My sister came out to me three years ago while we were eating Lord of the Fries.
I didn’t know what to say when she told me, simply “I’m gay.” I’m pretty sure my poker face failed. I just tried to say “I love you” a lot of times.
I still love my sister, and when it was announced the government had pledged to spend millions of dollars on a divisive same-sex marriage survey, instead of letting politicians do their job by voting in parliament, I was upset, and to be honest, angry. I knew this vote would hurt my sister, I knew it would hurt my LGBT friends – and selfishly, I knew it would hurt me.
I don’t mean to say, of course, that I understand the true hurt this plebiscite is causing actual gay and lesbian people and their children. In fact, I’m not telling this story or writing this post for LGBTI+ people at all – they are more than capable of writing and telling their own stories, and don’t need a straight lady to weigh in.
The people I’m writing this post for are Christians.
Yes – I have a gay sister and I am also a Sydney Anglican, and a very biblically conservative one at that. Yes, we have some very interesting dinner table discussions in our house. No, I don’t think my sister is inherently wrong or disordered – the whole population (including me) are walking disaster zones (read: sinners), of course, but my sister is no more or less of one because of her attraction to women.
I’m writing this post for Christians – and in particular, Christian leaders – because I’m not alone in loving a gay family member, or a gay friend, or gay colleagues. While it seems it’s uncommon for those at the top to even know a gay person, lots of my “regular” religious friends maintain good, healthy relationships with members of the LGBTI community.
It’s perhaps in part for this reason, in addition to sound logical and social arguments for the ‘yes’ case, that 50 per cent of Christians now support gay marriage*, and a good deal more feel confused and conflicted about how they’ll vote.
Many of these voters feel angry and hurt that our church leaders are speaking hateful words about our friends and loved ones, and that money we gave to our churches is instead funding the Coalition for Marriage.
Most of us feel it’s inappropriate for Christians to be in any sexual relationship with either gender outside of heterosexual marriage – but we recognise that our gay or straight Non-Christian friends aren’t seeking to follow God’s rules. Whether we support gay marriage or not, almost all of our LGBTI friends and family feel we aren’t going far enough to campaign for the ‘yes’ vote. Our church leaders feel that our lack of angry ‘no’ Facebook posts means we are somehow weak or double-minded, in love with a world we are seeking to bridge to Christ.
Many of us will vote quietly, or ‘yes’ or our ‘no’ pulled tight to our chest, afraid of letting either group use it as ammo. Some will give up and not vote at all. Either way, somebody will see this decision – likely the result of a good deal of research, wisdom-seeking and anguish, as a slight and an ignorance of justice.
This tension has made this lead-up to the same-sex marriage plebiscite a trying time for many of us.
On Sunday at church***, we are berated with rants about unsafe schools and bathroom bills. Terror that a daughter will cut her hair or a son will wear a dress. Next Friday night or Monday morning, our gay friends and colleagues tell us we’re not going far enough by defending others’ right to vote ‘no’, or by being unsure which way we’ll vote ourselves, or by stating we want religious freedom protected so our ministers don’t have to go to gaol.
For those of us stuck in the middle, our hearts ache every time a well-meaning but ignorant (though, frighteningly often, bible college educated) Christian comes out with an unnecessary quip on Facebook about marriage rights for incest, or gay people not being able to have children, or about straight sex being like a seatbelt, or some other hurtful, divisive party line.
We know our gay friends are seeing this, that it is hurting them, that it is damaging their image of us and the gospel. That it is us, not our minister, who will need to pick up the relational pieces and try and re-lay track back to Jesus.
Again, I’m not saying that we have it nearly as rough as the thousands of Australians whose future marriages depend on the result of this wasteful and offensive survey. I cannot stress enough that I cannot even imagine the heartache the ‘no’ campaign is causing LGBT families.
But the ‘no’ campaign – and in particular those representing the ‘no’campaign on social media – is causing heartache even for the very people it claims to represent. Me. My family. Many of my friends. Christians who attend conservative churches because they believe the bible is true and want to hold themselves to the standards that it imposes.
So the heck what
It would be easy, from this point forward, to let this story slide into a laundry list of the reasons why solid, biblically-minded Christians can have very different opinions on this issue – even opinions that would lead to a ‘yes’ vote.
Frankly though, there is no reason for me to write that post.
Others have written excellent defences of the Christian (yes, even the conservative Christian) ‘yes’ vote here and here and likely many other places. Equally good is this defence of Christians not voting at all, and this empassioned plea for empathy and careful words from Christians on all sides of the debate.
Instead of arguing for a ‘yes’, in the last part of this post, I want to address those who are firmly on team ‘no’.
I don’t want to try and persuade them to change their minds. They have a right to vote ‘no’ and I am in no way attacking that right. I don’t dismiss an alternate future where I vote ‘no’ myself, though it seems an unlikely one – I pray often for wisdom on this issue, and perhaps that wisdom will change my mind and heart.
But I do have a few things to say, to the loudest on team ‘no’. To our church leaders, to those running various Christian “think tanks”, to Lyle Shelton and his ilk. To those who have been convinced by them that they are the real minority, the truly persecuted, and that they are speaking the real truth for God’s “real” people.
You do not speak for me
Please, stop the Facebook entreaties assuming unity on this issue. Stop talking about the “Christian” perspective like we all have a single mind and a single vote.
How to vote in the upcoming plebiscite is the definition of a wisdom issue, and many of us will have different opinions. By going on TV or writing in the paper or even posting on Facebook as though we will all vote the same way for the same reasons, you are impeding my relationships and opportunities to speak about Jesus with my gay and straight ally friends. You are hurting my relationships with my family.
Please, stop presenting sermons, prayers and announcements in our churches about how society is going to hell in a handbasket in a way that implies we all feel the same way about trans people, or gay people, or the importance of stereotypical gender roles. We do not, and frankly, I am starting to feel church is no longer a safe place to bring friends of any gender or orientation.
Remember that a lot of teachers and health care professionals make up your congregation, and are likely to know a lot more about say, teaching children the Safe Schools program, or the medical implications of being transgender, than you do.
Think very carefully about the media content you are sharing and whether it is trustworthy, and whether it makes the point you would like to make in a way that demonstrates love and compassion for all people.
Feel free to speak your mind – but make it clear that it is only your mind you are speaking, just as this post is mine.
I don’t believe that you have gay friends
Please, stop hiding behind them.
Regretfully, there is no reason a gay person would be your friend if you were as rude about them in person as you are on social media.
No matter what you say, it’s unlikely you’ll convince me any queer person is rocking up at your house, bottle of wine in hand, ready for your dinner party, after you’ve compared gay marriage to polygamy or incest – which are illegal, while gay relationships are not.
Secondly, even if your gay friends are real, it doesn’t give you the right to say whatever you want about their sexuality.
All through high school I barely had any friends who were white, and many of us still hang out today – but that doesn’t mean I have the right to stereotype or speak negatively about immigrants or people of colour. For me to do so would be hurtful and to justify it thus would be ridiculous.
You don’t understand the LGBT+ community’s issues, history and perspective. Frankly, neither do I. Please, stop talking as though you are an expert. This paves the way for those of us with connections to these communities to ask real questions and be given real answers.
You might be being a bigot, though
Forgive me for indulging a wedding toast cliché, but the word bigot is defined as ‘a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.’
For all the think pieces about how ‘no’ voters don’t fit into this category (and I don’t think all of them do), those actually putting pen to paper to write them often are bigots according to this definition of the word.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with speaking your opinion – I would argue that’s the case even if that opinion is offensive. But where your offensive opinion has caused young people to kill themselves, you can’t be surprised when people who disagree call you a “mean” name – which may just be an accurate descriptor.
Getting upset in this way makes you the very definition of a “special snowflake”.
Free speech is your right (and everyone else’s)
I don’t believe disagreeing with same-sex marriage is hate speech. I don’t think we should remove the right to give offence – even if I, personally, think that being offensive and not caring about doing so is not very Christ-like.
What I am sick of is Christians arguing they are being silenced, and crying free speech every time someone tells them a piece of content they have produced is divisive or rude.
At the time of writing this piece, two pieces against same sex marriage were being run on the SMH and the DT, and two were being run in favour.
Honestly, that seems like very balanced coverage from Sydney’s two largest newspapers. Certainly, it doesn’t seem like anybody is being silenced.
Additionally, while it’s true that Christians have free speech – well, so does everyone else.
Christian leaders can say whatever they like on social media about this issue. And I, an untheologically educated rando with a blog, can say whatever I want in response. I am trying to say what I want to say kindly – but if I chose not to do so, that would be well within my legal rights as well.
I don’t agree with what happened to Pansy Lai. I can see the argument for it – nobody should go to a doctor for an STI check and receive a sermon instead. But many religious people are completely capable of doing secular jobs without bringing a religious agenda to work – in the same way gay people can do great work for organisations that don’t support their own views on every issue.
That said, Ms Lai, who exercised her right to free speech by appearing in the Marriage Coalition’s ‘no’ ad, can’t be surprised when people speak freely back – even if that free speech includes calling for her to be fired.
Many straight Christians are used to holding a position of privilege over LGBTI+ people, and grew up at points in history when we could say whatever we wanted about them without them shouting back. There were times when they needed to hide and we didn’t.
I don’t want to live in a society where LGBTI+ people are privileged above everyone else – but this is unequivocally not what has happened so far in this debate. LGBTI+ people have used the same rights Ms Lai did in calling for her firing – their freedom of speech, along with a free online petition platform, which Christians have also used in the past.
Their choices in the way they have conducted their campaign mirror our own. They sent text messages, we wrote in the sky. Both sides made emotive ad campaigns that deliberately skipped over facts that would feed the other side. Members of both camps have written some truly, truly regrettable things on the internet.
The difference is that we have a higher calling. We are called to love the world by a holy God whose views we argue we are representing.
LGBTI people represent no God. They only represent themselves. If they want to act high and mighty with absolutely no deference for the comfort of another person, well, that’s one thing. For Christians to treat a world we are trying to win in the same way is entirely another.
Jesus was always honest, but he was also always kind. People followed him because he won them.
There might be a time when Christians are truly silenced in this country. Pissing off all and sundry now, when we are not, is not the way to ensure this doesn’t happen. It ensures nobody will help us when it does, and it ensures fewer will join our cause and his kingdom.
You don’t just want a “logical debate”
Churches across Sydney are madly running information nights and producing resources right now to educate their congregations on the same sex marriage “issue.” In my experience, there is never anybody up the front to argue for the Christian “yes” vote, nor anyone speaking with real, strong connections to any LGBTI person.
It is ridiculous for Christians in the public eye to argue they want a fair, logical public debate on this topic.
Unless Christians want both sides of the debate presented in their own churches – which, in my experience, they don’t – our leaders need to stop lying to the public.
“Having our say” is not about ensuring the more logical argument is heard. I think we would get far further with the truth – that we believe this is what our God wants and plan to vote accordingly.
You’re not smarter than I am – and I’m not smarter than you
For all my ranting and raving, I promise, I don’t hate Christians and I don’t hate ‘no’ voters. I don’t hate our church leaders or Christians in the public eye.
The truth is, I think almost all the Christians I know are wonderful people who care deeply about the world and want what’s best for it. The same can be said of almost all the gay people I know. Both groups include a few jerks, but that comes standard.
But as one Christian minister I knew once said, the difference between a minister and a lay person is time.
A Christian minister, or any Christian in paid leadership, is being given a gift by their congregation. That gift is not supreme trust or respect 100% of the time, or some magical knowledge that we can’t access. It’s extra time to study God’s word and care for God’s people.
This is why we esteem our leaders – not because they are cleverer, or know more, but because they have more time to think on God’s word than we do.
But this issue is special. Many of us “normals”, including me, have given countless unpaid hours in thinking through this issue in a way that just isn’t the case with most other theological issues. I would challenge any minister to have spent more time thinking through the guts of of this topic, including the theological guts, than I have – even if we may, in our digging, have arrived at different conclusions.
I plead with ministers and Christian leaders to stop treating congregation members who are confused as to how they will vote, or who have chosen to vote ‘yes’, as lesser or as somehow stupid. We are not. We are teaching your kids at youth group, we are praying in front of church, we are leading your growth groups. You wouldn’t let us do those jobs if we were heretics or intellectually incompetent. Beyond church doors, we have doctorates and medical degrees and high-paid jobs – or we don’t, which doesn’t mean we are unintelligent.
Please don’t lord your authority over us on this issue.
Maybe you’ll be right – a ‘yes’ vote will come through and the world will indeed fall over. Even if it does, that falling down is in God’s plan.
Please, consider how your words will impact those you don’t know and those you do – so that whatever the result of this disastrous survey, those of us out in the trenches can show love to the world and save who we can.
I am praying for you. I am praying for all of us.
If any LGBTI people have made it this far through this long-winded rant that was not especially attended for their attention, I would like to say that you are important and you are loved. Many Christians support your rights and are saddened by the cruel things our leaders say. Others offer love but feel they can’t in good conscience do more – which must be exceedingly, endlessly frustrating. It must make you so angry.
But few of us think the same way as those organisations of white men with ‘Christian’ somewhere in their name. Most of us have no platform, we have no millions. We can only say that we are sorry. In our small ways, we fight for change and we win it very, very slowly.
If it means anything, I pray for you as well.
*It seems there may be some bias in regards to this particular survey – it was commissioned by a gay rights group and the numbers are different for more regular church goers. I’m including it because much of the content still rings true to me, because I feel biased stats can be useful if the bias is acknowledged, and because the article is very interesting.
**This seems like a good time to point out that this post is NOT intended to reflect the views of my church, which advocates a ‘no’ vote.