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.