Australia has responded to the question on gay marriage with a landslide response of 61.6 per cent 'Yes.' As I heard the news, I felt much like the citizen of a nation deeply disagreeing with its actions (those of the LGBTQI community). As a celibate gay or 'Side B' Christian, I deeply disagree with my own 'people'.
There were two realities that concerned me as I watched my nation descend into an often gruelling and nasty democratic battle for 'rights'. Both sides had presuppositions in the debate that were wrong: 1. On the conservative side, LGBTQI people were still somehow perceived as more sinful compared with the general 'heterosexual' population 2. On the 'liberal' side, biblically-obedient Christians who disagreed but loved the LGBTQI community were still prejudged as bigots or inherently homophobic for disagreeing on the definition of marriage. The gay marriage campaign was never about equality, this was cheap PR spin. Gay marriage was about two competing definitions of love and reality. Sexuality in our modern world is charged as the ultimate, and transcendent goal, whereas for Christians, it is secondary to following Jesus Christ. Australians generally struggled to understand the implications of the Christian view of sexuality.
For these reasons, when I saw the news, I was simultaneously filled with a pang of great joy and deep sadness. I deeply loathed the fact that a movement I helped build in some small way had become an excuse to look down on, misrepresent and persecute fellow Christians, and mislead so many in my family, the Church (some of which are now redefining marriage in their churches). As a once-atheist student and gay rights activist, I fought for civil unions in the nation's capital, Canberra and finally, around the nation during the 2012 Rudd Government. Like Princeton's Sheriff Gergis, I now believe that marriage is distinct from gay unions as the only place shared biological life and intense emotional intimacy can come together directly, and that this was not just about my faith, but a natural fact. As a Christian, I still agree with the civil unions I fought for, with the addition of the same rights to have these internationally recognised.
I believe the only marriage that reflects God's image is between one man and one woman. There are many things in gay relationships that aren't as black and white as many in the Christian world have sinfully painted them. However, I have seen the reality of the Kingdom of God and the question remains, will we take up our cross and follow Jesus Christ or not? The legalisation of gay marriage changes nothing essential about our human need for salvation from our sinfulness. I said yes to that salvation those 9 years ago. 5 years later I gave God my homosexuality, leaving gay marriage behind. I now live for a new horizon. Like the gay journalist Jonathan Rauch, I was once a frightened young man tortured with the certainty that there was no place in the world for me to love the man of my dreams. The only solution was if the Australian people and I decided to give myself the right to marry. Australia would have found, at last, 'a name for his soul. It is not monster or eunuch. Nor indeed homosexual. It is: husband'. As Wesley Hill, a celibate gay New Testament Professor puts it, it's like the relief of a negative biopsy—'You're not sick or twisted or crazy; you're just hindered from giving and receiving love, and now the hindrance is removed'. This explains the huge surge of jubilation so many gay and lesbian people feel in the wake of gay marriage being legalised. Finally, their loves may be dignified not with the ill-fitting platitudes of friend or partner or the clinical epithet disordered or the disdainful slur 'pervert' but rather with the venerable, ordinary, immediately recognisable words husband or wife.
As a church-goer in this time, Rauch's picturing of marriage is deeply familiar. It's the place to find real transcendence, fulfilment and real satisfaction. It sounds almost exactly like how marriage is promoted in evangelical or orthodox churches. It's no wonder strange therapies that wrongfully tried to 'cure' gay people pointing them toward 'traditional heterosexual marriage' developed alongside a swelling gay marriage movement. The Church made marriage its idol and Western secular culture has obligingly agreed as shown in this vote. As Hill iterates, 'until the church turns away from such heterodoxy and begins to embody afresh a lesson from the life of its celibate Lord—that the truest, deepest human love is available outside of marriage as well as inside it, in spiritual friendships, in intentional communities, in vowed brother- and sisterhood, in devoted service, and in a hundred other beautiful and honourable callings and vocations—the Jonathan Rauches of the world will continue to want the only end to their loneliness they've ever heard the church and the world agree on.'
I eagerly pray for and await the day when a movement of Christians greater than the gay marriage movement would form in the Church and say, decidedly 'no' to this idolatry of sex and marriage, whatever its form. One day I dream of a semi-monastic renewal of Christians giving up their private middle class lives to live together, married and celibate. Meanwhile I share this to encourage all Christians to share God's love with the gay community whilst standing on the reality that God's image as reflected and ratified by Jesus in marriage between one man and one woman. To the LGBTQI community I say God loves you, and his grace is for you. He doesn't reduce you into a commercial group to be exploited in terms of the market trends of sexual identity, but holistically as a person he desires to know and died for. He calls you today like he did me in that Sydney pub eight years ago to come, leave your old life behind, pick up your cross and follow him. I can tell you, it's the best decision I ever made.
David Bennett is an adjunct speaker for the RZIM Zacharias Trust.