So, there’s this envelope with a document inside asking me to ‘have my say’.
In an apparent attempt to allow space for everyone’s voices these envelopes have been delivered all around Australia, asking for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.
And I will tick one of those boxes and I will post it back because I understand that for many people this is a very significant and important question, and it really matters that people thoughtfully engage with the lives that are impacted by the answer to this question.
But, if I’m truly going to have my say, it’s this.
As far as I am concerned, the primary thing those two boxes are doing is further cementing the alienation of warring tribes from each other. They are encouraging the deeper digging of well-entrenched prejudices, providing a national moment for people to not only express why they believe what they believe; but to continue a culture of reductionism, where one word answers and three word slogans are spliced with judgmental finger-pointing and extremely vocal ridiculing from behind well-oiled keyboards.
And if I am honest, a part of me gets this. There have been times I have participated in this. It is extremely easy to do. In fact, the combination of social media and a national survey with only two boxes to choose from make this easier than ever.
The first part of what I have to say then, is that however this whole exercise progresses it is one that by its very nature, has unnecessarily reinforced a strong ‘us and them’ mentality.
I am not naive; I understand that this ‘us and them’ mentality existed before the postal survey and will continue afterwards. But as I repeatedly observe ugly, hateful words from people who in other contexts would be hesitant to make such broad, sweeping, cruel and misinformed statements I feel a deep grief that we still choose to add bricks to walls, we could instead be trying to take down.
I find it far more helpful to frame my own thinking around ‘us and us’. This does not forbid divergent thinking or views; rather, it reminds me that my brother or sister with an alternative viewpoint to mine resides within the same skin and bones, bears the same divine image, and must be treated with the kindness, patience and understanding I would hope to be treated with.
I am sad to say that I feel most frequently the opposite behaviour is associated with some particularly loud voices from within the richly varied faith I happen to be a part of.
The second part of my say then, is specifically to the broad camp I reside in, those who would identify themselves as followers of Jesus. I know this world well. I have grown up in church all my life and serve as a pastor at a church I have a deep love for and commitment to. However, in the context of this debate I know this is not one clearcut camp, but is a complex patchwork of differing opinions, interpretations and perspectives. Again, the temptation to create various ‘us and them’s’ within this subset of people is extremely tempting. Conservatives and liberals, traditional and progressives etc etc, blah blah blah. But, if at the very least we share a common commitment to following the God who entered the human neighbourhood in Christ, I think the following reflections may be pertinent to you whichever box you end up ticking.
If yours is a voice strongly advocating for traditional marriage, could I suggest that the most effective way to honour this conviction is within your own marriage. No one is asking you to change your own understanding of marriage, or the way you live it out, and our ability to commentate on the external world of others rather than cultivate our own internal spaces with the same diligence and passion has often left us looking overwhelmingly hypocritical and petty, as we advocate for the right genital mix within marriage, while neglecting to emphasise the presence of all the other essential ingredients, eg. love, patience, gentleness, compassion.
Let us consider for a moment that whether this change to Australian law occurs in a matter of months, or years, it will come. Of that, I have no genuine doubt. I shudder to think that the contribution of the Australian church to this discussion will be kicking and screaming self-righteous objections until that change has happened (and I am sure for a time afterwards), rather than posturing ourselves to live in the cultural context we find ourselves in as ambassadors of reconciliation, as advocates of shalom, as the friends and confidants of every man, woman and child who has experienced marginalisation or oppression or bullying or social isolation.
There are nuances to my view around this whole issue that I will not be unpacking here, but I can tell you one thing for sure. When the time comes that my gay friends can get married legally under Australian law, I hope I am invited to their weddings. Based on the ‘socially questionable’ environments Jesus spent his time in, (who many are still surprised to find out was accused of being a ‘drunkard and a glutton’) I would be concerned if this was not the case. And so I ask you, even if you are adamant that the Bible does not and could not endorse same-sex marriage - are you the kind of friend, brother, sister, uncle, parent or neighbour, who will be invited to eat at that table anyway? Would you humbly accept hospitality, and be a gracious and loving recipient of such an invitation, modelling your Christ who was known for who he ate with, rather than who he disagreed with?
You may be reading this trying to peg my vote. If that’s the case, then you’re demonstrating what is at the very heart of why I have written this. May you hold whatever your strong convictions are on this issue with courage and grace; but let us stop seeing each other as one word positions. Let us extend hospitality to those who you know hold a different view to yours, and perhaps during the time it takes to share a meal, we could begin to see each other as fully human again, each one deserving to be loved, seen and welcomed.
I have loosely written about these kind of themes before.
For my thoughts on how we label each other, check out this poem.
For my thoughts on recapturing a sense of how radical Jesus was within his culture, check out this one.