Marriage Equality

Dear ___________,

Last night the Marriage Equality Bill passed into law. I know you’re pretty excited about that.

As a Christian and a pastor, throughout the process I’ve wondered if there is anything I should do or say. I’ve considered making theological arguments, stating my “position” on a social networking site, and a couple of other things. In the end though, I reckon that I’m just going to write you this letter, because I want to convey how I feel, as well as what I think.

I’m not really a fan of apologising on behalf of others, but I do want to acknowledge at the beginning that there have been some pretty tactless and sometimes dumb things said and posted by Christians about this bill. I’ve read some of it and cringed. I do believe that constructive political engagement is possible for Christians (there’s an Anglican named Tom Wright who has written quite well about this) but in the world of “us vs. them” politics I’m not sure what that looks like. I haven’t particularly liked most of what I’ve seen when it comes to Christians engaging politically in any area, but I don’t exactly have any answers either.

I also realise that for the people who supported the Marriage Equality Bill this is a historic time. Socially and culturally I think I get that. I realise that in this environment, Christians who oppose gay couples getting married come off as killjoys, or if you’re really enthusiastic, bigots. I don’t think many of us enjoy our position on this issue, and sometimes – if I’m honest – it feels a little bit embarrassing. This is the world we live in, after all.

Having said that, I’d like to take a shot at explaining why I land where I do.  

I’m a Christian because of Jesus, more or less. For me it started (at a fairly young age) with questions about the meaning of life, and the vague ache of something missing, as well as a pretty acute knowledge of my own propensity to screw things up. In Jesus I found the most compelling answer to those things, and over the years my experience of him has reinforced that. This experience has been personal (and yes, I do know this is subjective) and it’s been communal (as I’ve met other people who have felt similar things). Finally, as I’ve studied theology, and also learnt what other Christians have had to say throughout the years, the roots have gone down deeper.

I’m interested in Jesus, because I believe he brings life. My interest in the Christian position on homosexuality barely registers in comparison.

However, because this is a post about same-sex marriage; yes, the bible has some stuff to say about homosexuality. Generally, it lists homosexual activity (though, I don’t think orientation) as off-limits. Still, it’s complex.

You probably know this, but the bible is an ancient text, written in different languages, and it requires an understanding of social and historical context for interpretation. Some Christians – and some of them are my friends – pursue an interpretation that attempts to understand these verses as not being about the kind of homosexual relationships we know today. Instead they see these verses as dealing with pederasty, which was a relationship (if you could call it that) between a man and a boy, common in the Roman Empire.  There are definitely a few smart Christian academics who would argue this way too.

Let me be direct: if I could embrace this interpretation with any shred of authenticity I would. I absolutely would. It would make things simpler, and it would do away with the cultural embarrassment around this issue.

I just can’t, though. I’ve read and listened to enough of the arguments to know that the weight of scholarship is not on the side of this interpretation. And I know enough about my own tendency to avoid conflict to know that I’d be stepping into the murky water of shaping my religion when what I really want is for it to shape me.

But individual verses aren’t really the biggest deal. I think there’s a broader narrative to consider.

I believe that the God we meet in the bible (and in Jesus) is one who has made us to live according to rhythms and patterns which will bring us flourishing and life. I have a friend who likes to talk about it as God re-teaching his creation a song, after we managed to somehow lose all sense of how to even play music in the beginning. God did this through a set of guidelines and directions, through a training program called a temple, and finally through Jesus.

I wish I could make you understand that as a Christian I’m not constantly on the lookout for things to prohibit, but rather my impulse is to point people towards that which brings life and flourishing and wholeness, and that is living in tune (as much as possible) with the rhythms and notes of the song God made us to play.

That’s what informs me as a Christian. Not anger. I’m not angry at all. And not a desire to be some kind of morality police. I couldn’t think of anything worse.

I read a lot last night: articles on various news sites, and posts on Facebook and Twitter. There was a lot of heated debate, and some understandably passionate opinions. In our world, things do tend to get oversimplified, and it’s a lot easier to demonise the person with the opposite view to yours. But, things are often more nuanced than that.

Here’s what I hope that you will remember…

• Christianity is a big, diverse religion. We see badly-behaving people on the news every night, but no one assumes that if they saw an angry, tactless teacher (for example), that all teachers are angry and tactless. Please don’t assume the badly-behaving Christian you saw on the news or on your Facebook feed represents every Christian.

• We’re a society that is big on freedom and tolerance. But true freedom and tolerance means that we need to respect the beliefs of other people, even if they never agree with ours. As I’ve watched some of the parliamentary speeches, there’s been a lot of “churches will come round to this in their own time” spoken. There is a threatening and latent “absolutism” there. Can you see it?

• Christianity, in the West, has been culturally influential for thousands of years. That influence is fading in the West (though rising in the South and East). Leaving aside the arguments about the downsides of this kind of power, please be aware that for a lot of Christians this is a confusing time to be alive. There is no doubt the Church is going to have to learn to be itself in a fresh way in this changing context. And while it feels cheeky to ask, I still will… give us a little bit of grace as we work this stuff out.

I write all this with a slight sense of despair. I am aware that if you see this is a civil rights issue (and most do) you probably see me as a bigot asking you to understand my bigotry. I know how this reads in New Zealand society and it makes me grind my teeth.

All I can do is to say that if you truly get Jesus, there can be no room at all for any sense of superiority. I don’t think any gay person is any more messed up than I am. If a gay person was willing to be my friend, I’d be stoked.

In terms of my faith I feel like a person who stumbled into this thing that brings life. I continue to stumble forward in it. I really do believe that Jesus offers this life to everyone.

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212 thoughts on “Marriage Equality

  1. I agree Rhett.
    As Christians we tend to listen to what everyone has to say about us and our faith, but once we raise our opinions, then we are considered to be judgmental and out of place.
    I am very tired of the opinions about Christians and what people think of us, placing us under a whole collective due to some examples they have seen and what they think being a Christian is all about. We aren’t allowed an opinion, for then we are ‘punished’ and judged. But people have the right to an opinion about our God, saying that Jesus was a ‘zombie’, but yet no one seems to mind this. As Christians we tend to brush it aside and try to stand tall in our believes, and we take blow by blow. People saying that we only follow the Bible because it is a good set of morals, and that is all it is, but yet we aren’t allowed to live up to these morals.
    If everyone has the right to an opinion about what Christianity is, then why can’t we defend these accusations?
    I am so tired in defending who I am, yet I am required to accept who everyone else is.
    Yes this bill was a blow but not because we hate or disregard gay people and their rights, it’s because we believe it to be a holy ceremony. The aspect of marriage has changed to that of what God intended to that of ‘tradition’.
    This has been the case with EVERY Christian celebration. Christ’s birth has turned into a man with a beard and a red suite, giving presents… Jesus’s crucifiction has turned into a bunny giving easter eggs?
    And now a holy union between a man, woman and God has turned into a legal right.
    If you don’t believe in God, then give us back our holidays and don’t celebrate them.
    The parliament said that the church has no place in the country’s law, but yet everything we celebrate was set up by the church.

  2. Interesting article I suppose. By my reading it sounds like you really wish this was a non issue, and that you wish the pederasty argument was justifiable. Essentially ‘I can’t find any objection to gay people and they all seem really nice and I wish I could treat them as equals – but the bible is cut and dried on the issue’. This was certainly my struggle, sorry if I’m misinterpreting your post. The more gay people I met the less I understood Paul’s condemnation of them in scripture, and the more spurious the modern arguments sounded (it’s a lifestyle choice, marriage is unable to be redefined, it will mess up kids etc.) Eventually I made the decision to treat the Bible’s statements on homosexuality, specifically Paul’s, as products of their time – of a similar nature to his comments on women in leadership, hair length, head coverings and so forth. Even if they’re not, I could no longer justify the oppression of a large group of people because of who they find themselves attracted to. I have a lot of gay friends and the more I got to know them the less I could see what was wrong with them. I decided I would start vociferously supporting equal gay rights, including marriage. I’m hoping others eventually follow suit.

    • Hi Rob. Like many things in life, it’s more complex than just “wishing” one argument were true.

      On one level, as I indicated in the post, yes, if Christians as a whole accepted the pederasty angle it would remove what has become a barrier for many non-Christians in considering Jesus. Who wouldn’t want that?

      But there are deeper desires for me. For one, the desire to be shaped by my faith rather than for me to shape it. That means I want to always be careful in my exegesis that I’m not motivated by my desire to “deal with” the bits of the bible which don’t sit well with the spirit of the age (of which I am a product).

      I’m not suggesting this is what you or others have done, but I know it would be MY motivation and I’m not comfortable with that.

      I will freely admit that if it had been me writing the New Testament, including homosexual practice on a list of sins would not have been something I’d have thought to do.

      But my belief in and trust of Jesus means that when I come across things like this, I am willing to trust God on it. Jesus affirmed marriage between a man and a woman and he didn’t affirm same-sex marriage.

      For those reasons I continue to have a conservative sexual ethic, while still empathising with gay people.

  3. As a geezer whose early life was influenced by mentality of the 50’s and sixties, I asked my self this question about homosexuality and christianity; Do you think Jesus would have said to a gay person who wished to follow his teachings and worship with him, no! I am sorry you cannot enter here.

    • Sam, I’m sure Jesus response would be the same for the gay person as for the woman caught in adultery. Its the same because its a sexual sin. “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”(John 8:10-11)

      So what should be the response of Christians? Accusing? Condemning? Self righteous? No Way! “They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. (John 8:4-7)”

      So the homosexual has it wrong, and so has the religious Christian. We are all sinners, some choose to be saved by grace, others ignore the free gift.

      Choose life!

      • By the way… What did Jesus write in the dirt?

        Some suggest the names of the women the religious men had been intimate with who were not their wife!

        Yep, we all need Christ.

      • was looking for the “like” button. Great explanation Ken. Some Christians have more relationship with religion than with Christ, we need to show what Jesus showed us, forgiveness, grace and love to all people

  4. No Sam, I don’t think he would say that. But I don’t think he’d say, “It’s all good… do whatever you like.”

    Jesus’ pattern in the gospels is to say to people, “You’re accepted. Now leave your life of sin.” The bible calls him “full of grace and truth” and that informs how he deals with people.

  5. What about non-Christians though? Shouldn’t they be allowed to marry who they wish without having Christian values pushed upon them?

      • I mean should it not be legal for homosexual couples to marry, especially if they are not Christian? Why should they be forced by the law to adhere to the values of a religion different than their own?

  6. Pingback: Union | Rhett Snell

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