Australians are becoming increasingly impatient with Christian opposition to same sex marriage, in large part because the arguments typically mounted against it appear so weak and unconvincing.
For example, the argument that because marriage is an ancient institution it shouldn’t be tampered with is contradicted by the fact that it has been tampered with, modified and redefined throughout all of its long history.
The argument that marriage entails the possibility of having children is weak and historically inaccurate too. The oft repeated claim that children should be brought up by their biological parents, and are significantly disadvantaged if brought up by same sex couples, isn’t supported by a growing body of empirical evidence. The idea that there are only two basic or normative genders, male and female, is similarly contraAdherence to an Acient Text is the Mother of dicted by accumulating evidence from the relevant sciences.
It is little wonder that Australians, and young Australians in particular, are mystified and irritated by this Christian opposition. There is, among many, a growing suspicion that the arguments used by Christians are simply a smokescreen to hide the real and underlying prejudice, which is homophobia: the primal fear of variations from the sexual norm.
There is likely to be some truth in this accusation. Opposition to same sex marriage is so strong, and so obviously visceral in its overwhelming urgency that something must be going on below the surface, surely.
But there is another, perhaps even more influential prejudice at the heart of Christian opposition to same sex marriage.
This too-often-unacknowledged prejudice is the belief that what the Bible says or implies must take precedence over every other source of knowledge. If the Bible says or implies that something is wrong, it is wrong, regardless of what anyone might say, regardless of how sensible alternative ways of looking at things might seem.
There are many subtly different forms of this way of thinking, which reaches all the way back into the Bible itself, but the bottom-line prejudice is this: if the Bible clearly and plainly asserts that something is true or right, it is true or right.
I call this a prejudice because it involves pre-judging, making a judgement before the facts, and often irrespective of the facts.
History is replete with examples of this prejudice and its influence. Early readers of the Bible were convinced that the clear teaching of its early chapters gave them an accurate picture of the origins and spread of human civilisation.
They were understandably disturbed by the discoveries of Copernicus, quickly described as heretical and contrary to the plain teaching of the Bible, which it is. Bible-believing Christians continue to resist scientific consensus about the age of the earth and universe. They continue to hold out against evolutionary theory, and still argue that our first ancestors were Adam and Eve, despite accumulating evidence to the contrary.
And the reason they do this is because of this overriding prejudice that the Bible is to be the Christian’s first and final authority, which must always take precedence over extra-Biblical sources of knowledge or understanding.
It is this prejudice which helps to explain why some Christians are so opposed to same sex-marriage. The arguments employed by them, when boiled down to their motivational core, are simply valiant efforts to make sense of what they believe to be the clear teaching of the Bible, with verses such as the following quoted in support:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them ... Leviticus 20:13.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error ... Romans 1:24-27.
It is because same sex marriage would necessarily involve sexual activity which the Bible plainly and clearly describes as abominable or abhorrent that Christians who adhere to this way of reading the Bible simply cannot say yes to same sex marriage. It is not that they are homophobic, necessarily. It is not that they are not genuinely caring and compassionate towards LGBTI Australians. Many are. However, their Bible-based, Bible-first prejudice simply won’t allow them to approve of this institutional modification.
But the problem with this prejudice, as with other prejudices, is that it can mislead and cause damage, which it certainly has in this case. Throughout the history of the church, and with ample justification from the text, Christians have taken the above verses to imply that to be gay is to be perverse; is to be corrupt and a corrupter of others.
They have insisted that homosexuality is a life-style choice, or a sickness, or a defect from which one can be healed. Most seriously, it is an affront to God which makes the gay person worthy of rejection and disdain.
Although Christians might now distance themselves from homophobic attitudes, these historic and Bible-based understandings of homosexuality have clearly contributed to homophobia, along with the terrible and inexcusable mistreatment of LGBTI people which continues to this day.
And it is for that reason that I, as a dissenting Christian, along with many Christians who think likewise, believe the time has come for this prejudice to be shed. We need to acknowledge that the Bible, for all of its beauty, wisdom and on-going relevance, is an ancient text, pregnant with ancient assumptions and beliefs, many of which we no longer reasonably hold.
We no longer believe in an earth-centric universe. We no longer reasonably believe in a young earth, or that the populations of the world can be traced back to two first-created humans known as Adam and Eve.
We, or most of us, have happily shed these earlier held beliefs, and therefore should also feel free to re-think the assumptions and beliefs which underlie Biblical discomfort with same sex activity.
Pushing back to understand these assumptions and beliefs will give us the wherewithal to appropriate the abiding relevance of these ancient texts, and will also put us in a place when we can fully and generously apologise for the damage and hurt we have caused to countless numbers of our LGBTI sons and daughters. May that time come quickly.