In Australia same-sex marriage is still illegal. But the movement for marriage equality is on a roll. Buoyed by victories in similar countries like Great Britain, Ireland, the USA, Canada and New Zealand, they can smell imminent success, and they want no further debate.

They want an act of parliament.

Now!

They believe they are on the side of history, so have no patience for hearing the case for traditional marriage any more. And this has led some of their more strident activists to try to silence conservative voices.

They routinely refer to advocates of retaining traditional marriage as homophobes or bigots. They exert public pressure on businesses to sign on with the marriage equality movement. They cast aspersions on anyone for having had ties to conservative Christian organizations. They’re particularly aggressive in their attacks on the Australian Christian Lobby, who felt forced to gain permission to keep its board members’ names secret on the grounds of “public safety” after sustained abuse.

All this has led many Christians to speak of the death of free speech and to refer to those who aren’t interested in their views on marriage equality as bullies.

The Anglican archbishop of Sydney recently referred to the same-sex marriage campaign as “narrow-minded, freedom-restricting carping.”

“People are beginning to wake up and take notice,” he continued. “They are starting to understand that the campaign for same-sex marriage is not sailing on a raft of rainbows but on a barge of bullies.”

Okay, let’s hold on.

A barge of bullies?

How does calling people bullies foster the environment for the civil debate you say you want?

Have marriage equality activists ever behaved badly? Yes, I think so.

Is some of the invective thrown at traditional marriage advocates cruel and hurtful. Yes, I think so.

Has the use of abusive or venomous language been used to censure or silence conservatives? Yes, I think so.

Have Christians ever behaved this way toward the LGBTQI community and their supporters?

Well, have they?

Yes, I think so.

Is it not possible for conservative church leaders to hear the vituperation from same-sex advocates as coming after decades of similar oppression and silencing perpetrated against them?

Instead of saying, “You’re all bullies. We want a civil debate,” could the churches not firstly acknowledge the great hurt caused to the LGBTQI community?

Surely, the most important way to get people to listen to you is to listen to them.

Like the archbishop I am privileged, cis-male, white, straight, English-speaking, and able-bodied. As the comedian Louis CK says, “How many advantages can one person have!?”

And one of the primary ways we can express our advantage is to refuse to listen.

It’s one of my most powerful weapons as a person of privilege.

Men refuse to listen to women, the rich refuse to listen to the poor, white people ignore people of color, adults refuse to listen to abused children. And for a long time the church refused to listen to the LGBTQI community.

Now it feels like marriage equality activists have the upper hand in society and they’re saying to the church, “You’ve had your day. You silenced us for so long. And now we no longer care to hear from you.”

Can’t we hear that? Can we really hear that? It comes from past hurts. It comes from feeling oppressed and silenced for so long. It comes from resentment toward the church’s privileged status.

They don’t want a “civil debate” about their private lives. They want us to shut up!

And the first step in listening involves closing our mouths and seeking to understand. Truly understand.

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