How Should Christians Engage the SSM Debate? Part 1 – Political Theology 101.

So we’ve got a voluntary ‘Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey’ (commonly known as a plebiscite) coming up in September.

The future definition of marriage is likely to be decided in the next few months. And while most Christians I know are happy to vote in the Postal Survey (plebiscite), questions are being asked about how to engage the SSM issue – and whether we should engage at all.

There’s uncertainty: should Christians ‘force their views’ onto other people, especially a vulnerable minority like LGBTI? Is opposing the redefinition of marriage contrary to what Jesus would do? Is it unloving?

These are important questions. And so in the next couple of blog posts, in the lead up to the ‘Postal Survey’, I want to help us think through them.

Parliament House Photo courtesy John O’Neill

Political Theology 101

We’ll begin with a basic overview of political theology (something I’ve thought about quite a bit recently).  This will help us understand how Christians ought to engage politically, especially on a topic like SSM.

And so, here are 11 things we should understand:

 

1) God’s Role For Government: Justice and Public Order

According to the Bible, all governments are servants of God (Romans 13:4). Yes, even secular non-Christian governments are servants of God. And they’re here because they have an important role to play: namely the upholding of justice:

‘[Governments] are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’ (Romans 13:4)

Governments are not tasked with proclaiming the gospel (that’s the job of Christ’s disciples – Matt 28:18-20), but nor are they meant to hinder the gospel, or any other religion for that matter: it’s none of Caesar’s business who we worship (Matt 22:15-21). The only time Caesar can rightfully limit someone’s worship is if their religion requires them to do something unjust (e.g. kill infidels).

 

2) Democracy Means We All Have a Say in How Government Is Run

But Democracy is not about everyone getting their own way.

Under God’s Sovereign hand, we live under a democratic government. This means we have a say in how government should run (e.g. through voting).

Every person in our democracy – regardless of their religious belief or lack thereof – has a say. (Which, incidentally,  also means that everybody has a (partial) responsibility of how government carries out its core task of justice – but more of that below.)

Although everybody is entitled to their own say in a Democracy, they’re not entitled to always get their own way. A government is responsible (under God) for upholding justice first and foremost, and if your views are unjust, then the government has no obligation to put them into practice – quite the opposite. So, for example, although many people might be in favour of full-term/partial birth abortions, a just government will prevent such practices from becoming law.

 

3) Government Laws Are By Nature Coercive

They force people to act in certain ways (or face legal consequences).

Justice, by its very nature, is coercive. It forces people to behave in certain ways or face the consequences for not doing so. Governments enforce this justice firstly by laws, which are backed up by the Police, and the Court system. The Bible says that God gives governments a ‘sword’ to ‘bring punishment on the wrongdoer’ (Romans 13:4).

And so, for example, if you DUI, or rob a bank, you’ll be forced to face serious consequences – the sword of God’s wrath, as it were.

Now this has big implications for how we relate to others in a democracy:

 

4) If You Vote For Politicians (Who Make Laws), You’re Involved In (Legally) Coercing Others

The question then becomes: which laws should we make people obey?

I often hear it said that Christian’s shouldn’t force their views on others.

But here’s the thing: if you vote, then you too force your views on others, by helping choose your local member, who makes laws. And such laws, by their very nature, ‘force’ a particular view on people: from speeding laws (forcing you to keep to a certain speed limit – or else); to taxes (forcing you to give up a portion of your money to government – or else); to speech laws (forcing you to keep your mouth shut about certain things – or else).

Most of the time, we probably don’t think too much about the laws around us – except when we disagree with them. At that point, we feel the weight of them – and guess what? Those laws are there in part because of our fellow Aussie voters.

And so, the question is never ‘should we force our views onto others?’. If vote, you already force your views onto others. The question, rather,  is what views should be forced on others?

Now, although laws force people to act in certain ways, they also have a wider impact:

 

5) Because Laws Embody Underlying Moral Beliefs, They Impart Morality Onto a Culture

Laws shape public moral opinion.

Laws don’t just prevent people from doing certain things (or punishing them if they do); they also teach society what’s good and just and fair.

As Andrew T. Walker points out:

The law, like culture, is not static but dynamic and pedagogical. For good or ill, the forces of cultural opinion shape law, but, conversely, the law is an almost-unrivalled force for shaping cultural opinion.’ [1]

So in a democracy, a culture shapes people, who then shape the law, but the reverse is also true.

 

6) All Laws Are Based on ‘Religious’ Beliefs – Either Formal Religious Beliefs or Informal Beliefs

There are no religiously ‘neutral’ laws, because there are no religiously ‘neutral’ people.

A pernicious lie you’ll hear today is that religion should stay out of politics.

The reality, however, is that religion can’t stay out of politics – it’s an impossibility. As Augustine pointed 1600 years ago, we’re all worshippers, whether of the true God, or of false gods. [2] And so, all our views about morality have a ‘religious’ basis – meaning we all ‘believe’ things that can’t ultimately be proved by reason or science alone. And since our morality drives the laws and policies we vote for, our (religious) beliefs will always influence politics.

Christian scholar Jonathan Leeman puts it this way:

Every law…has some “religious” worldview behind it, as does every lawmaker. There is no religiously neutral activity. We worship either God, or something else…In other words…we must make a distinction between writing laws and constitutions that depend upon the moral principles of religion and using the state’s coercive authority to touch in any way the doctrines or membership of that religion…

He concludes:

Scripture does not give the state the authority to do the latter, and avoiding the former is impossible.’ [3]

 

7) The Public Square Is Not Neutral or Secular: It’s a ‘Battleground of gods’ 

Once we understand that all laws are driven by beliefs – either of the formal religious kind (e.g. Christianity), or the informal kind (e.g. ‘I just believe in equality and human rights’), then we come to realise that the public square – where people discuss and debate politics and public policy – cannot be religiously ‘neutral’. As long as people are sharing their convictions about laws and morality, they’re also sharing (albeit implicitly) ‘religious’ points of view.

Thus the public square is a ‘battleground of gods’, as Christian scholar Jonathan Leeman puts it, ‘each vying to push the levers of power in its favour.’ [4]

(A ‘battleground’ in this context doesn’t necessarily imply violence, for such ‘battles’ are waged peacefully through proper, constitutionally based procedures – e.g. voting.)

This is the nature of a (healthy!) democracy: everyone gets a say, which means everyone gets to share their religious point of view, trying to convince others.

However, Leeman points out that if people misunderstand the religious nature of the public square, democracy can go astray:

If the public square is a battleground of lords…any lawmaker or judge who forbids a so-called religious perspective in the writing of laws…is doing nothing more than clearing a path for the imposition of his or her religion. [5]

(Again, the ‘religion’ of the lawmaker or judge can be any set of beliefs about the world, e.g. Atheism.)

 

8) Laws Based on Distorted (i.e. Unbiblical) Views of the World Lead to Negative Consequences

That’s because there’s a God-given order to creation.

The 20th century showed us what happens when distorted ‘religions’ – a.k.a. ideologies –  take over law and government. Communism had a view of humanity, economics, and government that went against the Bible’s view of reality – in other words, against the order of creation. And because they controlled the levers of power – (and weren’t afraid to pull them), the consequences were negative, to put it mildly.

Speaking of non-Christian ideologies,  Christian scholar David T. Koyzis writes:

Because each of the “ideologies” is based on a distorted understanding of God’s good creation, there are real consequences associated with living out of such distortions.’ [6]

So where does all this leave us? How should Christians engage with the government?

Well, first we need to recognise some of the missteps Christians have taken throughout history:

 

9) How Christians Should Not Engage With Government

Two extreme positions.

Two polar opposite – and I would argue unbiblical – positions Christians have taken through the ages are as follows:

  • Using governmental power to force people to become Christian.  Why it’s problematic: Forcing people to become Christian is not government’s God-given role, as we saw above. Furthermore, the gospel is meant to be commended to people’s consciences, such that they’re free to accept or reject it without compulsion (e.g. 2 Corinthians 4:2);
  • Removing themselves from political involvement altogether. Why it’s problematic: While politics can be frustrating (and worse), the reality is that government is not some evil that we need to get rid of, but ‘a servant of God for our good’ (Rom 13:4). It’s part of God’s created (albeit now fallen) order. And so, withdrawing from any involvement in political questions means giving up on God’s key way to ensure justice in our communities.

So what’s the most faithful way for Christians to engage government?

 

10) Out of Love For Neighbour, Christians Should Desire Just Laws, not Unjust Laws.

Thus we should seek to have significant Christian influence on government, to help ensure just laws are passed. 

To put it simply, we Christians should seek to influence government, so that it takes on board (as much as possible) a creation-order view of justice, rather than distorted ideologies (which inevitably lead to injustice).

Theologian Wayne Grudem writes:

The “significant influence” view says that Christians should seek to influence civil government according to God’s moral standards and God’s purposes for government as revealed in the Bible (when rightly understood). But while Christians exercise this influence, they must simultaneously insist on protecting freedom of religion for all citizens.

He continues:

In addition, “significant influence” does not mean angry, belligerent…and hate-filled influence, but rather winsome, kind, thoughtful, loving, persuasive influence that is suitable to each circumstance and that always protects the other person’s right to disagree, but that is also uncompromising about the truthfulness and moral goodness of the teachings of God’s Word.’ [7]

In sum, we seek to influence government for the sake of justice – our neighbours, and ours. (I like that Grudem points out that the way we influence also matters – but that’s a blog post for another day!)

 

11) When Christians are Part of a Democracy, They Have a Responsibility to Ensure Laws Are Just

To put it another way, if we give up trying to influence government to behave justly, then we’re saying injustice is ok. This is especially true for those of us living in a democracy like Australia.

Writing about democratic responsibility,  theologian Russell Moore has this to say:

In [a democratic system of government]…the state is accountable to the people, who are, ultimately, the governing authorities.

Elsewhere he puts it rather poetically:

Shrugging this [political responsibility] off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate. It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.’

 

So, where to next?

Instead of retreating from politics, Christians, out of love for their neighbours, should engage government, and help it to be as just as possible.

But the question remains: is same-sex marriage one of those political questions that Christians should care about?

We’ll come to that in the next post.

 

[1] Jason G. Duesing et al., First Freedom – The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty (2d ed.; Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic, 2016), 128.

[2] Augustine, City of God, XIII, 54. Cf. Romans 1:18-32.

[3] Jonathan Leeman, Political Church – The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016), 371-373. Cf. Michael Sandel, Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? (London: Penguin, 2009), 261.

[4] Leeman, Political Church, 50.

[5] Leeman, Political Church,  371-373.

[6] David T. Koyzis, Political Visions And Illusions – A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 188.

[7] Wayne Grudem, Politics According To the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 55.

Leave a Reply

36 thoughts on “How Should Christians Engage the SSM Debate? Part 1 – Political Theology 101.

  1. Once again I’m greatly encouraged by your clarity on this topic. I have no problems with where I stand on this issue but I do struggle with how to engage those that have a different opinion. Thank you for making this so clear to me.

  2. Great article! We christians are like little David facing Goliath in this debate. The Goliaths are very angry and aggressive people out there.

      • Hello Mary and Akos.

        I hope you are both well.

        An interesting revelation in this matter is that people on each side identify with the figure of David.

        I would offer that LGBTI+ people in this matter find ourselves faced with giant obstacles – sections of the church, sections of the government, and sections of the media, each readily wielding their might to prevent what is a pretty simple request – to get married.

        To this I would add the weight of historical repression of LGBTI+ people by the institutions mentioned above – I find it interesting that people with viewpoints more closely aligned to these institutions feel themselves as much in the role of the downtrodden as the people upon whom the downtreading has been done.

        David was, in a small way, slinging his stone in a bid for freedom. When it comes to marriage equality in Australia, LGBTI+ people are asking to be treated equally before the law.
        The extent to which the regular order of our democracy is being contorted to work against this, from where I stand, makes the government seem a bit like a big scary giant.

        I’ve travelled to many countries (the UK, South Africa, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the USA, Canada and Sweden) where same sex marriage exists, the sky hadn’t fallen in, and people were fine.

        I trust you’ll both have a good day.

        Luke Moloney

        • Luke
          I apologise for the way many people of the LGBTI community have been treated. If we had accepted Jesus as a true role model, I doubt many of these issues would have arisen. And looking at Jesus as a role model, I fail to find any interest he took in politics except those within the Jewish ‘church’. As far as politics goes, Jesus’ world was run entirely by the Romans, a polytheistic (many god’s) political entity which Paul encouraged the Christians of the day (Romans 13:1-4) to obey, not to try and subvert. In fact, he encourages the Christians to not resist the people in charge! I firmly believe that we should only judge those within the church as encouraged by Paul in 1 Cor 5:12, and show love to those outside the church as Jesus did in so many ways (Good Samaritan, woman at the well, eating with sinners, list goes on….).

  3. Nice work Akos!! This is such a minefield issue, I’m greatly appreciative of the hard work, prayer, logic and positive nature of this post 🙂 Looking forward to Part 2!!

  4. Thanks Akos for this article. It is very helpful and clear.

    I just want to ask you if you have any thoughts on how you would engage with the person who believes that legalising ssm is the “just” thing to do. In their mind and reasoning, they would argue, ‘how can it be wrong if 2 people love each other? How is it just that Christians/ACL are stopping them from expressing that love? How is voting against ssm a just and equal thing?’ In their minds, Christians are the oppressors of justice and love and relationship.

    Often Christians don’t have a reply to this question, except to say that they believe what the Bible/God tells them. Now as Christians, we know that what God says is the truth. But the unbeliever, does not believe in God or His truth. This answer does not satisfy their desire for what seems to be right commonsense justice.

    Is defending God’s created design of family and marriage, purely about voting for what is ‘good’ (i.e. what’s best for society, family, marriage, children, etc…) and has nothing to do with justice?

    How do we satisfy their (God given) cry for justice, from what the Bible say’s? Is doing good, the same as fighting for justice?

    • Hi Rod,

      You’re asking excellent questions, and you’ve hit the nail on the head: both sides of this issue *see* SSM differently – they interpret the reality of marriage differently, as it were. And thus come to different conclusions about what’s just and fair.

      I think we can – and must – say more than simply ‘this is what God says’ – although we must be clear about what we believe, and why.

      However, to save double up, I’ll address these questions in my next post, if that’s ok.

      God bless,

      Akos

  5. Well done Akos. Pragmatic and direct whilst respectful and caring for all. All Australians should have a voice, and we shouldn’t be swayed by peer or vocal opinion when it comes to a stand on a socially relevant moral issue. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Hi Akos,

    I hope you’re well. I came to your blog via Facebook, thanks to mutual friends from our time at New College, women of whom I have fond memories and for whom I bear enormous respect. I read your blog regularly, regarding it as a path to understanding viewpoints from a position other than my own.

    May I first say that I have great admiration for the measured tone of discussion you create around the matter of marriage equality. I readily admit that I approach the subject from a very different perspective, forged by my direct personal experience. I strenuously argue that in the context of this matter, religious affiliation needs to be set aside before the broader issue of equality in Australian society.

    I’m writing to you, and by extension to your readership, because it looks like (unless the High Court challenges against the postal vote succeeds), we, as an Australian society, are to be asked in a non-compulsory, non-binding manner, as to whether LGBTI+ Australians should be able to get married. This question will be asked of citizens of a secular state, many of whom will bring non-secular views to bear on the matter.

    To this end I would ask you and your readership to consider:

    – In Australian society, church and state are separate – not all Australians are Christians. Our laws must work fairly for all, regardless of religious affiliation. This matter must, in its legal context, be one of fairness devoid of judgement.

    – In Australian legislature, it is for the parliament to decide on matters such as what marriage means – for an exception to be made, and for that exception to comprise a popular vote by an unaffected majority on the rights of a minority, is counter to the usual practice of government. It asks LGBTI+ people to be subject to a pretty humiliating process no other parliamentary legislation requires Australians to bear.

    – This postal survey (it’s not a plebiscite) is borne of politics, borne of a division within the Liberal and National parties on the matter. It uses real, sentient human beings like me as collateral in an internal party room debate. When you’re part of the collateral, I assure you, it’s humiliating. I’d strenuously argue against any minority being subject to this level of public dissection of private matters.

    – I well remember when the marriage act was changed to exclude people like me – I was at a cousin’s wedding in a pub in rural NSW, where the service was conducted by karaoke. I admit I’m pro karaoke, but in the context of a wedding, at a time when the government of my country had seen fit to amend the marriage act in such a way that prevented me from partaking in marriage, it seemed unnecessarily cruel. To me, as a gay person, it communicated how casually heterosexual people in Australian society can play with the sacrament of marriage, and how, for most heterosexual Australians, marriage is a simple matter of interpersonal love, unaffected by religious norms. Painfully, it communicated to me how my government deemed me (monogamous, God-fearing, tax-paying) unfit to participate in something I personally hold as the gold standard in personal commitment.

    – I’m a twin, as you are, Akos. My twin brother is straight, I am gay. Our nurture was identical. Our spiritual instruction was identical. We both contribute to our society in important ways. Boringly, we are in the same tax bracket and so pay our dues to Australian society in an identical fashion, doing our bit for the society we live in. We’ve both been in sustaining, loving, supportive relationships with our partners for over ten years. Within those relationships we’ve had ups, downs, highs, lows, good, and bad. Our difference in the matter of whom we love is endemic and arbitrary, but I had expected, as a gay person informed by the society I grew up in, that my experience of a romantic life would be less-than, different, somehow deserving of inferior treatment, than that of a person different to me only by sexuality. My twin brother and I are now on the brink of turning forty, and I must say that on reflection, our paths in love, and love for our partners have been overwhelmingly marked more by similarity than by difference – we both want stability, we both want love, we both want to be loved. The simple difference is that my twin brother got married, my partner and I don’t have the choice to be.

    I appreciate that intemperate, condemnatory and emotive outpourings come from my side of this debate. It’s regrettable, but I beseech you to understand that this is borne of years and years and years of personal experience of a consolidated, powerful, and reactionary response by people who, I’m certain if they knew enough about us, would not be so cruel as to deprive us of the chance to marry the people we love.

    Finally, and most urgently, I would ask you and your readership to understand that you are to be given a vote on the private lives of people like me.

    What do I know of the private life of you? What, for that matter, do you know of the private life of me? Were I already to be married to my partner of ten years, what harm would have been done to you or to the society we form together? Would you know of it? I knew nothing of your own marriage to the person you love… All that might have happened is that the society we form would have sent a clear signal to young, questioning, or frightened LGBTI+ Australians is that they belong to a society that welcomes – actively welcomes – them to take part in its most revered institutions, and that we are all okay.

    Yours sincerely,

    Luke Moloney

    • Hi Luke!

      It’s lovely to hear from you, and I am honoured that you read my blog – let alone feel comfortable enough to share your story on it. And I appreciate your sincerity and kind tone. I realise it’s not an easy thing when you feel so passionately about this topic.

      Given the length of your thoughtful comment, I’ll endeavour to get back to you soon with my fuller reflections.

      Kind regards,

      Akos

      • G’day again Luke!

        Thankyou for your eloquent and respectful dialogue on this sensitive issue. I realise this is intensely personal, and so I wish to tread carefully.

        So much so that I am loathe to have this discussion online, due to the inherent limitations of this medium (i.e. for misunderstanding). I think a face to face discussion over a a good cappuccino or beer (take your pick!) would be the ideal.

        Nevertheless, I do wish to do justice to your comments, and the time you put in to making them.
        Because this is such a sensitive issue, however, I feel compelled to preface my response with a number of comments:

        1) That this issue is so sensitive and personal to you comes across clearly in your comment. I was particularly struck by this sentence of yours:

        ‘Finally, and most urgently, I would ask you and your readership to understand that you are to be given a vote on the private lives of people like me.’

        From where you’re standing, it’s obvious that you and members of the LGBTI+ community feel that Australian society as a whole are about to vote on whether we see fit to give you something that you see is a fundamental human right, namely to marry the person you love.

        It’s understandably a painful and frustrating position to be in. And I realise that nothing I’m about to say is likely to take away that pain and frustration, although I hope it might provide an alternative perspective.

        2) I realise it’s hard to believe, but the overwhelming majority of Christians I know have no animus toward LGBTI+ people. Many – including myself – have personal relationships of love and respect with members of the LGBTI+ community. They are some of the loveliest people I know – and to be perfectly honest, people that I love hanging out with.

        3) As far as I can tell, the key issue from my side is not about whether one thinks LGBTI+ people are worthy (or not) to have the right to marry; the key issue is around the very definition of marriage. If I could highlight this last sentence, and put it in bold, I would: the unwillingness on the part of Christians and other social conservatives to redefine marriage is *not* around ‘who’ is asking to be married, but *that* marriage is being redefined.

        4) To put the previous point another way, both sides in this debate believe in ‘marriage equality’ – they just disagree on what marriage actually *is*.

        5) I realise that from where you stand, the end result of points 2-4 above make little practical difference if marriage remains defined as it is (i.e. you still don’t get to marry your partner). But my prayerful hope – and I realise this might be a stretch – is to help the LGBTI+ community see that hatred is not our motivator. Even more ambitious might be a development of mutual understanding, where each side understands (even if they don’t agree with) what the other side of this debate actually believes.

        With those comments made, allow me to address some of the points you raised:

        a) You wrote: ‘I strenuously argue that in the context of this matter, religious affiliation needs to be set aside before the broader issue of equality in Australian society.’

        I understand where you’re coming from.

        It’s a view that I’ve encountered frequently, as I’ve launched into the online public space. Religion is seen to be divisive, irrational, not to mention non-secular, thus shouldn’t have a seat at the table of public affairs. And you clearly feel this personally in a debate such as this.

        However, can I gently point out that a growing number of secular philosophers are openly admitting: that underlying all our views about morality (which drive our views on topics such as equality, and institutions such as marriage) are *beliefs*.

        So, take for example the word ‘equality’. What do you mean by ‘equality’? Is there an infallible, rational, scientific meaning of the word that puts it beyond debate?

        Equality is a loaded term – there’s ‘equality of outcome’, versus ‘equality of opportunity’ (to name two popular interpretations). These two very different views of equality are passionately held by large swathes of Australian society, including our two major political parties, the Left holding to former (in varying degrees), while the Right holding to the latter definition (in varying degrees).

        These lead to quite different laws and policies (e.g. higher taxation versus lower taxation).

        The point, however, is that *any* view of ‘equality’ will ultimately – if you go ‘upstream’ far enough – be based on a person’s *beliefs*: beliefs about what the true, the good, the beautiful is.
        (This is also true for an issue such as human rights: just go to the UN’s declaration on human rights, and see what its underlying justification for them is. Not only will you not find any rational or scientific justifications for human rights – you won’t find any underlying justifications at all. They’re just ‘declarations’. Which is quite strange, considering how strongly we hold to them!)

        Now, with all due respect, when you say that Christians should set aside our ‘religious affiliation’ before the ‘broader issue of equality in Australian society’, what I hear is that a Christian like me should not be allowed to bring my beliefs into the public square (e.g. by voting according to them, or persuading others according to them); non-religious people, however (who also have beliefs, however different or similar) are allowed to bring their beliefs into the public square.

        That’s both unconstitutional (there’s no religious test for office, and thus none for political debate), but also contrary to the nature of a free society, where people should be able to base their political convictions on whatever reasoning process and whatever authority they prefer, and should be free to attempt to persuade others that their reasoning is correct.

        Put simply, I have no problem with you or other members of the LGBTI+ community trying to persuade me of their dearly held beliefs about marriage and equality – and indeed, I will defend to the death your right to put your views forward – but I am concerned about any move to muzzle people in our democracy, just because they have *different* beliefs about marriage, that LGBTI+ people disagree with.

        b) ‘– In Australian society, church and state are separate – not all Australians are Christians. Our laws must work fairly for all, regardless of religious affiliation. This matter must, in its legal context, be one of fairness devoid of judgement.

        As per my above comment, ‘fairness’ is an inescapably and irreducibly ideologically loaded term. Your view of fairness will differ on your ideology, or in other words, your beliefs around this issue.

        Furthermore, constitutionally speaking, the separation of church and state is not the absence of religious beliefs from the public square – that’s a rank impossibility, due to each one of us having beliefs – but rather, the absence of governmental interference in church affairs: the Federal government is not to establish a state church that will coerce people to become members of it (like the state churches in Europe of yesteryear).

        Luke, I do apologise for the length of my response – and for being so tardy in getting back to you!
        The other points that you raise I hope to address in my next blog post on this issue. Feel free to comment now, or on my next post (or both!).

        Respectfully yours,

        Akos

  7. Thanks Akos, very well put. For me as a Christian, when God speaks clearly on at subject, that’s it! The Church is here to be the voice of God, to be salt and light in a lost world. For anyone to say it’s ‘unloving’ not to allow ssm is to call God unloving. God IS Love, and He wants the very best for us, and that is marriage as He designed it.
    Also, as we have seen, it doesn’t stop there. People are being sued and sacked if they don’t comply and children are being taught things in school that no Christian parent would want their children taught. Children of ssm couples are being robbed of half of their identity and I can see some angry teenagers in the future. “Love is love” is not a sufficient principle to base marriage on; it is much more than that! If we truly want a just society we should stay with God’s blueprint for marriage. It has served us well for centuries. Ssm will never be marriage in God’s sight and Christians should never endorse anything that God says is wrong. Do we think we know better than Him? How to engage? “Speaking the truth in love” is the Biblical principle.

  8. The problem at point 4 is while that might be the ideal.
    We vote for our representative in Government to make laws we want. That these politicians promise they stand for values and laws we want and agree with, then they break their promise because of compromise or political pragmatism or expediency or because they were dishonest and didn’t actually hold to the views and values that stood on in order to gain our confidence and support.

    That’s where our kind of democracy breaks down

    Sure if you don’t like it vote for someone different next Time, but by then it’s too late or all the others can’t be trusted either !!!

  9. Ref SSM. It is not same sex marriage, but rather homosexual marriage, unnatural and ungodly.
    It is not a marriage with a view to a family, baring and rearing children. So don’t support changing the Marriage Act, instead propose a Friendship Act as an alternative union. What friends do in privacy is their own business.
    Changing the marriage Act will degrade and comprimise marriage, even deter participation.
    If the Marriage Act is changed to accommodate SSM, homosexual couples will demand free IVF and adoption just for starters. If you want to view a light and humorous perspective, Google “Two roosters don’t make a chicken – YouTube”

  10. An awfully tedious way to try and convince yourself what we already know is true. Quadrant on lime has an excellent argument that is not essentially religious but devesratingly demolishes the whole ssm issue. Recommend you read it.

  11. Excellent writing, once again Akos. I look forward to the next installment. I really appreciate the clarity you bring to the issues of religion- that everyone brings their beliefs of one kind or another to the table, and that Christians must be involved in influencing moral and just laws for everyone, without expecting the state to start spreading the gospel.

  12. Hello,

    I want to start by being upfront about supporting marriage equality in Australia. But I am pleased to see a reasonably put together article on your side of the story.
    I do want you to know that not everyone is aggressively against your faith or belief, in the same way that I don’t believe every Christian is against marriage equality or aggressive in their response.
    Personally I just wanted a reasonable response to the questions below from people who are against those who do want to share the same rights as fellow Australians.

    * While you have, and always should have the right to practice and believe in what you want, why are you trying to ensure that others live under laws guided by unshared faith?

    * Your post suggests that the government is under God, but there are many different ideas of God and different interpretations of the bible. Why do you feel that the government is bound to your God and your interpretation over another?

    * Why does the idea of two men or two women raising a child seem unacceptable when single parents have the potential to do a wonderful job of raising children?

    * If a woman lived in the same house as her sister or aunt and they both had a part of raising a child that just lost their father, would this be acceptable? Replace those two straight women with two women who happen to be in love and it seems suddenly unacceptable.

    * Marriage doesn’t always produce children (infertility, choice, etc) and some children do need loving homes. Procreation will still produce the same amount of children through parents making the choice of having children. Denying same sex couples the right to marry won’t make them turn straight and suddenly have children, so population will remain the same. Why is this a factor in the argument against Marriage Equality?

    Marriage Equality does not set a precedent for anything but Marriage Equality. No one will take anything away, no one will make a straight person enter a marriage they do not wish to be apart of. Why is the idea of me being happy and protected under law so bad?

    • Hi Matthew,

      Thankyou for your thoughtful comment, and willingness to engage in a respectful manner. I realise this is an intensely personal issue for you, so I hope to be as sensitive as I can in this non-ideal medium of social media.

      Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you, but here are my answers to your particular questions:

      1) * While you have, and always should have the right to practice and believe in what you want, why are you trying to ensure that others live under laws guided by unshared faith?

      As I argued above in my article (especially in points 3-6), every single one of us is willing to have others live under laws guided by unshared ‘faith’.

      That is, if you vote, then you’re happy to enforce your morality (via laws made by the representative you voted for) onto fellow citizens of Australian society.

      My vision of morality is one where people should be free to practice what they believe, so long as it doesn’t lead to injustice, or a loss of human flourishing, particularly for the most vulnerable in our community.

      Redefining marriage does lead to (unintended!) injustices, particularly towards children, hence my opposing it. (But more of that in my next blog post.)

      2) * Your post suggests that the government is under God, but there are many different ideas of God and different interpretations of the bible. Why do you feel that the government is bound to your God and your interpretation over another?

      The short answer: I think my interpretation is the most reasonable, and makes the most sense, of the Bible. I’m happy for others to disagree, and argue differently. In fact, I will defend to the death other people’s right to publicly disagree with me (in large part this comes from my interpretation of the Bible!).

      Again, as far as government is ‘bound’ to follow my interpretation: like anyone who votes, I’m happy to persuade others, and put my voice into the public square, to help ensure that government falls into line with my particular vision of the good life (which, again, includes maximum freedom for others to voice their beliefs, and practice their beliefs – as long as their practice doesn’t harm the public good).

      3) * Why does the idea of two men or two women raising a child seem unacceptable when single parents have the potential to do a wonderful job of raising children?

      Matthew, I know many single parents who do a wonderful job raising kids. I think it’s the hardest job in the world, and that’s speaking as a parent in an incredibly happy marriage, with wonderful children.

      But there’s a difference between saying ‘this happens – and many single parents do a great job in a tough situation’, to saying ‘this is just as good as two biological parents raising their own kids’.

      The stats on single parents aren’t encouraging (as a whole! – I’m not maligning every parent by any means). Here’s Obama’s speech on fatherlessness in the black American community:

      “We know the statistics: that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.’ (Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2008/06/text-of-obamas-fatherhood-speech-011094).

      You might also be interested in other research on step families, by an article from Australian social researcher Bettina Ardt:

      “[There is] overwhelming evidence that girls living in non-traditional families are sexually abused by ”stepfathers” – partners of their single, remarried or repartnered mothers – at many times the rate of abuse by biological fathers. One such study…found that children whose single parent had a partner in the home were 20 times more likely to be sexually abused than those in a two-biological-parent family.
      [It is a] fiction that the traditional family is just one amongst many equal worthy family forms.” (Source: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/mums-boyfriend–the-worst-sexual-risk-to-children)

      Now, redefining marriage implicitly gives the legal stamp of approval to a family structure in which children by definition don’t get to grow up with their biological father and mother. It’s one thing for non-traditional (e.g. same sex families) to happen, and we do our best as a society supporting the children in that situation: it’s another thing to say (via the law) that it is as equal and good as the biological mother-father home.

      4) * If a woman lived in the same house as her sister or aunt and they both had a part of raising a child that just lost their father, would this be acceptable? Replace those two straight women with two women who happen to be in love and it seems suddenly unacceptable.

      It’s acceptable but not ideal. Redefining marriage law would imply that it is ideal, which I don’t think it is. But more of this in my next post.

      5) * Marriage doesn’t always produce children (infertility, choice, etc) and some children do need loving homes. Procreation will still produce the same amount of children through parents making the choice of having children. Denying same sex couples the right to marry won’t make them turn straight and suddenly have children, so population will remain the same. Why is this a factor in the argument against Marriage Equality?

      I’m not exactly sure what you mean. I’m not familiar with any argument against same-sex marriage that depends on a discussion of the population (I’m obviously misunderstanding your question).

      6) Marriage Equality does not set a precedent for anything but Marriage Equality. No one will take anything away, no one will make a straight person enter a marriage they do not wish to be apart of. Why is the idea of me being happy and protected under law so bad?

      Matthew, again I realise this is an intensely personal issue for you. But I do think there is another factor that we as a society need to consider. And that is the power of legal changes – like the power of technological change. But more of this in my next post (it’ll be soon, I promise!).

      Kind regards,

      Akos

  13. Hi Akos,

    Thanks for the post. I can’t wait to see your next post. I hope it will address the impact on schools and other societal changes that many may not yet be thinking about.

    My husband and I have same-sex friends and we have no problem with our friends or others to have the right to having their relationships legally recognised. However, I have two concerns.

    1. To be really frank, most of my same-sex friends are not interested in this topic. They comment that most same-sex friends that they know are not monogamous. One friend who is in a monogamous relationship doesn’t care what it’s called but would like the legal status of his relationship recognised for practical reasons. So does this debate have to be about redefining marriage or could introducing a new legally recognised union be an option?

    2. What is the impact this will have on children’s education or potential discrimination of the traditional values some people, like me, have. For eg, will a vote of yes mean that at some point in time some version of “safe schools” program will be introduced? Will my children’s Christian school be required to teach that homosexuality is not a sin? Will movies or ads or tv shows stop showing traditional families? Will my church minister be in trouble if he preaches against homosexual sex? What will my children’s sex education class be teaching?

    I think most people are more than happy for the LGBTI to be recognised and have the same legal rights without fear of discrimination. However, it’s hard for me to vote yes without understanding what impact this will have on my beliefs and my values.

  14. Hi brother, Thanks for this. We have also been created as finite people, so can you address how we should prioritise our involvement? Some may say the refugee issue is most important, others the plight of the elderly in our own country. Are we obliged to care about every issue equally? Or is there room to be passionate about one and dispassionate about another? Or from a Christian point of view is this something where a church together acts as the body of Christ where one works passionately for this and one for that while at the same time working together as a body. Thanks again for the article.
    Steve

  15. Thanks Akos, a helpful summary. But it demonstrates a rather different worldview to that evident in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 23. As the WCF is the subordinate standard of Presbyterians everywhere, I would be pleased to know what you make of Chapter 23 in the current political and cultural context. Is it simply outdated and therefore wrong?

  16. Very interesting. Thank you for taking the time to ‘make us think’ and not ‘take things for granted”. This article will arouse people’s thinking.

  17. Hi Akos,

    Great to see you writing this post in order to help your fellow Christians! I wanted to express some thoughts to help you.

    *** Who you’re writing to ***
    =====================

    It’s good that you say explicitly that you’re writing about “how Christians ought to engage politically”. If you wanted to be more specific, you could even say that you are “specifically NOT writing to a non-Christian audience to explain your view to them” because I think that would be a very different project and take a very different shape.

    To a Christian audience, you might be able to assume the same Biblical worldview (though we know that we can’t always take even that for granted!!). But to a non-Christian audience, you need to accept that they have a different worldview from which they think and reason, and so the only helpful way to engage in discussion is to do on that level of worldviews, otherwise there’s every likelihood of speaking at cross-purposes.

    My angle in writing to you:

    The reason why I’m writing to you (and in a reasonably careful, detailed way) is because:
    i. I’m wanting to be helpful in sharpening a fellow brother in his service of Christ and Christ’s people;
    ii. I’ve been thinking heaps about these issues (especially with a background in law and philosophy as I have);
    iii. I’ve been wanting to write some stuff myself, but haven’t been doing some background work first;
    iv. Writing in response to you is helpful for me to think through things, articulate my thoughts, and sharpen my writing on this topic.

    *** 1. Not “God’s role for government” but “How Christians should relate to the government” ***
    ========================================================================

    You write that:
    Governments are not tasked with proclaiming the gospel … nor are they meant to hinder the gospel, or any other religion … The only time Caesar can rightfully limit someone’s worship is if their religion requires them to do something unjust (e.g. kill infidels).

    This section is ambiguous on one level, and, on another level, makes an incorrect step of reasoning from Scripture.

    1. Your statement that “Governments are not tasked with [something]” and that they “can rightfully [do one thing]” but are “not meant to [do another thing]” is ambiguous:

    (a) Are you saying that God has or has not given governments this or that task or function? This is not what the passage is saying. It is not saying what God has shaped government to be or not be, in its functioning on a human level.

    (b) Are you saying that governments should or should not see themselves as having this or that task or function from God? It is not saying that either. It is not telling governments how they are to view themselves.

    (c) Are you saying that Christians should understand the tasks and functions of government in a certain way? It is not saying that either.

    2. Your mistake here is going from a statement about government in a context, with a purpose, to saying something descriptive about government that is beyond what the passage is saying and not in line with the intent and direction of Paul’s reasoning.

    3. What Paul says is directed towards Christians about how to relate to the government, by having a particular understanding of, and attitude towards government. He says “be subject” to the government (the imperative/ the action), because the government is “established by God” and therefore “God’s servant” (the understanding/ attitude).

    4. However, this does not mean that governments are puppets in God’s hands totally determined and shaped by God to the detail of their tasks and functions. This touches on the tricky antinomy of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility – both are operating at the same time. On the level of God’s sovereignty, all human governments are in God’s control, and under His authority, so that God wants all Christians to treat governments as God’s servants. But on the level of human responsibility, all governments, in every country, are made up of fallible, fallen human beings, and set-up according to human customs, laws and traditions, and operate according to human patterns, principles and personalities. And we know all of these are a mixture of God-given goodness, gifts and grace as well as fallen, sinful, corruptedness. So we can’t reason from Paul’s exhortation in Romans 13 to an ontological description of the tasks and functions of government. And we can’t use God’s instructions to Christians about how to treat the government to say anything directive and determinative to governments about how they can and can’t or should and shouldn’t operate. [We can try, but we know what kind of response we would get!].

    5. And we also know that, in reality, there are all sorts of governments around the world that do act in all sorts of ways to either hinder or promote one religion or another. We know that this is how God has allowed the world to operate, from Biblical times to the current day. Our task is to live faithfully and wisely in this world, accepting this reality.

    6. In later points, you make a similar step of logic which is erroneous. For example, in point 2:

    (a) you say “A government is responsible (under God) for upholding justice first and foremost”. This is not an accurate description of what God is saying in the Bible. God, in his sovereignty, uses governments to “uphold justice” (albeit in a human and fallible way, but still to bring about His sovereign purposes). But a “government is *not* responsible” to God in a human sense; it is only so in a theological and eternal sense. But no government (except in a Christian theocracy) would consider itself as “responsible (under God) for [anything]”. And the humans within a government might operate with a sense of responsibility under God, but that is always to varying degrees – and that is why we pray that they would do this, so that they might do it in increasing degrees.

    (b) So it’s not possible to say that “a just government will prevent such practices from becoming law”. We know that different government do in fact enact different laws (about abortion, or any other topic), some of which we may disagree with strongly from a Christian point of view. Though a human government may operate with the goal of “justice”, the way it reaches that goal will be through the human processes and decisions at work.

    *** Romans 13:1-5 *** (with more context than just verse 4.)
    Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

  18. *** 2. Authority vs coercion ***
    ========================

    Your points 3 and 4 are helpful and accurate on some levels, but I think are reasoning in a way that does not help your argument.

    1. Yes, there is a “coercive” element to justice and government. But I think using the idea of “coercion” is not particularly helpful for you. I would say it’s an issue of “authority”. The government is vested with authority over the population. That authority is given to it by the democratic process of elections, and exercised through the federal justice system. Decisions and policies of the government are implemented by laws and regulations passed by Parliament. However, our system of government operates with a whole range of checks and balances to strive at justice, recognising that our processes don’t always hit the mark. So before a law is passed, it needs to go through both houses of Parliament, which are elected differently. But then secondly, any law that can be challenged on the grounds of the “rule of law” can be done so in the court system, which is not elected, but appointed. And so there is an inbuilt mechanism within our justice system for checking, testing and refining our laws against the values, ethics and principles that are held by our society and enshrined in our constitution. The very nature of our legal and justice system is meant to be one “not of coercion” but of reason, justice, equity and truth. Our justice system would be better described as authoritative, and definitely not “coercive” like some other governments and systems around the world, for example a dictatorship, an oligarchy, a despotic regime, a religious government operating under a religious set of laws (e.g., sharia law under an Islamic government) etc.

    2. When our justice system exercises authority over the residents of our country, it is never to enforce the views and opinions of any person, or group of people. It is the best attempt (albeit by fallen human persons in the government) to represent the will of the people (represented by the elected government) and for the good of all people. So I don’t there it is helpful or necessary to say that we are “forcing our views onto others”.

    3. Our role in voting, and participating in public discourse, is to be as helpful as we can to contribute to the processes of government as it seeks to enact laws that reflect the will of the people for the good of all people.

  19. *** 3. Religious or Neutral? ***
    =======================

    I think this point is fair enough in that theologically, we know that every view and opinion is based on some assumption or belief about God and His world. That is what our conservative, reformed, Biblical, Christian worldview holds, as we would both agree is substantiated by Scripture.

    However, who are we making this point to? We could not ever make this point to a non-Christian audience, or at least not in this way. We would have to be more apologetically and culturally nuanced to persuade someone of this view when they operate from a different worldview.

    If we are making this point to Christians then fair enough. However, putting it this way doesn’t quite help Christians engage helpfully with a non-Christian viewpoint. I think we’re a lot stronger in our Christian circles in expressing our Christian worldview to each other, than we are at helping each other engage meaningfully and winsomely with those of a non-Christian worldview.

  20. Thank you for your logic in this. I have struggled with wondering how we as Christians can impose our beliefs on those who do not believe what we believe…and expect them to live as we do. I have questioned myself as to whether I was being ‘bigoted’ and do not believe I am. It breaks my heart to think I am perceived in that way when I know I am not. I am however reminded of a quote that says, “what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.”