On a first reading of Rev Isabel Greenhill’s Friday Forum post, I mentally congratulated her for adopting a conciliatory tone towards people who do not share her position. But on a more careful reading, I became aware that I was subtly classed with the uncompassionate, bottom-of-the-class theologians who simply don’t get it yet.
Whenever one holds a position with deep sincerity and some erudition and logic, one longs for other people to come on board – and one cannot help but think that the other side is in some way defective in their understanding, compassion, or logic.
Allow me to push back a little on this we-know-best attitude that apparently comes with a full stop that brooks no further questions. Pastoral issues arising out of the plebiscite need to be considered also, but that would require another article on its own.
I shall put the case against same-sex marriage, quite deliberately, from a Christian viewpoint consistent with the Basis of Union. Historical Christianity does not permit ‘self-definition’ and ‘my experience’ to be the ultimate values. Instead, Scripture nourishes and regulates both our faith and obedience.
As Christians we are called to be in the world but not of it. The Christians at Rome were exhorted to have their minds renewed – Pagan worldviews are different from the biblical worldview (Romans 12).
It is instructive to google “Frankfurt School” and “Intersectionality”, and wonder at the suppression of religion in the public education system – suppression in the name of niceness to certain minority groups. There are philosophical and theological presuppositions on which same-sex marriage is affirmed.
Brexit and Trump indicate that there is some unease with the culture of selective niceness and selective compassion.
Christianity is not a culture of niceness. It is a culture of severe mercy and tough love. Leviticus 19:17-18 declares that you hate your brother, if you do not correct him, when he operates outside of the law. Paul wrote to the Ephesians in 4:20 “You have not so learned Christ!” And Hebrews 10:24 speaks about “Provoking one another to love and good works”. From these instructions, one would get the impression that niceness and tolerance (a pseudo love) are not ultimate values for Christians. We need the renewal of our minds, if we are to truly acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord.
Lordship is a “no-no” in the culture of niceness. Yet the grand narrative of the Bible does not allow ‘my experience’ to ontologically overrule God’s expectations of me. If we are indeed created in God’s image, individually and in relationship (Trinity!), then the Maker’s instructions need to carry some weight. The grand narrative of Scripture, as narrative, will nourish our faith and give background to our obedience, and the particularities of God’s demands will regulate our obedience. That is the plain reading of Paragraph 5 of the Basis of Union.
There are ministers, elders and members in the UCA who would rather not be tied down to the Basis of Union. They have stated that they have a different understanding of the Reformation witnesses (cf. Paragraph 10 of the Basis of Union). That is why the Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church was initiated immediately after the 2006 Assembly. Within the context of Paragraphs 5 to 11 of the Basis of Union, the Uniting Church would find it a severe challenge to celebrate same-sex marriage for its members and adherents. It would be a departure from the Basis of Union (and the substance of the faith!). In particular, the Uniting Church Assembly has not yet followed Paragraph 11. It has not held extensive discussions with the worldwide fellowship of the church to discern the will of God.
Now for the social aspect. Currently there are powers at work to remove “the Church” from the corridors of power. I am not overly concerned about that, in the final analysis. On past performance, I am unlikely to give up my faith because people adhering to a “culture of selective niceness” are “not nice” to me. I am resilient, by the grace of God.
Whether the state should allow same-sex marriage is a sociological question in a democracy. There are sociological consequences which will be seen differently by people with different presuppositions (e.g., the Frankfurt School). As a Christian I will vote against same-sex marriage in the plebiscite, as I still have a right to cast my vote in accordance with my beliefs. If the state allows same-sex marriage, I will hand in my state authorisation as a religious marriage celebrant. This authorisation is an anachronism in an increasingly secularised state.
As I hold my position with deep sincerity and some erudition and logic, I long for other people to come on board – and I cannot help but think that Isabel side-steps the Basis of Union, just as she thinks I hold an uncompassionate view. Our presuppositions are currently mutually exclusive, but recognising that may be a starting point for discussion.
Rev Walter Abetz (retired)
Longford Uniting Church
Presbytery of Tasmania