Saturday, 08 August 2015 15:11

Same Sex Marriage?

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Over the last few years a number of nations have enacted laws ratifying same sex 'marriage'. The most recent of these was the United States. Thirteen American States had already legislated this change, and the Supreme Court has now voted to force the decision upon the rest of the Union. The majority was a narrow one but it is still binding on all States, and it will now require a constitutional amendment to change it. That is unlikely to happen any time soon. This subject has been a matter of considerable debate for a number of years now, and the Church worldwide is greatly divided in her differing opinions about it. I have been asked for my own views by a couple of friends, and will make a few of comments expressing my thoughts in the second part of the article. I suppose the Anglican Communion has been the focus of most of the media attention in the general debate, and there the discussions have widened to the role openly gay ministers should play within the church.

 

In my view the attitude of the Church toward minorities, and to issues of social justice generally, has been a significant factor in the present angst expressed, as well as to the general debate overall. The Church has been on the whole conservative and resistant to change throughout history; frequently because of it's own hidden agenda or bias. The 35 year struggle by William Wilberforce and his colleagues to steer a law through parliament banning all slavery in the British Empire was openly resisted by large segments of the Church in the UK at the time. The main reason for this was that the wealth being generated by the practice of slavery benefited the Church of England as a whole, as well as a number of influential individuals within it. The same resistance was expressed toward the emancipation of women and their fight for universal suffrage. It was equally evident when national debates took place about evolution, and the rights of the poor in Victorian England. Sadly, this has been something of a pattern. The broader Church community has too often stood for the maintenance of the status quo; while at the same time, it has ignored the rights and freedoms of marginalised or abused minorities. This has been a direct consequence of her fear of change, as well as the defence of her own perceived interests. The Church at large has therefore failed to see past the issue of concern, and as a result, she has neglected to give compassion to the individual. Jesus addressed the same concern with the Pharisees. The Church's message and witness have been damaged, and there is a growing antagonism in some quarters against religious conservatism everywhere. History does also reveal that many who have been pioneers of social change in these and other areas of society have been Christian believers. However these bold men and women have often been a persecuted few who have paid a considerable price for their determination to be in the vanguard of social transformation and reform.

There are, for me three important questions which arise from the changes to marital law. 1. How do we define marriage? 2. What role does the state have in the legislation of Judaeo/Christian principles and the furtherance of Biblical mores if any? 3. What are the consequences of these changes? I will answer these questions in order. 1. How do we define marriage? It is my own personal view, and it is a view, I think, that is shared by many, is that God originated marriage. The Biblical story is set out in Genesis 2. As the initiator, He has also defined its perimeters, it's purpose, and its meaning. There is one particular purpose which should be highlighted here. God ordained the marriage union to reflect Him, and to express the quality of love He has for His people the Church. This principle is discussed in Ephesians 5. The marriage He defined was between a man and a women, and that as far as the Bible is concerned is inviolable. The decision by the justices in America's Supreme Court does not change this definition for me, nor for anyone who shares my convictions. A nation state may broaden the perimeter of marriage to include same sex relationships if it so chooses, however that by my definition is a civil union and not a marriage. We must bare in mind that God only blesses what He initiates and ordains. He does not bless a compromised or corrupted version of His Devine original. Having said that, being right in principle does not give any room for a judgmental attitude toward those who, for whatever reason, disagree or struggle in their own weakness to live by that principle. Jesus made it abundantly plain that mercy triumphs over judgment. He showed us His disciples, that living the Christian life is not about being right as opposed to wrong, but it is about bringing His light and life to everyone we meet in whatever place we find them. It is pointing to the path of His life in word and action not pointing a finger in judgment at the failings of another.

2. What role does the state have in the legislation of Judaeo-Christian principles and the furtherance of Biblical mores if any? Since the time of Constantine in the early fourth century AD, many Western nations have embraced Judaeo-Christian values in their legal and civic structure. This has been a mixed blessing. The Kingdom of God can't be extended by state edict or law enforcement agencies, as has on occasion been attempted. Though I do not have the space to explore this in any depth in this article, I do want to mention a couple of destructive consequences which have followed this way of thinking. Firstly, having so called 'Christian' laws in a nation has historically had the tendency to lead to a complacency in the Church. An illegitimate dependence has often been placed in the various arms of the state to protect Christian values and lifestyle. Concerted efforts have been made by the conservative right especially in recent years in America, to elect Christians to high office in the expectation that this will somehow preserve our 'Christian' way of life, and our status as a 'Christian' nation. However the Kingdom of Heaven is not advanced in such a manner. Jesus never once indicated that prayer and social action should be undertaken to place a 'Christian' Caesar on the throne of the Roman Empire. Nor in fact did He instruct His disciples when teaching about prayer to pray against the evident evils of the Empire. He only mentioned the Empire when He was drawn into a conversation about taxation. His silence on the subject is telling, especially as the evil of the Empire was very evident. Secondly, the idea has sometimes been expressed that because our nation has 'Christian' laws, and in the case of America some would argue a Devine origin, purpose, and call, it has a special place in the world: it is in that sense exceptional. I have lived in three nations where sections of the Body of Christ have held this view about their own country. Indeed whole doctrines have been formed to substantiate this idea. Now I do agree that God has a purpose for nations and uses them to accomplish His aims and objectives. He raises up one and tares down another by design and not in an arbitrary manner. However there has only been one nation chosen by God for a particular purpose, and for a particular time in history and that nation was Israel. That dispensation ended with the coming of Christ who ushered in a new Kingdom. In my view Israel is the only exceptional case, and that related only to its place in the Old Covenant. For a longer discussion on this subject, I would encourage you to read The Myth Of A Christian Nation by Greg Boyd.

3. What are the consequences of these changes? There are a number of direct consequences which follow these changes, but for the sake of brevity I will only mention a couple. Firstly this is not primarily an attack on marriage as we have known it, but is rather a rejection of God and His purposes. It is an attack on His image as reflected in the marital relationship. Christians should be concerned about this; it will lead to judgement and barrenness. Same sex unions are physically barren, and that will have spiritual consequences upon a people too. Secondly, it will lead to greater hostility and even persecution against those who take a stand for what they believe. It will most certainly lead to a loss of freedom especially for those who have had a measure of protection from the law historically. There have already been two court cases either side of the Atlantic in which Christian small business owners have been prosecuted for refusing service to a same sex couple. The law is a blunt instrument when it comes to competing rights. The Church will have to be prepared to stand up more strongly for what it believes, and come to the support of those within her ranks who are being unfairly treated. Finally, this could be the Church's time for transformation. We will, I trust, be jolted out of our lethargy and complacency. Our focus will turn to our desperate need for God, His presence and the life of His Kingdom. No longer can we be assured of the support of the state and its laws. The blurred edges of our nation of birth and the Kingdom of Heaven will come into sharper focus and demarcation. It will force the people of God to think about alternative economies and social structures, and to pray again with greater weight and conviction “Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

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