A few weeks ago, Wallabies superstar Israel Folau caused an online furore stating that gay people will go to hell unless they repent.  His comment was in response to a question from an Instagram user, Mike Sephton, who asked: “what was gods [sic] plan for gay people??”  His comment has since been deleted, but Folau replied to him before the comment was removed: “HELL … Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”

The background of this exchange is worth noting.  Two weeks before the post, Folau tore his hamstring quite severely in the opening minutes against the Brumbies and was told he would be on the sidelines for a month. Naturally, he found missing three or four games so early in the season to be disappointing and frustrating, but, by his admission, he “accepted the news and started looking ahead.”

That afternoon he posted the following on Instagram, referring to James 1:2-4: “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.”

The question about God’s plan for gay people was asked in the thread of that post.  Folau later wrote, “My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings.”

I want to make it clear that this blog is not written to criticise Israel Folau.  I’ve not met him, and I don’t stand in judgement of him.  I also uphold his right to free speech, to state what he believes the Bible teaches, and to answer questions as he sees fit.  He is a Christian man and, as such, he is my brother in Christ.  I encourage you to read his follow up piece, “I’m a sinner too,” in which he humbly gives some helpful context to his earlier comments.1

What I want to address in this blog, however, is where I differ from Israel Folau about “God’s plan.”  His answer went straight to addressing sin, and so the plan of God for sinners is hell.  My question is, “Is hell God’s plan for people?”  The simple answer is “no.”

Do I believe in hell?  Yes, I do.  But hell is NOT God’s plan for people – forgiveness, salvation and reconciliation are.  That’s why the apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people … [because] this is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  It appears that God’s plan is for His people to be deeply committed to praying for others “to come to a knowledge of the truth”.  God’s plan for people is to know the truth, not go to hell!

In another letter, the apostle wrote, “this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ.  And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.   So, we are Christ’s ambassadors…” 2

There’s some great truth in these verses about God’s plan for the human race.  “Reconciling” (in the original Greek language) was an accounting term that referred to the correct exchanging of money.  If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you’ll no doubt have had the experience of exchanging Australian dollars for the local currency, and you’ve checked to make sure you haven’t been short-changed.  That’s what God has done for every human being “through Christ”.  His plan was not to short-change us because we are sinners; in fact, while He was counting out righteousness (right relationship with Himself), He was NO LONGER COUNTING PEOPLE’S SINS AGAINST THEM.  How sad it is then that so many Christians today are known as sin counters.

The apostle also says that those of us who have been reconciled to God through Christ, have now been given the message of reconciliation as though we were Christ’s ambassadors.  If you are a Christian, your central message is that of reconciliation. You are Christ’s ambassador, that is, a person who is respected as trustworthy and knowledgeable to communicate the opinion of the one they represent; in this case Jesus Christ. 3 If God doesn’t count sins, why should His people?  If God’s plan is reconciliation why should any of us communicate His message as hell?

Sadly, people in Australia read comments like those from Israel Folau and, once again, hear a message from a Christian that is not a Christian message at all.  God’s plan for people is not hell.  God’s plan is reconciliation. After all, that’s the wonderful message He has given His people to share with the world.  It’s good news not bad.  It’s a message that attracts and does not repel.  Let’s get the message right!


[1] https://www.playersvoice.com.au/israel-folau-im-a-sinner-too/#oHXjioBHOeQuoX8Q.99

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

[3] http://biblehub.com/greek/4243.htm


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

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog titled Jesus on Divorce. My comments were based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 in response to questions about divorce and remarriage.

The disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching on divorce was to emphasise singleness as a better option than marriage – and Jesus didn’t disagree, and neither did the apostle Paul – both single men (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2)

Then in Matthew 19:11-12 (NIV), Jesus makes a very interesting comment: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Three types of Eunuchs

I believe this is the only time Jesus taught on sexual diversity and his comments are still as relevant today as they ever were.

Those who “choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” refers to those who, by their own free choice, and for the glory of God’s Kingdom, abstain from marrying or any intimate relationship. They voluntarily remain single and celibate and commit their lives to serving God and His people. We need to honour people such people rather than treat them like second-class Christians because they’re unmarried.

“Eunuchs who were born that way, and…eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others” refers to those who are unable to function sexually within a heterosexual marriage.

People like that may choose not to marry at all or, if they’re already married, there needs to be honest and open communication between husband and wife about making a choice to keep the marriage together because of the many other positive things that their relationship can bring.

Examples of people Jesus may have been referring to could be those with a certain disability, impotence, people who have same-sex orientation or have had surgery that has rendered them incapable of sexual intercourse.  It also includes those who are intersex“a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.”  Intersex people, just like Jesus said, are “born that way.”

Eunuchs Excluded

The interesting thing is that in Jesus’ day all of these people were excluded from temple worship, according to the Law of Moses. Consider Deuteronomy 23:1, No eunuch is to enter the congregation of God.” The next verse bans illegitimate children from “the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.”  These precious people were excluded.

But then comes a wonderful promise of a time when things would change.  Isaiah prophesies this in 56:3-5, “Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say,  ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’  And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’  For this is what the Lord says:  I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me.  I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give.  For the name I give them is an everlasting one.  It will never disappear!”

In the New Testament we see the fulfillment of this prophecy in the story of the conversion of Eunuch who was an Ethiopian court official.  He’d been to Jerusalem to worship God but of course he would have been disappointed by not being admitted to the Temple.  The apostle Philip was led by the Holy Spirit away from a revival in Samaria to the Gaza desert in order to bring salvation to this one man – the Ethiopian Eunuch.  Read the story in Acts 8:27-39.  It’s so inspiring.

Sadly, the modern church is still guilty of excluding those who are “different.”  Those who are single or who don’t fit the heterosexual stereotype are often made to feel second-class, unwanted and unwelcome.  Not only does this rob these precious people of the genuine Christian community they long for, it also robs the church of the gifts, compassion and energy these people can bring to the community of faith.

A Wonderful Example

A dear friend of ours, Ps Lynette Tobin, is a wonderful example of real Christianity in the work she’s been doing amongst the Eunuchs in India for several years.  In Western countries they are referred to as Transgender.  I’ll conclude this blog with a description of this work from Lynette:

“We met the Eunuchs 5 years ago through an amazing woman who was teaching them about the love of God. The leader of the Eunuchs in that group was Phoebe, who has since died of cancer.  She was such an inspiration.

Phoebe was born as a Eunuch and the day he was born the Eunuchs seemed to know, and came and took him off his family and brought him up in their community.  Many are born like that – man and woman – and they are castrated with a rock.  Families throw eunuch children out usually around 13 or 14 because they are different, and they are then castrated. Others choose to be castrated themselves just like the scriptures say.

The Eunuchs in India are the lowest of the low and, up until last year, they were not registered as a citizen of India so then could not get work or health cover. They live by begging and live in the most humble places and have nothing much at all. Phoebe died because she could not get health treatment. Praise God they are now recognised as human beings. Last year the law was passed in India that they could be registered and recognised.  Eunuchs are quite feared and hated in India but it is changing. Many are coming to the Lord because of God’s amazing grace seeking them out, and there are many Eunuchs who are spreading the Word of God.

Phoebe was recognised as a pastor and she brought many to the Lord.  They look quite manly but have hearts of gold, and these ones loved the Lord with all their hearts.

Phoebe was in a Hindu Temple giving alms to the Hindu gods when Jesus came to her in a vision and told her He had a future for her and that she was precious in His sight (She knew nothing of Jesus). She gave her heart to Jesus and started winning many other Eunuchs to the Lord.  What an honour to meet these amazing human beings.  Love Lynette.”

And so, if Jesus is seeking eunuchs out today, revealing his love to them and drawing them into relationship with God, what is our excuse to exclude such people from our churches?  Remember God’s Word, “I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give.  For the name I give them is an everlasting one.  It will never disappear!”

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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As I write this blog on Wednesday 31st October 2012, Hurricane Sandy (dubbed “Frankenstorm”) has smashed into the American northeast, leaving 16 dead, millions without power and parts of Manhattan underwater.  Conditions remain dangerous as this one-of-a-kind storm moves inland bringing blizzard conditions and massive amounts of snow.

While Sandy is still blowing cold air, predictably we have a “Christian” preacher blowing hot.  Author and chaplain John McTernan has said God’s judgment of gays caused the hurricane.  On this website http://defendproclaimthefaith.org the preacher says the storm must be God’s judgment on gays, and punishing the president Barack Obama for coming out in support of marriage equality.  He also believes “America has been under God’s judgment ever since George Bush Senior signed the Madrid Peace Process to divide the land of Israel in 1991.”  McTernan said: “Obama is 100% behind the Muslim Brotherhood that has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem.  ‘Both candidates (Obama & Romney) are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda.’”

His reasoning for this is that it has been 21 years since the “perfect storm” of October 1991.  He says, “21 years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection.”  The online preacher also blamed Hurricane Isaac on homosexuals.  He said gay festival Southern Decadence was to blame, as God was “putting an end to this city and its wickedness.”

It saddens me greatly that every time there is a natural disaster somewhere in the world there’s always at least one self-proclaimed Christian minister who will get up (after the event) and pinpoint the reason for it – and it’s always God’s judgment and it’s usually because of gay people.

I disagree with these judgment preachers for three main reasons:

Firstly, New Testament prophecy isn’t about proclaiming the reason for a disaster after the fact.  In Acts 11:27-30 a prophet by the name of Agabus “predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius).”  Armed with this knowledge the Christians gave financial gifts in order to help those who were affected by this famine.  Please note that there is no inference in this prophecy that this event was God’s judgment on anyone.  In His love, God gave a warning so that His people could be ready to help NOT judge.

Secondly, the Bible teaches that God always removes His people BEFORE He judges the ungodly.  Lot and his family were taken out of Sodom before the judgment fell, Noah and his family was safely in the ark before the flood.  Abraham got it right when he said to God, “Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from you!  Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).  I know many Christians who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy.  It is not the judgment of God.

Thirdly, right now is the time of God’s favor not vengeance or judgment (see Luke 4:19; Isaiah 61:2).  There will be a time of judgment in the future, but right now is the time of grace and a message of good news of Salvation to EVERYONE.   People like John McTernan seem to miss this truth, and their unbiblical proclamations end up turning people away from God rather than to Him.  That saddens me greatly.  How about you?

One "friend" didn't agree with me quoting a "secular" source and wrote, "Rob Buckingham, you have all the discernment of a lump of mud."  Nice hey?  I'm not easily offended and I chose not to be offended by this comment.  After all, Jesus healed at least two people by making mud out of dirt and spit, so maybe it was really a compliment – but I don't think so.

You see, the quote was taken from an article that Jeff Kennett wrote called "Australians must embrace gay marriage."  My Facebook "friend" took exception to this concluding that any article condoning gay marriage must be all wrong.  But I didn't quote the whole article, I just quoted one section in which I thought Jeff Kennett was spot on – his desire for a compassionate, uplifting and exciting church – as opposed to uncaring, dull and boring churches that are a major turnoff even to Australian Christians.  That's why, in the latest census, two thirds of Aussies describe themselves as Christian but only 7% regularly attend church.  The rest have probably been to a church and decided they have enough problems in life without adding a boring hour on a Sunday morning!

But my unkind Facebook "friend" is missing an important truth and buying into the lie that there is some great divide between the sacred and the secular.  The Hebrew worldview (from which the Bible is written) saw the earth as the Lord's and everything and everyone in it.  In fact the Bible writers often quote from "secular" sources.

The apostle Paul quotes from a number of ancient Greek poets in his writings.  In Acts 17:28 Paul gives two quotations: "'For in him we live and move and have our being.”  As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” The first quote is from the Cretan poet Epimenides (c. 600 BC), while “We are his offspring” is actually quoted by at least two different poets, Aratus (c. 315-240 BC) and Cleanthes (331-233 BC) in his Hymn to Zeus.  That's right, Paul quotes from a Hymn written to a pagan god and relates it to the worship of the One True God. 

We also find Paul quoting secular sources in two of his letters.  In 1Corinthians 15:33 he warns, "Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” This is a quote from the comedy Thais written by Greek poet Menander.  In his letter to Titus, Paul quotes the Cretan poet Epimenides a second time, "Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’” Paul goes on in the next verse to say emphatically, "This testimony is true.  Therefore, rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in the faith …" This quote is why calling someone a "Cretan" is considered an insult even today.

Jesus used well-known sayings of his day and brought them into his teachings.  In John 4 he uses two such sayings: "You know the saying, 'Four months between planting and harvest’” (v. 35).  Then in verse 37, "You know the saying, 'One plants and another harvests.’” And it's true."

Jesus also used stories from everyday life – things that his audience would be well acquainted with – and drew spiritual truth from them, to take people on a journey from what they knew to what they needed to know.  We would do well to find modern day parables that are applicable to life in the 21st Century.  And that's what I was attempting to do by quoting from Jeff Kennett's article: not trying to be as discerning as a lump of mud but rather trying to find a point of identification with people who may be looking for a relationship with God and a church that is compassionate, uplifting and, yes, maybe even exciting.

If I hear someone say one more time, “Well, we’ve just got to love the sinner and hate the sin” – I’m gonna scream! Christians quote this like it’s a Bible verse – right next to “God helps those who help themselves” and “cleanliness is next to godliness!”  But where is it in the Bible?  The Book of Hezekiah?  Paul’s letter to the Deuteronomy’s? Each section of this statement is true – God does love sinners and hates sin. But here’s the problem, as a collective statement it’s not true.

The real problem with “Love the sinner; hate the sin” is that it is rarely meant. It is really just a Christian-sounding platitude aimed at people whose behaviour we really struggle with; people whose sin we really hate and people that, if we were brutally honest, we don’t really love. This statement just salves our conscience and makes us feel like we’re being Christian when we are really displaying unchristian attitudes towards others.

Of course, the only way we can really know if we love the sinner is by spending time with them and helping them when they’re in need. How do we really feel about the drug addict with needle scars and missing teeth? What is our real attitude towards the homeless person who hasn’t bathed or changed their clothes for days or weeks? Do we really love the gay man or woman at work (or in our family) or do we merely tolerate them? Do we pretend to love people but then say derogatory things about them behind their back? We only know the true nature of our heart when we are confronted by someone we struggle with.  And let’s be honest about our struggles rather than hide behind “love the sinner; hate the sin.”

Another reason why this saying is so wrong is that often the sinner and the sin are inseparable. In other words, someone’s behaviour often defines him or her as a person so when we say we “hate the sin” what the person hears is “I hate you.” The Bible talks about loving the person – “For God so loved the world!” (John 3:16).

The statement “Love your neighbour as yourself” is found nine times in the Bible – divine emphasis for a reason.  In Galatians 5:14 the apostle Paul says that this truth sums up the entire law.  In James 2:8 this command is called “The Royal Law.”  Jesus illustrated how we are to love our neighbour as ourselves by telling the story of The Good Samaritan.  Samaritans were hated and despised by Jews in Jesus’ day. The Samaritans were half-cast Jews because they had intermarried with Gentiles.  They were viewed as worse than gentiles – the lowest of the low, the greatest sinners.  Jesus could not have found a more powerful illustration to prove His point. He didn’t teach “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”  He taught “Love the person like they were you.”  May this challenge us to the core of our faith!