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.”
6 thoughts on “Close but no cigarette: why the ACL needs to get out of debating about homosexuality right now”
whenever we argue from reason alone we’re fighting with one arm behind our backs. in our current society, the bible and its authority doesn’t hold much water in the wider community, so appeals to it being sinful aren’t as immediately effective.
The individual harms from breaking any of the ten commandments are pretty easy to see. how do you respond to an atheist (a buddy of mine) who genuinely does not see rationally why the bible puts a prohibition on homosexuality when it seemingly doesn’t hurt anyone. I’ve yet to get an answer that’d convince him, or at least seem moderately reasonable.
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My friend sent me this article supporting the ACL comments:
If I understand it correctly, one of the things I think it’s implying is most (all?) of the damage to health comes from choices in regards to the type of sex acts people are engaged in? e.g. if heterosexuals performed the same acts as frequently they would suffer similar health problems. What do you make of his point & the article in general?
Yeah, I was sent that too.
I agree with the health stuff. The data supports it, I don’t think that means you can necessarily draw an analogy to smoking, nor do I think that even if the analogy is apt it should be said.
I read somewhere that around 200 same sex attracted teenagers take their own lives in Australia every year – that sounds high – but even if it’s ten, and even if only one of them can be causally attributed to the stance Christians take on sexuality, say a teenager with Christian parents, then it’s pretty damaging for Christians to be seen to make mileage from the health/mental health problems associated with homosexuality.
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