In America and Ireland, the touchstone of public outrage about same-sex marriage seems to have been wedding cake bakers. In Australia, perhaps fittingly, its brewers.
Recently, an Australian beer company appeared to sponsor a debate between two politicians arguing for and against marriage equality (same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Australia). The brewery didn’t actually sponsor the debate (explaining that will take way too long), but the mere appearance of involvement in a debate in which the conservative view was being presented touched off a firestorm.
The brewery was the subject of a public boycott, social media ridicule, and even threats against their staff. They promptly renounced all involvement in the debate (which was true) and formally signed a pledge to support marriage equality.
The response by conservative Christians to this strange episode was nothing less than feverish.
One blogger announced, “The overriding lesson to learn from the debacle is that it’s over, baby – give it up. The cultural narrative no longer includes us in its story except as the villain in the piece. And we’d better get used to it.”
Yikes. That sounds bad, right?
Even worse, another distraught minister blogged that Christianity in Australia was going to be “pushed into Southern Ocean.”
“Let the reader understand,” he announced, “anyone, any organization or person who allies themselves with civil discourse will not be immune from public shaming.”
Oh boy. I’m in trouble. Public shaming and drowning aren’t high on my list of things to get done this weekend.
Of course, this same anxiety about the end of civil discourse and the silencing of the church lies behind Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option. He says,
“There can be no peace between Christianity and the sexual revolution, because they are radically opposed… L.G.B.T. activism is the tip of the spear at our throats in the culture war. The struggle over gay rights is what is threatening religious liberty, putting Christian merchants out of business, threatening the tax-exempt status and accreditation of Christian schools and colleges.”
Americans can’t get pushed into the Southern Ocean, but that won’t stop their demise. Dreher forecasts, “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization.”
Okay, let’s get a grip, everyone.
Most Western societies have legalized same-sex marriage and most pundits believe Australia will soon too. Is it true to say that, because those societies are not interested in any further debate about the definition of marriage, the church is hereby silenced on all and every discussion happening in the public square?
Is the conservative arm of the church so focused on sexuality and marriage that being told to shut up about it is seen as tantamount to a complete public gag order?
In asking this I’m not defending the public vitriol heaped on bakers and brewers. But I don’t think being silenced on sex can be equated with the death of Christianity.
Feel free, outraged ministers and bloggers, to speak up about immigration policy, climate change, and gun control.
Feel free to enter the public square and champion the rights of disadvantaged first nations.
Please, don’t hold back on the corrosive effects of our nations’ addictions to gambling and alcohol and junk food.
Fulfill your mandate, please, to steward creation by opposing rampant strip mining, destructive pipelines, and corporate greed.
Feel free to speak out against bulging military spending, arms races and world leaders’ compulsion for conflict.
Sure, you’ll get plenty of debate, and there will be those who’ll tell you to keep quiet. These aren’t easy matters to address, nor popular campaigns to engage in. But surely, the church should have as much to say about justice, reconciliation, ecology and peacemaking as it does about marriage and sexuality.
And don’t be insensitive to the fact that much of the animosity present in attacks on the church over marriage equality are reactions to the church’s past treatment of the LGBTQI community.
It doesn’t matter to many in that community how measured or civil you claim your debate might be. To them, its personal. Very personal.
Being silenced on sexuality and marriage really galls a lot of church ministers, but maybe discovering fresh ways to communicate the values of God’s reign in winsome, engaging ways for the common good isn’t the worst thing for the church.