The push for legalising same sex marriage in Australia seems unstoppable. Our cultural drumbeat says gay marriage in Australia is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’. ‘Get on the right side of history’, is proclaimed. If gay marriage is inevitable, then how should Christians react? Allow me to give you a few thoughts.
1. Recognising our World: Let me start out by saying that I oppose efforts to re-define marriage. I’ve written other articles about what Bible has to say about sexuality and marriage. This article is not written to justify gay marriage, but rather sadly recognise that probably the majority of Australian hearts have already hardened towards God on this issue. Allowing gay marriage in this nation may well be part of God’s consequential judgement.
God has a history of eventually giving people what they want. The Israelites wanted an earthly king. In 1 Samuel 8, God warned them that a king would tax them and enslave them. In spite of this the people continued to demand a king and God told Samuel to relent and permitted it. Just as God predicted, Israelite kings made the lives of the people worse.
Similarly, the Israelites also demanded that Moses permit men to divorce their wives for any reason. Moses knew that divorce was not God’s plan and that it would have ripple ramifications through the Old Testament community, just as it continues to do today. Nevertheless, the Scriptures tell us that Moses permitted it as a concession to Israel’s hard hearts.
“Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended” – Matt 19:8
2,500 years after Moses’ legal judgement, Jesus still did not celebrate the lawful permission of divorce. Instead, Jesus pointed back to creation as the justification for defining marriage as a life long union between one man and one woman – Mark 10:5-9. And so like Jesus, faithful Christians will continue to follow his teaching on marriage which is one man and and one woman for life. Just as I am sure that Moses opposed divorce in the Old Testament – even while he lawfully granted it, faithful Christians today will continue to oppose gay marriage – even as they acknowledge society’s acceptance.
But I suspect a divorce is not what poisons a marriage, but rather a divorce is the official pronouncement that a dying marriage is finally dead. In a similar way, permitting homosexuals to unite in civil marriage is not the start of rebellion, but rather it is a mark of how far people’s hearts are from the Lord. Because we live in an increasingly secular democracy, we know that at some point the laws of the land will be changed to reflect our pushing God out of our lives. We can recognise civil same sex unions as a reality, but we cannot celebrate or justify them.
Furthermore, gay marriage may well be a piece of history that we must cross on our way to eternity. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says that the day of the Lord will not come until the world believes lies. Having entire countries deny what creation and nature says about family, procreation and marriage sounds awfully like mass delusion. Lest you think that this passage is such a downer for Christians, let me highlight two uplifting points for you. Firstly, God sends the delusion. God is in control and is giving the world what it has been demanding. Firstly, the fact that God predicted this and that it’s happening should only strengthen our confidence in His sovereignty. God is not surprised or threatened. Secondly, this falling away precedes the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is the most glorious time that we as Christians have been looking for. It is when we will be united forever with the King of Kings and true justice will reign forever.
2. Pragmatic Politics. On a practical basis, we are getting to the pointy end where the government is considering debating a bill on gay marriage that could go to the Australian parliament. I for one am grateful that we have not legislated yet. Last month America introduced gay marriage across all 50 states, not through legislation, but a judicial proclamation of the Supreme court. This is the worst possible way for gay marriage to happen, because it leaves many questions open based on where the right to marry starts and stops. Those questions will remain unresolved until they are challenged and tested in future legal cases. It is a recipe for civil disagreement and legal battles. Legislation is a more thoughtful process.
Writing in the Australian, Editor at large, Paul Kelly, unpacks many of the implications of a change to the marriage act. He summaries some of the potential ripple effects. What are the employment implications for religious organisations such as colleges, schools and welfare organisations such as adoption agencies? What are the business implications for those in creative services fields towards participating in a gay marriage ceremony with which they disagree? What are the rights for religious organisations to rent community facilities for worship events? What are the rights of individuals to hold their deeply held religious beliefs without being convicted by anti-discrimination laws? So any change will need to be carefully planned so as to not open up pandora’s box of social consequences.
So we have dodged a bullet in not falling for the false urgency that the media have been pushing. If we do start looking at the detail of a bill, then we must ensure that we get the nomenclature right. I believe legislation needs to distinguishes between a civil marriage and a religious marriage. The laws of Australia are able to cover contractual unions and civil arrangements. That is the governments jurisdiction and it has a responsibility to look after all its citizens whether they are gay or straight.
However, the government does not have jurisdiction over religion and religious practices. The laws of Australia should not dictate to people of faith – be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim or otherwise – what their beliefs are allowed to be. Individuals and religious organisations must continue to be able to operate according to their religious convictions. Freedom to choose is the hallmark of a pluralistic society. The freedom to civilly marry must be matched by the freedom to civilly practice worship. Similarly, if individuals and organisations are free to recognise gay marriage as acceptable to their religion, then conversely individuals and organisations must be free to recognise gay marriage as not acceptable to their religion. Even though these two positions are mutually exclusive by their very definitions, nearly all religions are also mutually exclusive by their very nature. For hundreds of years, Australia has operated with people of many faiths, and so we need to ensure that such freedom of religion is allowed to continue in practice.
But we must not assume that religious liberty will automatically be protected in any legislation. That is why a core part of this bill must articulate specific religious protection. For that reason I would like the Liberal Party room to engage in the development of the bill so as to ensure that it provides maximum protection for the practice of religion. Any wording on religious protection should not just provide lip service or permit just ordained clergy from conscientious objection. Rather it must protect the right of every citizen to practice their religion, schooling, careers and places of worship in a manner that does not violate their religious principles.
What the gay marriage legislation and religious protection won’t ensure is polite conversation. Anyone who has read online comments knows that we don’t have that at the moment. Hurtful comments and statements have been made by people on both sides of the marriage debate. Enacted legislation won’t change that.
Once the gay marriage bill with religious protection goes to parliament with a conscience vote, there are two possible outcomes. The Bill may be defeated. If that is the case, then this will be the second time in three years that a bill to legislate gay marriage in Australia has failed. If the bill passes both the lower and upper house, then we have gay civil marriage in Australia with enshrined religious protections. That is not to say that those religious protections won’t be challenged or changed in the future, but it is far better to have a bill with those protections in there, than one that does not.
Conclusion and Encouragement
So with all that being said, we live in rapidly changing times. None of us know the future, but we know the One who controls the future, because He is already there. So let’s not cease praying. If you are concerned, seek comfort in the Creator. Personally, we still have the right to model God ordained marriages in our own lives. One day, the ultimate marriage of Christ to His Church will occur. That will be the marriage to end of marriages and it will usher in the ultimate time of heavenly, wedded bliss. Live in that reality and that will put in perspective current earthly events.