Friday, March 15, 2013

Gay Marriage—Does it Change Anything?

So the marriage amendment bill passed it second reading and, in NZ, very soon gays and lesbians will be able to marry. This was no surprise to me. It was obvious at the first reading that the bill was going to get through, despite the best efforts of many to convince MPs to change their vote. So where to from here for those who follow the Christian view of marriage? That is, an exclusive life-long commitment made between an adult man and a woman, in which both partners commit to wholly love and be faithful to the other.

The first thing is that I don’t think we should declare apocalyptic woe on NZ as if God will now punish us. If we do this, we will interpret any negative event in the next year or so as God pouring out his wrath on NZ. That would be dumb! The thing is, nothing much has changed in the last two days. Three days ago, a man could form a civil union with a man, and similarly a woman to a woman. This was a legally binding relationship. Now they can marry, at least in the eyes of the State. What has really changed? Going further back, homosexuality was frequent in our nation. And we can’t single out homosexuality—all over the place people are looking at porn, frequenting brothels, engaging in pre-marital sex, committing adultery, objectifying the other sexually, abusing children, divorcing and many other sexually immoral activities. Nothing much has changed. And indeed, many people who claim the name of Christ are doing these things as we speak! If God was going to pour his wrath on us for sexual immorality, he has plenty of reason whether the marriage bill had passed or not.

Another thing we should not do is get too fired up about the marginalisation of the Christian voice or ethic. It is true that our voice is marginalised, at least in moral areas and evangelisation (our voice for social justice in many cases is still welcomed, e.g. care for the poor). However, we did have our say in the process, even if some feel it was loaded. We presented to Parliament. The people we have voted in rejected it. We “lost.” That is democracy. We don’t live in a theocracy and we cannot enforce the “rule of God.” That never works anyway. It is self-defeating, and Christian alliances with the State over the centuries are a constant thorn in our side as we share Christ these days! Christianity has an essential “freedom” in it that allows people to respond to God, the gospel, and its ethics freely and without coercion. What is the alternative? That the government enforces God’s morality on a people who reject it? That sounds like a violation of the gospel to me.

Certainly, I find it deeply saddening that NZ is progressively abandoning a Christian morality. We have seen this in a number of recent social changes, e.g. abortion. Euthanasia I am sure is next, and ultimately it will be legalised. Or will it be marijuana legalisation? Then polygamy? The social liberalisation will go on.
I am certainly convinced the best way to raise children is in a healthy home, with a mum and dad in a loving faithful relationship, who bring their kids up with good discipline, gentleness, love and education.  I believe that is God’s ideal. However, NZ has chosen this path, and we are now on it. Crying foul in public and stating that “we will continue to fight” is not the best option. We look even worse as we do so. We need to choose our fights wisely and know when to stop. Personally, I believe we keep declaring the gospel of salvation in Christ rather than moralism.

So what is the best option? In my view, we should encourage each other as the people of God continue to live the gospel full on 24/7. We reaffirm our commitment to the patterns of human life God has laid down for us, and we live them. Among our churches, we continue to live out the creation mandate for men and women to marry, and raise strong families. We continue to be committed to celibate singleness, or faithful marriage as God intended. We stand for social justice for women, for the poor, for children, for the marginalised. Where the gay and lesbian community is concerned, we continue to do as Jesus did and love them with the grace of the gospel. We don’t need to demonise them, but respect their integrity as humans, and while we may disagree with their lifestyle, we love them as Christ loves all people. At a denominational level, we uphold the Christian ethic and not this progressive ethic the nation has opted for. We affirm that marriage is for men and women. We do not compromise and begin conducting marriages and civil unions in the name of our churches. We continue to proclaim Christ, but with a positive message of a God who loves us, yearns for relationship with us, has a vision for this world that is compelling and exciting, and who wants to spend forever with us. This positive message is the one that will change NZ, not moralising on after battles are lost.

One positive from this is that the differences between the Christian ways of life and those of our culture are continuing to grow. If Christians do not now compromise and sell out to this “progressive” ethic, whatever the cost in so-doing, their “light” and “saltiness” will begin to become progressively more apparent. This may lead to persecution in some cases as we are labelled homophobes and bigots. It may lead to marginalisation and ridicule. However, it will also enable people to see over time whether God’s way is the best way for humanity. You see, time will tell whether this is a good decision. I know some Christians who believe that Christian opposition to gay and lesbian relationships is akin to Christians endorsing patriarchy or slavery. I believe there is a difference, in that I don’t see homosexuality as a created given. Others disagree with me. I suppose time will test this. We will see over the next centuries the fruit of the rejection of the Judeo-Christian morality in our culture. Will it yield a better world? Will it not? And then there is the eternal question—what will God say when we meet him? Time will tell.

In the meantime, we who name Christ as Lord should all get on with being the people of God. This means renouncing all idolatries obvious (e.g. idol worship) and subtle (e.g. materialism, consumerism, etc) and loving God. Staying committed to knowing him through his word, in prayer, by the Spirit, and in others. It means staying committed to his people, worshiping, serving, and fellowshipping together in the local church. It means loving each other with the agapē love of Christ—serving, supporting, loving, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit to one another in communities of grace and as true disciples. It means loving all people we meet who do not agree with our faith with humility, grace and love. Sharing Christ with them with wisdom, with lives and “words full of grace and seasoned with salt.” In 1 Cor 5 we are told to remain engaged with those in the world who live out of a different ethic. Ours is not to judge them, to regale them with moralism, but to live the gospel. It also means honouring sexuality as a wonderful gift from God, but seeking sexual purity before God.

I get the sense that one of the reasons we are not listened to is our hypocrisy. We cry foul over sexual sin in the world, but we are little different. That is a fair critique I believe. As such, we should resist crying “morality” to the world, and “be the people of God.” It is by our love that people will see that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:34–35).

We need to remember that the Christian movement in the Roman Empire outside of Israel grew up in a sexually licentious world. They advocated sexual purity and did not compromise on this, and neither should we. But they heart of their message was not to proclaim to Caesar that the State should adopt Christian marriage, but that Jesus is Lord, that he died for our sins, that he rose from the dead, that he invites people into abundant life, and he promises eternal life in a world free of corruption forever to those who accept him as Lord. They cared for the poor and marginalised. They built communities of grace, etc. That is the way ahead. In this way, the nation will be transformed as we are salt and light in its many crevasses.
So, does the marriage bill change anything? Not really. A small percentage of NZers that want to get married but couldn’t before now can. For the church, it means that we have to think a little more about how we relate to this shifting world. But, what really matters is that we truly live as the people of God we are called to be—holy, righteous and loving. Let’s do it.


Anonymous said...

I like what you say Mark, not in 100% agreement but then if I was I would be you . . . (the world would then be in trouble if that was the case)

It makes me think though that maybe the reason why the 'Church' has become more marginalised is that in many ways it has itself moved further away from the source of its voice. It also seems to have taken the voice that it does hear and sought to re-interpret it 'to make it more relevant', to such an extent that the messages is lost in the verbage?

The real essence of a substance is truly only ever revealed when it is distilled down to its most basic component and in my opinion for Christians and Christianity that will always always always prove to be unconditional love. Maybe believers need to spend more time at the well than standing on street corners peddling the diet version.

Peter Cheyne said...

Hi Mark.

Thanks for your thoughts and words. I agree with you by-and-large.

I do not believe we can impose a Christian morality on society. What we can do is live Christ-like lives (as much as we are able) and demonstrate God's better way,

But I think we also have a prophetic role I.e. while we cannot impose our morality, we have a responsibility to say, "This is not God's way and rejecting Gods's way always has consequences." I think it is that - a desire not to see people, and the nation, experiencing God's wrath - that should motivate us to urge others to make better choices. If society chooses otherwise, that is their choice.

I take your point that claiming every negative event is God's punishment on us would be silly, but how would we recognize it if God did judge us as a nation? In asking that I am assuming that God is good enough to let us face the consequences of our actions (or even to impose some judgement) if that might prompt us to reconsider and turn to Him. What do you think?

kevin nichol said...

Thanks Mark for the good reminder to faithful devotion and a tenacious commitment to live out the Gospel in a worthy manner in the church and in the market place.

Lisa Humphrey said...

I was a Christian at the Homosexual Law Reform Protest in 1986 when the Bill passed to remove the Honosexual crimes act of 1961. It was staged in Christchurch in the Square where all the active churches sang and spoke in tongues snd clapped as the Gay community watched on . I was employed by a Gay couple at the time , who were there and we met eyes across the Mayhem . I was deeply embarassed at my 'stand'. wondered what Jesus would have thought ...I think he Wept. For me I went to work on Monday and felt sick at my double standards. My employers were sad but so gracious . and loving . People need to value each other as people rather than what sexual preferences they have or what group they belong to ... And walk a mile in their shoes.

Tim Mora said...

I agree with much of what you said Mark. This likely law chane and preceding ones just reflect the changing world view of NZ as it moves away from its Christian roots. If we put as much effort into evangelism as we did protesting then we might be more effective.

Here's a thought though. With the definition of marriage now changed by the state and enshrined in law to be both opposite and same sex what od Christian marriage celebrants. While it is indicated religious celebrants will not have to perform same sex marriages that is not the case for non-denomiational celebrants. Will they have to de-register to avoid being compromised? And what of denomiantional celebrants can they continue to partcipate in something enshrined in law which they morally don't agree with despite assurances they won't be prosecuted. We can always go the way of many other countries where religion is not involved in marriage at all. It's a civil function which couples can choose to have blessed by a minister if they want. What would your advice be to christian celebrants.

James Barron said...

You write as if the only people taking notice of (some parts of) the church's attitude towards and treatment of GLBT people are the affected GLBT people. If that were true then ignoring or alienating somewhere between 4 & 10% of the population would be yes undesirable but surviveable. The fact is however the church needs to evangelise and for the unchurched (as well as most younger church people) the church's attitude to GLBT people is an important indicator of the church being somewhere they would consider going. It is not just one thing down on a list of issues that make the church unattractive either - it's the number one "turn off" (according to a new study, released by Olive Tree Media asking about the specific reasons why people will not return to church or non-believers even entertain the idea of embracing Christianity. One thousand and ninety four (1,094) Australians were surveyed as a national representative sample and this was followed up with three focus groups of non-Christians (Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers). When asked the question ‘To what extent does the church’s teaching on the following block or engage you’, respondents ticked boxes such as hypocrisy, judging others, the role of women, religious wars, suffering, issues around money and exclusivity.Anti Gay attitudes comes in as the No.1 blocker at 69 per cent. don’t doubt that the percentages in NZ would be higher given "Family First" type rhetoric against the Marriage Equality bill (& other stuff - letter in the latest NZ Baptist says homosexuals are the same as murderers!) In short a church's attitude to LGBT New Zealanders will determine far more than if just LGBT people will consider that church - it is a litmus test used by most unbelievers - and also I know by the young people growing up in a congregation in determining if the church of their youth is their spiritual home as adults. Matthew 25 37-40 speaks of how the Lord will judge the "rightious" - NZ society is also capable of coming to the same conclusions for the same reasons! 

James Barron said...

Apologies - didn't mean to double post (above) - what I ment to post was link to Steve Chalke's very well put article on where the church could and indeed should be on LGBT relationships - and it is certainly neither an abrogation of moral leadership or the marginalisation from society you envisage in this article.

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