Paddington Uniting Church – As a congregation supports Marriage Equality.
The high court has ruled and now this postal vote on the opinion of Australians for the inclusion of LGBTI people to be included in the marriage act is now before us.
Already we have seen some of the less friendly edges of the debate, there are claims that gay couples raising kids is a kin to another stolen generation and the Roman Catholic Archbishop has threatened to fire any gay who works for a Catholic agency who gets married to their gay partner. But the conservative approach in this campaign to vote “no” has been more of an appeal to the moderate centre and unfairly paints supporters of marriage equality as radicals, It is just affirming tradition, don’t change the name of marriage. The “It’s OK to vote no” campaign has targeted Churches and ministers of all denominations including the Uniting Church and our neighbouring congregations other than Pitt Street Congregational and the MCC. It all sounds nice and reasonable and supportive of the traditional norms.
The basis of the ‘no’ argument lies in the doctrine of complementarianism. This doctrine reflects a patriarchal theology and practice of male headship, which in turn subordinates women in the family structure. It is re-enforced by a prescriptive rather than a descriptive reading of Scripture, focusing on particular texts without a contextual or cultural critique of patriarchal societal structures. Its proponents argue that this is the best environment to raise children, all the while cherry-picking sources to give their argument a ‘scientific’ modernist appeal without the peer review rigour of real science. In practice, this religious doctrine is best reflected in women vowing to obey their husbands and husbands not vowing the same in return, as seen in many conservative marriages, based on their reading of the Pauline text.
While some conservative Catholic and Evangelical religious traditions support this is doctrine, there is a strong and robust Christian tradition reading the same Scriptures that sees Christ as the great equalizer and that we are all, as signed in our baptism, one in and with Christ and each other as a gift of God’s grace. The differentiation is not one of gender, but of gifts. All parts of the body of Christ work together as part of this New Humanity, New Creation in God or the Family of God, which transcends biological family bonds and gender roles.
Thus we find that two views exist – a non-critical hierarchical subordination reflected in the view of the nature of God (Father, then the Son, then the Holy Spirit), and, a view reflected in discerning together of the community of Christ (one in Christ) and the communion and interconnected relationships in the image of the Holy Trinity in which we find our being. These two views have been with the church’s story for a long time. I stand in the view of the latter and have found deep truth here.
The Theological view of God then frames how one views creation and the ordering of creation. The ordering of human life is therefore important (including how we relate and manage human sexuality), and the flourishing of human life and relationships is key for followers of Jesus. Right relationships within the context of community is important, and the Uniting Church has been having this conversation for some time as reflected in the Assembly’s Uniting Sexuality and Faith document issued in 1997. It is right that such a conversation continues to happen in this space as it is where our moral and ethical framings are discerned.
I am always concerned about advocating majority rules when it comes to minorities as such views can be at the serious expense of the minority or the other. Nazi Germany demonstrated the extreme point of this mindset where society allowed a program of state sanctioned extermination of Jewish, Queers, Disabled people, and others who did not fit the majority ‘norm’. Negotiating and discerning new norms is always hard work and needs to be done with both sensitivity, respect and determination when it is for the common good.
From the first Councils, such as the Council of Jerusalem, the Christian church has not shied away from the debates the challenges posed by the Gospel, which transcends boundaries of race, ethnicity, family structures, and cultural norms, us.
The Jesus of the Gospels does not fit our liberal or conservative framing and it is wrong to claim Jesus would support one side or the other without pretexting (reading into Jesus’ teachings what we would like them to say).
Rather, it is the values and teachings of Christ that should help us navigate the issues. What we do see is that Jesus offered healing and grace to those minorities excluded by the Empire and religion of his day. Inclusion, love, grace, and turning to God as the source of life and reconciliation are key.
In a secular sense, the marriage equality argument is about recognition before the law of the land. It is clear and simple. That citizens can access the rights and privileges of the state in an inclusive way.
Some religious groups are worries that this will impinge on their religious freedoms.
Currently, these religious frames are protected in the exclusion of religion from the Anti-Discrimination Act, but when the Church is also one of the largest educators and providers of welfare services and receives massive state funding, the waters become muddy.
The real issue, I suspect, has to do with the loss of power and influence within the Christian ‘empire’ as the state grows increasingly more secular and pluralist (despite our politicians appearing to be more religiously aligned than the general population). Many in the churches worry about losing their right to religious exemptions in the face of the full inclusion of the civil rights, privileges and responsibilities of all citizens before the law.
Unfortunately, LGBTIQ people and their families and friends have become the flash point in this trend towards the decrease of soft Christian statehood power to egalitarian secular ideals.
I am a person of faith and have devoted my life to following the Jesus Way of Life with much grace and love. I don’t believe I have it all together or have all the answers, but I have faith in the One to leads us forward by the Spirit. I believe that following Jesus is good news for the world. If we all practised loving God and our neighbour as we love our selves, the world would be a better place.
Eighteen months ago I spoke at a Marriage Equality rally in the city because both personally, as a person of Christian faith seeking the common good of society, I see and believe that the rites of marriage can include LGBTIQ people in naming family well. You can view it here https://youtu.be/fw35oT29FkE.
I am reluctant to concede that some Christian religious traditions will struggle to codify Same Gendered or non-cysgendered marriages for a long time. Like eating pork is prohibited for those of Jewish or Islamic faith, exclusion of Same Gendered Marriage may well become part of the diversity of different faith traditions. It is a shame because LGBTIQ children will be born into such families may experience exclusion of their humanity expressed fully in the covenant of marriage. This may cause significant harm, conflict and confusion for some. I pray that love and grace would guide the most conservative Catholic and Evangelical families when this occurs. I am reluctant because I still have hope in the love of God we see in Christ that transcends all our traditions. That aside, I will stand with all who are in Christ as kin, even if we disagree on this, as we practice faith, hope and love together in action and word.
In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 10 Peter has an amazing vision/dream where he is commanded to go and eat creatures forbidden by Jewish custom and law, But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Matthew 10 teaches that it isn’t what goes into a person that defiles them, it is what flows from their heart, from a heart that fails to love. Jesus also teaches that the Spirit will lead us into greater truth.
My humble conviction is that LGBTIQ people and their/our relationships are a gift and blessing of God not a profanity, in this Jesus vision of the Kingdom of God. They are just as worthy of intimacy, companionship, covenant and marriage as all others.
I encourage you to consider carefully how you vote. I and many in our community will be voting ‘Yes’ in support of marriage equality.
9th of April 2016 I had the privilege to speak at a marriage equity rally. (video thanks to William Brougham)