AS SOMEONE who believes in unity and community, the divisions between the various sections of the church have always bothered me deeply. Even so, as I now witness these same fragmented bodies coming together with single-minded unity of purpose, I find myself appalled rather than encouraged.
Why did it have to be opposition to same-sex marriage that brought us together? Why couldn't it have been support for asylum-seekers?
Indeed, it's not only Anglicans and Catholics and Protestant Christians that are banding together to uphold the traditional definition of marriage. Most of my Muslim friends seem to have joined the same chorus.
I'd be tempted to say that every colour of the religious rainbow is represented in this coalition, except that I'm not sure that the metaphor can bear such irony.
Why is it that religious people in this country are so passionate on this issue? In the case of the church, my guess is that it's a part of our traditional obsession with sex.
The rot set in very early in the history of the church in this regard. By the second century, the church fathers were already buying into a dualistic philosophical framework that denigrated the human body and all things physical at the expense of what was deemed to be spiritual and eternal.
Their legacy of misogyny and asceticism has plagued us ever since. Our beloved St Augustine (while a model human being in so many ways) has a lot to answer for in this regard.
This, at any rate, is my guess as to why the church is getting so worked up about this plebiscite, and if so, our angst is based on a simple mistake. The mistake is to think that this plebiscite is about condoning or prohibiting certain forms of sexual behaviour. It's not. It's about marriage, and what has marriage got to do with sex?
Marriage, as I understand it, is about children, and it's about structuring families in such a way that children can be properly nurtured and supported. Now I appreciate, of course, that the relationship between sex and children is not incidental. At the same time though, in a society where contraception is effective, affordable, and readily available to anyone who wants it, that relationship is not as straightforward as it once was.
The key thing we religious folk need here, I believe, is clarity - clarity as to what is at stake.
The plebiscite we are being asked to participate in is not calling upon us to vote on whether we think all forms of human sexual activity are equal in the eyes of God.
Personally, I think God is a lot less interested than we are in what goes on between consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms. Even so, none of this is relevant to the upcoming vote.
You don't have to feel comfortable thinking about gay sex before you can vote 'yes'. You just have to recognise that it's what's best for our community.
Personally, I think the Christian community should be at the forefront in promoting change. Why? Because we of all people should have a clear understanding of the purposes for which marriage was instituted. We don't buy into the new-age myths that say it's all about finding your soulmate, just as we don't believe in the mystical power of everlasting romance. We know from the example of Christ Himself that real love is about commitment and sacrifice, and we've structured our understanding of marriage accordingly.
When we marry two people together, we don't ask them whether they feel hot for each other. We ask them whether they will stand by each other, regardless of the struggles they face together, regardless of how their circumstances change - for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health - because we recognise that this is the only form of relationship that has stability, and hence provides a secure environment for the nurturing of children.
And now we find that same-sex couples are keen to make similar commitments of love and faithfulness to each other, thus providing a greater degree of security and stability for the children in their care. What, in Heaven's name, makes us to think that this is a bad idea?
Again, let's be clear. This is not a vote over whether people are allowed to be gay or have gay sex. That horse bolted a long time ago.
It's not about whether same-sex couples are allowed to parent children. That already happens, and no plebiscite is going to change that.
What is at stake is whether we want to encourage these couples to build their relationships around the very values that we Christian folk hold most dear - commitment and lifelong faithfulness.
Will someone please remind me what the problem is?
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