A Bleak Week for Freedom in Australia

Our national anthem begins with the triumphant line Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

But after some troubling news headlines in the last few days, that word free is less true than it was a week ago.

Australia’s freedoms—in particular freedom of speech and freedom of religion—are suffering huge blows at the moment. This is good news for no one.

I don’t normally blog about the news cycle, but this week I’ve felt compelled to. You’ve probably heard about one of these headlines. The other two you may have missed.

A Christian conference was censored by Facebook

A couple months ago I had the honour of meeting distinguished legal scholar Augusto Zimmermann.

This coming June, along with some of the brightest legal minds from Australia and around the world, he is hosting a conference called Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West.

“Australia’s freedoms are suffering huge blows at the moment.”

When he and others shared the conference link on social media over the weekend, Facebook censored it, claiming that the conference violates their community standards.

Don’t skip past that. The biggest social media platform in the world censored an event highlighting the rising intolerance of Christianity.

Did you catch the irony?

A Christian woman saving unborn children was ruled a criminal

In 2016, Kathy Clubb was arrested for offering help and hope to mothers near an abortion clinic in Victoria. Recent laws had made it illegal for pro-life activists to be within 150 metres of such a facility.

She decided to challenge this law since it goes against Australia’s Constitution, which grants Australian citizens freedom of political communication.

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help.”—Martin Iles

On Wednesday, the highest court in Australia dismissed her challenge and forced her to pay a fine and all of the court costs.

In the words of Martin Iles, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby:

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help. The ministry she is a part of has seen over 300 babies lives saved in recent years, and their mothers given the help they need at a difficult time. This work is now illegal. The woman who did it is now a criminal.”

There’s a bitter irony in this story too. Former Greens leader Bob Brown faced similar charges for protesting against logging in an exclusion zone. But his case was acquitted by the High Court.

Since when are trees worth more than babies?

A Christian rugby player was sacked for expressing his faith online

The story about Israel Folau got all of Australia talking—and rightly so. On Tuesday, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player posted the following words on Instagram:

“Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” 

The post made reference to drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

“The story about Folau got all of Australia talking.”

Let me be clear that this is not my preferred method of evangelism. But to be fair, Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint—basically, a paraphrase of a Bible verse. 

For this sin, Rugby Australia has vowed to tear up his $4 million contract. No matter that it’s a World Cup year and Izzy was slated to be Australia’s star player.

No matter that Rugby Australia turns a blind eye when other players are charged with drunken misdemeanours every month or so.

“Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint.”

A statement released by Qantas, the major sponsor of Rugby Australia, couldn’t be more ironic: “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support.”

What about inclusion for Folau?

In the name of diversity, are Christians who are public about their faith no longer welcome to play high-profile sport in Australia? Are we going mad?

Your Freedom Might Be Next

Thankfully, in Australia we still enjoy some of the most amazing freedoms in the world. But there’s growing evidence this may not last.

Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.

“Our freedoms were hard won.”

Think what you like of Folau’s Instagram account, or Clubb’s views on abortion, or even the topic of Zimmermann’s conference.

But if you shrug your shoulders at the events of this week—or worse, think that justice has somehow been served—then you simply don’t understand how rare freedom has been in the history of this planet.

Our freedoms were hard won. And they’ll be even harder to win back once they’re sunk. You may dislike the people who lost their freedoms this week, but yours might be next.

“Open Doors has predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.”

Reflect for a moment on the famous poem First They Came by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, penned during the Nazi’s rise to power.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And when you’re done reflecting, please pray for Australia.

More Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church

In a recent post I shared three secrets I’ve discovered working with young adults that are making a big difference in our church:

    1. Give up trying to do so much ministry
    2. Get rid of your best quality people
    3. Tell them how hard it is to follow Jesus

The response to this was huge, so I’ve decided to share three more that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.


In high school I was shy and awkward. If you told me that one day I’d be discipling hundreds of young adults in one of Australia’s fastest-growing Baptist churches, I would have shaken my head in disbelief.

It turns out that God has a sense of humour. This has been my adventure for the last four years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve decided to share three more secrets that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.”

Any of my “success” I credit to the goodness of God. But there are also a few things I’ve picked up along the way—secrets that I think help our young adults community thrive.

All of them are totally counter-intuitive. So brace yourself.

#4 Make it known how average you are

Millennials are sick of slick. Consumer culture surrounds us and it gets worse every year. We’re not just being sold products—increasingly we are the product.

So don’t try too hard to win our loyalty or we’ll see through it. If you want our trust, what we first need to see is authenticity.

“Pastors need to let their dirt be seen.”

Young adults don’t want polish, and this is especially true when it comes to faith. We want a spirituality for the trenches. We want to see others who follow Jesus with dirt on their face.

That means pastors need to let their dirt be seen—their inabilities, their sins, their bleeding wounds. Basically, their desperate need for Jesus.

“We want a spirituality for the trenches.”

A revolution would start if young people no longer thought of us pastors as “professional Christians” (whatever that means). If they see that we’re normal, just like them, then they’ll realise they can be just like us—equally legitimate followers of Jesus, and leaders in their own right.

This couldn’t be more true in Australia, the most egalitarian culture on earth. Here down under, if leaders want to call people up higher, first we have to get down lower. We need vulnerability written all over us.

#5 Stop telling people to invite their friends

Young people in our church often invite friends, even friends who don’t follow Jesus. But not because I tell them to. Instead, it’s because some Sundays they find themselves thinking, I wish I’d invited my friend to this, they would have loved it.

If we’re serious about reaching the world, we need to stop telling people to invite their friends—and instead shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.

“People who don’t follow Jesus have huge roadblocks to faith.”

Our Sundays are far from perfect. But as we’ve reimagined them with outsiders in view, here are some things we now do differently.

We’ve stopped talking about “non-Christians” or “unbelievers” like they’re some strange group out there. We’ve stopped trying to just sound spiritual when we pick up the microphone, and to instead speak about real things Jesus is doing in our lives.

I’ve started to define terms like redemption and Old Testament and even God. Even if I need to pause mid-sermon to do it. Even if all the Christians in the room already get it. (By the way, this helps them communicate their faith better too).

“We need to shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.”

We’ve started answering questions that embarrass us. Like those ones about sexuality. Or world religions. Or the supernatural. Or like the series we’re about to start on big objections—Bible errors, hypocrisy in the church, religious violence, evil and suffering. The list goes on.

For people who don’t follow Jesus, these are huge roadblocks to faith, maybe the reason they don’t believe. So care enough to go there. When you do, you’ll discover what we have: people will invite their friends without being asked.

#6 Promote other churches over yours

I speak to lots of young people at my church who are part of another church too. There they serve on band or in kids ministry. Often it’s the church they grew up in. Even if it’s small and turning grey, they have a heart to see it thrive.

I’m so encouraged when people tell me these stories, and I cheer them on. I don’t want their undivided loyalty to my church. I want to bless and equip them so surrounding churches benefit too.

Jesus said the world will know us by our love for each other.

Here’s why: that was my story. At eighteen, I was struggling to lead a youth group in my home town. I was so thankful to find a church on Sunday nights that strengthened me to go back and fight another week. So thankful that I’ve now become one of its pastors, so I can do the same.

Hey churches, this isn’t a competition. Too often we’ve seen ourselves as footy clubs fighting for top place on the ladder. Wrong analogy: we’re actually players on the same team.

I was recently interviewed at a nearby Christian school. With hundreds of teenagers listening, I was asked where to visit if they want to explore faith. So I told them about three other great churches in the area before mentioning mine.

“This isn’t a competition. We’re on the same team.”

Revival is coming. But not before churches bury the hatchet. Jesus said the world will know us, not by our infighting or our one-upmanship, but by our love for each other.

That’s what young adults want to see in a church. That’s the Jesus they’re drawn to. So let’s stop building our own little kingdoms and get on with building his.

If you found this helpful, please go back and hit share or leave a comment. If you’d like to receive my blogs by email, scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe.

For more ideas, check out my original post, Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church.

We’re Not Debating Same-Sex Marriage—We Just Think We Are

Part 3 of 3

It’s still a fortnight until Australia votes, but the topic is already hot and has been for weeks. Who said Australians don’t care about politics?

Both sides have offered compelling arguments. In a recent blog, I tried to navigate these and champion a response that looks like Jesus, where principles are valued, and people are too. (Have a read of it here).

I received many warm words of feedback, from both sides. And I had to trash a lot of scathing remarks, also from both sides.

“Who said Australians don’t care about politics?”

In the end, I advocated for marriage as Jesus defines it, so naturally my harshest critics were on the yes side. And their words continue to ring in my ears.

So I’ve done some digging, and underneath their assumptions I made a surprising discovery. The debate we’re having isn’t really about same-sex marriage. It’s about other things entirely. Most surprising of all is that no one seems to notice.

“People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, sexuality.”

It’s not that the debate has gone off-topic. These other conversations need to be had. In fact they’re so important that if you can sway me on these, I’ll vote yes too.

So what is Australia really debating behind the same-sex marriage question? What would I need to be convinced of to throw my weight behind the yes campaign?

1. A person’s sexuality is their identity

Headlines collect like dark clouds on the horizon. Tyrants, riots, terrorism. The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans, lost and scrambling for identity.

People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, and sexuality. All of these contribute to our sense of self—but to build an entire identity on any of them is to seal the fate of our own disillusionment.

“The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans.”

The reason is simple. You can’t know who you are until you know whose you are. I am deeply known and loved by the One who created me. I don’t know a more solid ground where I camp my worth, and even begin to work out who I am.

I get it. Voting no can seem like a frontal assault on someone’s identity. But to any who feel that way, I want to plead with you that you are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.

2. This vote is a referendum on people’s humanity

It’s for the same reason that I refuse to see a no vote as a statement that anyone is subhuman. Framing the debate this way helps the yes cause—but it does terrible damage to those it’s trying to protect.

To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus offered a caring, if complex, response: safety from her would-be executioners, and a life-changing commission. Go and sin no more.

“You are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.”

God knows, the church has a long way to go before it looks like Jesus in this scene. Still, the Saviour’s point is clear: someone’s lifestyle isn’t to be confused with their humanity.

Vote yes or no this September, but remember the vote is about marriage, not people’s status as human beings. We’re all made in the image of God, and that’s a truth no survey can change.

3. Religion should stay out of politics

If religion should stay out of politics, then as a Christian, I should abstain from this vote altogether. But then so should everyone else.

To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity. Everyone’s beliefs influence their political views—this is just as true for the secular humanist as for the devoutly religious.

“To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity.”

Separation of church and state is about letting the government and the church both influence society for good, without either thinking they are the other. It’s not about a religion-free society. (A few communist states tried that last century and it didn’t turn out so well).

If you’re a Christian and you feel terrible about imposing your view on the rest of society—in this or any other vote—take comfort. If you don’t like the result of the postal vote, the rest of society will have imposed its view on you.

4. Less Christian influence in society is a good thing

The inquisition, the crusades and priestly abuses shock us all. The church has many apologies to make and a lot of trust to regain.

But for decades now this narrative has drowned out all else. You wouldn’t know it, but the role of Christianity in shaping our science, medicine, education, technology, democracy, reason and yes, equality, was nothing short of monumental.

“The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage.”

If all the church did through history was interrogate, kill and abuse, I’d be the first to jump ship. But I’ve done my homework. If the West divorces itself from the legacy of Jesus, we’ll only know what we had once it’s gone.

Even atheist Richard Dawkins has his reservations. This avowed critic of the church has “mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”

The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage. But most of us don’t even know what that is. And we abandon it at our peril.

5. Marriage is just about love between two people

I’ve heard that this vote is just about two people who love each other—it’s not about kids or broader society. But if this vote is about marriage, then by definition it’s about both kids and society, because all three are unbreakably linked.

Not all married couples have children. But marriage has and always will play a crucial role in raising the next generation. That’s why the government has such a vested interest in it.

Can any combination of genders parent? I’ll leave that to the experts. But to isolate marriage from all other relationships is to misunderstand it completely.

6. Ultimate fulfilment is found in sex

It’s not just porn saying that a life without sex isn’t worth living. The entertainment industry has preached that sermon for a hundred years, and no one questions it.

But we should. Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable. And many who are celibate are more than satisfied. Jesus was. (And yes, he was a flesh and blood human).

“Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable.”

Sex is a beautiful gift from God, but like all of his good gifts, we tend to carve an idol out of it. The thing with idols is they promise you the world, taking you to the highest of heights, only to push you off the edge and let you plummet.

Jesus will never do that. He came to give life, and life abundant. What can’t truly be said of sex can always be said of him. In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11).

I will vote yes next month if anyone can convince me these six points are true. Until then, let’s keep not debating same-sex marriage.

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Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

The Compelling Case For and Against Same-Sex Marriage

Part 2 of 3

Over the next two months, Australians will be asked by postal vote whether they believe federal law should be changed so that same-sex couples can marry.

Like most Australians, I’m concerned that any public debate around this issue is conducted with respect, given that this isn’t merely an “issue”. We’re discussing real peoples’ lives and loves.

My social pipes are already choked with views for and against, but I’m heartened: what I’ve seen so far has been overwhelmingly civil with little evidence of the homophobic Australia I’ve heard exists. Maybe I just have a lot of polite friends.

“This isn’t merely an “issue”. We’re discussing real peoples’ lives and loves.”

As a Christian, I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject. Jesus told us to love God with all our minds, and I assume he says what he means and means what he says. As such, I refuse to vote either “yes” or “no” without considering both sides. And there are compelling arguments either way you look.

Here I have summarised what I see as the three strongest reasons both for and against followers of Jesus voting to change the definition of marriage. You’ll have to keep reading to the end to find out where I land. (Scroll to the bottom now if you’re closed-minded and can only think in black and white).

For #1 | It’s not the church’s place to tell society what to do

I agree. The church once had a privileged position in the West, and while I’m convinced this enabled Jesus’ teachings to impact the world for unspeakable good (check out my series on How Jesus Shaped the West), sadly that status also seduced Christians into grave abuses of power.

Doubtless, those abuses are a big reason for the church’s waning influence on culture. That influence has been a huge loss, and it’s enough to destroy anyone’s faith completely—but only if we’ve confused Christendom with the Kingdom. Christendom has fallen, but God’s Kingdom has never ceased to be in our midst.

“The early church turned the world upside down.”

When I look back in history, the Christians I find most inspiring didn’t occupy halls of power; they spoke with a marginal but powerfully prophetic voice. In short, the Christians who impress me most looked most like Jesus.

Christianity has once again been driven to the margins of society. So it’s time to stop modelling our conduct on the Holy Roman Empire and instead, take our cues from the early church.

“Christendom has fallen, but God’s Kingdom has never ceased to be in our midst.”

For those first 300 years, the church didn’t speak with an air of entitlement. They didn’t legislate or pontificate the moral choices of their secular counterparts. But they did turn the world upside down. And they did it from their knees.

For #2 | Many same-sex relationships outshine straight marriages

The other day I saw a cartoon depicting three weddings. The first was an overnight Las Vegas fling; the second was a couple who had divorced and remarried on repeat; and the third was a loving same-sex couple. The caption read, “Guess which kind of marriage religious people are against?”

It was convicting. In many ways, the church has lost its moral authority, not only by dropping our standards on what marriage should look like, but by making people who sin differently to us feel like they’re in some ugly category all on their own. It’s hypocrisy at its worst.

“In many ways, the church has lost its moral authority.”

Happily, those cartooned examples of heterosexual marriage are the exception rather than the rule, but the illustrator has a really good point. If so much already passes for marriage that shouldn’t, isn’t it unfair to stand in the way of marriage for same-sex couples who set a far better example of love and commitment?

For #3 | Jesus showed the greatest love to the most marginalised

Jesus was a divisive figure. His claim to be God offended everyone. But in particular, he was disliked by progressives for his stuffy moral values, and by conservatives for keeping company with sex workers, white collar criminals, and blue collar dropouts.

Which is a sobering reminder to me as a follower of Jesus that if everyone who thinks I’m a jerk is further left than I am, then I’m probably so far right that I’m wrong.

“Jesus was known as a friend of the marginalised.”

If my convictions about sex are christian but my behaviour isn’t, then I’ve sawed off the branch I’m sitting on. And I must take responsibility when people quote Gandhi, saying, “I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians.”

On the contrary, in my conduct I should look something like Jesus. Religious people were often upset with him, but he was known as a friend of the marginalised. He opposed the proud, but to the humble he showed grace and unexpected love.

“If everyone who thinks I’m a jerk is further left than I am, then I’m probably so far right that I’m wrong.”

Which means that in 2017, I’m more like Jesus if I’m misunderstood as endorsing same-sex marriage than if I’m misunderstood as hating LGBT Australians. I hope I’m not misunderstood at all—but if I err in this way, may I err on the side of love.

Every human being is made in the image of God and has inestimable worth: any convictions I have about sex must come second to that.

So am I voting yes? Well there are a few things I haven’t mentioned yet.

Against #1 | Social moods are an unstable foundation for legal change

Every definition of marriage discriminates. I’m confused by the term “marriage equality” because even if Australia passes it, certain people will still be excluded—namely children and those already married.

I’m not trying to incite fear; I’m not suggesting same-sex marriage will lead to pederastic or polyamorous marriage; I’m not drawing moral equivalence between any of these camps; I’m not assuming any overlap in their agendas.

I’m simply pointing out that zeitgeist is a shaky reason to tamper with a very ancient institution. Those who would like children to marry, or marriage to include three or more members, are today rightly considered odd—even dangerous. But they also make their case in terms of human rights, discrimination, and love.

Zeitgeist, n. the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history.

I’m not fearful that such arrangements are “coming next”. But in seeking to be like Jesus, I care about my civilisation, and I’m concerned about us breaking our moral compass.

If feelings of love and attraction are the overriding rationale for same-sex marriage, then at best, in the future we will be guilty of unfair discrimination towards other “marriage” configurations where those same feelings are present. At worst, we will have convinced ourselves that this, too, is progress.

It seems so unlikely. But as we’ve seen with the current debate, social moods change quickly, even on a global scale.

Against #2 | The rights of adults shouldn’t trump those of children

Many who marry don’t want to have children. Some who want to have children can’t. Medical advances and adoption provide choices—including for same-sex couples. But none of these scenarios annul one simple observation.

The human race will only progress towards its unfolding history through the bonding of male and female. Marriage has existed through time and culture to honour and protect this profoundly unique reality.

“The human race will only progress towards its unfolding history through the bonding of male and female.”

Same-sex couples now raise families—and many do a better job than married heterosexuals. But to call such a union marriage is for me and many others a definitional oxymoron (kind of like a square circle or a married bachelor), for the simple fact that it lacks the most basic attribute (and therefore potential) of marriage.

To others, this might all sound like semantics. But if marriage is this destiny-shaping institution that same-sex couples want access to, and same-sex marriage enters the fray, there is another considerable problem.

Every child conceived in such a family will be deprived in advance of one of their biological parents. Their natural-born right (recognised even by the U.N.) to be brought up by their mum and dad will have been taken away before they ever got a say in the matter.

“It may be no one’s intention to turn kids into commodities, but the result is the same.”

Irresponsible dads can inflict the same wound, as can sexual abuse, or the death of a parent. But we universally acknowledge these as unwanted scenarios. To enshrine same-sex marriage in law is to bless this absence and call it desirable—in our society’s bedrock institution, no less.

It may be no one’s intention to turn kids into commodities, but the result is the same—all because the rights of adults have been put before the rights of children. To me, that doesn’t seem much like Jesus.

(And ironically, while our society fights for equal representation of the sexes in every sphere of life, same-sex marriages will lack that too).

Against #3 | Human histories and cultures aren’t so easily dismissed

You might have noticed that I’m yet to quote Scripture in discussing the against case. That’s because I don’t assume everyone reading this views the Bible as a legitimate authority.

Jesus certainly did quote Genesis to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman—and considering he was a Jew in first century Israel, if he was radical in approving of same-sex relationships, we’d need radical evidence for it. And that does seem to be missing from the gospel accounts.

I don’t expect much praise for it, but even in my convictions on human sexuality, I hope to be like Jesus. (I’ve written about the views that Jesus and other biblical authors held on sexuality here).

“Jesus taught that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

But whether it’s Judaism or Christianity; Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism; cults or schisms or other isms, almost every human culture through almost all of human history has understood marriage to be the union of sexually complementary spouses.

This deep history is why I’m shocked that classical marriage is now being framed as controversial, or even intolerant. (I have a few thoughts on this unusual new morality). Those who believe in it are only agreeing with almost every one of the tens of billions of people who have ever lived.

Traditional doesn’t always equal true. But I pay attention to what cultures have done en masse from the dawn of civilisation to the present. And as a Christian, Jesus’ views on sexuality must be my views on sexuality.

How I’ll Vote on Same-Sex Marriage

When I look at the relationships Jesus had, what strikes me most of all is his ability, in the words of John Dickson, to flex both the muscle of ethical conviction and the muscle of compassion. To profoundly disagree with people, yet befriend and love them all the same.

As I weigh up my options, I’m struck that a vote for same-sex marriage won’t allow me the opportunity to flex both of those muscles. To do this—to be like Jesus—I have only one option: I must vote for the ideal of marriage that Jesus upheld.

When I cast my vote, like in any election, I’ll vote not as a representative of the institutional church, but as me. Sure, I’m a Christian, but my conscience and opinion counts like any other Australian. And I’ll also vote with humility, aware of the past failures of many who said they represented Christ.

“I’ll vote not as a representative of the institutional church, but as me.”

If that doesn’t sound progressive enough, consider C. S. Lewis: “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

~

If the opinion polls are right, by November same-sex marriage will be law in Australia. The media pack, led by the ABC, seems to have all but ensured that. (I tend to think the media is at its best when it’s trying to inform, rather than form public opinion—especially when it’s taxpayer funded).

In the midst of this, some of us need reminding that if same-sex marriage does pass as law, the sun will actually rise the next day and life will go on as usual.

If I’m honest, in the years to come, I’m concerned about what that might look like for my freedoms, particularly as a pastor. But what concerns me more in the present is being the kind of voice and hands and feet that society will miss—and wish they hadn’t suppressed—if it ever comes to that.

“If I err, may I err on the side of love.”

There’s no point in winning the battle but losing the war. I don’t want to go down fighting. I want to go down loving. In that too, I want to be like Jesus.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

Same-Sex Marriage Might Set the Church Straight

Part 1 of 3

Last night on a mild winter’s evening in Adelaide, hundreds of people packed an auditorium, spilling into foyers and corridors in what became a standing-room only event.

During a week of wall-to-wall media focus on same-sex marriage, it was by happy coincidence that a UK pastor had come to our city to call on Christians to better support those who identify as LGBT+ or same-sex attracted.

Doubtless what drew such large crowds is that Sam Allberry (who has also authored the book “Is God Anti-Gay?”) is himself same-sex attracted, but because of his love for Jesus he’s chosen to remain single and celibate.

“People spilled into foyers and corridors in what became a standing-room only event.”

Much about the night struck me, including Sam’s common-sense perspectives and his deeply pastoral approach to the topic. Most of all though was how uncomplicated his call to Christians was: that the church simply be the church, and embody the love of Jesus.

So uncomplicated in fact that as a single person, I realised that all of Sam’s advice for providing care to the LGBT+/SSA community is just as relevant to the church in providing care to singles like me.

“One of the unexpected perks of singleness is a unique perspective on the world.”

As Christians we’ve often been so intoxicated by the world’s ideas that we’ve drifted asleep at the wheel. A nation-wide debate on the definition of marriage is waking us up from our slumber.

For which reason, if marriage legislation in Australia does change, maybe it’s as much an opportunity for us as it is a threat. I have as many reservations about this mass cultural experiment as the next person, but if it does pass as law, consider how same-sex marriage might set the church straight. It would awaken us to:

1. A truer grasp of the purpose of marriage

One of the unexpected perks of singleness is a unique perspective on the world. Call me a cynic, but I think Christians have idolised marriage.

Marriage is a gift from God. I love celebrating weddings, and I cheer on all of my married friends—and I look forward to being married myself when God’s timing comes. But secular doctrine says a fulfilled life orbits around a sexual relationship. Rather than critiquing this, the church has simply insisted that said idol be blessed with vows.

“Call me a cynic, but I think Christians have idolised marriage.”

But as Sam points out, when Jesus taught about the sanctity of marriage in Matthew 19:3-12, the disciples’ reaction was to ask why anyone would dare embark on such a high and costly calling. In response, Jesus encouraged them to seriously consider singleness. And with that, the discussion ended.

In other words, marriage and all of its blessings are worth it—if you’re willing to pay the cost. The primary purpose of marriage isn’t to make all of your dreams come true but to conform you to the image of Christ. Marriage isn’t the holy grail of satisfaction. Biblically, it wasn’t actually created to fulfil us, but to point us to the One who can (Ephesians 5:32).

2. A deeper love for those longing for intimacy

Another dogma of the present culture is that sex and intimacy are synonymous—so much so that we can’t even imagine an intimacy that’s not sexual.

But as Sam explained, in the Bible they’re distinct. It’s possible to have a lot of sex and no intimacy—and just as possible to have a lot of intimacy and no sex. Jesus, Paul and saints through history have shown us that it’s possible to live without sex, but no one can live without intimacy.

To be intimate means to be deeply known and loved. One of the biggest struggles for those who are LGBT+/SSA (and may I add, single) actually isn’t sexual temptation, but loneliness.

“It’s possible to live without sex, but no one can live without intimacy.”

And this is great news, because it means the solution isn’t more PhDs. It’s love. In fact, it’s a particular brand of Christian love: the forgotten art of biblical friendship where soul meets soul and where church is family. Sam’s heart cry is for the church to become the kind of community where anyone choosing to forsake an ungodly relationship for the sake of the gospel would find themselves with more intimacy at the end of that transaction, not less.

We should never treat anyone as a sort of project for our own self-congratulation—but we must aim to love well. Nuclear families whose highest purpose isn’t merely their own joy but the enfolding of others into that joy are all the richer for it.

3. A greater disgust at our own sin than others’

Said Sam, when Paul called himself the chief of sinners, he hadn’t surveyed the entire first century church to make that discovery. He was simply choosing to be more disgusted at his own sin than that of others.

And such must be the case for us too. If our internal reaction to anyone in the LGBT+ community is, “eww, they’re icky,” then we’re far more influenced by Victorian sensibilities than by the gospel. The gospel guards us from hypocrisy by showing us the log in our own eye before we offer to help our friend with their speck.

“Paul chose to be more disgusted at his own sin than that of others.”

As Sam says, none of us are straight. We’ve all got skewed and twisted desires. Even if he were healed from homosexual lusts, Sam explains, he’d still have heterosexual lusts to deal with, leading to no net increase in holiness.

To follow in the footsteps of Jesus, all of us are going to have to say no to some of our deepest sexual desires, simply because that’s a part of what it means to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

4. A clearer vision of the good news of Jesus

Where my heart most resounded with Sam’s, where I looked at his same-sex attraction and saw my singleness in the mirror, was in a quote he shared by Aiki Flinthart: “Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad.”

Jesus is that music. The world will never understand the choices we make in following Jesus until they understand just how much Jesus means to us.

“Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad.”

Same-sex attraction is a unique struggle, but to see it as an altogether different struggle than any other is to miss the radical sacrifice Jesus calls every believer to. But more than that, it’s to miss the highest privilege all of us have—which is to point the world to Jesus as the all-satisfying bread of life, who is worthy of even the greatest sacrifice.

“I am the bread of life,” said Jesus. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” (John 6:35).

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Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

The New Morality

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”—George Orwell

The Ten Commandments are out, and the New Morality is in. While these new decrees for the West didn’t come with claps of thunder and a voice from heaven, they’re embraced with equal religious fervour.

To be sure, as far as rules go, they’re reasonable, civilised and well-intentioned. What’s concerning isn’t the principles per se, but that their loudest preachers only practice them when it’s convenient.

Perhaps this disparity between word and deed can be chalked down to simple human failing. But deep down, I fear that the New Moralists (I’m referring here to political, cultural and media elites) remain unconvinced of their own morality, and that they’re just using it to manipulate and get their way.

Could such dark suspicions be true? Let’s see.

1. Tolerate all points of view

The first rule of the New Morality is that all perspectives must be tolerated; that people should have their point of view heard, understood and respected.

This sounds wonderful, but if you haven’t noticed, the New Moralists only tolerate points of view they already agree with. If you hold a belief that they consider bigoted, suddenly they don’t tolerate you. Watch them become bigoted as they put you in your place.

2. Lay prejudice aside

The second rule of the New Morality is that prejudice must stop. People shouldn’t be treated better or worse because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious belief or gender.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “I have a dream that my four little children… will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“What’s concerning isn’t the principles per se, but that their loudest preachers only practice them when it’s convenient.”

So it’s curious when the New Moralists divide society up into minority groups, ranking them by who feels the most offended. In this new system, it’s apparently clear from the outset that my privilege as a straight white Christian male makes me narrow-minded and suspect. Did you catch the irony?

3. Don’t judge the morality of others

The third rule of the New Morality is that it’s not your place to judge someone else’s moral choices. After all, it’s 2017 and people should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.

This too works to a point. But if your moral convictions offend a New Moralist, watch how quickly they judge you. You’ll soon learn which of your moral standards they deem good and worth celebrating, and which are evil and must be shouted down.

4. Let people speak for themselves

The fourth rule of the New Morality is that everyone should be allowed to speak for themselves. It’s not fair to articulate another person’s worldview or experiences for them.

This rule is honoured—until a terror attack takes place. When the terrorists identify with a particular religion, prophet and sacred text, the New Moralists swiftly muzzle them, assuring us that the attackers’ motives couldn’t possibly relate to such things.

“It’s curious when the New Moralists divide society up into minority groups, ranking them by who feels the most offended.”

But wouldn’t the terrorists be best placed to inform us of the beliefs that animated their violence? Shouldn’t they be allowed to speak for themselves?

5. Never blame the victim

The fifth rule of the New Morality is that a victim is never to blame for crimes committed against them. It is a gross injustice to suggest, for instance, that a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault is responsible for the unspeakable horror they’ve endured.

I couldn’t agree more. So I’m astounded when an act of terrorism is committed against citizens of a western nation and the New Moralists blame the citizens of that same nation, claiming they’d first socially alienated the terrorists, provoking the attack.

In any other scenario, such victim-blaming would lead to unfettered outrage. Why is it acceptable—and the exception—in the case of terrorism?

6. Stand up for the oppressed

The sixth rule of the New Morality is that we should stand up for the rights of oppressed minorities and alleviate their suffering. The more mistreated a group is, the more they deserve our care and compassion.

If that’s true—and it is—why are the New Moralists near silent when it comes to the oppression of women and the sexually diverse in Middle Eastern countries? Female genital mutilation, forced child marriage, and capital punishment for homosexuals have to be among the most barbaric injustices of the 21st century. Why do the New Moralists pay no mind?

“Perhaps this disparity between word and deed can be chalked down to simple human failing. But deep down, I fear that the New Moralists are just using these rules to manipulate and get their way.”

And why are they silent about the persecution of Christians in the same lands? A hundred years ago, followers of Jesus made up around 14% of the Middle East’s population. Unrelenting persecution—most of it in the last decade—has decimated these communities, reducing them to less than 4%. Why is anyone who speaks up for them accused of favouritism?

The Real Agenda

None of this makes sense.

The New Morality is a strange beast. On closer inspection, it’s everything it claims to abhor: it’s intolerant and prejudicial; often judgmental and condemning; at times guilty of victim blaming, silencing the moral agent, and ignoring certain oppressed minorities.

Sure, we all fail from time to time. And to be sure, the New Morality’s failures are mingled with a great deal of good intention. What’s concerning though isn’t its failures, but its straight-up dishonesty.

Instead of pretending to stand for equality, it should have just been honest about the minorities it favours and the ones it disregards. Instead of claiming to be open and tolerant, it should have just told us which morals and viewpoints it despises. It’s not like we can’t tell anyway.

“The New Morality is a strange beast. On closer inspection, it’s everything it claims to abhor.”

If unbiased compassion isn’t the agenda of the New Morality, what is? Is it to dismantle capitalism, to make organised religion pay for its sins, or to impose a new form of Marxism?

Any answer to this question would sound like conspiracy theory, so I’ll just let you make up your own mind. In reality, all who join the movement do so for their own diverse reasons, so there’s little point trying to identify a single cause. One uniting factor seems to be the love of power which is just as strong in the New Morality as it was in the institutions it overthrew.

A Path Back to Sanity

Let me emphatically state that it is a virtue to tolerate the viewpoints of others, to lay aside prejudice, be temperate in judgment, to let people speak for themselves, and to protect victims and all who are oppressed.

But may it also be seen that these aren’t virtues simply because we decided they were. If humans determine what’s right and wrong in any given age, then we can also choose when to apply our new rules, and when not to. And that’s precisely the chaos we’re seeing take place.

“Without accountability to our Creator, all we can hope for is another cruel, self-righteous cult to rival all the others.”

These principles are good in every age precisely because they’re an accurate reflection of the One who made us. God has revealed himself as impeccably tolerant (Ex. 34:6), unprejudiced (Rom. 2:11) and slow to judge (Ps. 86:5). He hears us out when we express ourselves (Ps. 56:8), he stands up for the victim (Ps. 34:18) and he fights for the oppressed (Ps. 9:9).

The New Moralists may despise the Christian worldview, but they’re more deeply indebted to it than they know or care to admit. Their rules come to us almost unedited from the pages of Scripture.

Sadly, what the New Morality demonstrates is that, cut loose from the God who is there, even the best morals can quickly spiral downwards into manipulation. Without accountability to our Creator and his Spirit empowering us to live up to our restored humanity, all we can hope for is another cruel, self-righteous cult to rival all the others.

Yes, we live in a secular world. The Bible is not and never should be the law of our land. But in an age of such ubiquitous moral confusion, the book that shaped the West may just be reemerging as more relevant than we ever imagined.

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Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single

When my older sister happily married at 21, I was going to be just as happy and just as married by the time I was 21. So I thought.

This year I turned 31, and I am very much single. The strangest thing about this isn’t my persisting life stage, but that it took me over a decade for my life stage to actually dawn on me.


There’s a world of difference between not yet married and single.


Shouldn’t the fact that I’m single have been more obvious?

Well up until a few short months ago, I’d spent over a decade considering myself not yet married. But there’s a world of difference between not yet married and single.

Not yet married means lack, yearning, incompleteness, discontentment. I’d had a decade of it, and finally called enough enough. Now I’m single. The great thing about single is that it actually just means single.

New Beginnings, New Furniture

An odd set of circumstances lead me to being single.* Mid last year I was about to move house, but three months would pass before my new tenancy began. I looked around my place and realised that, through the generosity of friends and strangers; the frugality of my student years; and the help of a score of ex-housemates who’d married and moved out, I was now the sole owner of a large collection of horrific-looking furniture.

To store this junk for three months would cost time, effort, and money better wasted elsewhere. The only sensible option was to give it away.


For me, marriage is no longer ultimate. I don’t lack, I’m not incomplete. I’m not merely content being single. I’m satisfied.


As one smiling, thankful Gumtree customer after another collected their free chairs, tables and random dust-collecting oddments, the weight began to lift from my shoulders. I imagined what it would be like to purchase furniture for my new rental that didn’t make me cringe, and that I actually enjoyed using.

Three months later, I did just that—along with new linen, plants, furnishings, and a veggie patch. This is an embarrassingly mundane paragraph for me to write. Except that these changes embodied a defining paradigm shift that brought with it unforeseen contentment. My life was no longer on hold for some future, imagined event. In fact, even the word contentment—implying toleration—fails to capture it. I’m now not merely content being single. I’m satisfied.

If I marry and have children, it will be a blessing from God and a dream fulfilled. I think marriage and family are incredible, and I love and support my many friends who are enjoying that life stage. But for me, marriage is no longer ultimate. I don’t lack, I’m not yearning, incomplete or discontent. I’m not unmarried. I’m single. See the difference?

The Shrine to Romance

You can’t go through an experience like this and not have it affect the way you think about other spheres of life. For me, as a pastor, this has made me question some of Christian culture’s fundamental values.


In the church, have we gone beyond marriage is good to marriage is ultimate?


Rightly, church communities place a high value on marriage, children and family. God does: so should we.

Parallel to this, the world would have us believe that romance is everything—that the companionship, sex and fulfilment found in an intimate relationship is the summit of a lifelong search, the fullest expression of what it means to be human.

Could it be that the Christian culture I grew up in confused those two messages? In the paragraph above, have we simply replaced the word romance with marriage? Have we gone beyond marriage is good to marriage is ultimate? Has family become a synonym for fulfilment?

We Celebrate What We Value

That message may not be preached, but from the vantage point of a single, it seems widely implied. Scripture esteems singleness as perhaps even preferable to marriage in the freedom it affords us to serve the Lord without distraction. But where is singleness celebrated in the church?

Church-wide events are shaped predominantly with the family unit in mind. Unlike engaged couples, singles who decide to remain as they are instead of settling for a poor choice in life partner aren’t applauded. Community matriarchs are more likely to enquire with young people about a rumoured relationship than the joys and struggles of ministry as a single person. Singles aren’t honoured with glorious ceremonies, lavish banquets and generous gift-giving for consecrating themselves to single-minded service to God.

I don’t think singleness needs to be lauded with all the pageantry of marriage. But I am trying to identify a sanctified idolatry, widespread in Christian culture: if you’re married, you’ve made it. If you’re single, don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually.

With this message we do a great injustice to singles. The words second class citizen spring to mind.


Singleness is just as “Christian” as marriage. So how can singles be celebrated in church life?


We do a great injustice to those in our midst struggling with same-sex attraction. If even after much prayer that attraction remains for a lifetime and they choose to walk the narrow way of Jesus, our message to them is that even with such selfless sacrifice, they’ll never make it.

We also do a great injustice to the many young people who, and I’m quoting now, “just had to get married because I couldn’t be alone”. Isn’t God supposed to fulfil of that depth of longing? This injustice is multiplied when the one they married doesn’t walk with Jesus. They have the love they were told was the end-game, but now ministry is a lonely road, or far worse, an abandoned one.

Singleness isn’t better than marriage. But it’s certainly not worse. According to Scripture, singleness is just as “Christian” as marriage. What we celebrate as a community makes it clear what we value as a community. So I’ll just leave this question here: how can singles be celebrated in church life?

Singleness Can’t Be Done Alone

Like marriage, singleness has its pros and cons. I admire my older sister and my brother-in-law who with incredible patience and skill are raising three adorably mischievous boys I get to call my nephews. And I breathe a sigh of relief when we tuck the boys into bed after Monday night dinners and I wonder at how they survive each day.

I’m thankful for uninterrupted sleep, the freedom of a dawn surf whenever my calendar allows, quiet times that are in fact quiet, and the ability to work a 60 hour week at church when I need to, without any of my relationships paying the price. Paul was for real when he wrote about the undivided priorities of the single life.


Singles don’t have families of their own, so they love being made part of one.


But I’m also thankful to people who understand its difficulties—like my older sister and her family (and other friends—you know who you are) who don’t “host” me for “events” but consider me a member of the family, welcome anytime. Singles don’t have families of their own, so they love being made part of one.

I’m thankful to those who understand that I’m a verbal processor and, without a partner to debrief the day with, know to ask, “how was your day?”

I’m thankful for the many people in my church who recognise that though I don’t have a family to go home to, and though my time is therefore flexible, I still need boundaries and time out and opportunities to just be me, not a pastor.

Right Where God Has Me

Last year when I was still unmarried, puzzled, my senior pastor asked me why I’d been taking so few holidays. I was aware that this was the case, but likewise couldn’t work out why. I love time off. And then it occurred to me: married couples have guaranteed company when they holiday, but for me, four weeks of time away alone would only remind me of how desperately lonely and unmarried I was.


Singleness has its challenges, and it takes some creativity—and the considered help of others—to do it well. But it can be done well.


Now I’m single. As I write this, I also happen to be on holidays, on a beach on the NSW coast. I’m away camping with my younger, also single sister. Tomorrow I’m hiking for four days with a mate who’s married but knew I had holidays and invited me along. I’m thankful for people like this too. Singleness has its challenges, and it takes some creativity—and the considered help of others—to do it well. But it can be done well.

Life hasn’t turned out quite the way I expected. I’ll never be married at 21. I won’t be a young dad like I once hoped. I’ve had to grieve over that. I’ve loved and lost, more than once. It hurt, more than I naively imagined it could. I’m single—not for want of trying, but because it seems this is where God wants me, for now at least. Like marriage, it’s not ultimate. But it is good, and I am thankful.

* The other odd circumstance was being hosted, along with a bunch of pastors, by Kimberly Smith, where she gave us a copy of her book, What We Cannot Be Alone: Understanding Singleness In God’s Family. Thanks Kim for giving me language to express these thoughts. If you’re single, and especially if you’re married (for the sake of singles) please buy it and read it.

Why Christians should love their LGBTQIA friends the most

“Don’t judge others. Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”—Jesus

Around a month ago, five judges in the US changed the course of history for their nation, legalising same-sex marriage in all 50 states. It hit saturation point in the news media; Facebook supplied a rainbow flag app used in profile pictures by 26 million people; and the world was abuzz for weeks.

I found it interesting that just a few days earlier, 300,000 people from all over Italy converged on Rome to show support for traditional male/female marriage—and all the major news outlets were silent.

Likewise, the same week as the US decision, Pitcairn Island, a tiny Pacific nation of 48 people (and no gay couples) legalised same-sex marriage—a story picked up by many in the news media. But a month previous, when a same-sex marriage bill in the Austrian parliament suffered a landslide 110-26 defeat, journalists had more important stories to cover.

Zeitgeist, n. the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history.


We all tend to think of ourselves as objective. We’re freethinkers; we make our minds up for ourselves. But are we actually aware of how much we’ve been shaped by the influences around us—especially the media?

Everything is awesome


Every era of history has a defining spirit or mood. There’s a fantastic German word to describe it: the “Zeitgeist”. The Zeitgeist of our time is this: I decide truth for myself. It’s no one else’s place to tell me how I can or can’t live my life. With just a few exceptions (like terrorism and paedophilia and Christianity) everything is awesome. The more diverse, the better.

So today, not only is homosexuality an equally valid lifestyle choice, it’s in fact a hallmark of progress. The media celebrates diverse forms of sexuality with pioneering zeal. Opposing same-sex marriage is like denying basic human rights—freedom for slaves, or the right of women to vote.

This is the story being told by the major influences around us. Increasingly, Christians are finding themselves in the minority, unsure what to make of it all. Do they roll with the Zeitgeist? Do they challenge it?

They’ve often reacted in one of two ways (or, at least, the media has caricatured it as such). They’ve either made truth their motivation, and been very unloving. Or they’ve been motivated by love for their gay friends and family, but in the process, have kissed God’s truth goodbye.

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul talks about “speaking the truth in love”. Apparently you can have both. My heart is that Christian communities the world over would be places of both truth and love—especially to our LGBTQIA friends, family and neighbours. So let’s look at both truth and love.

Truth (what’s the big deal?)


How come this is even contentious? Christians are the biggest religious bloc in western nations, and by-and-large are the main people still opposing the LGBTQIA cause. Why?

It’s quite simple really. Their sacred text, the Bible, though penned by human authors, is believed by them to be the very words of God: his expressed will for how they should conduct their lives—both for their highest joy, and for his. And in that book, the seven places that homosexuality is addressed, it’s always portrayed as being against God’s will. (“Sin” is the Christian swear word used to describe things God doesn’t like).

People who are same-sex attracted should be made to feel completely at home in every Christian community on the planet.


Before we look at those texts, there’s a distinction of eminent importance to Christians (even if to no-one else) that must be made. Same-sex attraction and homosexuality are not the same thing. Same-sex attraction means having an internal romantic affection towards someone of the same sex. Homosexual describes someone who acts on those feelings and enters into such a sexual relationship. The reason this distinction is important to Christians is because the Bible nowhere calls same-sex attraction a sin.

For which reason, people who are same-sex attracted should be made to feel completely at home in every Christian community on the planet, right alongside the rest of us who struggle with all sorts of inward temptations and sinful tendencies. And while people who are living a gay lifestyle generally won’t feel comfortable in Bible-believing churches, they should certainly be made to feel loved and welcomed like anyone else.

This distinction is important because the Bible never calls same-sex attraction a sin.


Given that all the Bible’s references to homosexuality are negative, one of the following must be true if LGBTQIA lifestyles can be celebrated:

(A) The God of the Bible doesn’t exist
(B) God’s laws change with time and culture
(C) On closer inspection, the Bible doesn’t actually forbid homosexuality

(A) is how many resolve the issue: possibly there is no god, or maybe there is, but he or she is fine with whatever, and is far less opinionated than the Bible’s God. This leaves (B) or (C) as the solution for Christians who embrace not only LGBTQIA friends and family, but their lifestyle choices too.

Do God’s laws change with time and culture?


(B) essentially goes like this: In the ancient world, people were more homophobic, and were unaware of modern concepts like orientation (internal desires that are wholly independent of conscious choice). The people who wrote the Bible were speaking with relevance into their situation, but surely God’s standards for our world are more culturally appropriate now.

The problems with this position are at least threefold:

1. Paul (who we’ll hear from a lot) wrote, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:15,19). That sounds a lot like orientation.

2. Paul was in fact being culturally inappropriate by opposing homosexuality. Homosexuality was practiced and defended in the ancient world, and he made himself very unpopular by writing against it.

3. If God’s standards on homosexuality have changed, what other standards have too? Adultery? Drunkenness? Love for neighbour? How do we know which of them have changed and which he still wants us to uphold? And if homosexuality is the stand-alone case, why does it get special treatment?

For obvious reasons, (B) is a difficult (and not very scholarly) position to hold, which is why most LGBTQIA-affirming Christians will opt for (C). So let’s inspect those seven texts more closely.

Does the Bible really forbid homosexuality?


Genesis 19:1-29 tells the story of Lot, a man living in the city of Sodom, who hosts two visiting men in his home. “The men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house and shouted to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!’” Lot begs them, “Don’t do such a wicked thing.” The story goes on, ending with God destroying the city of Sodom with fire and brimstone for its wickedness. (The Judges 19 story bears many similarities to this one, so I’ll let you hunt it down).

Some point to Ezekiel 16:49—“Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door”—arguing that these are the sins God judged Sodom for, not homosexuality. But this creates a false “either/or” dichotomy when clearly it’s “both/and”. True to Ezekiel, Sodom was punished for neglecting social justice. But it’s undeniable from Genesis that their sexual sins were also cause for God’s judgment.

The objection is also made that homosexual rape, not homosexuality per se, is what upset both Lot and God in the story. Possibly that’s true. But the further we look in the Bible, the less likely that appears.

Which brings us to Leviticus. “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.” (18:22). And, “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offence.” (20:13).

If Christians are happy to eat oysters and wear mixed-fabric underpants, why do they insist the Leviticus teachings on homosexuality matter?


To be sure, Christians today do not believe that those who identify as homosexual deserve the death penalty. If they do, they need to scroll to the half way mark of this blog, and examine their hearts. Christians know that this was the law God gave to Israel; capital punishment for this “detestable act” was specific to that nation in that time of history.

And relevant to this, God also called things like eating shellfish and wearing mixed fabrics “detestable” in Leviticus. He had his reasons: another (culturally complex) topic for another time.

So if Christians no longer believe in the death penalty for homosexuality, and are happy to eat oysters and wear mixed cotton/lycra underpants, why do they insist that this teaching about homosexuality in Leviticus is still relevant now?

“God made them male and female from the beginning of creation. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife…”—Jesus


Simply put, as a minimum, Christians believe that any commands from the Old Testament that are repeated in the New Testament still apply to them today. And while the New Testament has nothing to say against oysters or Bonds underwear, it does warn against homosexuality.

And this brings us to Romans 1, a passage that describes a whole world that has turned against God, with homosexuality addressed as one example:

God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies… Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.” (v24, 26-27). More to come on this.

And the final two we’ll look at are the so-called “vice lists”:

Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The law is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts wholesome teaching…” (1 Timothy 1:9-11).

Homosexuality was as widespread in the ancient world as it is in ours.


Those who bring new interpretations to these texts rest their case on the “not that kind of homosexuality” argument. It goes like this: What the Bible is condemning is wrong or abusive gay relationships common in the ancient world, not the healthy ones we have today. Pederasty (a sexual relationship between a man and a boy) was common in the ancient world. Some of these relationships were even exploitative. It’s these that God condemns. Or perhaps what’s going on, at least in Romans, is that God gave heterosexual attraction to some people, and same-sex attraction to others, and what God forbids is heterosexuals who go against their God-given orientation.

Again, the problems here are at least threefold:

1. This is an argument from silence. The texts don’t specify that pagan pederastic practices, abusive relationships, or heterosexuals are in view—this is a novelty of modern interpreters. And without such qualifications, all three passages evidently forbid homosexuality in general.

2. Homosexuality was as widespread in the ancient world as it is in today’s. And not simply pederasty. Every kind of homosexual relationship known today was known then, from lesbian relationships to gender-bending marriages to lifelong same-sex companionships. And there was no more moral consensus among the ancients about it all than our world has today.

3. All such arguments ignore key phrases in the texts themselves—phrases making it clear that both people in the relationships described were willing participants. In Romans the phrase “each other” appears three times, and the fact that “they burned with lust for each other” especially rules out both abuse and heterosexuals. And without being too descriptive, 1 Corinthians uses two Greek words behind “male prostitute” and “homosexual” that actually identify the receiving and giving man in the sexual experience. Both are held responsible.

Many would add that “Jesus never condemned homosexuality, so neither should we”. However, in Mark 10:6-9, Jesus makes his views on marriage and human sexuality very clear: “God made them male and female from the beginning of creation. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.

God’s true purpose for our sexuality


In fact Jesus wakes us up to the bigger picture. See, for Christians, it’s not just a question of God’s opinion on homosexuality, but in fact his true purpose for human sexuality in general. And as Jesus points out, the entire storyline of the Bible speaks to that purpose.

In the beginning, God didn’t create two men or two women—or a tribe of ape-like hominids on the plains of Africa. Here’s where a Christian’s stance on Genesis as history or myth really comes into play:

God creates a man. Then saying that “it’s not good for the man to be alone,” from Adam’s rib he makes Eve—“a helper who is just right for him”. God then declares, “this explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one”. He blesses their union and tells them to make lots of babies and fill the planet. And they could, because he’d given them the biological bits and pieces to make it happen.

Song of Solomon is a book of the Bible dedicated entirely to the beauty of sex—inside marriage, of course. (Curious that it never mentions babies. Apparently God created sex for pleasure as much as for offspring). The two players in this book celebrating intimate love are, no surprise, a man and a woman.

From beginning to end, God’s plan for human sexuality is clearly and beautifully portrayed as one man, for one woman, for life.


Throughout the Bible, marriage is used as a metaphor by God to describe the relationship between the groom, Jesus, and his bride, the church. In fact the Bible is book-ended by a man/woman marriage: Adam and Eve in Genesis, and Christ and the church in Revelation. From cover to cover, God’s plan for human sexuality is clearly and beautifully portrayed in the Bible as one man, for one woman, for life.

Why is this topic so contentious? Because for a Christian to wholeheartedly celebrate LGBTQIA lifestyles, they must go against the testimony of Scripture, the views of Jesus and the apostles, the understanding of the church for two millennia, and—many would add to this—the fundamentals of biology and reproduction. And for most Christians, that’s understandably far too great an ask.

Love (the half-way mark)


Well done, you made it. So we’ve looked at truth, from the perspective of the Christian God. What about love? Why should Christians love their LGBTQIA friends the most?

Many don’t. Many stop at truth. On meeting a gay person, all some Christians have to say is, in effect, “You’re wrong. You’re sinning.” Maybe they don’t even bother to engage at all, thinking that if someone has chosen a gay lifestyle, they’re beyond the reach of God’s grace—so why bother?

If Christians want to be like Jesus, they must love radically the way he loved.


If you’re reading this and you’ve been hurt by that kind of Christian, I want to say to you, I’m so sorry. It was wrong that you were treated like that. That’s not okay.

Being a Christian is about far more than believing the Bible. It’s not less than that, to be sure. But primarily, being a Christian is being a “little Christ”. That’s what the word Christian actually means. And the Jesus I know cared most for those who felt the most marginalised and the most distanced from God.

Love. Don’t marginalise.


I began by saying that the Zeitgeist and the media are pro-LGBTQIA. That is true. But it’s also true that, in 2015, same-sex attracted people and those who identify as gay are mistreated and misunderstood in many homes, families, schoolyards, workplaces and religious settings around the world. In some Islamic nations they are even put to death.

It’s the misunderstood and mistreated that, in my reading of the Bible, Jesus had the most time for. So if Christians want to be like Jesus, they’re not just going to hold radically to the truth he held to, they’re going to love radically the way he loved.

Let’s start with something simple. The blog you’re now reading was the sermon I preached last night to the church at which I’m a pastor. Last night, I dropped this one on our youth and young adults: using the word “gay” (or even the concept) as some sort of insult or joke is one of the quickest ways to completely undermine your witness for Jesus today. To many, it’s as offensive as the curse “Jesus Christ!” is to us. Convicted about this a few years ago I stopped doing it, expecting others would too—but I’ve continued to hear it in Christian circles. Let me be really frank: it absolutely has to stop.

Luke 7:36-50 tells a story, known to many Christians from Sunday School, about a prostitute (who elsewhere we discover is called Mary) who interrupts a lunch date between Jesus and a holier-than-thou Pharisee by the name of Simon.

rubens

Christ at Simon the Pharisee | Sir Peter Paul Rubens | 1618

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Uninvited, she joins them and breaks an immensely expensive alabaster jar filled with perfume, pouring it over Jesus’ feet, mingling it with her tears. Kissing his feet over and over, she then dries them with her hair. (In the ancient world, only the lowliest of servants would touch feet stained by the dusty roads—so try to capture the gravity of this moment).

It’s a silly Victorian-era sensibility that has lead many Christians to follow the culture in marginalising the people they are called to love the most.


Simon’s internal thoughts are central to the story. He thinks to himself, “If Jesus was a prophet, he’d know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!

In other words, “Eww, she’s icky.” Sadly, for many who have grown up in the church, and who are also products of their schoolyards, their reaction is exactly this towards the same-sex attracted or gay. “Eww, they’re icky.” And it’s this silly Victorian-era sensibility that has lead many Christians to follow the culture in sidelining and marginalising and even hating the people they are called to love the most.

Christians, take the plank out


Let me get preachy. Christians, are we like Simon the Pharisee? Do we simply find homosexuality alien and distasteful, completely apart from any gospel convictions we might hold, apart from any desire to see people restored to sexual wholeness, enjoying their sexuality the way God intends? If so, that’s the flesh in us, not the Spirit. And it’s horrifically ugly.

Christians are quick to point out “big sins” like homosexuality. But are we as quick to recognise the sins in our own lives that make us just as unqualified for God’s kingdom?


One of the greatest ironies in this story (and one you’ll only find by looking at the parallel account in Mark 14:1-9), is that Simon the Pharisee used to be Simon the leper.

In that culture, disease made you unclean. Leprosy, like other sickness, was seen as evidence of your sinfulness. Culturally you were required to call out “unclean” as you walked down the street so all the nice “clean” people wouldn’t accidentally touch you on their way. Simon used to be that guy. Now here he is, cut and polished, well housed and fed, and looking down his nose condemningly at a prostitute.

Simon wasn’t guilty of so-called “big sins” like prostitution. His sins were more respectable. Petty sins like theft and greed and cheating and lying and breaking promises. Where did I pull those examples from? You remembered: they come straight out of the “vice lists” of 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1.

“I am as undeserving of God’s love as the worst of sinners, but Jesus rescued me. So how dare I look down my nose at people who sin differently to me?”


See like Simon, we Christians are often quick to point out that “big sins” like homosexuality are forbidden by God and bar people from heaven. But are we as quick to recognise that the sins in our own lives are equally as serious and make us just as unqualified for God’s kingdom? Sexual sin is also mentioned: that includes things like pornography and sex outside of marriage. Do we take them as seriously as we do homosexuality? According to God, we should.

The Gospel, remember!?


Jesus said that people like Mary who’ve been forgiven lots, love lots—and that people like Simon who’ve only been forgiven a bit, love only a bit. Truth be told, it’s not that Simon was only forgiven a bit. It’s that Simon thought he’d only been forgiven a bit. He was a true Pharisee. He had self-righteousness nailed. He had a black, judgmental heart. Christians, are we the same? Or do we realise just how much we’ve been forgiven?

“The gospel is this: We are at the same time more sinful than we could ever dare imagine, and more loved and accepted in Jesus than we ever dared hope.”—Timothy Keller


I was once disqualified from God’s kingdom because of all my sins. I was once a spiritual leper, unclean and unwanted. What made me eligible for heaven and for a relationship with God had nothing to do with me cleaning my life up. It had everything to do with Jesus cleaning my life up for me. Jesus said to me, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

I am as undeserving of God’s grace and kindness and love as the worst of sinners, but Jesus rescued me. So how dare I give up on anyone else, or look down my nose at people who sin differently to me?

Timothy Keller has said, “The gospel is this: We are at the same time more sinful than we could ever dare imagine, and more loved and accepted in Jesus than we ever dared hope.”

Jesus came to us in our brokenness and sin and transformed us by his grace. If we can’t radically love our gay friends and family and neighbours, then we’ve completely missed everything he came to accomplish.

Our task isn’t to judge people outside of the community of believers for not living the right kind of lifestyle. It makes zero sense for Christians to assume that those who don’t know Jesus and don’t have the Holy Spirit empowering their lives, either can or want to live like a Christian. Our task isn’t to judge, but to love.

If we can’t radically love our gay friends and family and neighbours, we’ve completely missed everything Jesus came to accomplish.


The verse that directly follows 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus.” Can someone turn around from a homosexual lifestyle? Absolutely they can. (The media won’t tell you these stories, but there are plenty out there). People did in Corinth, and people can today.

And whether God uses our love to work a new creation miracle in someone’s life, or whether our love makes no noticeable difference at all, we are still called to keep on loving. In the decades to come if we’re hauled before courts and dragged to prison for standing our ground (as many Christians fear—perhaps rightly), our commission remains the same: to love like Jesus.

Are people born gay or do they choose?


There’s one objection I haven’t addressed: “I was born gay: God made me like this, and surely he wants me to live a fulfilled life.”

Behind this idea is an assumption that says, “God made me perfect just the way I am.” That sounds great in greeting cards but it’s not a teaching of the Bible. Once again, a Christian’s view on Genesis as either myth or history has great relevance.

All of us are broken. Everyone struggles with sinful desires.


God did make creation perfect in the beginning, but we stuffed it up. At the fall of Adam and Eve, the world came under a curse, the effects of which we still experience daily—including in our genes. I was born with bad joints just like my mum, and a bad temper like my dad. Others are born with cleft palates and epilepsy—and genetics are also a factor in some mental illnesses. If we think all these things are perfect, why do advanced nations spend billions of dollars trying to fix them?

Every one of us is loved by God and made in his image, but we’re also full of imperfections. The reason the “born this way” versus “it’s a choice” debate has no relevance for Christians is because even if there are genetic factors in sexual orientation (which may well be the case), it’s actions, not attractions, that the Bible calls “sin”. All of us are broken. Everyone struggles with sinful desires.

The reason the “born this way” versus “it’s a choice” debate has no relevance for Christians is because it’s actions, not attractions, that the Bible calls sin.


The church of the future


Life is messy, and dealing with these realities in our lives won’t always be straightforward. But can I suggest four words for Christian communities to consider as we seek to love our LGBTQIA friends the most?

Community | As communities of believers, we absolutely need to be a soft place for people to land. What if this Sunday your friend sitting next to you in church turns to you and says, “I’ve never told anyone, but all my life I’ve felt same-sex attracted”? Without flinching, without a hint of “that’s icky”, without a word of judgment, we need to be able to turn to them and say, “I struggle with all sorts of things too. Isn’t it so good that we both have a home here.” The church is a hospital for the sick, not a museum for saints.

Healing | Many LGBTQIA people, including some who are friends of mine, can clearly point to an abusive event in their past that triggered same-sex attraction for them. This isn’t the cause for everyone, but it is certainly the cause for some. Jesus heals. He absolutely does. Churches need people equipped to walk that healing journey with those who have been hurt. I’m so thrilled to be part of a church that has such a ministry team. If your church is yet to equip such a group, what needs to happen for you to get there? What can you do?

The church is a hospital for the sick, not a museum for saints.


Sacrifice | For some people, on this side of eternity, same-sex attraction may remain a long-term struggle. Jesus and Paul talk about those who choose not to marry for the sake of the kingdom. That might be you. (Or you might happily marry heterosexually, but continue to deal with same-sex attraction). And it might not seem fair. Reality is, every Christian has a cross to carry. If life had gone a bit more according to my plan, I would have met and married the right person ten years ago. There are a lot of struggles that come with being a single 30 year old trying to live a pure life. But if you’re someone who chooses not to marry, more loudly than anyone else you are declaring to the world, “Jesus is enough”.

Identity | I look around in the media and the story I’m consistently hearing about homosexuality is that coming out is some sort of all-defining salvation experience. Coming out is literally promoted as the modern-day equivalent of being born again. In our world today, sexual experimentation is nothing less than a search for identity. Founding identity on sexuality is an empty promise, and one guaranteed to disillusion. Our sexuality is a great and awesome thing, but it wasn’t designed to bear a load so weighty. We are so much more than our desires. Sex is not the pinnacle human experience. Psalm 42 doesn’t say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for sexual fulfilment”—but rather, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” Our sexuality isn’t our identity. Jesus is. Sex is good, but Jesus is far better. And he is enough.