With gay marriage now legalized in Australia, the Christian church is bound to make a considered response which recognizes the human struggle faced by homosexuals, while at the same time preserving Biblical principles.
Pope Francis set the agenda nicely when he pointed out that the Christian church will "fall like a house of cards" if it continues to obsess about issues such as abortion, gay marriage, contraception and the like. With such issues we move our focus away from the gospel. As he said of a person who had confronted him on the issue of homosexuality. "Tell me - when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person."
Today, in the Western world, we face a fundamental clash of values: a secular world-view which rests on the principle of equality and a religious world-view which rests on the principle of divine truth revealed in the Bible. Marriage, from a secular point of view, is shaped by an egalitarianism which promotes an equality of responsibilities and rights for all people. So, the argument for gay marriage rests on the principle that gays, as well as straights, should have equal access to marriage. To deny a person the right to marry on the grounds of sexual preference is to discriminate against that person. Those who would opposed gay marriage are homophobic, and those who preach against it are "hate preachers." Yet marriage, from a religious point of view, is the union of a man and woman under God and to suggest otherwise is to defy God's revealed will. This clash in values has the potential to cause deep divisions within democratic societies if not handled delicately. Both value systems can survive together where there is mutual respect. The evidence to date is that the modern secular value system of equality is set on a course of aggressively confronting what was once the accepted value system of Western societies, calling out its proponents as homophobic "hate preachers."
A Christian perspective
1. Tradition and heterosexual marriage: Societies from ancient to modern have applied positive discrimination toward heterosexual unions. Even in ancient Greece where homosexuality was socially acceptable, even encouraged, particularly between older men and pubescent boys, marriage was viewed as a heterosexual institution of high status. Marriage was given this status for the provision of the next generation, an institution affirming the micro society of mum, dad and the kids. It has only been in the last ten years that Western societies have considered discarding positive discrimination toward breeders, and one wonders how such action can benefit a society going forward.
2. Marriage is a social construct of divine design: The creation story pictures God forming two humans from one, male and female, incomplete in themselves, complete in union. This union, marriage, is established by a creation ordinance - "a man shall leave his father and mother, be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh", Gen.2:24. And Jesus adds, "what God joins together let no man put asunder." The resulting family - mum, dad and the kids - serves as the foundational unit of society. So, marriage is a divinely shaped institution, reflected in nature as a design for this age, but not the next, cf., Mk.12:25. Throughout history God has supported the institution, even at times extending the blessing of salvation from an individual to their family, cf., Acts 16:31. From the principle of the integral union of a man and a woman in marriage, to the permanent nature of that union, as defined by Jesus, Matt.5:31f, Lk.16:18, the divine shape of marriage is set in concrete - a work of art by the Master Designer. Against this divine design, a same sex union is both unnatural and immoral.
3. Grace over Law: Evidenced by the utopian ethic of Jesus, no human ever truly fulfills their marriage vows. Often there are multiple relationships before an official act of marriage, and if the marriage sticks, there are, if not physically, then certainly psychologically, numerous acts of infidelity. Sexual sin can extend to unnatural relations between males or females, and even animals. So, whether we are heterosexually inclined or homosexually inclined, we need to recognize that none of us are righteous, no not one - "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." We are all flawed, we all struggle with our sexuality, we are all compromised and can only survive under the mercy of God. In our relationships, both gay and straight, we do the best we can, struggling to find some dignity within what may be a highly compromised situation. To survive through the compromises of life, both failures and limitations, we can only but face them honestly and throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Gladly God accepts us on the basis of grace, on the basis his unmerited favor realized in Christ through faith, and it is this grace alone which enables us to stand in the presence of God.
4. The separation of Church and State: A State rightly legislates on the formation of relationships so as to cover property rights, individual rights, and the responsibilities of child rearing. Where a State gives prominence to anti-discrimination legislation with respect to relational unions, it is best for the Church to function independently of the State by removing the secular registration of marriage from the service of Holy Matrimony, issuing a certificate of marriage authorized by the Church, apart from the State - a union under God, but not sanctioned by the State, or by law. The legal registration of marriage under the law of the land then becomes a matter for the couple themselves with their local Registrar. It would be proper, in these circumstances, for clergy to no longer function as State celebrants.
5. A church divided by secularization: The Christian church does not speak with one voice on the issue of homosexuality. Conservatives hold to the view that homosexual sex is sinful and that therefore the institution of marriage cannot properly be extended to gay couples. Liberals hold that, as with the status of women, Biblical injunctions against homosexuality must be reinterpreted in line with our more enlightened view of humanity. Glenn Davies, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, 2013-2021, writing on this issue, stated that the expressed opinion by some churches that homosexual sex is not sinful is "the culmination of over thirty years of compromise with Western culture."
6. Freedom of religion under threat: In Australia, a Premier, commentating on the views of an Islamic preacher who said that homosexuality was evil, stated that "I'll always respect a person's right to freedom of religious belief, but under no circumstances do these views have a place in Queensland." Her statement represents the new version of freedom of belief and expression; an extension of Mill's codicil, "except for harm." Freedom of belief and expression is now bound by the confine of offence, which of course means we no longer possess freedom of belief and expression. So much for Milton's "give me the liberty to know and to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties", or Voltaire's "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", Hall.
7. Judgment: It is with great sadness that citizens of faith watch Western society abandon the very building blocks of our democratic institutions. Western societies continue to discard their Christian heritage, replacing it with humanistic atheistic socialism, but the issue of marriage equality is somewhat of a watershed - a blatant act of defiance against divine will. An individual, or state, may fall short of God's will, and continue under his mercy, but to openly and defiantly reverse that will spells disaster. A society which overturns the natural order of God's design must ultimately reap disorder; They who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.
I well remember a colleague speak of a transgender prostitute he would often say good morning to as he walked down to his local shop - all part of inner city life! On one Christmas she came to the midnight service and it was his joy to share holy communion with her. His actions broke ecclesiastical rules, but reflected the grace of the Master who once said, "'Is there no one to condemn you?' 'No one, sir,' she replied. 'Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.'"
The Pharisee in us drives us to exclude an overt sinner, to remove the speck while ignoring the log in our own eye. Gay people struggle with their lot in life and censorious disapproval from believers who are just as flawed is a poor reflection on our Lord. Flawed, unnatural, sinful lifestyles cannot be affirmed; black is not white. Yet, the sinner can be affirmed, welcomed and loved, and this because we are all sinners.
I am a remarried divorcee. Jesus has a lot more to say about my flawed lifestyle than he does about the lifestyle of gay couples. Under Biblical law my relationship with my wife is both unnatural and immoral, and yet my God loves me without question, and my brothers and sisters in Christ love me, accept me, and welcome me. Loving the sinner doesn't necessarily affirm the sin. We are all flawed and only survive under the grace of God.
In mid 2019 an Australian Rugby player put up an evangelistic post on his social media site stating that "homosexuals", among others, are "going to hell if they don't repent." Due to his post, his contract was terminated by Rugby Australia and consequently, the matter went before the courts. As one commentator put it, "we are expected to swear on the Bible, but not repeat what it says!" The sacking of the player divided the nation as the issues of free speech, freedom of religion / belief / conscience, hate speech, equality / inclusion, and employee rights, went to war with each other.
The gospel is both good news and bad news, a word of blessing and a word of cursing. Believers are not without Biblical precedence when they proclaim the day of judgment, although words like "sin", "repent" and "hell" need some explanation, and maybe a good-news approach has more going for it in our day and age. Yet, setting aside the issue of presentation-style, it is misleading (as well as hurtful) to say "homosexuals are going to hell." It is not sinful to be homosexual by inclination. A list of sinners which includes "homosexuals" must also include heterosexuals ("If a man looks at a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart"). Sexual intercourse with a person of the same sex is indeed sinful - it is unnatural and immoral. Yet, given that the one flesh union between a man and a woman is monogamous, both physically and emotionally, to be otherwise is also unnatural and immoral. No heterosexual is emotionally monogamous, and few are physically monogamous (we often discount premarital sexual encounters, but the Bible doesn't!). We are all flawed and only survive under the grace of God. So, if in a gospel presentation we want to draw up a list of sinners who should repent, we had better put our own name on the top. Maybe we could just say "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" and forget about the list!