The following reply was provided in response to some questions asked by journalist Jasmin Lill, from Westside News. A small part of this reply is used on Page 5, of Westside News, print edition (Wed 20 Sept, 2017); and a larger part is used in an online article on Courier Mail.
Christians have always held, that our ultimate source of authority is God’s Word, the Bible, and that God intends Christians to follow His ways, and align their views with His Word. The Church has also traditionally believed, that part of its role in society involves telling people what God says.
The definition of marriage, is something the Bible speaks about, namely that marriage is not a human construct, but was designed by God in the beginning with a purpose, and is between a man and a woman. This has been the norm for thousands of years, and has been the norm in Australia from the beginning.
As such, on Friday 8th September, we put a message on our street sign, outside Bellbowrie Community Church, to present God’s view. It is not a message of hate, it does not tell people how to vote, it does not mention gay people, it simply states what God says about marriage in the Bible. It reads, “God designed marriage between a man & a woman.” In this we are trying to communicate, that if people believe in God, they should consider what He says. Alternatively, if people don’t believe in God, they will simply ignore what He says.
On Saturday, I became aware that some people were responding negatively to the sign on Facebook. I also had a few phone messages, and some emails, but mostly it has been on Facebook. There are two sides to this debate, so it was no surprise that some do not agree with the sign. But what did surprise me was the degree of malice expressed by some, which could only be described as hate speech.
Of the virtues Australians hold dear, freedom and freedom of speech are near the top. This means gay people are entitled to speak their minds, and anybody who does not agree with their views, should still respect them, and not abuse them for expressing their opinions. In a free country, Christians also have this right. They do not expect everyone will agree, but should they not expect the same freedom to speak, and be given the same respect, that they give to others?
Is a society civilised, if its people cannot live together in harmony and respect, even caring for each other, while holding different opinions? Is it naïve to think that people can hold different opinions without getting angry at those who think differently, and without insisting everyone must think the same?
For many in our church, the Facebook activity has been difficult. And as a result, many now realise that it is no longer easy, to hold and express a Christian viewpoint in Australia. To date I have answered every negative email, and have extended an invitation to all who contact me, to meet in person.
There have also been a few occasions where a protestor with a signboard, has protested on the street outside the church. The beauty of a free country is that they are welcome to do this, and we don’t begrudge it. It can be hot out there, so we have tried to give any protestor, some bottled water, when somebody has been at the church.
There are however, some in the community who are supportive of the sign, have thanked me for our stand, but are afraid to say anything on Facebook for fear of being abused. But apart from Facebook, I have had more supportive emails, phone calls, and visits, than I have had negative ones.
As a pastor, it is not my place to tell people how to vote. However, I do believe it is my role, to tell people what God says. I have done this with my congregation on this issue, and they are free to vote however they choose. There are some in our church who disagree with me, or at least the public display of our sign, but in this we are an example that people can hold different opinions, but still respect, love, and care for each other in community.
Many of us have friends and family who are gay, and it is absurd to think we hate them. We love them very much. And we can hold different views, and still love them. So, this does not need to be a source of division throughout Australia. We can differ, yet still respect and care for each other, and let the voting determine the issue.
Finally, many Christians do not see their opposition to re-defining marriage, as necessarily an anti-gay stance. Homosexual relationships are already legally recognised in Australia, and this is not being opposed. Christians who oppose the re-definition of marriage, may not be opposed to some other legal way of recognising gay people who wish to make a deep, lifetime commitment to each other. They are simply opposed to changing the definition of marriage into something different to what God designed it to be.