Well it’s over! Australia’s very expensive and, many would say, pointless but profoundly divisive survey on who can marry whom is over. Do not send your survey now, they will not count it.
The result of the survey will be announced at 7am Perth time on 15th November.
It will be apparent that I have chosen to not make this issue the do-or-die conversation in the church. If people have asked me I was happy to discuss it. It is interesting how few people have asked me.
The survey, or straw poll (or flight of fancy), was only ever a weak government’s attempt to pass the buck on an issue they could never win. This is one reason why I didn’t make an issue of it. It was almost impossible to know what the issue we were discussing was. Let me explain.
I am a Christian leader and therefore my job is to think theologically about the world and its workings. My views on marriage – what it is, who it is for, why it matters, what it achieves and where it fits in God’s sovereign master-plan – are all formed by scripture and tradition. I can assure you, almost no one wanted to talk about marriage from that perspective in discussing the survey.
A second, to my mind disturbing, approach that was prevalent amongst the very young, was to be unequivocally enraged at any person, irrespective of reasoning, who declared themselves not to be an automatic “yes”. The thought that you might want or need to discuss and consider your views was not an option.
A third approach was the voice of generous reason dressed up in the language of kindness, tolerance and slogans like, “C’mon Australia, let’s just get this done!” Once again, alternatives could not be countenanced if you wanted to qualify as fair, kind, humane and contemporary.
I resonated with the “Yes” campaigns’ concern that this survey was only ever going to be divisive and polarising. So many people live fraught lives trying to find their place with respect to their sexuality. For me it could only be polarising because people come at what is a fundamental issue of identity with such deep personal investment and from such diverse starting points. I come at it theologically, someone else comes at it from a perspective of fairness in a secular environment, someone else can only see it through the lens of a personal experience. The capacity for debate was so limited because highly-invested people were locked into such different places with so little capacity to see, or want to see, the others’ reasoning.
The bible starts with a marriage between a man and a woman. In Revelation 21 it finishes with another wedding, between Christ and his bride, the Church. There is never anywhere in scripture that views marriage as anything other than you and I have traditionally known it. But we are not ‘a Christian’ country. Those days are long gone. We will have a wide range of views. Doing to marriage what we probably will do to it is not a surprise. In fact as we drift on the winds of human wisdom it is to be expected.
Next week I will muse on what I think that looks like for me as the leader of this community. How should we then live in the light of the resurrection when appealing to any reasoning other than that of the mob is difficult.