Taking the “Dia” out of Dialogue

I am speaking on a seminar this weekend entitled Same Sex Marriage and the Church of the Future.

Timely, in all sorts of ways, isn’t it? And a little nerve-wracking in some other ways. Especially so since it is an event that has been fairly widely publicised here in Perth.  So when my daughter came home exclaiming that a couple of her friends heard on the radio that her dad was speaking on this particular topic, I immediately changed our names by deed poll and sold the house (again) – though got less for it this time around due to a softening market. I hope the new owners understand.

It’s kinda sad that it’s gotten to that.  Gotten to what?   Gotten to the point that I feel somewhat nervous about speaking on this topic here in our Western context.  Mind you, my particular talk is entitled Church and Culture, so maybe I can skirt the really difficult stuff, right?

Of course not.  The reason many in the church are unsure how to broach the topic of sexuality, and in particular the traditional Christian understanding of it, is that there is a strong strain in the culture that would shut down, drown out and vilify the church’s perspective on this, in what is shaping up to be the year in which Australia holds a plebiscite on the definition of marriage.

And to be honest I don’t think the signs look good for a robust, healthy, democratic discussion. And this is not just because of this one topic, but rather this one topic is exposing an animosity towards the Christian framework by many of those who control the flow of conversation in the secular marketplace.

As I have said before, many Christians have prepared themselves for an Athenian Apologetics, and are ending up with a Babylonian Bashing. Just at the very time we will require a level playing field to have the discussion, the level playing field is shrinking to roughly the size of a piece of roll-on-turf, and it’s becoming increasingly crowded.

And this is not simply something that the church is observing and commenting on.  A series of opinion pieces in The Australian over the weekend, from senior and well respected Australian journalists highlighted that the same sex marriage debate is about much more than that. As Paul Kelly called it in his incisive article “it [marriage equality] is a contest over power, ideas and law.”   

Kelly goes on to observe:

“…marriage equality is a powerful ideology and ideologies rarely stop short of complete victory. Can state recognition of same-sex marriage be reconciled with religious freedom or is the erosion of freedom of religious conscience an integral step on this journey.”

One does wonder what complete victory looks like.  In the past, the recent past, we have been assured that freedom of conscience, freedom of religious expression won’t be imposed upon, that somehow we’ll still be able to hold our opinions if they differ from what the consensus becomes legally.

The problem with that of course is that the word “opinion” in our modern West is classified as the opposite of the word “fact”. We’re entitled to opinions.  I am glad to hear that.  But why are we entitled to opinions? Because opinions are private, unverifiable and must be subjugated to fact in the public square. We are not entitled to challenge the facts. And facts are for public consumption whilst opinions are to be kept to oneself or the cloister. Make no mistake, this is a battle over facts, not opinions.

Now I know that we cannot ignore how all too often certain arms of the the church down the centuries have abused the three things Kelly mentions, power, ideas and law, to its own advantage, and that is precisely why, for many who were marginalised by this, it is payback time.  Many within the SSM equality lobby are in no mood to take prisoners now.

And let’s not ignore the fact that when US President Barak Obama last week appealed to “universal human values” when speaking about another equally vexing topic, that of Islamic extremism, he was speaking of something that does not actually exist.  No entity known as “universal human values” actually exists or ever has done.

Leaving natural law and its implications aside, clearly values are not universal, otherwise they would be held universally, and clearly they are not.  That’s part of the problem we are facing.  Universal indicates “uni” or  “one” perspective.   Hence, in coming back to the SSM matter, there is no universal value that freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are to be upheld in any given context.  These are historically NOT universal values – anecdotal evidence would clearly demonstrate that at the very least -, but are, rather, the fruit of a Christian framework that took root in the West over an extended period of time. And the modern West has enjoyed this fruit for many years, whilst ironically, and suicidally, laying the axe to the trunk of the tree with increasingly vigorous swings.

Hence as our culture moves away from its Christian underpinnings “universal human values” are going to be crushed by ideology every time , In a non-consensual world “multiversal” human values – or ideologies – are all we have left.  And multiversal values – aka ideologies – take no prisoners in their quest to conquer and become “universal”.

In light of this shift to ideology, comments such as this in regards to the Catholic Church’s recent booklet on marriage, from Australian Marriage Equality national Director, Rodney Croome, demonstrate that clearly those who are worried about how this will all pan out should be:

“The Catholic Church has every right to express its views from the pulpit but it is completely inappropriate to enlist young people as the couriers of its prejudice. Any principal or teacher who exposes vulnerable children to such damaging messages not only violates their duty of care, but is a danger to students.”

Two things stand out to me on this:

First, if there is going to be any enlisting of young people to a particular view of sexuality, we’re going to make sure it is not the church. Those days are over.

Second, if you’re a teacher or principal of any school who challenges the SSM message then look out, you’re not simply neglectful, you’re dangerous to young minds.

No room there for alternate moral communities there in that statement is there?  No room for “why can’t we all just get along?”  No room for difference.  No room, indeed, for a value of allowing liberty of conscience. Because marriage equality is being fought in a post-universal values world, an ideological world in which there can, ironically, be only “one”. There are no differences of opinion, there are “damaging violators” or there is us.

Which kinda takes the “dia” out of “dialogue” and replaces it with a “mono”, doesn’t it?  No space to allow for difference, never mind celebrate, which is the great irony of it all.

Well no space for difference that ideologues don’t agree with anyway. And one does wonder if parents exposing their children to anything but the marriage equality viewpoint would also be considered neglectful and dangerous?

I’d love Mr Croome to tell us what he believes the parameters of the coming public debate might indeed be.  What will be acceptable? What will not be? Because from where we stand now, the middle ground has been completely burned over by his statement.

Interesting times ahead.

Oh, and with my new deed poll identity I managed to get a middle name.  My parents never gave me a middle name. I intend to sue them for the hurt that this has caused me down the years, especially when signing paperwork and having to deal with the almost scornful response, “You don’t have a middle name?”  Good thing our new location is Tasmania, I may be able to take it to the tribunal.








  1. Another good “opinion” piece &, sadly, very accurate in describing the current state of play. It’s interesting that the rhetorical strategies being used here to shut down alternative views in the SSM & other humanist “debates” appear to be very similar to those being employed in extreme (or more accurately hysterical) levels by certain student activist movements in the USA and to a lesser but increasing extent in Europe. The strategies seem to revolve around personal, vicious attacks on anyone identified or perceived as an opponent regardless of the views being expressed. There is no dialogue, rather an ultimatum-based monologue. Ironically, the same people who once lambasted & denigrated Christians for their views are now on the receiving end of even nastier versions of their own tactics. The movement seems to be gaining traction in the universities and is frighteningly reminiscent of the Chinese cultural revolution of the 60s where an innocent word out of place could see you executed! I have no doubt that we will eventually see this movement in our own society, albeit with an Australian bent. Nevertheless, I find it almost amusing that the current crop of vitriolic, anti-Christian commentators and activists seeking to get their own way on a variety of moral issues are seemingly oblivious to the fact that the same tactics they employ will inevitably be used against themselves in the very near future. Freedom of speech, religion, opinion, belief, thought, etc, is either free for everyone or, ultimately, no-one.

  2. There’s a distinction to be drawn between, on the one hand, wanting same-sex orientation information available to all young people, since it affects something like 1 in 60 of all people (to use a minimal figure), and on the other hand, wanting to abolish all gender distinctions, outlaw anything that anyone considers a micro-aggression, or prosecute churches for discrimination.

    However, churches have had no seat at the table where those distinctions are drawn (or not drawn), because they have done very little that is positive for people who are same-sex oriented, focusing instead on political activism, singularly ineffective attempts at therapy, and more lately, their own perception of persecution. As a result they are only considered a risk factor, never a positive, for same-sex oriented young people’s well-being.

    That would be the primary perception to start work on changing. I don’t think there’s any public moral ground to be had without answering the question of same-sex orientation from a pastoral perspective. This is vastly more important than anything political that’s going on.

    1. Hi Nigel – you make some good points. Have you read Sam Allberry’s book “Is God Anti-Gay?” Good book from a SSA evangelical Xn. I think however the boat has sailed on this one. True many churches have done little that is positive, but not true of all. I do think part of the problem is that there is no culture of honouring singleness within the church, or celibacy outside the church. Hence SSA attracted young people who wish to remain celibate Xns have little encouragement. Mind you, that’s not where the pressure is coming from, and if secular authors in national newspapers see that the freedom of conscience issue is critical, then it’s well past the stage of the church being able to do anything about it.

      I do think we need to address SSA from a pastoral perspective, just as we need to address ALL desire from a pastoral perspective. The problem the church is facing is that its view that humans are not defined by their sexuality is pretty much the opposite of the cultural mantra. Sexual politics has been a zero sum game for some 40 years, and it is going to be dealt with politically whether the church is ready for that or not.

      The Australian newspaper’s editorial on the matter yesterday is quite telling. For me as a Christian I want to be able to affirm SSA Christians – and call them to a greater desire than sex, just as I want to be able to affirm heterosexual Christians – and call them to a greater desire than sex. When the language to describe that view are already words like “dangerous” and “tantamount to child abuse” then I think the middle ground is gone already.

  3. Thanks Stephen and wisdom to you for how to handle the upcoming seminar. I just read a Catholic website that introduced me to the notion that traditional marriage is a misnomer. Marriage is above tradition as it is not simply a human institution, but the design of our Maker. In place of the descriptor “traditional” the adjective that was proposed is “reality marriage”. This was a helpful word choice for me to cut through some of the nonsense.


    Fletch McClelland, LPC

    Georgia, USA


    1. Thanks Fletch – yes I do think we have to get the language right for how we describe it. Since the term “traditional” has become a term less of endearment and one that signifies repression (thank you Hollywood!), then we need to rediscover terminologies that move beyond that. That does not mean we will be given any better a hearing, but it will show that we’re not simply dragging our heels, but have something counter to say

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