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Marriage equality?

Recently, I read a story about a young couple in rural Victoria whose wedding was cancelled when their minister learned that they supported marriage equality.

He wrote to them claiming that their support of gay and lesbian marriage, ‘opposes the teaching of Christ Jesus.’

The story is a small sign of how difficult it is in Australia to have a respectful debate on this issue.

It is also indicative of the way many in the church appropriate/ misappropriate the scriptures.

To begin with, Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, positive or negative. To cite the ‘teaching of Christ Jesus’ on this topic is, at the very least, misleading.

A few brief scriptural observations are warranted.

Surprisingly, there are only six references to homosexuality in the whole Bible. (By way of contrast, there are two thousand to issues of money!)

The Bible is not overly concerned about this topic.

It is true that when such references occur they are negative or ambiguous. Nonetheless, they deserve careful contextual consideration.

What is clear is that the notion of a gay or lesbian couple, living in committed relationship, is not present in the scriptures. The texts, therefore, address issues that are quite different.

For example, the notorious story of Sodom and Gomorrah, found in Genesis 19, is not about homosexuality. It is about the rape and violence that was threatened against two visitors staying at Lot’s house. God’s vengeance was not kindled by gay or lesbian relationships but by an outrageous transgression of hospitality, which was an important social practice in the ancient Middle East.

Another frequently cited text is Romans 1: 26-27, in which Paul speaks of men and women ‘exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural.’

Oddly, I think some gay and lesbian people may agree with part of this statement; giving up one’s natural sexual orientation is dangerous. Of the many gay and lesbian people I have met, I don’t recall one speaking about their sexuality as a choice. It has always been a given, and something many have had to struggle with for years before openly acknowledging it.

Giving up our natural sexual attraction is wrong.

Whatever some may claim, the Bible does not directly address the issue of same-sex marriage.

What we can take from the Bible is, on the one hand, a core principle of love, welcome, and the ongoing search for justice for the marginalised, best modelled in the life of Jesus and, on the other, a sparse number of references to homosexuality that are negative, and which need to be studied carefully.

Each one of us needs to weigh up these perspectives prudently and thoughtfully.

I would like to close by quoting from our UCA President, Stuart McMillan:

‘Beloved, in various pastoral letters and communications over the past two years, I have urged the church to recognize the encouragement of Paul in the Letter to the Christians in Rome: “We belong to one another.”

The current conversation in the Australian community over the understanding of marriage has degenerated and become hurtful, and at times hateful.

When we as Christians participate in this way, our faith and our Lord are diminished, and we bring shame upon ourselves and Christianity.

Some in our Church want to retain the current definition of marriage. Some are undecided, and others support same-gender marriage.

Regardless of our views on marriage, we are sisters and brothers in Christ.

“They will know Jesus by our love.”

Christ’s love compels me to ask again that we spur one another on to love and good deeds.’