. . . if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay, because, um, that’s the way they are, then it follows from that, that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here, who are in love with each other and are of the same gender, should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration of their relationship, by having marriage equality.
~ Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at a Q&A session
This four-minute clip of a politician answering a pastor’s question about his recently changed view on same-sex marriage is a great illustration of what passes for gotcha reasoning these days — a “smackdown” being celebrated all over FB, about the righteousness of “marriage equality” and the uber-wrongness of Christians and others who oppose it. The “winner” is Rudd, a self-avowed Christian who has promised to introduce a bill legalizing same-sex marriage within the first one hundred days of his reelection. He begins his answer to Pastor Matt Prater of Brisbane with several glib, but nevertheless, unsubstantiated assertions: (A) that gays are all born that way; (B) that since they’re born that way, it must be “natural and normal” and therefore ought to be supported by everybody; and (C) that anybody who thinks differently is anti-science, not to mention dissing the wisdom of the prime minister’s own conscience, which he tells us more than once, is both “informed” and “Christian.”
Never mind that Rudd only achieved this state of marriage-equality enlightenment recently –he exhibits no charity or compassion for anyone who might still be in the dark ages which he himself inhabited just a few months prior. In explaining his reversal, Rudd derides the view that homosexuality is abnormal and unnatural as “just wrong . . . and completely ill-founded” and then asks the pastor to clarify his reasoning. Wisely, the pastor doesn’t go there, instead saying that since Jesus defines marriage as between a man and a woman, he’s curious to know why, as a Christian, Rudd doesn’t “ . . . believe the words of Jesus in the Bible.”
That’s when the great smackdown moment occurs, as Rudd replies, “Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.” The place erupts with applause. To drive the point home, he adds, “Because St. Paul said in the New Testament, ‘slaves, be obedient to your masters’ and therefore we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War.” Touché – the Bible has been fatally wounded.
No one seemed to notice that Rudd’s non-sequitur answer had been crafted to obliterate the claim that he tried to elicit from the pastor: that homosexuality is abnormal and unnatural. The fact that the pastor never said so didn’t matter – Rudd’s tone was triumphantly dismissive, and if winning the gay marriage debate meant throwing Jesus under the bus, then so be it. After all, what exactly is that view that the prime minister, with his informed and Christian conscience, was so eager to eschew? It’s the view of traditional Christianity throughout the centuries, that as followers of Christ, believers ought to take Jesus at His word — as saying, in fact, exactly what He meant to say.
Toss out the authority of Jesus and the Bible, and what exactly of Christianity is left? Ah yes, “universal love,” avers Rudd — although why we should trust what the Bible purportedly says about love, when it can’t be trusted to speak reliably on marriage or slavery or presumably other sticky subjects, is beyond me.
Putting aside that Rudd’s facile retort about slavery conflates descriptive and prescriptive passages, and that Biblical advice for dealing with Caesar or various human institutions does not necessarily confer approval of those rulers or institutions — he has just made the argument that same-sex attraction is natural and that what is natural is worthy of societal approval. In essence, Rudd uses the adjectives natural and normal to bestow a positive qualitative judgement on things which are naturally occurring – to attach a sort of moral seal of approval. Call me wacky, but it seems that the tendency of the strong to enslave the weak is also “natural,” and has been “normal” throughout history – rather popular to this day in fact. I’m sure that the science he is so eager to defer to in support of gay marriage could give him several plausible evolutionary reasons as to why slavery is “natural” among men.
But in this case, the PM means that because slavery is morally wrong, it therefore cannot be “natural,” and since it is not natural, the Bible is wrong, and being wrong, it can no longer lay claim to having any moral authority. Get it? I don’t, but I’m not as advanced as the prime minister.
However, I can think of lots of naturally occurring things, besides slavery, that I would rather not accept, much less endorse: Quick tempers, arsenic, birth defects, earthquakes, murder, and cellulite come to mind. (I’m not too crazy about gray hair either, but I’ll admit it looks great on a few friends.) And before you get your knickers all twisted up, I am NOT saying that same sex attraction is “like” murder, or slavery. I am simply saying that “natural and normal” tendencies or activities come in good, bad and indifferent. (By the way, I just learned from a retired dentist for a prison that it was “normal” for him to be asked by gay prisoners to have their top and bottom front teeth, perfectly good teeth, mind you, extracted. Normal, but nevertheless, a request not granted. Trust me – you don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about it.)
At any rate, for most Christians, to say that something is “natural and normal” is not to say that it’s morally right. Our belief is that we live in a fallen world, one in which sin has metastasized throughout it so completely that we’re told by Paul in Romans 8 that the whole creation has been “subjected to futility.” Paul then describes the situation in more poetic terms: the creation, he says, is in bondage, groaning for redemption. If Christians are right, then this fallen state is the real Reality, and Reality, we all know from bitter experience, has an annoying way of not cooperating with ideology that, for lack of a better way of saying it, gets Reality wrong.
If Paul is correctly describing the spiritual state of mankind, slavery is “natural and normal” precisely because man is sinful, and being sinful, we do bad things. Repeatedly. Over time, we get more efficient and more creative at doing bad things –think sarin gas. We also get better at rationalizing doing bad things, and better at rationalizing not doing good things. Bad things become “normal” and “good,” and vice versa. Yup –that’s progress.
This isn’t to say that people don’t transcend their sinful nature, and do good, occasionally spectacular things, or that radical moral arguments can’t be made, and won, such as William Wilberforce’s long and ultimately successful battle to end the slave trade in Britain. But, the doctrine of original sin does say that when it comes to the rightness or wrongness of a behavior or belief, its “naturalness” or “normality” is nothing but a red herring.
It’s difficult to explain in this relativistic age, but when Christians talk about God’s law, we’re not talking about arbitrary rules He’s inflicted on us just to keep us from having fun. We believe God’s law is meant to protect us, with all our flaws and selfish inclinations, from ourselves, and from each other. We think that our best chance for a meaningful life will be found by cultivating certain attitudes and behaviors — for instance, a willingness to forgive and a habit of cheerful generosity — and by avoiding destructive attitudes and behaviors, such as being envious or doing a shoddy job at school or work. The moral counsel of the Bible provides a framework within which each of us will best find true purpose and fulfillment.
Of course, this traditional view jibes with the prime minister’s view that God is indeed universal love, and that therefore He intends good things for these creatures made in His own image. But it goes much further, however, than the PM is willing to go, and trusts that God knows better than man himself what is best for man. It also reasons that God, as the omniscient creator of the universe, does not need to be “updated” periodically, like an app, with the latest moral operating system.
Christians may be wrong about all this, and if so, to the extent that we’ve obeyed the moral code, we’ve missed out on a lot of fun. Some of us may confuse moral directives that were meant for particular times, places and purposes, such as dietary or dress restrictions, with moral directives intended to be timeless, like “thou shalt not murder.” Clearly, there are gray areas of dispute. Yet, if the conventional view that God’s boundaries for sexual relationships and family structures belong to the for-all-time category, then to the extent that society discards these rules, great harm will be done to individuals, and to our society as a whole. Our suffering will be the collateral damage that always occurs when our mistaken ideology collides with Reality.
This doesn’t mean that if Christians are right about sexual prohibitions, that trying to obey them is not, at times, fraught with great difficulty and anguish. It’s that fallen-world syndrome again. As Paul says in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Even so, we believe that God helps us in making the attempt at obedience, and that we’re better for it, even though we sometimes fail. The belief that there is forgiveness, redemption and life everlasting, is, of course, a cornerstone of the Christian faith.
Unfortunately, in this life, the viral video world is offering no forgiveness or redemption to the pastor whose legitimate question – asking why a Christian rejects a clear Christian teaching on marriage — sparked Mr. Rudd’s great triumph. The link I ran across had already garnered over 46,000 “likes” in just a day. The scorn heaped on the pastor in tweets and comments is to be expected — it’s what happens when an understanding of the depravity of man, the inherent sinfulness of all of us –not to mention kindness — gets lost . . . But I can’t help contrasting this sham of a debate about same-sex marriage to the radically different view expressed in a blog I linked to last month, written by a homosexual Christian who believes that despite his “natural” inclination, he is called to be celibate. He calls his struggle to be obedient to God’s boundaries an “arduous good,” a phrase he borrows from St. Thomas Aquinas:
An arduous good is a good that requires struggle. A good that is worth fighting for. And a good that inspires fear and hope and endurance in the face of adversity.
“Arduous good” is also a phrase that is seldom spoken in Hollywood, and almost never heard on Madison Avenue. In that silence, the poverty of our culture is laid bare.
Yes, and the poverty of our culture is also laid bare in that moment when an unthinking audience cheers a facile putdown of the Bible, Jesus, and a hapless pastor who tries to follow Him.