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Kevin Comes Out – He’s Here to Help Homosexuals

Friday, 24 May 2013  | Gordon Preece


Media and Christian reaction to Mr Rudd’s recent announcement regarding his change of mind on gay marriage has included speculation and cynicism about its timing. One ungracious reaction threatened an unlikely and unauthorised complete Christian rejection of him at the polls. Both of these reactions distract from dealing with the important content and process involved in the announcement. Mr Rudd’s ‘coming out’ on the gay marriage issue should be respected as a considered Christian statement of his conscience and account of his change of mind on the issue two weeks before it is put to a vote. As such the statement will be helpful, if not necessarily completely persuasive, to many Christians struggling with the issue: wrestling with it with family and loved ones, friends and colleagues, Christians and non-Christians in poignant pastoral situations, like Kevin’s  Pentecostal former staffer.

I’d like to comment on Mr Rudd’s arguments in the following order: biblical/theological, empirical, and political.

Biblical and Theological Issues
Kevin Rudd argues from Aquinas’ accommodation of faith and reason to reject oppressive, biblically literalist or fundamentalist perspectives. It is true that faith does seek understanding, but this tradition of the three big A’s of theology—Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas—still prioritised Scripture, using reason to understand it, while standing under it.

Rudd is right that Scripture has been used or rather abused to support slavery. Certain ‘fundamentalists’ took ad hoc counsels on surviving in slavery situations to argue that it endorsed the institution. Slavery, like divorce, was permitted because of human hardness of heart – it was not God’s original or final purpose (Mt 19:8-9). William Wilberforce and his collaborators rightly rejected ‘wooden’ readings of slavery texts in the light of the prominent themes and direction of Scripture that supported the emancipation of slaves. The continuance of slavery was incompatible with their being created in the image of God – ‘am I not a man and a brother?’ - and redeemed from the slavery of sin in the Gospel.

However, Rudd exaggerates that women could be bashed within an inch of their lives without being able to get a divorce. Jesus clearly upheld Moses’ permission regarding women’s rights to divorce (Matthew 19) as an expression of the love command and the need to minimise harm. However, he also upheld the original, created purpose of marriage for all people, not just Jews or Christians, as one man and one wife for life. 

William Webb’s book Slaves, Women and Homosexuals shows how Scripture was ahead of surrounding cultures on slaves and women, but was strongly counter-cultural in its opposition to homosexual practice. This was based on a universal, natural, creational understanding of our sexual ecology, and of the basic equality, unity and complementarity of male and female (Gen 1:26-28; 2:23-25).

Rudd might also ask regarding gay marriage, “WWBD?” That is, “What would Bonhoeffer do?” Rudd sees Bonhoeffer (his hero and mine) as a model for Christian political action. How did Bonhoeffer interpret Scripture on this issue? Just as he has done previously regarding Aborigines and refugees, Rudd could no doubt take his bearings from Bonhoeffer’s biblically based ‘view from below’—the perspective of those who suffer; like the Jews in Hitler’s Germany. Rudd is therefore right to seek to minimise the suffering of the gay community, and his government did so with my support and most Christians’ support (including the Australian Christian Lobby) by eliminating discriminatory legislation. This is something I think Bonhoeffer would support. But Bonhoeffer clearly upheld Scripture’s prohibition of homosexual practice. He saw our embodied humanity, expressed as male and female, as something not simply subject to the social re/constructions of ‘man come of age’. Instead it is an expression of God’s trans-cultural creation mandate to all people for all time, linking the generations and as a form of generational justice. (See the chapters by Max Champion and Kevin Rudd in Bonhoeffer Down Under, ed. Gordon Preece and Ian Packer (www.atfpress.com).)

Empirical Issues
Kevin Rudd has obviously wrestled with these. The most critical issue for him and me has been the issue of children. He’s right. In fact, in proclaiming the rights of consenting gay adults and the State to re-define marriage, our society has been blind to the fact that marriage is normally a package deal including children. We have developed the new ‘ism’ of Adultism. Despite the authorities Kevin cites, other equally eminent authorities and studies indicate problems for children of gay parents. The jury is still out on this empirical issue. But rather than getting into the game of “this study says, that study says”, we can see clearly from the Australian Ambrose Survey of late 2011 that while respondents were split roughly 50/50 on gay marriage, 73% of these believed it is best for children to be raised by both parents—a mother and a father. The heroism of many single parents, including Rudd’s, does not deny this. In fact, many would be the first to recognise it. President Obama, while supporting gay marriage and as a child of a single-parent home, abandoned by his father, saw the need for his fatherhood initiative to encourage both sexes, especially men, in parenting.

Further, the rights of children (and parents) to know their biological kin is safeguarded by UN conventions on children’s rights. This knowledge is very significant for children’s identity and sense of heritage.  In situations of surrogacy for gay parents, this is highly problematic. Elton John’s and his partner David’s second child will have two mothers: an egg supplier and a gestational carrier. By legal contract, as with the first child, the mother/s have no legal right to contact their child. But this is a denial of the human rights of the child and the parents. (Not to mention it is extremely confusing!) In this emerging surrogacy ‘industry’, there are concerns also over the evident, gross exploitation and commodification of many poor women motivated by desperation and poverty, notably in India but also here in the West.

However, Rudd has a valid concern that given many state authorities have already allowed (non-commercial) surrogacy and adoption for gays, the Commonwealth should encourage the most stable relational context possible for these children, i.e. marriage. This is true but unfortunately gay partnerships and marriages are much less stable than heterosexual partnerships and marriages, in that order.

The jury is also still out on the empirical issues of being ‘born gay’. No gay gene or gay ‘brain’ has been discovered, only hypothesised and promoted and sensationalised in the media. There may be a significant genetic component in sexual inclinations. Some are conscious of gay inclinations from an early age and we should be sensitive to this. But we are all also responsible for what we do with various orientations we may inherit. Many gays resist and deny this popular rhetoric of genetic determinism.

Political and Church-State issues
Here I think Rudd is on his strongest ground. We live in a secular, pluralist society where most people, even some religious people, get married outside churches. Tim Keller notes that many younger Evangelicals, appreciating the Anabaptist critique of Christendom’s coercive aspects, disagree with homosexual practice but not necessarily state-based gay marriages. I am an Anglican Anabaptist and on the record (on ABC Religion & Ethics online) as open to having separate state and religious marriages. It is likely, though not necessarily inevitable that we will have gay marriages soon. “Inevitability” is an intellectually poor and bullying category confusion of futurology and chronology with morality—“Sit down and shut up! You’re in the way of the future!”). Nonetheless, it is best that we prepare as Christians to separate state and church marriages.

However, concerns about the whole range of the vulnerable—those from below, the voiceless, the children, surrogates and gays themselves—make me hesitate about simply conceding politically and compel me to continue discussing this issue. I understand ACL’s concerns over whether Mr Rudd’s genuine desire to safeguard church rights to their own rites for heterosexual couples will be fully safeguarded. The European Court is unlikely to back up Mr Cameron’s guarantee of the rights of the Church of England in this regard if gay marriage is approved by the House of Lords. Family First in New Zealand has recently had its charitable status taken away, with considerable financial consequences, due to its opposition to gay marriage.

Finally, I have concerns that allowing the State to redefine the millennia-old institution of marriage, rather than merely regulating and legally recognising it, is a form of statism, a ‘Big Brother’ intrusion into the bedrooms and cots of the nation, and  an  impulsive denial of the wisdom of the ages, across all cultures.


Comments

John Kleinig
June 6, 2013, 9:10AM
I have always been troubled by the extreme positions taken on homosexuality and homosexual behavior – even when, 30 years ago, I used to write on the issue from a position closer to the one taken by Gordon Preece. Both the advocates of homosexual normalization and the critics of homosexual conduct seemed to me to be engaged in some kind of special pleading, and even my own (perhaps self-deceptive) struggles to be fair or balanced did not leave me feeling comfortable.

Thirty years on – after considerable social change and having a much greater familiarity with people (including Christians) possessing homosexual and other sexual (LGBT) orientations – it may be time for a different way of looking at the issues.

Here is a suggestion. We begin by making a distinction between ideal and non-ideal theory – that is, between moral theory in an ideal world and moral theorizing in a non-ideal world. We have some scriptural basis for this – in, for example, the radical disconnect between Genesis 1-2 and 3, in Jesus’ remarks about what was permitted because of the hardness of our hearts, and in the gnomic Pauline claim about creation groaning in travail. I associate Gen 1-2 with ideal theory – with creation and created relations as God intended – and much of the rest of the scriptural writings with non-ideal theory, an exploration of the ways in which rebellious-though-not-abandoned humans have sought to deal with the challenges of their non-Edenic world. Scripture preserves that inspired grappling. So there are provisions that deal with slavery, with concubines, with divorce, with war, with governmental authority, with honesty, with monogamy, and so on and so forth. Some of them are situational and some are intended to have a more general character. Some are disasters and some are redemptive.

Heterosexuality is, no doubt, the norm in ideal theory (that’s Gen 1-2). But we do not live in that world. We live in a world that brings with it sweated labour, the pain of childbirth, and male domination. And, I am inclined to suggest, a host of other things, including people who are born into bodies that don’t match their gender identifications, people who are born with genital organs of both sexes, and people whose sexual inclinations are naturally homo- rather than heterosexual. These are parts of our non-ideal world and they are parts of it with which we must come to terms. We can do it in a number of ways. We can view such people under the searchlight of ideal theory and deem them bad or defective in some way. Or we can ask ourselves how best to accommodate, within the most comprehensive of Christian frameworks available to us, the human and spiritual needs of such people. We attempt to do this with work, with childbirth, and male domination – we seek to diminish sweated brow, provide ways of relieving the pains of childbirth, and transform the brutalizing tendencies of male domination. Indeed, we develop theologies of these. Why not also of many of the other ‘conditions of men’ that we frequently encounter, such as homosexuality, transsexualism and hermaphroditism?

One likely quick rejoinder has to do with the various Old and New Testament passages dealing with homosexual conduct. Well, we can’t ignore them, but do we have any reason to think that they apply to those whose natural rather than promiscuous tendencies lead them in those directions? Reading the passages as though the former as well as the latter were intended requires a fair bit of exegetical freedom, as well as – for those who view such tendencies and conduct as ‘chosen’ – a fair bit of selective empirical inquiry. As Gordon reminds us, we do not want to make the mistakes of those who argued so assiduously for the scriptural warrantedness of slavery.

This is not to let in anything and everything. As we have developed our theology of a non-ideal world, we have eased out paederasty, slavery, and (more awkwardly) polygamy, and developed more humane understandings of marital relations (marital rape is no longer an oxymoron), divorce, and labor relations. And, I think, it may be time to develop a more human and theologically nuanced approach to homosexual conduct, including issues of homosexual marriage. After all, in the world to come, in which we may hope to have a more ideal arrangement than the one we now have, there will be no marriage or giving in marriage.

Although this is a somewhat general response to Gordon’s defense of something aligned to the evangelical status quo (though I can’t imagine him getting away with it 30 years ago), and does not take issue with a number of other specific claims he makes (for example, about whether the jury is really out on gay and lesbian adoptions), I think the time is ripe for a broad re-thinking of the theological issues.
Russell Warnken
June 7, 2013, 12:16PM
Thanks to Gordon for a well-written, thoughtful piece on Kevin Rudd's recent announcement.

Christian organisations, especially those that do not agree with same-sex marriage and receive government funds, may have good reason to be concerned if the Marriage Act is changed to allow same-sex marriage. The promises of exemptions for churches and other Christian organisations, are in some cases I think, not a lot more that attempts divide those who oppose changes to the Marriage Act. In this matter of a changed Marriage Act and exemptions, former High Court judge, Michael Kirby, is on the record as saying that all citizens should be required to obey the law of the land i.e. there should be no exemptions. If exemptions were enshrined in law I believe there are many who would be willing to mount a challenge.

Gordon writes that we will likely have gay marriages soon. The amazing thing for me is that we don't have them already given the near universal support for this change in all forms of the Australian media. Opposing voices are ignored or caricatured.

I appreciate the point that John Keinig makes and Scripture is full of the tension between the ideal and non-ideal, as is the (chequered) history of the church. The question is the perennial one of how far does one go in accepting the non-ideal and on what basis? How far can one go and still be genuinely Christian?
Neil Campbell
June 19, 2013, 4:57PM
I am ambivalent towards PM Gillard - not so with Kevin Rudd, a man who calls himself a Christian, but is so hated within his own party for the way he treats people. The way he verbally abused a RAAF female worker convinced me the man is not fit to be PM. A hypocrite is he. I am surprised that within a secular society, Gay marriage has not happened - we are in a post-Christian world in the west........Christians will become the marginalised & victimised minority, but sadly, without the benefits that other minorities now currently enjoy. C'est La Vie!
Ross Tatam
July 2, 2013, 12:37PM
The 'multiple marriage model' approach may be the only way to deal with this practically and legally. The Commonwealth was given the power to make laws with respect to marriage under s.51(21) of the Commonwealth Constitution in 1901. It is obvious that what constitutes 'marriage' has changed somewhat since.

As a Christian man I am married to a Christian woman. I believe that the primary recognition of this marriage is from God and the other Christian brothers and sisters who attended our wedding. As such, I am committed to living out a Biblical understanding of that relationship as far as possible with an interdependence on my Christian brothers and sisters for guidance, encouragement and censure. The secondary recognition is that of the state which legally only commits me to a 'contract of concubinage'. Many marriages are formalised inside a church building with the involvement of a Minister of the church authorised by the state to conduct marriages but outside the church (as a spiritual rather than a physical reality) and are entered into without any hint of Christian commitment, Perhaps a separation of church and state on this issue may lead to some clarity.
Jeremy
September 5, 2013, 2:09AM
It's nice to find a more moderate view of Rudd's change of heart and an acknowledgement that he came to this though a considered christian analysis. I realise that my comment is late, however credit where it's due to the OP.

I may not agree with all statements, and am more than happy to smile and agree to disagree, It's heartening to see that more moderate christians are recognising the benefit to separating State sanctioned and Church approved marriages.

I don't believe that changing laws to make one section of the community 'almost equal' goes far enough. It's akin to saying 'the black man can take the bus now.. just not our bus' and feeling happy with the fact that you've made some changes to another persons life, while still allowing yourself to be offended that they would want more.

In France everyone, irrespective of religious leaning or lack thereof, is married 1st under state law. Making all equal under the eyes of the government. Then, those with faith apply to their church for recognition of marriage, indeed many with that as the remembered ceremony.

I think this is true equality - allowing everyone the same standing under secular eyes and protecting the rights of those who follow a religion, and thereby adhere to the rules inherent within, to be accepted for a marriage in the church.

To the point in the comments on religious organisations that receive government funding, be it schools, churches, or spiritual groups, I'm not sure how you would justify the receipt of funds from a LGBT family who pays tax yet deny them service. However I think it's hypocritical for an LGBT person (or couple) fighting for equality under secular law to then insist on a religious wedding when not adhering to the faith.

Churches are allowed to determine who they marry, and have done so for so long that I believe it has alienated so many - leading to 70% of marriages occurring outside of the church, I think, on this basis, that it's mostly fear mongering that has people worried about being forced to suddenly change a practice.

If you have to marry LGBT couples, then you'd have to marry any and all couples that apply for a religious service and I think we can agree that it won't happen.

I'm not sure how LGBT couples who do adhere to the faith (in often blatant attacks of their own christianity as seen on the QandA show where Pastor Matt Prator attacked Kevin Rudd's Christianity on national tv) would feel being denied a service in their church, however I feel that there is a strong movement, not for tolerance, but true acceptance within many faiths which will eventually draw LGBT couples away from more mainstream churches and into a more accepting church who will -if not now- in the future provide them a marriage service.

Thanks again for a discussion that shows if not quite acceptance, then at least tolerance, for this topic. I have a loving partner and 2 beautiful daughters 11 and 13 who we love, care for, raise, scold, feed, clothe, help with homework, set Tv and Facebook limits, hold when hurt, rejoice when happy, and are thankful when they go to bed on time. Just like you.

My partner just happens to be the same sex as me. And for some, that it all that's needed to denounce our family. I hope my daughters meet your children one day, you'll see that they are every bit as human as yours.
Gordon Preece
September 11, 2013, 11:45AM
Dear Jeremy,
Thanks for your courteous and considered response to my article. My response is relatively short as this is the fifth time I’ve tried to respond to various respondents to my article and had the material arbitrarily disappear, so apologies and thanks to other respondents for your helpful comments.
I particularly want to respond to respond to you Jeremy as you’re an insider to this debate, not just a commentator from the outside. I agree that we should go the French way and am on the record with KRudd and Michael Kirby arguing for this though I disagree with their biblical interpretation (e.g. rudd on the Bible seeing slavery as ‘natural’ which is Aristotle not Scripture. I also disagree with their my view cavalier use of the empirical evidence, trying to foreclose debate.
Jeremy, I appreciate your trying to accommodate religious freedoms and the rights of Christians to have their own rules re their ceremonies. I suspect that if we get something like the European system we’ll have if you like ‘straight’ church marriages and gay church marriages or more liberal churches having those marriages. How we’ll agree to disagree without denominations etc tearing themselves apart due to seeing it as a shibboleth or identity marker (see Paul Tyson’s engage article)is a challenge which I’ve been working with friends who have a different position than mine, such as my friend Mark Brett, (see our joint letter to the Victorian Baptist churches re greater love between the various groups and views on the issue), and my friend Simon Holt whose piece below I attach expecting you’ll like it Jeremy.
But you’ve raised some interesting issues. Re churches receiving LGBT taxes and denying services to LGBT people or groups I guess there are 2 ways forward – conscientious objector status re certain taxes, as for pacifists, or churches having to provide those services. In most cases church agencies do provide those services, I believe, but there are enough exceptions to cause problems. The more significant and difficult issue is that of who serves for the churches in providing the services, i.e. requirements that they uphold the standards of those church groups in representing them. It seems to me that your view re GLBT people using religious services would lead to acceptance of religious rights to uphold and employ people upholding their standards. But receiving tax money complicates the issue and may cause churches to consider not receiving those moneys or for specific services, as with tax deductable and non-tax deducable activities now, e.g. non-tax-deductable evangelism.
Re your comment re my tolerance but not quite acceptance, I can wear that, but would want and hope I am fully accepting of homosexual people and their children, if not accepting homosexual actions for Christians – the latter too where they become public statements of identity – not in any way encouraging Christians to be burrowing around in people’s bedrooms. Further, we are not to judge the world, 1 Cor 5, which it seems we do in inverse proportion to our willingness to disciple and discipline own actions and our Christian brothers’ and sister’s actions, which we are called to challenge Mt 18.
Finally, and most poignantly, I am glad you have a loving family, and would be delighted for my now grown up and married children to meet them. The question is not one of any sense of their lesser humanity, nor of their parents being any lesser parents. As my friend Graeme Cole says there are many ‘goods’ we can recognise in gay relationships. The question though, is whether the ideal, as 70% of Australians surveyed recently acknowledged, while supporting gay relationships and marriage, is for children to have both male and female role models and regular (non-sexually) intimate relationship with both biological parents. While acknowledging John Kleinig’s comments re the difference between the biblical Edenic ideal and our fallen situation, where none of us are completely ‘straight’ Rom 3:23 I’d still ask whether there are, especially for Christians, certain patterns of relationship that are more in accord with our basic biological and biblical pattern of sexual ecology and the unity, complimentarity and equality of male and female?

Marriage equality and a search for belonging
2 5 September
Regardless of where one stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, there is much to be said for those who can maintain a sense of calm and humility in the thick of debate. It’s heated territory, so when I meet someone able to sustain a spirit of respect and avoid the temptation to dismiss or demonise those of a different view, I find listening easier.
For me, Rodney Croome is one of those people. I’ve heard him speak in a number of different forums now. Though as coordinator of Australian Marriage Equality he takes a very public role in the debate, I am always drawn in by the care with which he does so. What’s more, his family heritage ties him to the life of a small Baptist church in the farming hamlet of his youth. What’s not to love?
Croome has contributed an essay in the latest issue of the Griffith Review, one that only underlines my respect. Entitled The Promise of Belonging, the essay is a very moving account of the journey of his native and beloved Tasmania from the last Australian bastion for the criminilization of homosexuality (laws tightly held in place until 1997) to the state with the most progressive anti-discrimination laws in the nation. Within this broader story of transformation is Croome’s own story as a gay man.
The journey of change has been a torrid one, for Croome and many others. Some left Tasmania never to return. Croome stayed. His observation that it’s ‘impossible to be truly free until we are free in the place that has shaped who we are’ is one that propels his ongoing investment in the issue, his hope for full inclusion for all Tasmanians and all Australians.
It is this hope that inspires me to campaign for marriage equality. Allowing same-sex couples to marry promotes inclusion because marriage is such an important social institution. To be admitted to such a valued legal and cultural space is a sure sign of belonging. But the link runs deeper than this; it is about features inherent to marriage itself. Marriage is not just a legal contract between two partners. It binds them closely to each other and to their families. It admits them to a universal language of love and commitment. For same-sex couples, the value placed on marriage is the most powerful antidote there is to the poison of prejudice and crimilisation same-sex relationships have endured for so long. In times past, the law’s recognition that women, servants, prisoners, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people were mature and responsible enough to choose their own marriage partner, rather than have that decision made for them by others, was the key to the recognition of their full humanity. It is the same today for same-sex attracted people. The kind of choices, commitments and sacrifices marriage entails run to the core of what makes us human. In the words of a young gay man, Jackson Tegg, in a letter to the Hobart Mercury published last year: ‘marriage equality is important not because of what the law says I can’t have, but what it says I can’t give.’
For Croome, the journey of his home state continues as he and many others continue to agitate for change to our marriage laws on a national level.
To be at home among the rocky peaks and verdant valleys that are the contours of your soul, to be as one with the people who nurtured and shaped you, these are some of life’s greatest gifts. Correspondingly, to be driven out and cleaved from these sources of meaning and strength is to suffer a type of violence. Belonging matters all the more because it can neither be seized by those who are excluded, nor granted by those who exclude. When the promise of belonging is broken, as it was in Tasmania for so many for so long, it is only through the myriad daily interactions of all who lay claim to a contested identity that a sense of belonging is rebuilt and renewed. This is what happened in Tasmania over the past quarter century and it is what will happen nationally as we negotiate our way to marriage equality.
Whatever your view on the issue, this is certainly an essay worth reading.
Stephen hall
October 18, 2013, 6:37AM
The recent synod of the Anglican diocese of Perth has left the archbishop in a rather sticky situation. I have found reading this thread helpful and will be sending it to him tomorrow:

See http://theologyoflove.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/archbishop-herft-must-rule-on-gay-marriage/

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