Have you heard the argument that Australians shouldn’t fear having a plebiscite on same-sex marriage because Ireland conducted a similar vote and their debate was peaceful and respectful?
But is that true?
A recent correspondent of mine, Richard Carson, an Irishman who ran a project that attempted to bring evangelical leaders and LGBT Christians into dialogue during their referendum, begs to differ.
Here’s Richard’s reflections on the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland. He begins by asserting the campaign was awful:
“The reason the campaign was awful (and why many Irish activists are currently in Australia advocating against a plebiscite) was not so much to do with a lack of civility as it was to do with a complete failure to acknowledge an intention-impact gap in what was being communicated. Pretty much every attempt to communicate on the referendum by Christians centred on talking about rather than with the LGBTI community. The concept that LGBTI Christians would be part of the New Testament ‘one-anothering’ that might engender a healthy debate never entered the radar of leaders. The idea that pasting posters on lamp-posts on your way to work each day that question whether you are an appropriate presence to children rarely struck Christian leaders as being out of place. Facebook shares were one of the biggest culprits as seemingly intelligent articles were posted with little concern for the reader. Essentially the referendum campaign gave a new public platform for straight privilege which both exposed and accentuated it.
“Secondly, the final days leading up to the vote were intense and exhausting. In the week leading up to the referendum churches started to hold ‘discussion evenings’ (that almost never featured LGBTI Christians) and emails started to be circulated calling for a No vote. Members of the LGBTI community who had not been in contact with Christian friends for decades, through any medium, suddenly received these emails that stated their relationships were threatening the health of our nation.
“Thirdly, the days immediately following the vote also carried importance. We voted on a Friday and the result was on a Saturday. On Sunday there were stories (albeit rare) of Christians being asked to stand in church if they voted Yes. While some churches had not called on their members to vote No (acknowledging that some would vote Yes), the consistent report from morning services was that the atmosphere was funereal as some level of public mourning occurred. Meanwhile those who wished to rejoice with those who were rejoicing would find no space to do so. In the weeks that followed, life went on. The sky didn’t fall in and gay couples got married. Having raised their heads briefly, Christians returned to their positions on sexuality that are largely marked by silence and fear.”
In other words, the Irish campaign did not foster respectful dialogue. In fact, it didn’t foster dialogue at all.
Christians on both sides of the debate couldn’t speak to each other. And neither side had any idea how their words were being received by others.
Could an Australian version be any better? I suppose it could. But on the whole do evangelical church leaders here show any real capacity or interest in genuine dialogue?