One of the discussions going on within the Christian blogosphere in Australia (at least, the bits that I’m reading) is the extent to which we ought to be opposing “gay marriage” legislation, even if we’re oppose the concept in principle.
For a good example of the “live and let live” approach, here’s John Dickson at CPX, well worth watching in full (about 12 minutes):
Now there’s lots of good stuff there, not least on Jesus’ approach to others, but some parts where I part company. I fear that Dickson sets up a false dichotomy. At 8:40 he notes
I don’t see any basis in the Bible, and I don’t think anyone who takes the Bible seriously can point to Biblical passages that indicate, the Church has a right to legislate for general society.
we want to be able to persuade society … but it’s not our role to impose that on society.
Now, for the record, I agree. The big mistake that many Christians make is the failure to recognise that we are not living in a theocracy. The days when the nation was the Church are long gone ever since the nation of Israel collapsed under the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. The paradigm for us today is not church-state but church-in-Babylon; the church in Exile. So, often we will be pointed to our description in 1 Peter 1:1 as
…God’s elect, exiles scattered…
and that we are. We are strangers in a strange land, resident but curiously alien; citizens of another place (Phil. 3:20). But I think Dickson has it wrong if he thinks that opposition to “gay marriage” (or something else) is the desire to “impose upon society”. The only people using the language of imposition are the secularists who bring out the oft-repeated mantra of “don’t force your views on the rest of us” while seeking to force their views upon us. I fear that Dickson here is in danger of playing to their paradigm and affirming it for them and, in doing so, reduces our courage to speak into the public arena.
And speak out we must, and seek to influence legislators as they decide upon this issue. That’s not “forcing” or “imposing” things – it’s simple argumentation. It’s what any interested party does and Christians are always an interested party in our society.
Because that’s what Christians in Exile do. They may be strangers in the land but they still get involved. They pray for those in authority so that there might be good order in the land (1Tim. 2:1-2) and they get stuck in:
Jeremiah 29:7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
That, I put it to you, must be a key motivator for us in this debate. We do not simply oppose “gay marriage” out of some vain moralism, in fact that’s never a reason to oppose it. We oppose it because we’re convinced it’s a bad thing for society (as I have often argued here) and, out of love, we want the best for this society in which we live in Exile. We seek the peace and prosperity of Australia because it’s in our interests and in Australia’s interests. We’re convinced this is the right and proper thing to do because, as Dickson notes, we know the Creator and we know His good design. That impels us to engage on this and other issues.
I think I understand what John is trying to do – he’s trying to move us away from our assumption that we should have things our own way and to the extent that any of us think in that manner he’s on the money. But I fear that in making his argument it appears to me he’s potentially undermined our impetus to keep campaigning politically by understating the concern that we ought to have for our nation. So let’s keep campaigning, never losing sight of John’s warning about how we present ourselves but also not losing a keen concern for this land.
That’s a key motivator friends – not simply dogged adherence to verses in Leviticus (as true as they certainly are) but compassion and concern for the land in which God has scattered us. It led men like Daniel into political involvement of the first order.
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It led men like Daniel into political involvement of the first order.
But despite his political involvement of the first order – even becoming one of the three presidents (sounds like the EU) of Babylon – Daniel never sought to turn the Mosaic law into Babylonian legislation.
Of course, it would have been good for society, and in Babylon’s interest, if the national laws had taken on a more Yahwistic flavour, but they didn’t.
So even as Daniel served well in high political offices, his morality and piety were largely his own business, likewise with his three friends. Perhaps they had a more public witness that we don’t know about, and perhaps they had so-called “gospel opportunities” that a mere party member such as myself can only dream of, but whatever it involved it evidently didn’t include legislating morality among a nation of polytheistic idolators.
On reflection, I think you’re entirely right. A bad example to use. Appreciate you taking the time to make the case. Do you think that impacts much upon the rest of the argument?
Hey David – yes I do think it impacts, on the argument because, whether you had used Daniel or not, the story of him and his friends is usually considered the quintessence of godly politics. Certainly I would use him to make my case.
Likewise, Jeremiah’s instructions to the exiles, I think, support my view. There is no mention of a public Hebrew morality or piety here. Of course it is assumed that the exiles would continue in such things, but their interaction with Babylonian culture seems to be limited to the usual human involvement in civic life, building homes, being productive, and even getting married (hetrosexual marriage, presumably!). Even the command to pray for the city seems to have a temporal focus here.
Likewise, 1 Peter: the command is to submit, even to harsh masters, and even to ridiculous and unjust laws and political situations such as those that saw Jesus murdered. Christians are to follow his example, not to amend the legislative situation for those that come after him.
Of course, this is not to say that Christians should not be in the public sphere, or speak to political situations. But in this case, I would prefer that the government got itself out of the business of deciding who people should marry. Two blokes getting married will never be marriage in my book, but in the same way that I find it offensive that I had to get government permission (or at least submit a form 28 days prior), perhaps Christians should be arguing for the government to limit itself to those things that the Bible says a government to do. I think the government’s role is more clearly defined in Scripture, than is the role of Christians in lobbying for Christian morality to be enshrined in legislation.
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Thanks David. I only discovered your blog via one of John Dickson’s tweets. It sums up what I felt about the CPX broadcast. It left me confused to be honest, particularly when I saw he later tweeted that he was for marriage equality but not marriage redefintion!. I agree with John that as Christians we have no right to impose our religious views upon society, however I do not argue against marriage redefinition because of my religion, Catholic BTW. Neither the church nor the State “own” marriage and the good of the biological defintion of marriage is universal, beyond any one particular religion. Does John only believe in marriage bacause of his perspective as a Christian?
Thanks for your article, David. I saw the interview with John Dickson, and I thought he made some very good points. I agree (at the moment) with John’s conclusion on gay marriage, but I do appreciate seeing your take on it.
Some extra thoughts …
There is much that goes on in society that many of us as Christians would probably disagree with on the basis that “it’s a bad thing for society” – drunkenness, excessive gambling, a high divorce rate, etc. State legislation does not ban those things, but there are support networks in place to assist people and families when situations move into a critical stage.
As Christians, we generally don’t seek to ban the sale of alcohol, place a total ban on all forms of gambling, or ban divorce. What we do is agree that responsible, consenting adults are free to choose their own patterns of behaviour,
and unfortunately some of those patterns of behaviour do hurt children and others (see the effects of problem gambling, or just about any divorce where children are involved). When problems do arise, the government and other support organisations deal with those issues on a case by case basis.
For those who want to vote against the legalisation of gay marriage, will you also vote in favour of a ban on all gambling, divorce, and alcohol sales? If it’s about the preservation of families or wanting the best for our country then the research shows quite strongly that gambling, divorce, and alcohol have a massive negative influence on families and the greater society across every town and city in Australia.
I’m still trying to think through this issue, and I really appreciate a good discussion about it like you’ve started here. Thanks David.
PS: the link above is for my father-in-law’s book … check it out if that sort of theological history interests you.
Thanks for coming here. Love having new visitors and especially those that comment. You raise a good question, so I’ll have a crack at answering it.
I think marriage is a slightly different matter than the others that you raise. As I understand the Scriptural witness, there are three institutions that God has, in particular, established: marriage, the Church and the State. They are, I would suggest, foundational in one way or another to God’s good created order and each serves it’s function in turn. What we’re seeing at the moment is a fundamental attack on that first institution. If you share that conviction then you conclude that there are desperately bad outcomes down the line for us.
As to your specific application points, perhaps a few brief comments:
alcohol – alcohol isn’t prohibited in Scripture, it’s actually seen as a good thing. Drunkenness is wrong. So laws that we have against public drunkenness and the like are helpful and to be supported.
gambling – I’m all for control of gambling. not a ban, but a control. Again, as I argue in other places, we do this out of concern for the vulnerable in our society. I think Christians should be (and, indeed, are) a the forefront of this debate too.
divorce – perhaps one of the most deleterious moves in our Western culture (and a precursor of the current debate) is the notion of the “no-fault divorce”. That simple statement is a legislated lie – there’s always someone at fault. Like it or not the law serves (not least) to punish and restrain the evildoer and civil penalties (worked out in the civil court as part of the divorce proceedings, perhaps simply with a view to damages etc) would do no harm to signal our commitment to marriage. But more fundamentally “no-fault” communicates that we think marriage is soluble without consequence and yet, as you note, there are terrible consequences whenever any marriage is dissolved.
the counterpoint, of course, is that Christians ought to be speaking good loving words into all these situations – modelling and advocating for Godly living, speaking up for those with no-one else to speak for them and so on.
thanks for the link – yes, I do like that sort of thing.
Thanks for your reply.
I agree with much of what you’ve said – marriage is special … at least, it has special spiritual significance for those of us who are Christians. For those who hold different views, they place less significance upon marriage, and I question whether it’s appropriate for us to legislate that spiritual significance for them.
As for the other issues raised, I agree with much of what you’ve said. However, if we want to legislate Christian principles on marriage by banning some people from participating in marriage, why shouldn’t we also legislate Christian principles on divorce (which Jesus opposed quite strongly)?
What do you reckon?
I think I want to say more than that. Marriage has special spiritual significance whether we’re Christian or not. It’s a God-given institution in society and people benefit from it’s “special” nature whether they recognise it’s from God or not.
So, at least as I see it, we ought to argue for legislation that protects marriage since it’s in the good interests of society; “for the common good” as the Prayer Book puts it.
As for divorce, Jesus tells us that Moses permitted certificates of divorce so I don’t see why we should oppose them. It’s the “no fault” position that I think does increased damage, as I hope I was able to begin to set out above.