After the Postal Survey: Some things Change, Some Stay the Same
The results of the postal survey are in. More than sixty percent of those who participated have said “Yes” to the question of “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” The federal government has indicated it will now introduce legislation to make that change. And it has promised to protect the religious freedoms of groups and individuals in any draft bill.
If Parliament passes such legislation, what will that mean for our country, and for Christian witness here in Australia?
The short answer, of course, is “We don’t really know.” As the book of James reminds us, our life is a mist that appears and vanishes; we have no sure knowledge of what tomorrow may bring, on this or any other issue. But prudence still requires us to make some shrewd guesses about the direction things appear to be heading in. And God’s word assures us of some things that won’t be changing, whatever the decisions of our parliament.
Some Things Change
If the proposed government legislation is passed by the Parliament, then we should be under no illusions about its long-term consequences: the shape of our culture really will change. The same-sex marriage debate was never about keeping marriage the same, and simply inviting a new group to participate in it; it was about redefining marriage itself.
To change the law in the way that has been proposed would be to build into the institution of marriage, as it is practised in our society, the assumption that marriage is not even symbolically about procreation or the complementarity of the sexes; that it is, in its essence, about nothing other than the validation of a permanent, romantic relationship between two individuals. That broader cultural change is one that has been a long time in the making, especially in the aftermath of the contraceptive revolution that took place in the 1960s. And now, if the Marriage Act ends up being rewritten, that changed understanding will be imbedded into the symbols and institutions of our society.
This will not be without consequences for churches, Christians and Christian organisations who want to be obedient to the teaching of Scripture. On a question as basic as “what is a marriage?”, the answer we give will be fundamentally different from the legal answer. There will be new and inevitable points of friction between the rules by which we order our common life, and the laws of our land. There will be new costs for Christian faithfulness, and new temptations to face. We will find ourselves confronted with new and painful reminders of how far out of step we are with the mainstream of our culture, holding beliefs that are widely considered not just wrong, but hateful. And, in the short term at least, there will be increasing levels of suspicion directed toward churches and Christians. Especially from those who have felt wounded by the debate leading up to the postal survey.
Furthermore, redefining marriage legally cements a policy that removes children’s rights to be raised by both their biological parents, wherever possible.
Some things really will change.
Some Things Stay the Same
But much will stay the same.
As followers of the Lord Jesus we will still be a minority presence in our society, worshipping a different God from the gods our neighbours worship (whatever their sexual orientation or relationship status).
And so how should we operate in this context?
First, we should operate confident that Jesus is still Lord. Because he is. No result, however emphatic can change the thrilling fact that God is bringing all things in heaven and on earth and under the earth together in the mighty name of the death-conquering Jesus. God’s great work of reconciliation goes on. His purposes are unstoppable.
And so, we keep proclaiming the gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah. Yes, political decisions can affect our ability to proclaim the gospel openly, which is one reason not to ignore politics altogether. But the gospel alone is the power of God for salvation. And so, we keep proclaiming the good news to all across our land, praying that many more would come to a joyful, saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, we are still called to live a life of love. We show concern for the welfare of all people, especially but not exclusively those who belong to the household of faith. This will not be the last time we have the opportunity and responsibility to make our voice heard on matters of public justice and the good of society. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal 6:10).
Third, we will need to continue to be able to articulate and (more importantly) live out a Christian sexual morality in a context where it is highly contested. If we want to commend our understanding of marriage, we will need to present it in the most faithful, intelligent and attractive way possible. We will need to live it out in our communities in a way that points to its beauty and power. And, if we want to commend a Christian view of marriage, it will be a view that holds marriage to be good but not ultimate. We ought not be snookered into idolising marriage, for ‘this world in its present form is passing away.’ (1 Corinthians 7:31) Part of our witness will be in holding marriage lightly. One of the greatest challenges for our churches is to be places where singleness—whether chosen or unchosen—is a possible, plausible and cherished state of life.
As Russell Moore said in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in the United States on same-sex marriage, our churches need to be places that can receive the refugees of the sexual revolution. The same-sex marriage debate is part of a wider sexual revolution in our culture—a revolution with many hurting victims. We will not be those places of refuge if we compromise on God’s word for human sexuality. We will not be those places if we ourselves are compromised sexually. And we won’t help our neighbour if we are shouting at them; being self-righteous and judgemental will not make us like Jesus.
Citizens of an Eternal City
The tides of our culture will continue to ebb and flow till Christ returns, and the political fortunes of the church will fluctuate from generation to generation; but the city of God remains, eternal and unchanging, not built by human hands. So, let us not lose heart – for we are citizens of that city.
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