Reflections on the debate over “marriage equality”

I’ve been watching the debate over the marriage equality bill with growing horror. Somehow the skill, humour and gentleness with which the “other side” has argued the case “for” has provoked many in the “Christian” camp to excesses that sometimes do deserve the accusations of gay bashing.

Of course the churches were on the back foot. Those Christians, that opposed the bill did so largely because they believe that Scripture teaches that homosexual activity is sinful. Without that conviction few have such clearly defined understandings of marriage or sex that they could bear the weight of the discussion. Yet by and large our society sees “sinful” as a positive adjective (“a sinfully rich” chocolate dessert anyone?) and the Bible as an outdated set of rules from a bygone age. (That both these views are dangerously false does not change their widespread adoption, or the fact that Christians cannot argue in the public square against gay marriage on the grounds that “the Bible says homosexuality is sinful”, and expect to be listened to.) Given this inability to argue from Scripture the public arguments offered have been tortuous and often false.  (Gays getting hitched will somehow destroy the meaning of heterosexual marriages, anyone?)

This, plus preparing to talk at Hillcrest Baptist on Sunday on “Gay Marriage”, has made me even more aware that, over the last century or so, the world has shifted on issues of sex and marriage and that Christians have by and large reacted, and often merely allowed themselves to be swept along by the social currents of the day. Before the current bill was passed the definition of marriage had already been changed drastically by reforms of divorce laws, changes in attitudes, language and habits have made sex merely about “pleasure”, and marriage about “self-fulfillment”, or (romantic) “love”.

The Pharisees cling to the old certainties and denounce the sins of others, while the Sadducees happily slide into the behaviour of the world around. The standard of the internal Christian discussion of the issues seems to amount to little more than one side bashing the same half-dozen Bible texts over their opponents’ heads, while their opponents suggest that somehow the changes in “culture” (seldom much more carefully discussed) mean those same texts are irrelevant. Either way the Bible loses its authority. The “Fundies” make Scripture a laughing stock, and the “Liberals” simply ignore it.

My response to the passing of the Bill? Christians need to take seriously the need to teach themselves and each other to read and interpret Scripture, and not merely treat it as a “promise box”,  or an armory full of convenient one-size-fits-all clubs.

5 comments on “Reflections on the debate over “marriage equality”

  1. Mark Day

    Looking forward to this Sunday evening at Hillcrest! I was gutted to miss last week’s effort. I hear it went very well.

  2. tim

    I hope so Mark, the aim I believe is to get people thinking, so that’s what I’m hoping I did :)

  3. Ray Vincent

    As a ‘liberal’ I don’t think I ‘happily slide into the behaviour of the world around’ – except inasmuch as we all do unconsciously, whatever our theology! I try to base my beliefs and attitudes not on what I want to do, or on what is the easiest way, but on what after prayerful consideration I feel in my heart to be right. This consideration includes taking the Bible seriously, but the Bible itself is a conversation in pursuit of truth, always open to new insights.

  4. tim

    Thanks for the reminder Ray :) Of course simple neat polemic characterisations don’t fit real world data.

    OTOH terms like “Liberal” and “Fundamentalist” (except as historical curiosities) are usually relative. They define a position in terms of the experience of the speaker. Often “Liberals” are to one side of the speaker and “Fundamentalists” to the other ;) Though from where I sit (after decades working both among Baptists and also in a university context) you would hardly fit on the “Liberal” side of the spectrum of my experience ;)