Unless a High Court challenge is successful Australians who are on the electoral role will receive envelopes posted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from September 12 to have a say on same-sex marriage.  Responses will be due by 7 November and a result announced on 15 November.  The nation is divided on whether this is a good idea but if this is the only way forward on this issue, I encourage you to have your say and cast a vote.

In this blog, I want to outline some considerations on the postal vote that I hope will be helpful in thinking this through and having conversations with others especially when they disagree.  I also encourage you to read my blog Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage. [1]

It’s important to note from the start, same-sex marriage is not merely an “issue”.  This debate involves people – people who God loves, people made in God’s image, people who are in our churches, that you’re related to and that you meet in everyday life.

Jesus is at the heart of Christian unity

This is the most important thing to remember at all times.  Christians have disagreed on many things over the centuries and sometimes those disagreements have led to poor behaviour and outcomes.  For example, both John Calvin and Martin Luther advocated for the death of anyone they considered to be heretics (read: “anyone who disagrees with me” – sound familiar?)  While Christians don’t usually kill each other these days, there are many keyboard warriors, preachers and others whose words hurt and wound.  Jesus is at the heart of Christian unity – who He is, what He’s done and what He continues to do.  These are non-negotiable to the Christian faith.  People don’t go to heaven or hell for what they believe about same-sex marriage.

Voting is a secret ballot

I’m amazed at the number of individuals who ask others what they’ll vote in this SECRET ballot.  You don’t have to tell anyone what you intend to vote.  I heard of a pastor who, last weekend, “implored” his people to vote “no.”  It’s my opinion that this pastor is going beyond his authority in doing this.  I never tell people what I vote, and neither do I instruct them on how to vote.  The church is beyond politics.  Our message and mandate are from another place; we are citizens of heaven and called to be ambassadors who bring heaven to earth.  In any church, there will be people of various political persuasions and who have differing views on ethical issues.  Disunity occurs when church leaders fail to recognise this.

Don’t be critical of others’ relationships

My understanding of the Bible leads me to believe that heterosexual marriage is a relationship that is like no other.  The coming together of a man and a woman in sacred marriage is a covenant that reflects both the image of God and the relationship that exists between Jesus and His church.  It is a relationship where children can be born and raised by both of their biological parents.  But my beliefs do not cause me to criticise or demean other people’s relationships.  Over my 40 years as a Christian, I’ve watched the church grapple with accepting divorced and remarried people and single parent families.  We now freely welcome such people into our churches (well at least most churches). People find themselves as single parents for all sorts of reasons, and they should never be made to feel like second-class citizens. Neither should couples whom for whatever reason can’t have or choose not to have children.

The Bible often speaks critically of divorce and remarriage, but we have come to realise there are higher laws that come into operation such as “Love your neighbour as yourself” and “treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”  We need to apply these greater laws to same-sex couples and singles who want to be part of a church community and grow in their relationship with God and others.  Remember, “a Christian’s job is not to be right about the Bible, our aim should be to fulfil Scripture.” [2]  Some gay and lesbian couples and individuals have children, and the church has a responsibility to minister to those children as well.  It would not be helpful to the kids for their parents’ relationship status to be criticised by their church.

Sometimes the Bible is just not clear

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read, “the Bible clearly states …” I’d be a very wealthy man.  Sometimes the Bible is clear, but on many things, it isn’t.  A favourite book series of mine is Counterpoints by Zondervan publishers. [3]  This set contains over 30 titles that deal with many views on various subjects.  There are four views on hell, three views on creation and evolution, four views of baptism and two views of women in ministry (yes and no) to name a few.  While the Bible is clear on the unique relationship between a husband and wife, it is not as clear on some other relationships.  Read my blog, “The changing face of marriage” for more on this. [4]

Like it or not, there are various views on the six verses in the Bible that appear to condemn homosexuality.  Those who take these verses literally and at face value should not be condemned as bigots and homophobes while those who come to a different conclusion should not be labelled revisionist or heretical.  People on both sides of this debate have studied the context, history and culture of these Scriptures and come to differing conclusions.  Some people do not see these verses as condemning of loving, monogamous same-sex relationships while others do.  I encourage you to read widely and come to your conclusions – and allow others to do the same.

Beware of outraged Christians

Lately, I’ve seen an increasing number of blogs and social media posts from outraged Christians, often posted and shared with little or no fact-checking, and all they do is distort the truth and create fear.  I think that’s the intended outcome and I don’t believe that is a good way for Christian people to behave.  For example, a recent email from the Australian Christian Lobby is titled, “It’s under attack” and includes a quote from Professor Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and academic at the University of Toronto.  Professor Peterson has become somewhat of an online celebrity in speaking out against political correctness (and is making a lot of money in the process).  The ACL says, “In the wake of same-sex marriage, Canada passed a new law making it a criminal offense for you to refuse to call someone by their “chosen” gender pronoun.  Refuse to bow to such rainbow totalitarianism by LGBTI activists and you could suffer legal prosecution.”  These claims are inaccurate as another academic at the University of Toronto shows [5] but they have been shared over and over by outraged Christians who fail to check their facts.

The “slippery slope” argument also attempts to instil fear, that is, if we allow “A” to happen then “X, Y & Z” will inevitably follow.  This fear causes people to fight to protect “A” at all costs.

Not all gay people want same-sex marriage

To think that all gay people are for same-sex marriage and all Christians are against is just wrong.  I’ve chatted with some gay and lesbian individuals who don’t support same-sex marriage.  One guy told me he thought of marriage as a heterosexual institution and wanted nothing to do with it.  One thing that is important to understand is that in countries where same-sex marriage is legal there’s a minimal uptake of it.  For example in the UK, civil partnerships, rather than marriage, are still preferred by the majority of straight and gay couples.  In Australia, about 3% of the population identify as other than heterosexual.  The last census indicated there were 33,714 same-sex couples and 4,650,986 opposite sex couples.  Considering that most of the same-sex couples won’t get married, I sometimes have the feeling we’re creating a storm in a teacup – albeit a costly storm.

Everyone needs to compromise

It is my belief that sooner or later same-sex marriage will become law in Australia.  That being the case it’s of vital importance that any legislation is carefully framed.  The Australian Government has to govern for all people but in any decision there will naturally be some who are happy with the outcome while others are not.  There will be winners and losers – the winners must choose not to gloat and the losers must lose well.  In the meantime, compromises need to be made.  The trouble is that people on the extremes don’t like to compromise.  Such was the case recently when Federal Member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, along with Patrick Parkinson put forward a bill that defined two kinds of marriage – religious (sacred) marriage and civil marriage.  This bill offered widespread religious freedoms not contained in the other two bills (the Dean Smith Bill and the George Brandis Bill).  Some gay extremists, some conservative politicians and the Australian Christian Lobby rejected this Bill because they refuse to compromise.  In doing this, the losers may get little or nothing.

Finally, as mentioned previously, it’s important in all our dealings that we don’t see this as merely an issue.  This is a debate about people whom God loves.  And so any discussions have to be tempered with grace, understanding, and respect and include the Christian qualities of tolerance, kindness and patience because that reflects the nature of God. [6]


[1] https://baysidechurch.com.au/thoughts-on-same-sex-marriage/

[2] Shane Willard, Getting Unstuck https://baysidechurch.com.au/message/getting-unstuck-ps-shane-willard/

[3] http://www.zondervan.com/the-counterpoints-library-complete-32-volume-set

[4] https://baysidechurch.com.au/the-changing-face-of-marriage/

[5] http://sds.utoronto.ca/blog/bill-c-16-no-its-not-about-criminalizing-pronoun-misuse/

[6] Romans 2:4

On many occasions during Jesus’ ministry years the religious leaders asked him questions to test, trap and trip Him up.  They failed every time of course!  One such instance was written down by Jesus’ disciple Matthew (Matt 19:1-15 NIV) when they asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

This question is basically asking Jesus which one of the two rabbinical schools of the day He personally agreed with: The school of Shammai taught divorce was only allowed if one’s spouse was unfaithful, and the school of Hillel inferred a man could divorce his wife if she burnt the toast or as another Rabbi added, “if you find someone more attractive.”  Even though people publicly supported the Shammai school of thought, the Hillel school was closer to what was general practice in society – much as it is today!

Jesus answered by appealing to God’s original purpose in marriage:

“At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt 19:4-6 NIV).

The religious leaders responded by quoting Scripture back at Jesus:

“Why then … did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matt 19:7 NIV)

They were quoting from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled …” (NIV).

We read this sort of thing in the Bible today and are horrified by the implications, but three thousand plus years ago women were considered little more than goods and chattels.  Society was extremely patriarchal (as it still is in some countries and cultures today).  This poor woman, written about in Deuteronomy 24, is simply dismissed by her husband with a certificate of divorce and expelled from the family home.  If she has no other family to live with, she’d be homeless.  There were no social security benefits and many of these women would be forced into prostitution or begging in order to survive.  If she got lucky and another man took her for his wife then she’d be looked after, but if “her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled …” – that could only have been written by a bloke!

It’s this patriarchal boys club that Jesus challenges head-on in Matthew 19:8, ‘Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”’

Notice how Jesus’ statements are directed at the men and are aimed at protecting the rights of women.  When Moses wrote Deuteronomy he was writing in context of his culture, but Jesus contests that culture and in so doing he advances and protects the rights of women.

Author Ken Wilson writes about Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 this way: “It’s God’s original intention, in general, for people who marry to stay married for life. But that doesn’t mean that people who are trapped in deeply harmful marriages must either remain married, or remain single after divorce. I’ve determined, by my pastoral practice, that it is legitimate to regard the text as descriptive, as generally normative, not prescriptive – that is, not prescribing what must happen in every case.”

It should also be noted that Jesus is probably using hyperbole here; that is, exaggerating a point in order to get across a powerful truth.  In this case, the truth is that neither marriage nor divorce should ever be entered into lightly or unadvisedly, but prayerfully and with the counsel of wise people.

That being said, since the Second World War the divorce rate has increased dramatically.  The church has wrestled with the issues of separation, divorce, single-again and remarriage for decades – and has not always dealt with them well.  Many people have been hurt and excluded by the church when it has upheld a wrong understanding of Scripture, grace, forgiveness and second chances.  I’m glad that, by and large, we have reconciled these issues and more importantly, we no longer exclude those who for whatever reason, find themselves separated, divorced and/or remarried.  As for Bayside Church, if this describes you I want you to know that you are more than welcome in our community.  Jesus loves and accepts you and so do we.

For more on this subject read my blog “Divorce and Remarriage.”

For more on this topic check out I recently spoke at Bayside Church, “Excluded From God’s Kingdom.”

There is no doubt in my mind that “in the beginning” God had a very definite view of marriage.  In Genesis 2 the woman is taken out of the man’s side (as his equal).  There is no mention of a marriage between Adam and Eve because, according to Adam, she was already “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” but, when Moses collated the patriarchal oral and written records into the book of Genesis around 1440 BC, he added the explanation, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Almost 1,500 years later, when asked about divorce, Jesus reaffirmed God’s original plan for marriage, that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”

That being said, it’s important to realise that throughout the Bible marriage is not viewed as an unchanging institution but rather as different arrangements that changed over the centuries.  For example, primitive peoples like Abraham (2000 BC or older) were endogamous.  That is, they married within their own specific ethnic group.  Abraham married his half-sister and together became the parents of an entire nation that eventually gave the Messiah to the world.

Other families were polygamous like King David who had at least eight wives.  When he committed adultery with Bathsheba, God spoke to David through Nathan the prophet saying, I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! (2 Samuel 12:8) – by implication, more stuff and more wives!

Pastor Ken Wilson in his book, A Letter To My Congregation, writes For the entire biblical period, family elders, often for economic reasons, selected marriage partners for their children. Today, this might be viewed as inconsistent with the consent necessary for legitimate marriage.  The practice of “child marriage” was allowed in the biblical era.  It was common for older men to marry younger women, including minors by today’s standards  (Joseph and Mary may have been such a couple). Today, this would be regarded as criminal abuse.  During and after the biblical era women were regarded as property.  This perspective is reflected in some biblical texts.  Today, this would be considered slavery rather than marriage.”

The word “marriage” is found only 47 times in the entire Bible although it’s clear from Luke 17:27 that marriage was widespread even before the times of Noah’s flood.

The first reference to marriage is in Genesis 29:26 where Laban tells Jacob, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.”  David’s prize for killing Goliath was for Saul to give him great wealth and “also give him his daughter in marriage and [to] exempt his family from taxes.”  2 Chronicles 18:1 records how “Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.”  Among the many nations there was no king like Solomon: “He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women” of whom he married at least 300 (Nehemiah 13:26).

Weddings are only mentioned 19 times in the Bible – the first time in 1 Kings 9:15-19 (and it wasn’t a pleasant wedding ceremony either).  Jesus’ first miracle was performed at a wedding celebration where He turned water into wine.  Weddings featured frequently in His teachings as a symbol of the celebration of being united with our Lord in the eternal ages where “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”  In other words, marriage will have served its purpose and no longer exist.

While “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4), it’s interesting to note that the two most prevalent characters in the New Testament – Jesus and Paul – did not view marriage as the most important thing.  Both men were single and highlighted the single and celibate life as the best way to live even though marriage was expected of rabbis.  When he was teaching about marriage and divorce Jesus’ disciples observed, “it is better not to marry” and Jesus didn’t disagree.

I encourage you to read 1 Corinthians chapter 7 and gain insight into some of Paul’s teaching on singleness and marriage.  He writes, “I wish that all of you were as I am” (i.e. single) but then gives concession to those who can’t handle that way of living: “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  How different this is to much of the teaching and attitudes amongst today’s Christians and churches, where marriage is viewed as the highest goal to attain while single people often feel second-class and incomplete.

When Christie and I announced our engagement in 1994 someone said to me, “that’s so good, now you will be compete.”  I quickly reminded them that I “have been made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10).  A lasting marriage is not two incomplete people coming together trying to fulfill their needs in another person but rather two complete people complimenting each other.  It’s not ½ + ½ = 1 but rather 1 x 1 = 1 (one flesh and one in Christ).  I used to get so tired of people (older ladies were the worst) saying to me at weddings, “you’ll be next!”  I used to get them back at funerals!

Marriage has had to be handled differently in diverse situations and cultures over the centuries.  Consider that in the first century slaves weren’t allowed to marry, but they would often enter relationships in which children were born.  We know from Scripture that some of these slaves became Christians and joined church communities.  The New Testament doesn’t address these de facto relationships at all so it appears not to have been a big deal.

Polygamy has also been a big issue over the years as Christian missionaries spread the gospel amongst polygamous peoples.  Attempts to break up these families have had many harmful consequences.  Consider the cases in PNG in the fifties and sixties where a directive was given to men with many wives that they could only have one.  Some of the men then killed the wives they liked the least so they could obey the missionaries and have just one wife.  I think a higher law comes into play in situations like this.

Christians and churches need great wisdom in this day and age too.  Families come into our churches and sometime later we find out the couple are not married.  We should not be guilty of breaking up such families but rather allow the Holy Spirit time to do His work whatever that may be.  The Lord is incredibly gracious and patient in His dealings with us all and I am so grateful.  We need to show great grace to all people in any type of relationship as they journey towards Jesus.  People who are hard and fast on the letter of the law only serve to repel people from a God who loves them.  The letter kills but the Spirit gives life!

Someone accused me on Facebook recently of “being quiet” on the issue of same-sex marriage. While that’s not been the case, I have chosen not to engage in the vitriolic rants and raves between Christians and LGBTI people.

It appears to me that some Christians are dug down in one trench and some LGBTI people in an opposite trench and they’re just shooting at one another.  I’d like to declare a ceasefire – shooting at each other is achieving nothing other than causing hatred and anger to be stirred up – and the Christians should stop firing first!  I can’t see anywhere in the Bible that teaches God sent His Son into the world to raise up a people to be the world’s moral police.  In fact, He sent His Son for just the opposite of that – to bring peace, forgiveness, salvation, redemption, grace and new beginnings.

Firstly, let me clearly state my views on Biblical/Christian marriage.  In Matthew 19 some religious leaders asked Jesus about marriage and divorce.  In reply He took them right back to the beginning of the Book (Genesis 1:27; 5:2), “Haven’t you read … that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  When you read the account of God’s creation of people you find that God created people in His image: “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  It appears that God divided His nature between male and female so that the coming together of a man and a woman in marriage would be a coming together of the complete image of God hence “the two will become one.”  No other human relationship can reflect the image of God in the way a heterosexual marriage can.

In Ephesians chapter five the apostle Paul speaks of marriage between a man and a woman as symbolising the relationship between Jesus and the church: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (31-32).  No other human relationship can reflect the connection between Jesus and the church in the way a heterosexual marriage can.  On the basis of these – and other parts of the Bible – I believe the current definition of marriage, in the Australian Marriage Act, accurately reflects a Biblical and thus Christian view of marriage.

I believe that’s the ideal, but, we live in a far from ideal world.  Just consider again the context of Matthew 19 – a discussion on marriage and divorce.  Jesus makes it abundantly clear that a man and woman are to come together in marriage for life.  I don’t believe most people go into marriage thinking it won’t last – although there seem to be some these days who see marriage as a ten-year lease with an option to extend!  People marry with a view to staying together.  That’s the ideal, but we live in a far from ideal world.  Many people have suffered the pain of a failed marriage and all that that entails.  The church has had to work through this issue over the years and many have come to a place where divorced people are no longer viewed as second-class citizens (for more on this refer to my blog on Divorce and Remarriage.

So, with that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on the same-sex marriage debate:

1. The church doesn’t own marriage in Australia (and many other nations) – the government does.  Christians have as much of a right as anyone else to share their views on same-sex marriage, but it will ultimately be a government decision because the government owns marriage.  As Senator Barnaby Joyce rightly said, “In life, not everybody gets what they want.”  In this debate there are going to be some people who will ultimately be disappointed.

2. Many people in our society do not hold to a Biblical worldview so they simply do not understand, agree with, or want to abide by what some churches and Christians teach.

3. It is my opinion that the Western Church often idolises marriage in a way the Bible doesn’t.  Being single-minded for the Kingdom of God is the emphasis of the New Testament (1Cor. 7).  Think of Jesus, Paul and Barnabas who were all single.  I was 35 when I got married and the pressure placed on me by well-meaning married people to get married was, at times, unbearable.  I feel deeply for single people who are often put under an unnecessary burden because of the Church’s unbiblical view of the importance of marriage.  We are not married to marriage as an institution, we get married to someone we love and choose to spend the rest of our lives with to the exclusion of all others!

4. One of the challenges I’ve had with some of the “Christian” arguments against same-sex marriage has concerned what’s best for the children.  Statements have been made such as, “Children deserve to be brought up by their biological mother and father.”  True.  That’s the ideal.  But when I hear this said my heart goes out to single parents (as well as those who can’t have children) who wanted the ideal only to find out that it wasn’t possible in their case.  I greatly admire single parents who are doing their best in the toughest of circumstances.  They need our support not our ill thought through arguments.

5. Predictions of the downfall of heterosexual marriages if same-sex marriage is introduced are nothing short of ridiculous.  If your marriage and family is so unstable that two men or two women getting married will destroy yours, then you are already in deep trouble.  As for the Christian couple from Canberra who said they’d divorce if same-sex marriage were legalised – you really did a great job of letting Aussies know what the Gospel is all about hey?

6. Please let’s stop using the “slippery slope” argument.  James Dobson, a man I’ve admired for many years as the founder of Focus on the Family, made this disappointing statement on his radio program in February 2013 in the context of same-sex marriage, “How about group marriage? Or marriage between daddies and little girls? Or marriage between a man and his donkey? Anything allegedly linked to civil rights will be doable, and the legal underpinnings for marriage will have been destroyed. Now, that’s more or less a prophecy. Not a divine prophecy, but a prediction.”  This sort of statement makes Christians and the church look and sound ludicrous in the eyes of the broader community.  As for bestiality, until donkeys – or any other animal – learn to write so they can sign their marriage documents I think we’re fairly safe!  James Dobson’s statement perpetuates the “slippery slope” argument that is used in all sorts of ethical disputes.  If we allow “this” then “that” will be the automatic consequence.  But that’s not necessarily true.  I believe the words “to the exclusion of all others” will still be in the Marriage Act so there will be no room for polygamy, polyandry, polyamory, pedophilia, bestiality or any other relationship outside of TWO PEOPLE to be legalised.

7. Everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be given the dignity of that reality.  A common theme in the Bible is “Love your neighbour as yourself.” This statement is mentioned 9 times in Scripture. In Galatians 5:14 the apostle Paul says “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, everything from Genesis to Malachi – all of the 602,585 words – can be summed up in just 5 words. In James 2:8 “Love your neighbor as yourself” is called “The royal law.”  That means this is the most important commandment in the entire Bible.  What does “love your neighbour as yourself” look like when that neighbour is gay or lesbian, transgender, bisexual or intersex? Christian compassion must lead us to see what life is like in someone else’s shoes.  What is it like:

  • To be attracted to the same-sex?
  • To feel like you’re stuck in the wrong body?
  • To be born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male?

8. How would you want to be treated if that was you?  Have you ever chatted with someone who is not heterosexual and asked them what life is like for them?  Jesus’ Golden Rule is, ““Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”  The apostle John put it this way, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  You say you love gay people?  Show them!  As Brian Stevenson says in his amazing book Just Mercy, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance … you have to get close.”  It seems to me that there is massive ignorance in the church – and amongst Christians – on human sexuality.  This often leads to fear, generalisations and unkind comments.  Christians and churches need to do their homework and educate themselves on the complexity and variety of sexuality – especially on that which falls outside of heterosexuality.

For more on this aspect listen to my message “Real Christianity is accepting”.  The Christian message is not predominately a message of morality; it is a message of redemption.  Now redemption should lead to morality but I think we sometimes get the cart before the horse.  We build walls instead of bridges and keep people out of the kingdom because of our “moral” stand just like the Pharisees did.  Read Matthew chapter 23 and see how unimpressed Jesus was with this kind of attitude.

9. Christians and the straight community haven’t done a great job at looking after “Biblical” marriage.  Think of the massive divorce rates, the prevalence of domestic violence (most of which occurs in straight relationships), rampant infidelity and child abuse (children are most likely to be abused or neglected by parents).  The Catholic church, and to a lesser extent other churches and Christian schools, has turned a blind eye to the abuse of children for decades, hence it’s very hard for the un-churched community to listen to the church’s defense of traditional marriage and morals when its been so neglectful and hypocritical itself.  Further, it appears to me that some in the church seem to only defend the first part of the definition of marriage not the second part. That is met with silence: “Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”  We hear a lot about the “man and a woman” bit but nothing about “voluntarily entered into for life.”  Where’s the Church’s voice speaking out on arranged or forced marriages, domestic violence & child abuse in heterosexual relationships, and the epidemic of divorce and remarriage?  For more on this refer to my blog Marriage Under Threat.

10. The Bible teaches a hierarchy of ethics – that is, a higher law will cancel out a lower one.  What is the higher law in regards to same-sex marriage? Would it encourage greater monogamy amongst LGBTI people who want to be together for life?  What about the 33,700 same-sex couples in Australia as per the last Census?  Further to this, if same-sex marriage is legalised how will local churches respond to two men or two women who want to come and discover the grace of God as expressed in Jesus?  Should the church make this conditional on the two people ending their relationship?  What if they have children – should the church break up a family?  What is that the highest law in these situations?  These are all questions that churches and Christians need to think through very carefully.

11.  If marriage is a right then it also has responsibilities. On this “right’ Senator Nick Xenophon said, “Gays have every right to be as miserable as heterosexuals.”  I appreciate his humour but of course in every joke there is a grain of truth.  Marriage is wonderful, exciting, mundane, enjoyable, frustrating, difficult, rewarding and just plain hard work.  If same-sex marriage is legalised I hope gay and lesbian people will do a better job managing its responsibilities than many straight couples have done.

12. Can we Christians please stop making stereotypical comments about LGBTI people?  Remarks about “The gay lifestyle” and “The gay agenda” are incorrect and hurtful.  Gays and lesbians are as diverse as straight people.  Yes, there are radical gay people who have a strong political agenda.  Of course there are no Christians who are like that right?  I’ve met gay people who don’t even want same-sex marriage as they consider it a heterosexual institution.  For most LGBTI people their “agenda” is to get up in the morning, have breakfast, go to work, meet with friends, love their families, make a difference for good where they can, laugh, cry, deal with heartache, pay bills – any of that sound familiar?

Having said these things I will finish by voicing some of my concerns if and when same-sex marriage is legalised:

I’m concerned at the removing (or confusing) of the terms “husband” and “wife.”  I’m told that redefining marriage means changing the Marriage Act to remove these terms.  I am concerned that this will cause confusion.  Many couples in common law relationships currently refer to each other as “partners.”  Would this term not suffice for people in same-sex marriages? Why not allow “husband” and “wife” to remain as terms to indicate men and women in a heterosexual marriage?

I’m concerned that we will lose some terms altogether.  For example, in Spain, birth certificates use the expressions “progenitor A” and “progenitor B” in place of mother and father.  Canada has removed the concept of “natural parent” from its laws and Sweden seeks to remove the terms “boy” and “girl”, replacing them with one term.

I’m concerned that there could be an increase in lawsuits against those who, because of conscience or faith, cannot endorse, or provide services for, a same-sex union.  I’m concerned that refusing service may lead to people being punished under anti-discrimination laws.  Currently none of the bills on same-sex marriage offer enough protection of religious freedom and individual conscience.  Any legislation needs to be carefully drafted to give religious exemptions.  Similar immunities need to be provided to religious colleges, schools and social-service agencies.  Religious institutions and schools should not be punished if they teach their own beliefs about marriage.  And these provisions should also be provided for the protection of LGBTI people too.  For example, in much of the US a gay publicist can refuse to provide services for an anti-gay event – and rightly so.

Of course, if we all respected one another then this sort of legislation would be unnecessary – but there we are back in that ideal world again.



Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, a thriving community of faith located in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne.  Welcoming people from all walks of life, Bayside Church invites all people to experience the Christian faith and God.  For more information about Bayside Church:

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There can be a great deal of confusion and questions surrounding divorce particularly for Christians.

The matter of divorce (and remarriage) is a controversial issue for which a number of statements need to be made:

  1. If you are divorced or remarried you are most welcome in this church.  You are not a second-class Christian!
  2. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) – why?  Because it breaks a covenant and causes much pain and hardship.  God has been divorced and knows firsthand the amount of hurt it causes.  Through the prophet Jeremiah God said, “I knew that the kingdom of Israel had been unfaithful and committed many sins, yet I still hoped she might come back to me. But she didn’t, so I divorced her and sent her away” (Jeremiah 3:8).  I’ve never found a person who enjoyed the experience of a divorce.
  3. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin – it is a sin, but it is not unforgivable.  However this should not be used as an excuse to escape from a marriage covenant.
  4. Divorce is not God’s ideal – but then we don’t live in an ideal world.   God’s ideal is marriage to one person for life that is why marriage vows contain the words “till death we do part.”  When questioned about divorce Jesus took his questioners right back to the Book of Genesis, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”  He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The Bible does give three instances where separation, divorce and subsequent remarriage are acceptable, because all three break the covenant of marriage.

1.   The case of unfaithfulness

Jesus said, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”  The person who is free to remarry here is the victim of the unfaithfulness not the culprit.  Also, Jesus is particularly condemning the actions of a person who commits adultery, divorces and then marries the person they committed adultery with.  A person must not commit adultery in order to get out of a marriage in order to marry someone else (Romans 6:1).

2.   The case of an unbelieving partner departing

Paul offers the following advice to believers with unbelieving partners in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.  But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.” 

3.   The case of violence and abuse

It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, counselors or ministers recommending women in particular, to stay with husbands who are physically, verbally or emotionally abusive.  Ephesians 5:21-33 makes it very clear that submission is to be mutual, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies … each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”  Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in a relationship.”

These three things – unfaithfulness, an unbelieving partner departing and violence and abuse break the marriage covenant.  In most cases …

  1. Separation is advisable (at least a temporary one)
  2. Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counseling)
  3. Divorce may be unavoidable
  4. Remarriage is permissible.

When you read the title of this blog what did you immediately think of? Probably gay marriage! But that’s not what this blog is about. I believe there is a greater threat to marriage– a threat that comes from within the church itself.

Over the past few years I have been amazed to see many Christian marriages fail:

I’ve seen a Christian leader leave his wife and kids.

Then there’s the two pastors – who’ve had longstanding addictions to Internet porn and marital unfaithfulness – decide to leave their wives, children and churches.

There’s the wife who just doesn’t want to be married anymore so she leaves her husband.

I know an evangelist in the USA who’s recently been married for the fifth time – and is still in ministry. She invited us to the wedding but we were unable to attend. I told her we’d try and make the next one.

Another well-known evangelist has recently been separated from his wife of 30 years – even though they had been living in different houses for quite some time. This abusive marriage is over but the evangelist is still in ministry of course; the show must go on!

A while ago I heard that the son of an Australia Church leader was getting remarried. This young man had left his first wife because they didn’t really love each other and just weren’t happy. I asked the pastor who was doing the wedding what he thought about the Scriptures concerning divorce and remarriage. He told me he wasn’t thinking about it too much. After all, they are friends and he didn’t want to let them down. “But didn’t Jesus say they would be committing adultery” I asked. I was told, “yes, but they’ll ask for God’s forgiveness and it’ll all be okay!” It’s just that simple!

And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Marriage certainly is under threat but the biggest threat is from within the church itself, and the church needs to sort itself out rather than just playing moral policeman to everyone else.

The words of Jesus ring true on this issue: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”(Matthew 7:3, 5)

Of course I am aware that some marriages have no hope of surviving because of infidelity, abuse or someone just walking away; and my heart goes out to people who wanted their marriage to work but found themselves in a situation that was beyond their control. But what I’m addressing here is the undervaluing of marriage by some today who leave marriages because they’re “just not happy anymore.” Christian people who view marriage as a ten-year lease with an option to extend are a bigger threat to the holy institution of marriage than anyone or anything else.