing for our right to continue “discriminating” within the boundaries of the church when it comes to how we choose to define marriage, and the marriages we choose to celebrate, or officiate over.

What do you think?

So. I’ve written before about how wonderfully my friend Mike O’Connor in Rockhampton models using the local media to share the gospel with his community. Here is another example, and another.

I posted a picture of a story the Rockhampton Daily Bulletin ran on the back of an interview with Mike following the ACL’s unfortunate comments the other day. The headline was slightly misleading, and the story truncated one of his statements – but it was a great example of speaking lovingly about Jesus.

Mike decided to clear up some of the misconceptions with a follow up letter to the editor, written with grace, and dripping with gospel. I told him it was too long, so we put together a shorter version – but the paper went with the extended edition. Though with a similarly unfortunate heading (that Mike didn’t write)…

Mike O'Connor Facebook 2

Here’s the text:

Gays welcome, but not homosexuality

On Saturday September 8th, the Morning Bulletin ran a small article titled “Gay couples are welcome at Church”. In that article, I was briefly interviewed and extensively quoted. 


I’d like to take this opportunity to clear any ambiguity surrounding my comments. 

The church’s point of engagement with culture on every issue needs to be Jesus Christ. Our message to the world is a person, his name is Jesus. This is a message the church has at times, failed to make clear, opting instead to moralize and to dictate to the lifestyle choices of other people. Hypocrisy is a fair criticism of Christians when morality is the prevailing message heard rather than the good news of Jesus and the new life he gives.

The church needs to stay on message and not be misunderstood or open to misunderstanding when it comes the cultural issues of the day. I’m sorry if I’ve added to this confusion.

So let me be clear: smokers, homosexuals and all of Rockhampton need Jesus Christ. 

Rockhampton Presbyterian Church wants people to accept or reject Christianity on the merits of who Jesus is, on the things Jesus has done and over the things Jesus actually said. Our church welcomes all people, as Jesus welcomes all people – Jesus was regularly eating with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. 

We want members of every community to come and find a place in the new community God is gathering around Jesus – one that is not based on sexual preference, gender, race or religion but based on a personal acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

When people enter Jesus’ new community and put their faith in him many old things will need to be left behind; for some people, homosexuality is one of those things because Jesus makes us new. Again, this way of life is for those who confess to be followers of Jesus, they are not a prerequisite for investigating Christ’s claims nor an insistence to change for those who choose to have nothing to do with Jesus.

“Welcome” doesn’t mean ‘condone’, ‘tolerate’ or even ‘turn a blind eye’. ‘Welcome’ simply means that: welcome. We want everyone to come and hear about the Saviour we talk about at church every week as we open the Bible and consider together what it says about him.

Like all other sins, homosexuality is not consistent with the lifestyle of those who confess to be followers of Jesus Christ. However, we want all people to hear about Jesus and put their faith in him and we would invite you to come and do that with us this Sunday, or any other at 9am.

Mike O’Connor

Senior Pastor
Rockhampton Presbyterian Church

So, for anybody who says it’s not possible to be clear, winsome, speak against homosexuality (or at least call it sinful), and for Jesus – here’s a bit of published evidence to the contrary.

The ACL doesn’t seem to get it. When you say the wrong thing you apologise. You don’t blame people for taking offense. You don’t hide behind being “misquoted” or “misrepresented” - you avoid saying unhelpful and offensive stuff that isn’t the gospel.

Our job as Christians in public isn’t to be offensive – it’s to let the gospel cause offense where it will, by being faithful.

From the first Media Release the ACL issued

“We rightly warn of the health impacts of smoking. Surely we cannot allow these aggressive activists to conceal the facts of a lifestyle that accounts for over eighty percent of new HIV cases in Australia annually.

“If we warn against smoking because it carries health dangers, we should also be warning young people in particular about activity which clearly carries health risks.”

It’s interesting that he’s moved away from mental health issues and suicide to HIV/AIDs, which involves 1,000 new diagnoses per year. So that’s more than 800 people. I guess he realised he couldn’t possibly win on the first position and made a tactical withdrawal.

Here’s the second release:

Mr Wallace said at no stage did he say that “smoking is healthier than gay marriage”, as reported by some media.

“What I did say is that heterosexual sex and homosexual sex are different and have different health consequences. They should not be packaged the same way as marriage because, as just one of many reasons, they are different.

“If we warn against smoking because it carries health dangers, we should also be warning young people in particular about activity which clearly carries health risks,” Mr Wallace said.”

He overstates the case somewhat when it comes to the impact of Prime Minister Gillard’s decision to pull out of speaking at their conference: “Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Jim Wallace said the decision would come as a deep disappointment to Australia’s Christian constituency.”

I’m a member of that constituency and I’m not at all disappointed.

From the ABC... He said some interesting stuff here…

“I’ve been misquoted in trying to suggest that that means I’m comparing smoking with homosexuality. In the sense that, I’m not saying for a moment that homosexuality is more dangerous than smoking.”

“I’m comparing the packaging. I’m talking about the packaging. What I’m saying is that packaging is important in how we present things to people… then certainly, the packaging of marriage, particularly the packaging of the heterosexual lifestyle and the homosexual lifestyle as one thing under it, and I spoke yesterday about a range of issues under it.”

“I’m talking about the importance of packaging.”

“I don’t think all gay people have a choice.” 

You can also watch him get torn apart on the Project. Here’s what he says on the Project… after the story introduces the factoid that suicide prevention Australia says gay people are 14 times more likely to commit suicide than others. Then they asked him about why he compared homosexuality with smoking…

“That’s not what I said at all. I’m really annoyed that this is another example of vitriolic gay activism…”

“The point of my comment is the importance of packaging… it would hide the fact of the consequences of it from the health point of view.”

He also keeps saying that the struggle people experience with sexual orientation is “in their teens” – bizarre.

“We have to be able to discuss these issues… we can’t close down debate by not discussing the issues associated with this lifestyle under the packaging debate…”

He doesn’t prove that he’s been misquoted or misrepresented at all. He blames everybody else.

This is interesting – and not uncommon – I’m yet to see the ACL issue a genuine mea culpa when they’re caught out saying something dumb. Like in the furore surrounding a tweet Jim Wallace issued last Anzac Day which he called a “misrepresentation” before saying:

“I apologise – I would never want to politicise Anzac day – never my intention,” Mr Wallace said.

“The interpretation that is being made of this – that I am saying that Australians didn’t fight for everybody – is totally wrong.”

Here’s the tweet…

Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for – wasn’t gay marriage and Islamic!”

Here’s the statement where the “clarification” was issued.

“The tweet has obviously been seized on by everyone with an intention to discredit, but although ill timed, it did not and was never intended to suggest that veterans had not fought for all Australians,” said Mr Wallace.”

Then there was the time he said gay marriage advocates were comparable to Goebels.

Wallace has form for saying controversial stuff and then rather than backing away from the content, suggesting that he has been treated unfairly. Or using the furore to get more media coverage.

Anyway. Here’s what he says about the current issue…

“This is a victory for the demonisation tactics of gay activism and it’s a constant misrepresentation and spin of anything by people who support marriage as between a man and a woman.”

Which would be great. If he was being misrepresented. He did compare smoking and homosexuality. Here’s what he said. In direct quotes.

“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years.”

He still is, even if the heart of his issue is about packaging (whatever that means).

“What I was saying is that on one hand we are vocal on our discouragement of people to smoke and on the other we are suppressing public dialogue about the health risks associated with homosexuality.”

That is a comparison – we do something on one hand, and something different on another. The very definition of comparison.

The first release also pointed to the study Wallace is quoting from – which is actually a “human rights complaint” a GLBTI group made against the Canadian health care system. These are the health issues the submission deals with:

  1. Suicide.
  2. Smoking.
  3. Alcohol consumption.
  4. Illicit drug use.
  5. Depression.
  6. Access to care.
  7. HIV/AIDS.
  8. Cancer.
  9. Violence and bullying.
  10. Blood donations.
  11. Organ donations.
  12. Senior’s Health

Now, there’s no doubt that some of those aspects – particularly the cancer and HIV/AIDS are related to homosexual practice itself, inherently, in the report. And it is possible that certain aspects of the gay lifestyle are related to lowered inhibitions and greater promiscuity – but points 1, 5, and 9, are causally linked to the homosexuals are treated (though not necessarily the only cause).

Anyway. This is all a very long preamble. None of this would be an issue if the ACL didn’t have a strategy of going into, and out of, debates with the expectation that everybody is out to twist their words. Wallace provides enough rope in live interviews to make his accusations regarding “spin” and “misunderstanding” essentially meaningless.

It would be much better by a million times if they just stopped using combative adversarial styled arguments to promote their case. It would be infinitely better if their content was Christian, in any meaningful sense.

I’d love to see Jim Wallace publicly offend people with the gospel. It’s not a mark of faithful gospel ministry if you offend people – it’s a mark of faithful gospel ministry if the gospel offends people. Each gospel makes mention of the world’s negative response to the gospel:

Matthew 10

20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” 

John 15

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

Luke 21

Which is particularly relevant to the ACL’s case – because it is about how to deal with government…

12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer,15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.

Mark 13

10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

And what does the Spirit do – how do we know if the Spirit is speaking? More from John 15:26-27…
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.”
This is why it’s seriously disappointing when the ACL speaks to our government. It has to start with the gospel. Even if it’s about something else… The gospel is the first port of call. Starting there would remove a lot of stupid grounds for offence – and produce offence that is truly worthwhile… though Paul’s words in Colossians 4 should prevent us trying to be offensive in how we speak.
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
That is all.

UPDATE 2 (update 1 is at the bottom of the post) – I have edited the post for clarity in a couple of places. The original paragraphs are at the bottom of the post.

It’s been a while since I last felt the need to write anything about how disappointed I am in the way the Australian Christian Lobby claims to represent Christians, and Jesus, in the Australian public square. This should be understood as a sign that they were being less offensive than usual – because it’s not as if I didn’t keep checking their media releases… But today’s clanger will take some undoing.

Jim Wallace, in a public debate with Greens leader Christine Milne, in question time, compared the health burden caused by the homosexual lifestyle with the health burden caused by cigarette smoking to essentially suggest that the government should be treating homosexuality like it treats smoking. He didn’t say that specifically. But read this:

“I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that is has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years.”

“The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn’t smoke.”

Even if this is true – and the health stats are pretty popular with organisations like the ACL, and he attributes them to the homosexual community’s own research, so one expects they’re based on some sort of research, and at least alluding to the spectre of HIV/AIDS – even if this is absolute fact – it’s incredibly wrong headed and harmful for three reasons.

First. Smoking is a behavioural choice in a way that homosexual orientation is not – it is either environmentally (probably) or biologically (possibly) wired into the psyche. Comparisons between the two simply because they come with a health cost are a bit misleading on that front.

EDIT: This is not to say that those who experience unwanted same sex attraction as an orientation are unable to move towards heterosexuality, nor to say that homosexuality is never a choice. Sexual orientation is best understood on a sliding scale and is, to a degree, malleable – with the amount of change possible an individual issue END EDIT.

Second. The health issues associated with homosexuality are, at least in part (EDIT: neither as big a part as public perception suggests, nor so small as to be statistically meaningless END EDIT), the result of the posture and approach that members of the church, aspects of Christian doctrine, and unnuanced statements by people like Jim Wallace (in this instance), and those claiming to speak for all Christians have assumed with regards to this issue.

These health issues are not necessarily linked to homosexuality. But I would suggest that homosexuality is involved in a causal chain – both internatlly and externally driven – that can lead to situational depression, which can lead to drug use and suicide, I suspect the way the church has at times pushed guaranteed “solutions” to unwanted same sex attraction” in the form of conversion to heterosexuality can probably lead to an unhealthy amount of guilt associated with temptation – not even with homosexual practice. While these are possible for some individuals – at times an end point of a celibate struggle with natural orientation may be the more realistic, and Biblical, goal – see my Eunuchs for the Kingdom essay for more of my thinking, and research, in this area.
Want to make someone feel bad for what they are naturally inclined to do – tell the world that schools should be educating kids not to do it. I’m not interested in arguing that homosexual practice is good for one’s health, or for one’s standing before God – but the mental health issues associated with homosexuality are, so far as public perception and the accounts of members of the gay community, related to the way homosexuality is spoken about and treated, and the church has had a role in this by not carefully and pastorally dealing with the issue and by perpetuating, or not speaking out against bigotry conducted in the name of Jesus.

Third. Where is Jesus in all of this? This is my perennial criticism of the ACL. It’s possible to talk about Jesus when you’re talking about homosexuality. Look. Other people managed it on national television here. I did it here. And here. Before you get to defending marriage. If the ACL is more interested in banging on about the traditional definition of marriage at every turn, especially in the midst of a conversation about the tragedy of shortened life spans through drugs and suicide in the homosexual community, then it needs to CHANGE ITS NAME. Call yourself the Australian Traditional Marriage Lobby. Or the Traditional Relationships And Marriage Party (TRAMP). Get the word “Christian” out of articles like this.

It didn’t get any better outside the heat of debate, when Wallace had a chance to nuance his statements.

“But what I’m saying is we need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems and … normalising the lifestyle by the attribution of marriage, for instance, has to be considered in what it does encouraging people into it.”

He’s perpetuating the idea that people will suddenly want to be gay – that’s such a small percentage of people in studies of the etiology (origins) of homosexuality that it’s practically an outlier. Then. He gets worse…

“I am very sorry for that. My heart goes out to those people. But it is a fact.”

Those people? I can’t help but interpret this as a bit of otherising. They aren’t “those” people, as though a new category. We are people. It seems to me that it’s only possible to capitalise on tragedy like this if you’re prepared to make some sort of distinction between you and them.

Here’s how the ACL promoted the debate on its website:

“Only in cutting through claim and counter claim to truth, can the rights of not just the loudest or the most powerful be guaranteed but the disenfranchised, the most marginalised, those without a voice. In this debate on same sex marriage there is such a voice – it is the voice of the child.”

They could call themselves the Australian Children’s Lobby without even changing their web address.

You don’t re-enfranchise the disenfranchised and marginalised by marginalising others, and once again, you don’t get yardage in the public debate by capitalising on human tragedy. This is a lesson the ACL needs to learn. Suicide is not a pawn in the chess game of Australian marriage legislation. You don’t offer hope with a defence of traditional marriage – you offer hope with Jesus and the opportunity of a long term identity defining relationship with him.

UPDATE – Jim Wallace’s actual speech from the debate is here. It’s marginally better – because it doesn’t you know, suggest that we should apologise to smokers for not taking the health risk of homosexuality seriously… But it’s still bad. The only time he mentions Jesus is to establish the value of children…

And not just that, but a mother and father that as much as the law is able to encourage, will love that child and sacrifice for its best interests as willingly as it biological parents should or would have.

Now unfortunately even with the best intent we have done this imperfectly – to the great detriment of children. Those who Jesus put on His knee and said it would be better for you to be cast into the sea with a stone around your neck than to harm one of these.

But this gay activists’ agenda now means that we do it imperfectly intentionally.”

The implicit take home message – though clearly unintentional – is that Jesus, like the ACL, only cares about children – there’s nothing said about how a relationship with Jesus might help anybody else.

He mentions God once too.

“But thanks to politics, the support of parties scrambling in this unholy game we’ve turned the great idea of democracy into, politicians have decided to play God and deny a child its natural right and succumb to this selfish and increasingly vitriolic voice of gay activism.”

Perhaps the worst part is that he starts, in his opening gambit, with the fall. And its impact on human society.

“Of course though we don’t live in a perfect world – it’s what Christians instead call a fallen world.  It’s this imperfect state that the Church has wrestled with against tyranny and injustice, man’s inhumanity to man in slavery and the civil rights movement, abuse of power even within the Church and today daily on its streets and overseas against poverty and injustice.”

 AND THEN SAYS NOTHING ABOUT JESUS AS THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM OF THE FALLEN WORLD.

Let me say that again. He talks about the problem of sin – and offers no solution – except to make sure children live with their parents.

The only answer he provides is completely secular.

“In a secular world we have to ensure that everyone has justice and particularly that everyone’s human rights are protected.”

What’s the point of being a “Christian” Lobby if all you’re doing is claiming to protect human rights?

UPDATE 2 – the original paragraphs that have been edited above so that the comments below make sense…

First. Smoking is a behavioural choice in a way that homosexual orientation is not…

“The health issues associated with homosexuality are, at least in part, the result of the posture and approach people like Jim Wallace have assumed with regards to this issue. Want to make someone feel bad for what they are naturally inclined to do – tell the world that schools should be educating kids not to do it. I’m not interested in arguing that homosexual practice is good for one’s health, or for one’s standing before God – but the mental health issues associated with homosexuality are demonstrably related to the way homosexuality is spoken about and treated, and the church has had a role in this by not carefully and pastorally dealing with the issue and by perpetuating, or not speaking out against bigotry conducted in the name of Jesus.”

“Those people? How’s that for a bit of otherising. They’re not a special category of people. They are people. We are people. It’s only possible to capitalise on tragedy like this if you’re prepared to make some sort of distinction between you and them.”

 

I was talking to a friend this week about a statement his church might put out on gay marriage and he said “have you seen any good press releases on this issue” and I said “no”… which isn’t entirely true, I could probably find one or two. So I wrote one (P.S – to that friend, I’ve tweaked this a bit since).

It’s a bit wordy, and I’d want to edit some bits out depending on context, but it does, I think, incorporate our “key messages”…


CHURCH NAME seeks way forward in Same Sex Marriage Debate

CHURCH/DENOMINATION NAME apologises to LOCATION’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex community for any hurt caused to them in the name of Jesus when homosexuality has been singled out as a special sin. We recognise that this apology is particularly necessary given the heat involved in the current debate surrounding the redefinition of marriage.

As a church community we are interested in people of all sexual orientations, and from all backgrounds, meeting Jesus, and having a long term relationship with the God who created the universe, we believe all human relationships come second to this one relationship.

CHURCH NAME, Spokesperson name, said that while it will inevitably cause tension for people, CHURCH NAME must continue to define homosexuality as contrary to God’s design, as the Bible is clear on the matter, but admits the church has done a bad job whenever homosexuality has been singled out for special treatment.

“As a church community we have to recognise that whenever the Bible discusses homosexuality as contrary to God’s created order, it does so in long lists of sins too often given a free pass by Christians speaking out in the same sex marriage debate.”

“As a society we need to work hard at fostering debate which is inclusive and loving, where loving disagreement is not just tolerated but encouraged. It’s unfortunate that standing up for the current definition of marriage is inevitably framed as standing against those who seek changes to the definition. We are not seeking to question the personhood, or limit the freedoms, of the GLBTI community so much as seeking to uphold an institution that we believe was created by God.”

“Perhaps, as a society, we should be taking stock of the heavy emphasis we put on sexual expression as a fundamental human right in the first place, this seems to inherently discriminate against those who are asexual in orientation, or the unhappily single. We believe that sexuality is important, but that it cannot function as the basis of one’s identity.”

“We believe, as Christian churches have for almost 2,000 years, that Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the son of God, was crucified by the Roman Empire, and was raised three days later. We believe that this historical event verified his claims.”

“From the beginning of Christianity this event has been called the gospel, which means good news, because it has implications for every human, it makes a relationship with God possible because the fundamental truth of human nature is that we cannot avoid doing those things that the Bible calls sin, that is stuff that isn’t in line with what the God who made all things would have us do.”

“We’re not arguing that homosexual orientation is a choice, simply that what is natural to us can still be wrong. All of us are naturally wired to do these things. And the Bible says Jesus undoes that wiring. Not in a way that means we don’t do the wrong thing, but in a way that frees us from defining ourselves by those things.”

“We believe, as churches have since the canon was established by councils 1,700 years ago, that the Bible is the word of God, containing the collation of documents necessary to guide us, but ultimately to tell, and foretell, the story of Jesus as the central event in history. Our calendar years still recognise Jesus arrival as a turning point.”

“Jesus taught that marriage, from the beginning of humanity, was instituted by God as between one man and one woman. While we acknowledge that there are many cultures that have made modifications to this design, or that have no ties to the Judea-Christian tradition, we believe that this design is self evident from the anatomical sexual compatibility of men and women.”

“Because we believe that Jesus, as God’s son, and God himself, speaks as the creator of humanity, and we believe the Bible is God’s word, we must continue to oppose the redefinition of marriage, and to continue to define homosexuality as part of the brokenness of our human nature.”

“This is not a decision we take lightly because we recognise that some people in our community are hurt by disagreement, but it’s a decision we must take in order to continue to offer the hope that Jesus offers to all people.”

“While we believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and have no wish to legislate our belief system for everybody, we recognise that all people in a democracy have a right to participate in policy debate. We continue to oppose a redefinition of the marriage act on the basis that we believe that defining marriage as a lifelong commitment made between a man and a woman is the best way to enable human flourishing. We believe that this is the type of family structure that God intended, though we understand that families are complex and all families need love, support and care, which we humbly offer in our church community.”

“We are always happy to have conversations with people who disagree with us, and will continue to offer love, support, and prayer to those people, and anyone struggling with any sin, or people who want to understand who Jesus is.”

ENDS

For more information contact SPOKESPERSON on PHONE NUMBER


What do you reckon? Is it missing anything vital? What would you cut, or add?

Gay Marriage Flowchart

While I’ve argued elsewhere that perhaps in a democracy which we recognise is secular, if we think the government should be allowing individuals relative freedom to define their own identity, we could possibly curtail the debate entirely by just selecting the “no” option here, I have real problems with the way this flow chart characterises legitimate arguments that Christians bring to the debate and turns the focus “in house.”

Notice one of the questions is “shall modern-day churches live by all of Paul’s values”… and then the conclusion to answering yes to that question is that such a response is a “sexist, chauvinistic, judgmental, and xenophobic lifestyle” and then there’s some throw away line about culture moving on.

It’s fair to say that while I don’t like Christians being nasty to homosexuals, I also have problems with Christianity being misrepresented like this.

I just want to make it clear – I don’t think the “so you still think homosexuality is sinful?” To which I answer “yes,” necessarily leads to the conclusion “therefore gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry.” So I don’t think I’m the target market for this flowchart.

I also want to acknowledge, from the outset, that homosexual attraction is not, in any meaningful sense, a “choice” in the vast majority of cases (I would suggest it’s the product of one’s environment (nurture), rather than biology (nature), but I don’t necessarily think there’s anything preventing a “gay gene” existing), and that the church has consistently been bad on this issue, particularly in the last thirty years, by treating it as some “special sin” – the only thing special about homosexuality is that there’s a proactive move to not define it as a sin at all. But we Christians have been hateful, bigoted, oppressive, and intolerant. And I’m sorry about that.

However, that a behaviour is natural is no argument for its inherent value. This is called the naturalistic or is/ought fallacy, and it also doesn’t work with Christianity and the doctrine of man’s natural inclination to sin.

If you’re a non-Christian reading this – please keep this in mind. I’m not discussing this to support the anti-gay marriage campaign, I’m not saying this because I think homosexuals who aren’t Christians need to be stoned, legislated against, persecuted, or even forced to give up their loving relationships – I’d much rather you, and they, meet Jesus, and reconsider what “identity” actually is, and whether sexuality should be the foundation of human identity in the first place. What I am interested in doing is correcting the misconceptions about Christianity this chart perpetuates, because I think it gets in the way of people meeting Jesus. And it does a disservice to the important discussion of sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage, that is still happening in Australia.

So lets take a look at the arguments here…

We’ll work from left to right…

Jesus and marriage

While a direct statement like “homosexuality is wrong” would have been really convenient for this debate, some 1,980 years after the fact, there were plenty of other things Jesus didn’t directly speak against. This is an incredibly odd category to bring to Christian ethics. Jesus wasn’t really on about moral proclamation in the way this box assumes. He spoke about morals, but his major moral sermons, like the Sermon on the Mount, don’t leave much scope for assuming Jesus was interested in doing away with the moral law of Israel, if anything he intensifies them. I can’t, off the top of my head, or with a couple of quick word searches, find any passages where Jesus forbids building idols – the second commandment – but there aren’t a lot of people out there arguing that this is a reason for idol worship. And this was a major issue for the early church (see, for example, Acts 15, and Paul’s instructions to flee from idols (1 Cor 5:11, 6:9–10, 10:7, 10:14, Gal 5:19–21, Eph 5:5, Col 3:5)).

What Jesus did do was, whenever the issue of sexuality came up in his teaching, affirm an Old Testament position on marriage, based on creation, in Matthew 19:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

So, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5), on adultery, it doesn’t occur to him to use gender neutral terminology, as if anything goes…

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This isn’t a great argument – it’s sort of a modified argument from silence. But then this “box” is an argument from silence, and I’d say the onus is on the author of the flow chart to demonstrate why their argument is most logical in the face of the facts that Jesus was a Jew, who consistently upheld the Old Testament.

There is a sense where much of the subsequent argument in this post (this box, and subsequent boxes) relies on understanding that Jesus fulfilled the law in a way (I’d say by keeping it perfectly) that meant its incredibly difficult standard of morality is not what saves God’s people, and thus certain aspects (like the food laws) don’t continue… This doesn’t actually mean the law is of no value for determining what is right and wrong behaviour. There aren’t many Christians who would argue that the Old Testament isn’t in some way useful for Christian ethics. In fact, Paul seems to suggest the law continues to play a role in making us aware of sin in Romans 7.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

This is a good post that deals with this question in a bit more detail. On to the next box…

The Old Testament

This is an interesting argument. I have some sympathy with the point it tries to make – it is hard to figure out why we’re ok with pork, but not ok with homosexuality. Most of this, for me, hangs on how Jesus fulfils the law, and a lot of the answer to that is pretty clear in the pages of the New Testament, it’s not exactly silent on the relationship between the Old Testament and Christian living, given that this was the big issue Jewish and gentile Christians were grappling with in the early church.

The Old Testament is pretty clear (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). If this was all the Bible said anywhere then you could try to make a pretty weak case (if you buy into the tripartite moral/civic/ceremonial division of the Old Testament law) that somehow this isn’t a moral issue but a purity law that was symbolically meant to distinguish Israel from the nations. Personally I don’t think there’s a good reason to operate with that sort of distinction, it seems a bit arbitrary. I think the best answer to why these particular passages are still valid for Christians (as well as believing the law is useful for figuring out what God approves and doesn’t approve of), is that when the early church sits down to figure out what expectations of the Old Testament carry through for the church, they come to this conclusion (in Acts 15)…

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
It’s pretty clear that those passages in Leviticus think homosexuality is sexually immoral, and pretty clear that the NT writers treat it the same way… but that’s the next box.

The New Testament

First of all, this whole “the Bible might have said homosexuality but it meant something different” argument is kind of bizarre. A guy named Richard Hays wrote a book called The Moral Vision of the New Testament which considers this argument (ie the one in the box) by looking at the words that Paul, a Jew, might have been familiar with, to figure out what he meant. He says (page 382) that the Greek words describing homosexual acts in 1 Corinthians 6 are “almost certainly” derived from Leviticus, and that the words were common in Rabbinic texts describing homosexual activity.

The first part of this box is at best a hotly debated minority position produced by people with an agenda to undermine the most basic understanding of the text. I’d say it’s much clearer that the New Testament views homosexuality as negatively as the Old. Especially Paul. But Peter thought Paul’s writing carried the authority of Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). So dismiss one, and you’ve essentially got to dismiss them all – especially given the Jerusalem Council’s decision in Acts 15.

The second part of this box, which essentially acknowledges our conclusion here, which dismisses Paul because he said women should be silent is confusing two issues, and is what some might call a genetic fallacy that suggests this position is bad because it comes from Paul (essentially this is a poisoning the well fallacy too), an ad hominem fallacy that suggests Paul is “sexist, chauvinist, and judgmental” so shouldn’t be listened to, an appeal to emotion fallacy that says because something else Paul does is considered bad and makes people angry – everything he does must be bad, a false cause fallacy, a strawman fallacy that links the two issues as though they are one simply because they are both culturally out of fashion.

It should be clear that my answer to “shall modern day churches live by all of Paul’s values” is a resounding yes. By making the statement “values” not “commands” this would even give wiggle room if you could argue for some principle underpinning some of his commands that is the binding part (like what is the deal with head coverings in church?). Paul’s values were thoroughly loving, thoroughly interested in winning people to Christ despite their natural rejection of him, and thoroughly concerned for others. Sometimes that means telling other people that their natural desires are wrong.

In conclusion – the argument is inherently bad – but it does at least attempt to make a point (ie Paul is out of date and we shouldn’t listen to him). Assuming, for a moment, that there is merit to the argument regarding the language used in 1 Cor 6, and assuming that Paul’s views on women are archaic (for the sake of argument, I don’t think they’ve really grappled with what’s going on in Corinth that Paul is addressing here), this still doesn’t actually deal with the substance of Paul’s argument, particularly in Romans. His argument in Corinthians is that Christians shouldn’t be like the people around them, and should be changed from the types of people they used to be. This is primarily a pastoral approach to the question. His argument in Romans 1 is that homosexuality is a result of what happens to human nature when we reject God. When we overturn the created order – Paul’s problem with homosexuality (explicitly) is the same as the Jesus’ implicit problem outlined above – God made man and woman to be sexually compatible. Which is interesting, because it’s the next box…

Adam and Eve v Adam and Steve

The argument from nature/creation is an interesting one – it risks running the same is/ought fallacy as the argument that homosexual attraction is essentially “natural” in that it isn’t a choice. This comes down to a theological account, or perhaps a philosophical account, of what being human is, and what nature is.

If you believe there’s a creator (God), who made a good world (which the Bible says he did), which was then broken by sin so that what is “natural” now is not what was intended then (which many Christians believe is the case), then arguments from what “was” before the fall, are more theologically compelling for Christians than arguments from what “is” now. It’s a was/ought thing. So because God created man and woman for relationship, before the fall, we can say this is the ideal. It helps that both Jesus and Paul, two pretty influential figures in Christianity, reaffirm this truth and its relationship to sexuality.

Overpopulation seems a strange place to go next. The argument that people should be gay because we don’t need more children (implicit in that box) is kind of a weird approach to the development of homosexual attractions that bears no resemblance to how psychologists think that actually happens. People aren’t condemning (necessarily) homosexuality because it can’t fulfil the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, the condemnation rests a step earlier, homosexuality is against the created order because God created man and woman – marriage isn’t about children, though raising children should happen in marriage. If you tow that line you end up ruling out marriage for elderly or infertile couples – and that’s dumb.

The argument from creation is one of the most legitimate arguments from a Christian perspective – not only because it’s there from the beginning, but because it’s where other people go (I suspect you could make the case that Leviticus bases its prohibition on the same thing). This box also seems to be contradicted by the flowchart author’s willingness to see Jesus as an authority in box 1. If Jesus is an authority, then this argument has merit when it comes to marriage.

The Bible’s Definition of Marriage

This one is interesting. While the Bible contains descriptions of polygamous marriage, and laws regarding the other types of relationships listed, descriptions aren’t prescriptions. You can’t argue from laws regarding what Israel was to do in the process of conquering its neighbours, that the ideal behaviour is to marry a female prisoner-of-war. Laws exist, in any culture, to tell you what happens when things aren’t ideal. Law isn’t ethics.

You can’t even argue from characters like Jacob, David, and Solomon, that polygamy was the “Biblical definition” of marriage, in fact at least in Solomon’s case it was a big problem. Just because something happens in the narrative bits of the Bible doesn’t mean it is being affirmed. A plain reading of the whole storyline of Israel makes that pretty clear.

It’s also fair to say that if you follow the whole storyline of the Bible, as something that unfolds chronologically, the Bible does define marriage as between one man and one woman (see what Jesus said).

The biggest problem with this flowchart is that it has a broken model of interpreting the Bible. There aren’t many people who don’t think that the arrival of Jesus in the New Testament was a significant moment that changed the way the Old Testament should be read.

The Old Testament exists to provide a backstory for Jesus.

You can’t just rip bits out of the OT and say “the Bible says” without qualifying that statement by considering how that part applies to Jesus and applies to us, just as you can’t say the movie Titanic says “the Titanic sailed safely on its maiden journey,” because you caught the middle but not the end, and stick with that as your account of the maiden journey. That’s dumb.

I wrote a pretty big ethics essay, essentially on why these boxes are wrong, you can read that if you want another few thousand words to add to this one.

That is all.

Sanity.

Also – be sure to check out John Dickson’s interview on the ABC’s One Plus One from last Friday. It’s beautiful.

I’d much rather have these guys speaking for me than the ACL. I like that Dickson makes the distinction between lobbying and persuading in that One Plus One interview.

This morning Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen, Jim Wallace, and Bishop Julian Porteous were interviewed about Gay Marriage on Sunrise. It wasn’t a train wreck. For which we can all be thankful. Sunrise should stick to this balanced format rather than stoking the fires of controversy with stupid debates featuring people who are clearly intellectually outmatched. Having an informed presenter who is (though slightly misguided when it came to polygamy and the Bible) asking the right sort of questions is also helpful. And by the right sort of questions I mean questions that get to the heart of Christian objections, rather than questions intended to be confrontational and stupid.

The Catholic guy hits the nail on the head in the way Jim Wallace doesn’t. Peter Jensen completely agrees. They talk about Jesus. They talk about the Bible. They talk about marriage being a worthwhile institution. They do it in a much more coherent way than the host, and in a much more winsome way than Jim Wallace did earlier in the week, and than he does today.

They argue that this issue is simply an issue of definition, and redefining marriage.

I like Peter Jensen’s “God has a great deal of interest in what goes on in the community” response to the idea that marriage is a “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s argument.” And his distinction between respecting the law and being forced to take part in conducting gay marriages.

And they do a good job of suggesting that their arguments are natural law arguments. It would’ve been nice to see something about how following Jesus means transforming your views on sex and sexuality as part of the argument about protecting Christianity from having to teach positive things about homosexuality. But you can’t win them all. And this is simply a much better Christian showing than the disaster from this week.

I love that Andrew O’Keefe called out the number of form letters (rather than thought out letters), and vitriolic letters, they’re getting from ACL supporters. And Jim’s funny “no true Christian” response:

“We have people coming onto our website and posing as Christians and proving themselves not, usually by the language.”

Just like we have people going on TV and making stupid and ignorant comparisons to the Nazi regime.

I don’t understand the ACL’s objection to Sunrise openly being part of the campaign – surely they’re better off being open about their bias than pretending to be objective and favouring the cause.

I do like the tone in this interview – it’s much more productive than the debate format where people are yelling at each other and trying to score cheap points. But good on the two churchmen for showing how some winsome, Christ-centred, public engagement works.

While I’m on the subject – it would be remiss, and somewhat non even-handed of me not to gently rebuke this offering on the Sydney Anglican’s website this week. Andrew Cameron does a much better job of essentially presenting the “children” argument Jim Wallace used earlier this week in a winsome, engaging, and empathetic way. And its context is different to the Sunrise interview in that it’s on a denominational website, and for Christians, rather than a nationally televised program. But a good article would have been a better article for sharing with non-Christians if it started with the same argument used by Archbishop Jensen and Bishop Porteous. Christian objections to same sex marriage are ultimately based on Jesus’ affirmation of marriage and the created order, and subsequently Paul’s use of the same argument in Romans 1-2. If Jesus had overturned the created order in his ministry then the “love wins” debate would have merit, but he didn’t. He affirmed it. It’d be nice if more of our arguments started with the centrality of Jesus to Christian belief on social issues – it’d also do away with people who want to raise the eating of shellfish and tattoos as other issues that Leviticus forbids, as though we’re being selective.

I like these paragraphs from Andrew’s piece:

“What we’ve seen is a shift in our society’s ‘common objects of love’ – those matters a society gathers itself to defend, and which help to make it a society. What matters about marriage has shifted over the decades. Our society now loves the idea of love; it loves freedom of expression; it loves eradicating differences. It doesn’t love permanence; it’s ambivalent about children; it’s less convinced that biological parenthood is significant to children; it abhors any notion that each gender might offer something particular and different to the other, and to children. These changes-of-loves are what make it seem that marriage can be renegotiated.

In the middle of these changing loves, Christians can ask helpful questions (there’s not much point being polemical when so little thought has been given to the nature of marriage). We can ask our neighbours: ‘Are you sure that you are not missing something? Do you really want to abandon those older loves? Will that actually help us as a community?’.”

I probably should make it clearer, lest people have questions, that I completely agree with both Peter Jensen and Andrew Cameron – that marriage between a man and a woman is good for society, and better for children, because it matches God’s intention. What I think we need to figure out is how we continue to present that in a way that affirms that Jesus is better for people than marriage (which might mean not getting married in certain cases), and protects our ability to keep saying that once the legislative horse bolts. I think basing the argument on Jesus, the created order, and questioning why it is that we think sexuality is the defining characteristic of human identity is a better way than encouraging our supporters to spam media outlets and politicians, and then comparing them to the Nazis when they disagree with us.

The ACL’s Jim Wallace was on Sunrise this morning.

Here’s what he says.

He breaks Godwin’s law about 1:51 in. Woohoo.

“The issue is that marriage is about children”

It’s so shrill and angry.

Here’s what Queensland Director Wendy Francis said afterwards.

Which is, quite frankly, illogical given that her national director just spent 8 minutes on national television where the rights of children were his only argument. And it has been their consistently reported position on the issue since day dot.

That’s their problem with the gay marriage debate. Here’s mine.

It’s not about Jesus.

This is especially the problem because in just about everybody’s eyes – as demonstrated in the video above – the gay marriage debate is conservative Christians vs everybody else (though Kochie acknowledges that Muslims and Jews don’t like gay marriage either). And the representatives of conservative Christianity in Australia, the ACL, don’t want to talk about Jesus. On national television. They want to talk about motherhood and fatherhood. Two good things. But secondary.

The gay marriage debate is primarily about identity. Nobody is questioning why sexuality should be the locus of human identity. If the premise is true – and it’s not – then the case for gay marriage being a human right is a lay down misere.

Talking about our human identity coming several steps in the process before sexual attraction (or orientation) and sexual identity (gay/lesbian/straight/bi/a) means we can coherently talk about our real identity being found in being created in God’s image, for a purpose, and being able to find a true expression of humanity in Jesus.

Knowing Jesus is the basis of a person discovering, and living out, the purpose they were created for. People are free to reject that, and should be free to choose their own identity outside of social pressure, and even the biological/environmental factors that shape sexual orientation. This argument is harder to win, but it’s ultimately more convincing and more faithful than throwing one’s hands in the air and screaming “won’t somebody think of the children”…

I’d like my children to grow up in a world where their identity isn’t chosen for them based on who they’re attracted to – which isn’t a choice they’ll necessarily get to make anyway – I want them to be free to choose to identify and find their value in serving the Lord Jesus. This is my problem with the ACL, and the gay marriage debate.

From a policy point of view, I think I’ve said this before, but Michael Bird said it heaps better, why don’t we lobby for the state to get out of defining marriage altogether. Let people call their registered relationships whatever they want.

Sacha Baron Cohen has a new movie out, and by all accounts it’s incredibly puerile and terrible. I’m not going to see it. Borat was enough for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for Baron Cohen and the way he used outlandish characters to highlight the outlandish traits in normal people, as uncomfortable as that became. But his kind of under the radar shock humour, luring unsuspecting victims into making fools of themselves, always had a limited shelf life as his notoriety increased. I reckon he actually peaked with Ali G. Who is, for mine, the funniest interviewer ever.

It seems though that to create genuinely funny humour of the type he had become accustomed, Baron Cohen had to create a terrible movie that then became the vehicle for catching people unaware and reproducing some of his shock comedy, in character.

So, we have examples like this train wreck on the Today Show. I’ll embed it. But watch it at your own risk, it’s crude and it’s simply here to illustrate a point. It’s some of the most uncomfortable breakfast television you’ll ever see.

Baron Cohen is maintaining his brand – people will still think of him as an edgy, and funny, comedian who puts people in awkward situations, this time journalists, because of the press circus surrounding the movie. The TV opportunities are now the vehicle for his comedy. I’m no more likely to see the movie because of moments like this, but at least it has generated the kind of response I’m sure Baron Cohen enjoys most. It’s where the art is now. I wouldn’t be surprised if his press appearances become the main reason people buy the DVD version of the movie, so it’s a tactic with a bit of a silver lining.

Here’s how a boingboing review (which contains a vivid description of the offensiveness of the movie in the opening para) describes what’s going on:

“This is what The Dictator was made for; to spew, into the world of the living, the fully-formed obscenity that is Aladeen.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters come into their own when they are put into contact with real people—and even chat show hosts are people—because, as Ali G taught us, the embarassing reaction and our own cringing is at least half of the humour, innit.”

This is an interesting theory – treating content creation as a launchpad for something more long term.

As a media strategy it’s not bad – particularly in the social media world where engagement and conversation are the big goals that lead to conversion. The idea is that you develop loyal fans of your brand who purchase your products and become advocates who talk about your product to their friends. You do that by producing content they want to share, or content that gets people talking. And the movie and associated interviews have ticked that box.

This has me thinking a bit about how this principle applies to church communication and social media stuff. I’m doing a bit of thinking at the moment about how the church I’m part of can use Facebook better, and get people being ambassadors not just for our church, but for Jesus, when they’re online (incidentally, there’s a great Church Marketing Sucks post/series on this).

This is one thing I reckon Mark Driscoll does really well. He’s phenomenal not just at scouting out opportunities in the press, but creating them. I have started to wonder if that is why he and wife Grace went so far and were so graphic in their marriage book – for the shock factor. It’s pretty much the Christian equivalent of the Dictator. The book flew up the best sellers list, fanned the flames of controversy around the Christian blogosphere earlier this year (seriously, google it), it certainly had people talking, and Mark and Grace Driscoll have been touring the US on the back of the book seemingly ever since – including this amazing stopover on CNN with Piers Morgan, who’s not a massively successful TV superstar, but still gets around 500,000 viewers a night.

This isn’t all of it – you can read a transcript here. It’s pretty much a mix of everything that’s good and bad about Mark Driscoll.

“MORGAN: But why was — why should it be one rule for her and one rule for you?

DRISCOLL: I think I was selfish and I think I was being a hypocrite. And I’m not going to defend things that I’ve done or said or thought that were wrong. No.

But I do believe — and this is where we’re going to get to Jesus — that he died, he rose, he forgives me, he helps me, and I hope to keep changing and doing better.

MORGAN: But for people watching this, you know, especially younger people, for example. They said, well, it’s all right for you. You know, you had all this sex until you were 19, then you get —

DRISCOLL: Well, it wasn’t a lot of —

MORGAN: Then you got born-again so you had sort of sown your wild oats and then — and then you’ve become a born-again virgin. But for them, you’re trying to punish them and they can’t have anything.

DRISCOLL: Well, I think, ultimately, sex is best reserved for marriage. And I think if you look at the statistics of sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, there’s a lot of people that are suffering, too.

I mean you’re not your average pastor, are you?

DRISCOLL: I don’t know.

MORGAN: Saying stuff like that.

DRISCOLL: I have fun. Sometimes I get it wrong.

MORGAN: Do too many people in the world of religion take it too seriously?

Is that part of the problem?

DRISCOLL: I think we should take Jesus seriously. We should take the Bible seriously. We probably shouldn’t take ourselves nearly as seriously. And that’s how I approach it.

MORGAN: Do you think you’re a tolerant kind of guy?

DRISCOLL: I love people very much and it’s — it’s —

MORGAN: That’s not the same thing.

DRISCOLL: Well, it’s — how do you disagree, sometimes, with people that you love?

That’s a very difficult issue for everybody, but for a pastor in particular, because —

MORGAN: But do you preach tolerance?

DRISCOLL: I’ve preached that we should love our neighbor, that we should accept —

MORGAN: But tolerance — tolerance in particular.

DRISCOLL: Why — you keep hammering it. What — what do you mean by tolerance?

MORGAN: Tolerating people who may have a lifestyle or a belief that you don’t agree with.

DRISCOLL: Yes, we have to. And that’s — when Jesus says love your neighbor, you know, he knows you’re not going to agree with all your neighbors, but he wants you to love them, to seek good for them, to care for them.

However, like everything in life, shouldn’t it be dragged kicking and screaming into each modern era, and be adapted, like the American Constitution.

DRISCOLL: Yes.

MORGAN: Because, you know, my — my view about this is — is not that I don’t respect Christians or Catholics or whoever who — who absolutely swear by every word in here. It’s just that it’s — I just don’t believe anyone who is genuinely Christian should be spouting bigoted opinions about sections of the community for their sexuality.

DRISCOLL: Well, I think when it comes to the Bible, you’ve got three options. Take it, I believe what it says. Leave it, I don’t believe what it says. Or change it —

MORGAN: Or adapt — or adapt the wording —

DRISCOLL: Which would be the changing it.

MORGAN: If it was in — the majority of Americans believed in it, would you then go along with it?

DRISCOLL: Would I officiate same-sex weddings and things of that nature?

MORGAN: Yes.

DRISCOLL: I couldn’t, according to conscience, no.

I think the big issue for families in America is really men who walk out on their families. I mean, right now, the average child born to a woman under 30 is born out of wedlock —

MORGAN: Yes, but that’s why —

DRISCOLL: — with no father.

MORGAN: — see, that’s my whole point about this. There are so many feckless guys out there —

DRISCOLL: That’s really —

MORGAN: — right?”

I’ve gone a bit nuts with the quotes – but I reckon this is a great example of public engagement that is both Christ focused, and engages with social issues. Which is what Driscoll does best. This interview almost makes the (by all accounts justifiable) controversy around the book worthwhile. And like Baron Cohen’s work one wonders if Driscoll produced the book with half an eye on how things would play out past its release.

The third little example takes the form of a book review, a public discourse between critic and author, the book is Ross Douhat’s Bad Religion (which I’m reading on my bus ride at the moment), the discussion happened on Slate.com (starting here). It’s an incredibly gracious discussion which I think is probably more valuable than the book – and it was why I purchased it.

None of these cases simply involve the content producer reproducing their content – in each case there’s a development of the core concept before a wider audience, that adds value. It’s good stuff. And now I’m wondering how this works at the level of the local church – how we turn the content we produce regularly (sermons etc), into sharable chunks, or leverage the work on new mediums.

Anyway. That’s a long post about some stuff I noticed in some stuff I read.

When I choose to tackle some Christians who I think are doing it wrong when it comes to speaking out as Christians in the public sphere people often ask me good questions. They usually start with “did you think about X?” My answer is usually “I was responding to a particular issue, but I have posted about X before.” Other people say nice things about how it would be useful to have all my posts on this issue collected somewhere (thanks mum).

So here’s my attempt to do that. A mega list, though probably not an exhaustive list, of my posts about PR, social issues, and political lobbying.

When things go wrong:

Doing it right

I’m not one to shy away from criticism. And I enjoy a good conversation where different ideas are presented and debated in the marketplace of ideas.

It’s fair to say that I have, in the past, been quite critical of those lobbying our politicians, from the outside, for the legislation of Christian moral values. Because I think on the whole it’s bad for the mission of the gospel. These groups don’t talk about Jesus enough. They tackle issues that play well with the people who fund them, but ignore the issues I think Jesus would have been concerned about in modern Australia. They confuse people about what the gospel is because they talk about morality, but not forgiveness, and sin but not grace. That’s my case. It’s not that I disagree with their views (or God’s views) on what sin is and isn’t. It’s just that I don’t think running around pretending the sky is falling in, and that the world will end if the word marriage is redefined (polygamy anybody?), is constructive for telling people how to find their identity in Jesus. And I think it’s often unloving to the minorities they choose to single out.

A friend shared the link to my post about “pray away the gay” on her Facebook wall. She has some involvement with the ACL and Family First, and many of her friends are card carrying members of the Christian right. Particularly one Jack Sonnemann, it’s fair to say he disagreed with my post. I sought his permission to post the conversation in the interest of presenting you, dear reader, with a “balanced” approach to the issue. Here it is, uncensored. There are moment when he refers to some comments from other people on the same thread – whose permission I haven’t received.

Feel free to respond to either of us in the comments – I will be supplying Jack with a link to this post. I don’t know if he’ll chime in though, but I will be inviting him to.

A conversation with Jack Sonnemann, Director, Australian Federation for the Family

Jack Sonnemann
I read the st-eutychus link and thought it to be pure unadulterated crap.

Nathan Campbell
Thanks Jack. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much and provided such constructive feedback.

Jack Sonnemann
I am very glad to have my battle scars standing up for Jesus in the public arena. I was just given a GLORIA award by the sodomite community for being one of the 10 most effective men in Australia thwarting the implimentation of the homosexual agenda, given an “Outstanding Achievement Award in Federal Parliament for protecting women and children from sexual exploitation, I have been featured, attacked and defamed in ALL of Australia’s porn publications, sued in the Supreme Court by one of our states Atty Gen, “targeted for destruction” by the professional pornographers, etc. There is a price to pay for our Christianity but I am afraid Sir Weary Dunlop was correct when he said, “The problem with Australia is that we have wimps in the pulpits and cowards in the pews.”

Nathan Campbell

Hi Jack. That’s great. I’m thrilled you’ve got scars and awards. I’m thrilled you’re protecting people. I’m just worried that the gospel of grace easily becomes a gospel of morality when we’re only ever quoted on moral issues in the public sphere and I’d prefer my pulpit to be used telling people the gospel and having them realise they need to reinvent their identity in Christ. Not telling people that they’re abominations or horrible sinners.
Jack Sonnemann
What a shame you do not know the gospel of grace is a moral one. Apparently you take authority over your pulpit. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards is heresy to you?
Jack Sonnemann
Sorry. We do have a better guide than reason and I have even had God’s Holy Word – just a guess but I think you are a Obama (who calls the Koran holy) sympathiser – printed in Penthouse magazine.
Nathan Campbell

Yes Jack.I’m sure it’s this sort of balanced approach to understanding people you disagree with that won you your sodomites award.

I’m sorry, I can’t tell if you’re deliberately interpreting my words in the most twisted way possible. There’s a difference between telling people they need to not be sinners to be right with God (moralism) and telling people they need Jesus because all people are sinful and have turned away from God (the gospel). The problem is that the media don’t really handle nuance all that well when reporting our opposition to immorality, and we often don’t nuance what we say well, so the overwhelming perception of what the gospel is is that people need to be good to be saved.

I don’t really understand any of your second comment about Obama or Penthouse magazine.

Jack Sonnemann

Vikki Nathan just doesn’t get it. No wonder we lead the developed world in violent and sexual assault, no wonder we lead the world in amphetamine and marijuana use, no wonder our children kill themselves more than anywhere else in the world, no wonder abotrion is our most common operation, we allow our daughters to become whores and we sell and display pornography to our children under such “Christian” leadership. Sadly I am reminded of Neh 4 where we are supposed to fight for our wives, daughters, sons and families yet the men turned back in the day of battle. A good definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. I, for one, will continue to fight. Eph 5:11
Nathan Campbell
Jack, this has been a fun conversation. I’m thrilled that somehow I am responsible for marijuana use (amongst other things) because I think we should be telling people they need Jesus.Glad to have virtually met you. Do you mind if I reproduce this conversation as a post on my blog? It presents a very different view to my original post, and I’m not afraid of criticism of my ideas.

Nathan Campbell
Though I can’t say I feel like you’ve been particularly logical in your treatment of my statements, or particularly fair in your assessment of my character.
Jack Sonnemann
I care not what you think of my comments and you can always post anything I say wherever you like. Just be sure you quote me fully as some just do a half-***ed job.
Nathan Campbell
Hmm. I’ll quote you in full, except I’ll avoid foul language and slightly censor that last comment. And I’ll provide a link here for you to check in case you feel like I’ve misrepresented you.
Jack Sonnemann
Sorry to have hurt your ‘feelings’. I can see how important they are to you.
Nathan Campbell
Hi Jack, I’m pretty thick skinned. I just think the way you’re treating me in this thread, someone you’ve never met who owns the name of Jesus, who is a brother in the Lord, demonstrates one of the inconsistencies with your approach to politics. Given that Jesus says the world will know that we are his disciples by how we love one another…
Nathan Campbell
If this sort of bullying approach to disagreement is the way you approach political discourse I’m going to suggest that your manner is as problematic to me as the content of your message.

“Pray Away the Gay” was a heading the Brisbane Times used to describe a prayer meeting that some Christians held in the centre of Brisbane yesterday (here’s a follow up). A bunch of young Brisbanites turned out to protest against the prayer meeting on the basis that it was promoting a message of hate and intolerance. And I tend to agree with the protestors – though it didn’t help that the Brisbane Times sensationalised the story with a horrible headline more at home in the Republican primaries in America.

Here’s what the group, led by Christian Democrat Candidate, Peter Madden, from Sydney, said about the meeting (I’m trying to be as sympathetic to my fellow Christians as possible here.

“It is vital that we pray that God will have His way in Queensland in this election against the wickedness proposed by Anna Bligh and others, (who have pushed hard for the evil agenda of homosexual marriage in Queensland, clearly aimed at Australian children and families).

Please pray that God would raise up righteous leaders and remove the ungodly from power would send a clear message to the ALP Federally and in every state in Australia that they must not change the Marriage Act! That they might realise their foolishness and change their party policy back to the way it has always been!”

Now. This isn’t exactly “praying away the gay”… the Brisbane Times headline wasn’t particularly accurate there. I thought this may have been a slogan on the truck. But it wasn’t. This was what the truck, which the Brisbane Times articles suggested was hateful, featured…

Now. These aren’t nice. They’re emotive, and it’s a bit of a moral scare campaign. But they aren’t linking homosexuality to pedophilia, like the spokespeople for the LGBT lobby suggested in the Brisbane Times article. It seems Madden and his ilk are worried about sex ed classes promoting homosexuality as normal.

I’m actually more worried about the language Madden uses in the media release than about the posters.

I don’t want to sound like I’m advocating political quietism, where Christians never speak out on issues, nor do I want to present some sort of trite “Jesus wouldn’t have been interested in homosexuality” approaches to this issue. Neither is particularly compelling for either side of the debate. Both are cop outs. And both fail to comprehend the complexity of governing for myriad competing world views. This post is getting too long as it is, so I’ll try to wrap this up pretty quickly.

I’m fairly convinced that Jesus would have been interested in this debate – following Jesus means ditching your previous identity, and submitting your life to him. That’s pretty much the nature of being a Christian. This means submitting one’s sexual identity to his authority. Which means, if you’re going to take the Bible seriously, fighting against your sexual orientation. Just as if you’re going to take the Bible seriously you need to submit your heterosexual orientation to Jesus. One of my ethics essays last semester pretty much involved exactly this question – feel free to read it here.

So I think that line is a cop out. But it does not follow that because Jesus would have been interested in the issue, we should legislate according to what Jesus thinks, or what we think. If that were the case, for starters, Jesus would have spent a bit more time as a political lobbyist, or revolutionary – rather than calling for people to turn to the kingdom of God and find their identity in him. Here are a couple of problems with the idea that we should be praying for the demise of the Labor party, or the “wicked Anna Bligh”…

1. Homosexual attraction is not (necessarily, or even in most cases) a deliberate or conscious “choice” – this was a big part of the essay I linked to above – attraction is complex, there are all sorts of factors that can influence attraction, potentially including biology. One does not choose one’s orientation in the same way that one chooses their identity – in Christ or otherwise (nor does sexual orientation necessarily lead to identity – this is a bizarre modern western assumption).

2. It follows, that if one has not chosen Christianity, than there is no good case to be made for “praying away the gay” or seeing homosexuality as anything other than normal. The gay community has every right to contribute to a democracy, as do the Christians. Elected officials have a responsibility not just to the special interest group that brought them to power, but to every member of their electorate.

3. It is not “evil” to try to look after the interests of all members of society – especially those who are marginalised, bullied, and at greater risk of suicide or mental illness.

4. Nor is it evil, or “homophobic,” to believe that a particular human lifestyle is contrary to the intentions of God. That something appears “natural” is not a reason to say that this is how things ought to be. That is called the “naturalistic” or “is/ought” fallacy.

5. While the case regarding abortion, that it involves protecting children, is obvious, and potentially democratically legitimate, this doesn’t seem to be obviously the case in the question of gay marriage (no matter what the Christian Democrats might say), unless somebody is forcing children to choose to be gay, so the issue of gay marriage doesn’t really appear to be a political issue. It’s a moral issue, or theological issue, and not one that should necessarily be the subject of political debate.

6. The idea that Jesus would be more concerned about “the gay” than about “the adultery” or “the fornication” is bizarre. I don’t recall any sex ed class I ever went to advocating marriage as the only place for sex. We do ourselves, and the message of the gospel, a disservice if we focus on a particular sin.

7. Because homosexuality, and particularly gay rights and the question of marriage, is a hot-button issue, and a point at which the Christian message is in conflict with the way the world thinks, we’re always going to get hammered when we speak about homosexuality, and any attempt to be gracious is going to be lost in a negative headline. This means we need to be careful to only speak graciously, and not even attempt to talk about morality outside of talking about the gospel.

8. Nowhere, so far as I can see, are Christians called on to pray against the government. The Roman Empire was more opposed to the Christian message than any western government prior to the 20th century. And Christians were called to pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-3).

9. The idea that Jesus loved sinners, and that we’re all sinners who need Jesus, gets lost if we keeping banging on about particular sins. And we oversimplify life, and politics in a democracy in particular, if talk as if life is a binary case of good and evil. While this may be true – most Christian theology, in most mainstream denominations (I want to say “all”), begin with the foundation that all people – not just those with same sex attraction, or a homosexual identity – are sinful. Life is complex, and messy, and driving slogan laden trucks around in protest about something is always going to be reductionist, hurtful, and interpreted as hateful.

10. Wouldn’t we be better off focusing our energy on clearly articulating the gospel – on spreading a message of hope for all, rather than anything that could be interpreted as hate for some? I don’t get why anybody would book out a public space in Brisbane to pray against our politicians rather than to meet people and tell them about Jesus in a way that listens to, empathises with, and cares for, the people of Brisbane where they’re at.