Following the Senate’s decision this week, we as a nation are now moved to focus on a postal plebiscite on marriage equality.
Within 12 hours of the decision, I received an email from the Coalition for Marriage which is a part of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). I have never subscribed to this group, so was surprised to receive this email. What I wasn’t surprised about was the content that spoke unequivocally against marriage equality for reasons which we have all heard in the media.
This view is the loudest view coming from Christians and yet it is not representative of the whole Christian community. The Christian community is so much more diverse.
The Uniting Church, of which I am an ordained minister, is a good example of a church that holds a diversity of views on marriage equality.
We have been on this road alongside and with the wider community for many years because we are a church that seeks to engage with contemporary issues of social justice and the environment. We do this by holding together the faith traditions from which we come, modern scholarship in fields relevant to the issues, and the current experiences of people no matter what their background or their social standing.
To be clear, at this stage there has not been a decision made about how the Uniting Church will respond when marriage equality happens. The reason for this is because the Church is not there yet.
As already stated, there is a diversity of views and for the Uniting Church it is important that everyone is given opportunity to voice them respectfully and to listen equally respectfully. It is a process of learning and growing together, of loving each other, with the hope that together a way forward becomes clear.
We are a discerning Church, listening for the promptings of the Spirit, so it often takes time for decisions to be made.
This can be frustrating but at the same time can be deeply moving as we seek to uphold values of respect, love, justice and hope. It doesn’t matter which end of the debate we as individuals sit on, we are all capable of crushing another with our words and actions and must be so careful. Preparing for a postal plebiscite is a good time to remember these words of caution.
In my work as a Uniting Church minister I journey with such a diversity of people as they navigate life.
In all of the church communities I have been involved with I have had many, many conversations with people around the subjects of homosexuality and marriage. And the biggest reason for this is that life experiences prompt this reflection. Ruby’s grandson is in a relationship with Brian; Max’s sister has told him that she is a lesbian; Lucy in youth group has said that she is not sure of her sexuality; Dakota’s colleague at work, Phil, has started dressing as a woman; Greg has left Louise because he is gay.
These conversations happen more often now than say 20 years ago but there is still a way to go. What I have learnt from these conversations is that people of faith generally and genuinely want to find ways to respond with love and empathy. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking there is a yearning to show care and compassion.
For some, this prompts significant personal reflection and a readiness to hear different ways of thinking.
This is partly why it is so important for people of faith to openly share and discuss the alternate ways of thinking from what has been traditionally taught by the church. It shows that there are other ways. You don’t know what you don’t know.
The other reason why it is really important for people of faith who support marriage equality to find their voice is a spiritual one.
I would say that 95 percent of couples who come to me to be married come because they want “to be married in the church before God”. The blessing of God on their marriage, through the church, is important. (The other 5 percent come because the church is generally cheaper than a civil celebrant!)
People of faith speaking up for marriage equality is an expression of belief that God embraces, celebrates and blesses loving relationships full stop. People who feel isolated from God because of their sexuality or intimate caring loving relationships need to know that they too are loved and accepted by God.
Whatever process we as a nation adopts to further discuss and decide on marriage equality, may we engage in discussions with respect, compassion and integrity.
And may the diversity of Christian voices be heard, reflecting the way of Jesus in getting alongside people who are suffering and silenced.
On this week’s Friday Forum: Do Christians need to do more to show that they have a diversity of opinion on same-sex marriage?
Rev Isabel Greenall
Western Heights Uniting Church
Herne Hill, Geelong
Image: Uniting Network/Facebook