The Elephant in the Biblical Room re Same-Sex Marriage

There is an elephant in the Biblical room as regards Christian input into the debate in Australia about same-sex marriage. This assertion needs to be unpacked a little.

In the curent debate, as presented in the media, between those supporting same-sex marriage and those opposing it, Christian spokespersons, as is their right in this country, have presented a range of views. There are those in support and those opposed. A Progressive Christian Voice (Ausralia) has contributed to this debate in support of such a reform.

But Christians in both camps would be aware that there are passages in the Bible that strongly shape the views of those opposing this reform. One passage in particular (Romans 1:32) however, is being conveniently ignored. It is not an attractive passage but its forthright words have had, and continue to have, a strong affect. I shall unpack it a little later in this article.

While the passage has not directly shaped legal practice in Australia over the last two centuries, it continues to have a strong influence in parts of the world that still regard it as infallible. Again, more on that later.

Here in Australia, conservative Christian spokespersons, in their contribution to the currrent debate, tend to give voice to a generalised appeal to the Bible as support for their position. For example, the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, in a recent media interview, referred to his diocese’s allegiance “to God’s word” (which presumably means ‘the Bible’) as primarily and substantially shaping his view.

But such spokespersons have been coy in regard to the Biblical witness. And nowhere more so than in regard to the passage this article has in mind. It comes from Romans 1:32 and follows a denunciation, by the clearly enraged apostle Paul, against  the “envious, gossipers, slanderers, God-haters…those rebellious towards parents” and other miscreants. And what judgment does Paul pronounce?

They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die.

This passage had been immediately preceded by several paragraphs where Paul vents his rage against idolatry (verses 18-24) and heterosexual persons who engaged in homosexual acts (verses 26-27). Looking over this list one realises that Christians have been very selective as to which of this list they pick out for special condemnation.

For example, in the recent past in Australia one major Church synod, at least, supported the criminalisation of those who practised homosexual acts. On the other hand, there has been no such intense feeling aroused over those who have been “rebellious towards parents”. (Because the Bible writers give next to no attention to domestic violence, the Bible is silent about how such violence would prompt some degree of rebellion.)

But let us leave aside the particular views expressed in Romans 1:14-31, views that not surprisingly are aired by a first century monotheist like Paul, whose attitudes have been  shaped by ancient middle-eastern society.

Our concern is with the present.

And sadly, in other parts of our contemporary world, Romans 1:32 is being appealed to by Christians pastors and leaders in several countries to sanction the killing of homosexually oriented persons. I refer to the recent reports of such lobbying by so called “Bible-believing” Christian churches in Kenya and Uganda. Indeed, President Obama has been warned by a powerful ruler in Kenya not to speak about same-sex marriage in any of his speeches in his forthcoming visit to the home country of his late father.

And tragically the violence contained in this elephantine text has not been absent in Australian society. The attacking, and even murdering, of gay men and women is part of the recent history of our country. Witness the enquiries into the deaths of young men off the cliffs of Sydney Heads in our immediate past.

So there is an elephant in the Biblical room in the current Australian debate. Christian spokespersoins need to clearly, and unequivocally, acknowledge the existence of that elephant. They need to acknowledge that even the Bible can generate and mould views that can cause havoc and violence in people’s lives. The Bible is not an inerrant collection of writings.

And an elephant named is an elephant faced. Can conservative Australian Christian lobbyists take that step publicly in the current debate about same-sex marriage?

The Rev’d Dr Ray Barraclough is an Anglican Priest and is a member of the APCVA Committee.