Why, as a Christian Pastor, I Support Marriage Equality
I am a happily married, heterosexual man with a tribe of children (seven, to be precise). I am also, amongst other things, a Christian Pastor.
I hang out, meet and work with people of all cultures, creeds, genders, sexualities, relationship and parental statuses. I confess, to my shame, that I haven’t challenged myself to think too much about marriage equality. However, as the marriage equality debate continues to play out in Australia, I am increasingly aware that I need to be clear about where I stand on the issue. More than that, as I peer out of my comfortable and privileged life, I realise this is a debate that does affect me. Because it directly affects people that I know and love. Some of the people are in the faith community that I lead, others are friends, colleagues or neighbours.
To put it simply, I support marriage equality. My reasons are three-fold:
1. Theology and the Church
Across the centuries, ‘the Church’ has been certain about a lot of things. Questionable positions have been articulated on a whole range of issues, such as the shape of the earth; Indigenous cultures; human trafficking; race; mental health; wealth distribution; tattoos; suicide; parenting; and, gender equality. The harm that has been done to people in the name of ‘God’ is deeply distressing. The hermeneutic and theological argument in relation to homosexuality and marriage equality must also be open to question and critique.
The most cringe-worthy moments in my faith journey have occurred when I have been dogmatic about things which I had no right to be certain. Through time, prayer, brokenness, grace, revelation, failure, love, forgiveness, reformation, and transformation – I am increasingly being cured of my addiction to certainty.
The biases and opinions I hold as a Christian are often more cultural than Jesus-centric. And as a follower of Jesus, my narrative on relationships needs to be informed and underpinned by him. When I read that we will be known by our love, I take Jesus at his word. He doesn’t articulate a wishy-washy, warm and fuzzy love. He describes a love of counter-narrative. Loving our neighbours and our enemies. Blessing and not cursing. Seeking the peace and prosperity of the cities we live, work and play in. For all people. Not just the ones we like, or who behave like we want them to.
For the church to increasingly become the welcoming, inclusive, peace-making, justice-seeking and life-giving body that we are supposed to be, marriage equality is one more barrier that needs to be addressed. Before you start throwing Bible verses at me, and there is only a handful that you could throw, I would encourage you to engage with some of the theological and scriptural discussion that has challenged and caused me to rethink my ‘certainty’.
Have a listen to these podcasts:
And then, if you’re open to the conversation, let’s talk. Or at least give me time to duck.
When we become gatekeepers and disempower people who are directly affected by the decision-making process, then we fail the communities we exist to serve. When we limit the rights and freedom of individuals based purely on their gender or sexuality, then we begin to threaten the rights and freedom of all. If two adults wish to enter into a lifelong commitment and union to the exclusion of all others, who am I to stand in their way?
I can’t imagine how lonely and marginalised people in the LGBTI community, who are also Christians, might feel. The options presented to and expected of gay Christians are usually conformity or celibacy. I would suggest that such a binary choice can restrict people from being true to who they are.
Conformity is not a solution. I have witnessed, and been involved pastorally, in situations where one partner in a marriage had entered into that union in denial of their sexuality, hoping they could “pray the gay away”. These situations have never ended well. Yet, this thinking remains quite common in church communities. Similarly, while I respect and support the celibacy decision of many gay Christians – should this be the expectation from the church? Who am I to make, or encourage, that decision for someone else? Wholesale celibacy is also not a solution.
In consideration of all this, the campaign against marriage equality in Australia has been careful to remove the marriage debate from religious considerations and church doctrine. Their position is based primarily around children’s rights. The rallying cry is, “But what about the kids? Think of the kids who won’t have a mother and a father.” This argument brings me to my third and final reason for supporting marriage equality.
Don’t worry. I’m thinking about the kids. I’m thinking about my kids who I want to live in a society where everyone can feel valued and have a sense of belonging. I’m thinking about kids struggling to come to terms with being same-sex attracted and considering suicide as their only option. I’m thinking about the kids all across Australia who are already being raised by two ‘mums’ or two ‘dads’, facing bullying and exclusion every other day of the week. I’m thinking of the kids who no longer believe in the institution of marriage because it’s been such a disaster in their life. I’m thinking of the kids in and out of foster care whose parents have completely failed them.
Please explain to me how refusing marriage equality is going to improve any of these kids’ lives?
I’m also thinking about friends who are legally married in another country, but their union and rights aren’t recognised here, in the ‘lucky country’. I’m thinking about the same-sex couples who don’t have the same rights as married couples. I’m thinking about friends who have been in a de facto relationship for longer than I’ve been married who will battle to have any rights or decision-making powers when their partner dies.
I wonder whether the points articulated by the “no” campaign, based on children’s rights, are disingenuous. The current arguments against marriage equality are grounded in surrogacy, adoption, and parental law all of which are separate from marriage law. The majority of scenarios and situations the “no” campaign are presenting already exist. So, if they care about “the kids” – surely they should lobby for these existing laws to change? Or is it that “the kids” is simply a more palatable argument? Is the agenda actually to roll back the rights of LGBTI people? The removal of children from same-sex parents? The re-criminalisation of homosexuality in Australia?
While this is, in essence, my ‘coming out’ on marriage equality, this is not about me. I will never have to endure or grapple with a coming out that many people in the LGBTI community agonise about, are vilified for and even lose their lives over.
My hope is that my ‘coming out’ might help the thinking of Christians in similar spaces. My hope is that this might bring a small amount of comfort and healing to people who are consistently marginalised and excluded in our communities simply because of who they are and their willingness to embrace that. My hope is that we would increasingly understand that our freedom is contingent on the freedom of those around us.
I recognise and appreciate that people hold different opinions on marriage equality. People from the faith community I am part of have differing positions on a whole range of topics. We’re ok with that. I don’t speak on their behalf. We engage our difference and diversity with love and a posture of humility. For me, that’s what being the church is all about.