Marriage Equality and the Evolution of Societal Norms

September 8, 2017

 

So which way are you going to vote? There have been strong arguments from both sides, but I'm concerned that a change to the current arrangement will alter the fabric of society as we know it. Families will certainly be impacted and the current, clearly defined roles will forever be altered. It seems that scripture supports the maintenance of the status quo, yet have we considered the rights of those most affected? What are we to do?

Same-sex marriage? No, I'm referring to the abolition of slavery, and imagining a conversation between politicians at the time William Wilberforce first introduced his anti-slave trade bill into the British parliament in the late eighteenth century. Now take your time and carefully re-read the opening paragraph with that in mind. These aren't new questions.

And what of other social issues from our recent history? Australian women got the right to vote in 1902 and aborigines in 1962; but indigenous people weren't even included on the national census, and therefore considered human, until the referendum of 1967. Human rights for children weren't officially recognised until 1990 and it wasn't until 1992 that it became unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities. And as for our current treatment of refugees ...

A chequered history

Let's face it. Our history says that it's white, able-bodied, heterosexual men who run the show. Everyone and everything else is just property. And while we now take it as self-evident that slavery, along with discrimination against women, aborigines, children and those with disabilities is wrong, the fact remains that each of these positions can quite easily be substantiated after a good rummage through the bible. Allegedly God-ordained slavery, subjugation of women, ethnic cleansing and genocide are common biblical themes. Even men with any kind of deformity (disability) were not permitted by Mosaic law to serve in the Jewish temple.

So before reaching for the bible as a means of rebutting the notion of same-sex marriage, perhaps consider the following:


*Society is evolving away from sociological norms that were once considered proper, could be backed with biblical references, and which decent people, including Christians, now consider to be wrong.
*Australia is a multicultural secular society and the bible is not considered a source of authority by most citizens.
*The bible frequently contradicts itself.
*In both his teaching and actions, Jesus regularly contradicted the bible.

 


People ahead of rules

With regards to the last point above, consider how the gospels consistently show Jesus contradicting scripture or reinterpreting it with statements such as, “You have heard it said … (insert Old Testament rule or law), but I tell you … (something completely contradictory).” For example, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ...” (Matthew 5:43-44). So often we see Jesus, the prince of peace, subverting the violent scapegoating narrative embedded in the religious culture of his day.

 

And not just with his words. One of the things that infuriated the Jewish religious leaders most was the constant disregard Jesus showed, by his actions, for their rules and laws. He constantly “broke the sabbath” with acts of kindness such as healing the sick and  feeding those in need, as well as violating Old Testament law by associating with, and defending, “unclean” women, foreigners, prostitutes, drunkards, criminals and tax collectors, along with people who were sick, infectious or disabled.

 


If there is one thing that stands out for me with Jesus in all of this, it's that he consistently put the well-being of people ahead of religious rules. As he said, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). People ahead of rules. Are we getting that? And besides, even if we were to appeal to the Bible as ultimate authority, why not focus on the literally thousands of verses about money, the correct distribution of wealth and caring for the poor rather than the six verses than may potentially be referencing same-sex interactions? What is this obsession with sexual moralising while ignoring the weightier matters of social justice?

According to Beyond Blue, same-sex attracted Australians are up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. 14 TIMES!!! And this elevated risk has nothing to do with sexuality, sex or gender identity per se, but is a direct result of  discrimination, exclusion and bullying, according to the research. The average age for a first attempt is 16 years, and is often motivated by belonging to a religious family that the young person knows won't accept them for who they are.

Bats in the bell curve

In the light of these statistics, how can people still believe that sexual orientation is a “lifestyle choice” … just something fun to do? And what of the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra? It's such a false dichotomy that really only says to gay young people that not only is what they are doing wrong, but they are wrong. At the heart of who they are, at the very depth of their identity, people are being told that they are wrong – a mistake – and that they need to repent of … themselves. Well I can't do that. I choose to put people ahead of rules. Every. Single. Time.

Within the natural world there is a normative distribution of pretty much anything that can be measured that forms a bell curve when graphed. It's quite amazing really. Take measures of intelligence for example. The majority of people (68%) will fall within the average range of 85-115 on IQ tests (1 standard deviation), with 96% of the general population falling within the range of 70-130 (2 standard deviations). That leaves only about 4% that are represented at at either end of the graph.

 

 IQ Test Graph showing the bell curve

 


Human sexuality is no different. The majority of people are attracted to members of the opposite sex and would, therefore, congregate around the middle of the graph. But that still leaves a significant minority that would be represented at either end of the bell curve. My point is this: they may be outliers (in a statistical sense) but they are still part of the normal distribution. “Normal” and “deviation” are simply statistical terms of measurement, but such is humanity's propensity for sameness that they have somehow come to represent dualistic terms of reference for whether people are “in” our “out”, with “deviant” being a particularly derogatory term for those who don't fit our definition of “normal”.

Getting real

Statistics aside, the thing that has impacted me the most in this national debate is not theoretical discussions, but real people.

When I was a young there was a guy in my church youth group who was very spiritually attuned. We became close friends and often spent time together discussing theology, praying or just having a laugh. He had such a passion for people and was a gifted public speaker, even at that young age. But he also struggled with same-sex attraction. He felt that it was wrong, so he tried to “fix” himself by getting counselling, deliverance, prayer ministry, and even forcing himself to date girls. You name it, he tried it. Eventually he confessed his struggles to the church leadership. They asked him to leave.

Another friend was a gifted musician and speaker who was involved in christian ministry. He had a beautiful wife and six children. I loved spending time with him and he provided great counsel to me at some difficult times in my life. He was such a supportive, encouraging person. Eventually he walked away from it all to pursue a same-sex relationship. He had gone to such lengths in an attempt to bury his true nature, but just couldn't maintain the facade.

A couple of years ago I flew interstate to visit a friend I had known since primary school days. We were also in a church youth group together … the same one I mentioned previously. Her marriage of many years had recently broken down and she now had a same-sex partner. On the first afternoon of my visit her son asked me to take a walk with him while he exercised the dog. As soon as we were out the door he was openly hostile towards me about my intentions for the visit. “You don't have a letter from God too, do you?” It turns out the previous Christian friend to visit had left “letters from God” for both my friend and her partner about how they needed to change their ways.

From my previous church, alone, I can think of five or six couples off the top of my head who are all faithful Christians, have served in church leadership, are intentionally missional, and have at least one child who has identified as gay. In each instance, I have observed two things: It has profoundly impacted their theology in terms of understanding the unconditional and all inclusive love of God for everyone, especially their precious children; and the institutional church hasn't handled it very well. To have a theory about divine love is one thing, but it's application in real life is another matter entirely.

The greatest of these is love

It troubles me deeply that each of these friends and so many more are up to 14 times more likely than me to attempt suicide because of discrimination and exclusion, particularly from fellow believers. I'm not okay with that. The last thing they need is to have bible verses hurled at them like grenades from brothers and sisters who are still operating out of an old covenant scapegoating mentality. There's a  new covenant now and it's not just a new set of rules. Jesus made it pretty clear that all of our inadequate notions of legalistic retributive justice have been dissolved into the ocean of his all inclusive love.

This forthcoming Australian same sex marriage plebiscite vote provides a unique opportunity to address a significant injustice. And although I'm uncomfortable with the notion of paternalistically deciding what's best for a minority that I'm not a part of, at least it allows me the chance to be on the same side of history that afforded equality to slaves, women, aborigines, children and those with disabilities. To be on the side of love. To let people from the LGBTI community know that they are not mistakes. That they are included in the family of humanity as citizens of equal standing. That they are loved. So whatever you decide within yourself and however you choose to vote, above all else, please, let your motive be love.

 

 

Mark has a background in psychology and applied neuroscience. He is currently exploring the high country of grace and finding many delightful places of rest for the soul. Mark enjoys surfing, bush walking, making music, good food and laughter in the company of friends. He resides on Queensland's Sunshine Coast and has two grown children.


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