Friday, 29 September 2017

Marriage Talk - Vilification or the new Evangelism?

I was reading Mathew 23 and it dawned upon me that it was describing an experience I have been seeing as Christians alternate between arrogance and shame in their discoures (or lack thereof) when it comes to this damned Plebiscite on Marriage Equality. Note: I am using ‘damned’ in the technical sense here, not as a swear word. To be ‘damned’ can mean: a cause or occasion of being damned or condemned (whether by God or others).

I have on occasions seen people as willing to condemn others as they are right now. It has happened in a few places: ‘Children overboard scandal’ in 2001, ‘the Cronulla riots’ of 2005, ‘the Aboriginal Intervention in the Northern Territory’ in 2007 (extended to 2022), ‘Reclaim Australia protests in Canberra in 2016’ and ‘Anti-immigration Rallies in Melbourne’ in February 2017.

Vilification and ‘alt-Truth’ became a Government-sponsored political device when it used its resources to criticize the former Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs. Professor Triggs was known to be a defender of freedom of speech, but also argued that with freedom came responsibility. She argued that most Australians were unaware of their rights under the Constitution and that there should be a Charter of Rights.

Such a Charter of Rights would be advantageous to the many, but would see those who claim privilege by diminishing others lose some of their ill-gotten power. Those who are arrogant enough to claim they deserve power and believe themselves to be entitled are also those who will most readily belittle and put down others. Christians need to be wary of this tendency and remember the Master’s command, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37).  
I think the tendency to judge is about a Human “world view” and the ease with which some people deHumanize other people with a different world-view... it has something to do with individualism and self-referencing. It is an arrogance. I believe this is only broken when our world-view is challenged by stepping out of it and learning to appreciate something else. God’s world-view, on the other hand, has more to do with viewing all of God’s good creation, including God’s creatures. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31a)  

This is why travel is so important and intercultural or ecumenical or interfaith relations. I believe this was the message following the Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9). God commanded that we “go and generate (be creative) all over the earth”. That was not about simply populating... (simplistic definition!), it was about developing cultures and poetry and thinking and different ways of loving and appreciating. 

Pentecost (after much prayer) was the sign that God never intended people to think one way or the other (or use only one dominant language), but people were able to understand “each in their own language” in a radically diverse community. This, for me, represents a much clearer vision of Heaven. (See Acts 2).

I come from mixed ethnicity, so I recollect being called mongrel, Chink, Slope and half-caste, as I was growing up in Australia. It didn’t feel quite so bad when children made racial slurs, but it was deeply shocking when politicians did it (after all adults elected them). I remember people questioning my parents’ marriage and my Aussie grandparents’ response of making me sit down and watch ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner’ with Tracey, Hepburn, Poitier and Houghton (1967, two years after I was born).I also remember discovering that two of my great-grandparents did not marry because one was Jewish and one was Catholic. It would be many decades before inter-faith marriages would become acceptable. I could not understand why other people felt it was necessary to critique or advise or praise my family - from the outside, where they had little or no real knowledge of it.  

People who called us names have my forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean I now regard them as credible when it comes to commenting on other people’s marriages (current or hoped for) today. Their ongoing vilification and de-Humanizing of others continues to be deeply sinful (building up obstacles to themselves of others experiencing the grace of God). Every time they judge and name call, they work against the gospel of grace. The walls go up, higher and higher, as obstacle after obstacle prevents anything being heard, in the desperation to simply survive the onslaught. 

People from a dominant white culture in Australia have usually never experienced the daily or weekly abuse, the threats of violence (or death), the bullying, the denigration and the constant fear of exclusion... unless, of course, they are gay. 

As one of the Moderators on the Australian Christians for Marriage Equality FB page, I have had to use my learnings from years of combatting and confronting the systemic and enculturated abuse that has been made somehow acceptable in our society. The rudeness and threats of violence, arising from the current non-binding postal survey, are of the same ilk as that experienced under the title of racism. It is the same kind of persistent hounding that was experienced by Gillian Triggs and it is arising from the capacity of people to treat others as Sub-Human. I have often said that I can tolerate stupidity, but I cannot stand rudeness. It costs nothing to be courteous, so why do people feel free to write hate-speech?

Christians who participate in such behaviour bring the Gospel into disrepute. According to the dictionary, intolerance toward those who hold options different to oneself has a term: bigotry. Yet, people who exhibit bigoted behaviour do not see themselves as bigots. They simply see their view as absolute. They are right and everyone else is wrong. This is an example of dualistic thinking. Christians who are dualistic thinkers believe there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. When talking about Marriage Equality, some Christians think Heterosexual Marriage is absolutely right and anything else is wrong. There are other Christians who think Marriage can be between two people, no matter what their gender-identity. Then, there are many Christians who hold a view that is somewhere else entirely. 
E.g.1. 1  I am Heterosexual and so marriage to the opposite sex is important for me, but I cant really speak for anyone else.
E.g.2. Religious people should observe only Religiously-defined marriage.
E.g.3. Religious people can be in interfaith marriages.  
E.g.4. My religion should influence the values of the society, including those who do not follow my religion.
E.g.5. My religion should be one of many voices contributing to the framing of our society.

Among Christians in Australia, there is a diversity of opinion on Marriage Equality. There has also been a range of behaviours. The Moderators’ Group on Australian Christians for Marriage Equality have seen literally thousands of people saying:
“Thanks for restoring my hope.”
“I thought Christians hated us. Thanks for proving me wrong.”
“Thank goodness I found your page”
“...because someone's faith doesn't have to limit their humanity... Some great stories on this group.”

Of greater concern has been those who have said:
“Impressed, from the other pages claiming to be christian pushing the No agenda the behaviour from them had me lose all respect for christians, they even attacked less conservative christians as false believers. Good to see more tolerance and love being shared.”
“my grandfather was a minister when he was alive, and i have not entered since being made to feel like i was a sin of a person  .. so this helps alot...”
“Thanks for your support. i'm gobsmacked. After hearing all the lies & hate elsewhere, this is a breath of fresh air...”

I am not going to post samples of the posts we have hidden or deleted. Many have contained threats of violence or hatred, either for the church or on behalf of sectors of the church. Seemingly, the most virulent comments have come from people whose faith seems to be threatened by our presence. Most of these have denied that we are Christian, called us abominations and compared us to Satan’s spawn.  People have felt free to rubbish respected biblical and theological scholars and Pastors/Ministers/Priests. 

We have also deleted large numbers of YES comments, because they also broke the rules of the site. Some were haranguing or aggressive. Some were rude or used inappropriate language. We also deleted posts from both sides who misused scriptures by proof-texting or not indicating an interpretive understanding.  

While some of the Moderators have suffered homophobic hate for many years, some are simply straight Christian leaders who see the pastoral and ethical need to stand with those most impacted by the debate. To say we have been shocked would be an understatement. Most of the Moderators have engaged in extra Pastoral Supervision for themselves due to the overwhelming number of tragic and terrible stories, the sheer quantity of grieving and hurting people, and the violence of some of the hate attacks. 

Why do we do it? 

We believe it is the right thing to do. We stand alongside the marginalized. We identify with those who are disadvantaged and who are in the wilderness. We believe God didn’t make mistakes when creating the diversity of humanity. We love God and those whom God made.

I also do it because I am an evangelist. I am most certainly not looking for Christians scalps to carve into the spine of my Bible! I believe evangelism is being a messenger of good news, and amid the clamor and clashes of debate, some still small voices can say to people, “God loves you!” When people come to our site on the verge of taking their own lives, because they feel so battered by what other Christians have said, we get the opportunity to engage in crisis ministry and show genuine love and support. I have no doubt that we have talked a number of people “off the edge” - at least for a time.

In the broader community, the association of NO vote hardline condemnation with Christianity has done immeasurable damage to the reputation of the Christian church. People associate the emphasis on ‘biblical teaching’ with the findings of the Royal Commission on Institutional Child Abuse and they find the church to be hypocritical and not credible. Such judgmentalism from Christians invites the wider society to be judgmental of Christians... and we all bear the responsibility for what has been allowed to happen in our religious organizations. And so, the Christian message is damaged. It loses credibility, because those charged with the responsibility to proclaim the good new are seen to be hypocritical judges without compassion. We are labeled as those who hate and vilify, rather than those who love and care.  

The church does not exist to live in holy isolation. It exists to be in the world (but not of it) so that it may worship God and display the love that arises from the experience of Heaven... “they will know we are Christians by our love”. Honestly, I don’t mind that some people choose to vote NO. I find it terrifying that Christians (from both sides) think it is okay to abuse one another. 

This debate isn’t about defining marriage. For Australian Christians, it is about defining how we communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Australia today. 
Is our Evangel (message), “turn or burn”, or is it, “God created you and loves you as you are”?


  1. Just as I was feeling totally over the avalanche of posts on this, I decided to read your blog and a few others including some sermons based on the last few weels of the lectionary. I am astounded at how a sense of threat creates in people a nit picking, hyper-critical, reactive and closed-ears atmosphere. I always prefer to follow a parallel type of approach when a big social issue is raised - looking at the issue in and of itself, including my own personal values and encounters with people, but also drawing on more systemic, theological, ethical perspectives that require us to think of this as where we are in our time and place in the wider world. Often the two approaches merge into the same space of reflection. Thanks for sharing both those approaches here.


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