The last four weeks have revealed deep divisions in the Australian community; divisions that show no sign of simply disappearing with the announcement of the results of the postal survey today, or even with the legislation that will follow; divisions that we churches have been part of widening — and you might be wondering why you should bother reading anything we have to say about anything at all.
As Aussies on either side of the division we’re now confronted with the question of how to move forward as a community knowing that these divisions exist; that they run through neighbourhoods and families. The idea that our neighbour might be against us is confronting for everyone, but perhaps even more for you, because this debate has been about something truly personal.
If we’re honest, the last few weeks didn’t paint a pretty picture of Christians in Australia. In our attempts to defend the goodness of marriage as God designed it, we’ve often played our part in amplifying this division (though people in churches have reached different decisions about how, or whether, to vote in this survey). The main effect of Christian contributions to this political debate has been to reinforce the sense that we are disconnected from your needs and longings, and that we hold on to traditional views that mean we have nothing of value to say to modern Australia.
And maybe you’re right?
If we’re just the moral police or a voice for conservative social values then maybe the church has had its day?
We know that it is hard to be gay or lesbian in Australia, or to belong to other minorities around the area of sex and gender. We know that you, our LGBTIQA neighbours have suffered greatly as a result of real inequality and genuine persecution and that dealing with legal inequality might be a good first step towards, for example, better mental health outcomes for you and your families. We abhor bullying and practices that reinforce any sense that you are second class citizens or somehow ‘less than’ your heterosexual neighbours. We know that for many people this issue is understood as a major milestone in what has been a long journey — one that is not yet over — towards equality and acceptance.
You’re no doubt feeling the cost of the last few weeks and this division more than we are. And we’re sorry for that — we’ve contributed to this division by failing to listen.
You might feel like Christians have been out to get you, or that you and your family have been demonised for political pointscoring. And for that we’re truly sorry — this has been an ‘issue’ for some of us, but ‘life’ for you.
You might feel like this result is a victory that will afford you the equality and dignity you should, by rights, experience as a human, and a citizen of Australia.
You might feel like you’ve finally won the right to have your relationship with a person you love honoured, and that marriage might be a thing that brings meaning and security to your family.
We hope for your sake that this is true. But we have concerns — they’re the same concerns we have when anybody pins their hopes and dreams for life on a vision of something, or someone, satisfying these longings and desires, whether it’s marriage, or kids, or career, or making some meaningful contribution to the world.
They might be the concerns of an irrelevant ancient and ‘traditional’ voice; speaking out against real progress, but our earnest belief, offered in love, is that the deep longings we all experience as humans are not answered by marriage or even human recognition. The answer is elsewhere.
Marriage can’t bear the weight of providing equality or dignity.
Marriage is a good thing – but it can’t bear the weight of providing equality and dignity. It can’t bear the weight of our hopes and expectations, or even achieve the broader purposes the yes campaign sought. Marriage can’t fulfil the deepest longings of your heart. We believe these longings aren’t answered in marriage, but in a greater reality that marriage was created by God to point to.
We’ve heard people share how the postal survey has caused genuine pain, and to raise this now might compound that pain – but marriage is not the ultimate good.
The survey result does not guarantee satisfaction or a good life (the staggering divorce rate and many flourishing Aussies who never marry show this), and indeed the best contribution we Christians might have made in a debate about marriage may have actually been to keep saying that marriage isn’t the ultimate good thing in our society, for us, or for you.
Genuine equality is not something that comes from legal recognition (as nice as this is), but from the heart and from a shared picture of what it means to be human.
You already have this equality in the Christian tradition — if not always in the church’s practice — you have it in the story that opens with the declaration that the God makes us humans in his image.
If you’re interested in hearing about a Christian tradition that might still have a place in the world — and might even be relevant to you, we’d invite you to keep reading this letter. Nothing from here on in takes away from the genuine apology offered above. We want to be good neighbours who listen to you and love you even whilst grappling together with things that might otherwise divide us. We want your families to be built on love, and commitment, and for your kids to grow up in secure, stable, and loving family environments. You probably don’t need the church for this… but it is possible the church still exists because we do have something valuable to offer, when we remember what traditions we should be holding on to.
If it turns out that marriage doesn’t deliver what you hope it will — if it turns out that it can’t bear this weight — we hope that you might forget the hurt inflicted on you in this debate by people acting in the name of Jesus, and instead, consider Jesus.
Consider what relationships built on his version of love, his vision for forgiveness, forbearance, and the sacrifice of personal desires and ambition for the sake of others, might look like.
If this happens we hope that though you might feel unwelcome in a church, that you might visit one where you’ll be welcomed. We hope you might find something in our traditions that answers your deepest desires. We hope you might find that the faceless people who’ve been against you in this debate might be replaced by people with faces turned towards you in love, welcome, and acceptance. We hope that we might be people who recognise your dignity and equality; that you are someone created in the image of God, made to know and love God and find your sense of who you are in this relationship.
At Creek Road we hold to the traditional definition of marriage — that God created it as the one flesh union between one man, and one woman, for life. We believe this reflects something of who God is and how he made us, but we especially believe it’s a picture of the relationship between Jesus, the groom, and his bride, the church. We believe this has implications for how Christians approach sex, family, and relationships, but that Christians could decide how to approach life and voting in a secular democracy using their conscience, seeking to hold out the love of Jesus in word and deed, and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (doing to others as we would have them do to us).
We hold this traditional view, but there’s a tradition we hold on to with much more passion than what the church, or the Aussie law, should say about marriage. It’s a tradition that we hold out to our world as one that is still incredibly relevant, and good and true, and beautiful. It’s a tradition that we believe might offer you something that answers the fundamental desires and longings we all have as humans, better even than being included in a legal institution via a cultural ceremony, and better than you’ll find in a life of loving commitment with another person.
It’s a tradition that the Apostle Paul says is ‘of first importance’ — it’s the tradition that represents God’s marriage proposal to us. It’s the love story, and it is for us. It’s the story that gives all humans equality as God’s image bearers. It’s a story that gives us hope beyond death. It’s the story the church should be on about, and known for; the one that keeps us relevant.
I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures — 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Please don’t let the postal survey keep you from exploring this truth — if Jesus died, was buried, and then was raised from the dead then everything changes … including how we understand sex and marriage.
If it’s true it is of first importance… it shapes everything else.
Please, if you are married or single, LGBTIQA, or straight, if you have kids or you don’t, find a church that holds on to this good news and consider this tradition for yourself. Not all traditions are hurtful and oppressive — some are the very opposite.
The Gospel is the tradition that makes the church worth it — when we’re shaped by it there are times when there is nothing more beautiful than this bride — the bride of Jesus, why not consider his proposal?
Creek Road South Bank, Campus Pastor.