We all need acceptance, love and respect. We all have a right to be treated with equality.
Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen.
This is why I totally get why so many people are in favour of same-sex marriage. It’s why so many people who identify themselves as part of the same-sex attracted communities are fighting so passionately for the laws in Australia to be changed to provide for same-sex marriage. As a Christian, I want for these people what they want – because I think everybody needs acceptance, love and respect, and equality. But I don’t think that same-sex marriage is the way to get it; and it seems that 90 per cent of the LGBTQ communities agree.
Brooklyn psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908–1970), argued in Motivation And Personality (1954) that all psychologically healthy human beings have a “hierarchy of needs”. He observed that people generally need to feel physically well, safe, accepted (“Love/belonging”), valued (“Esteem”), and having dignity (“Self-actualisation”). This is why several Irish respondents told the media after Ireland changed its laws in May 2015 to introduce same-sex marriage, “Now we will be accepted for who we are!” Acceptance is a critical human need.
Yet despite the vigorous appeals for same-sex marriage – built on the arguments that the introduction of same-sex marriage will alleviate the alarming suicide rates of young men who identify as homosexual, the abnormally high rates of depression among the members of the LGBTQ communities, and the generally poorer physical health of this sector of society – the untold fact is that, where same-sex marriage has been introduced, 90 per cent of those who identify as being in a same-sex relationship show no interest in same-sex marriage.
This is the case in both New Zealand and Ireland – two of the most recent examples of where these arguments were used and the laws changed to provide for it. In fact, one of the first states in the United States to introduce same-sex marriage was Massachusetts – which did so largely on the basis of these arguments (high rates of poor mental health, abnormally high rates of suicide). After same-sex marriage was introduced there, at first same-sex couples took it up at a high rate.
Yet there was no alleviation of those factors; indeed, according to some analysts, they may actually have worsened. And this seems to be repeated elsewhere. Despite the appeals and claims to the contrary, same-sex marriage is not a boon for the LGBTQ communities and may even be a disappointing bane.
Christians are not the enemy of the LGBTQ communities. Most Christians want what these communities are calling for: acceptance, tolerance, and respect. But the facts speak for themselves: that same-sex marriage does not deliver this.
Despite vitriolic claims that Christian are “bigots” for opposing same-sex marriage, it is actually an act of great compassion on the part of the Christian community towards the LGBTQ communities to explain why changing the Marriage Act will not, and indeed cannot deliver what they expect. And based on the numbers of same-sex couples in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, Europe and Ireland who have not taken up same-sex marriage, it seems that 90 per cent of the LGBTQ communities agree: same-sex marriage is not the answer they are looking for.
When premises are wrong
One of the reasons why same-sex marriage has failed so completely to resolve the issues of abnormally high depression and suicide rates among LGBTQ communities, is that the premise of same-sex marriage is mistaken. (A premise is the foundational notion from which a conclusion is derived.) In this instance the premise is that a person’s value is determined by the relationship they have with another person. But this is entirely false and even a cruel way to regard human worth.
Marriage does not add worth or intrinsic value to a man or a woman when they marry each other. Marriage does not even mean that a person has now become acceptable. And marriage certainly does not make anyone equal to any other person. Worth, acceptance and equality are all grounded in the inherent and God-given uniqueness of all human beings.
The American founding fathers stated this when they wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Christians sometimes refer to this truth as the imago dei (“the image of God”).
Christians don’t ground their understanding of human worth in the imago dei just to oppose same-sex marriage – or even homosexuality – it is also the basis for saying to a young teenage girl that your worth is not found in having a boyfriend. It’s found in whose image you bear.
It is on this premise that we understand that love can be given, received, felt, without ever having to sexualise it. A young person should not be hoodwinked into thinking that it is another human being who determines whether they are acceptable, lovable, of any worth or even equal. The Christian boldly declares, often to their own hurt, that a human being is uniquely created in the image of God and is therefore infinitely valuable and supremely loved. Acceptance by God is one of the deepest cravings of every human heart and is found not in marriage, but in our relationship to our Maker.
What Jesus taught
Jesus Christ was the greatest man to have walked the earth. His greatness is seen most beautifully in the way He loved others. He is also the greatest example of the truth that love does not mean that anything goes. On the contrary, the way Jesus loved was the supreme mix of compassion and truth.
In John 8 Jesus is presented with the woman caught in adultery. In a remarkable display of compassion for the woman who had been dragged out into the dusty street by the religious authorities, Jesus shows that true love does not tolerate anything when He offers forgiveness to the woman:
“Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’ ” (John 8:10-11)
“Go and sin no more,” Jesus told her. He didn’t trivialise or tolerate the sin in which this woman was caught. And in marked contrast to those in our day who consider that sexualising a relationship with another person has no moral implications, Jesus reinforced what He had inspired the Biblical authors to write: that sexuality and morality are intrinsically linked. In fact, He emphatically stated that if sexuality was trivialised it would put a person’s soul in eternal peril.
But He went further and reinforced what the Scriptures had already declared about the sanctity of marriage – its candidates, its purpose, and its requirements, when He said:
“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
“ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
This is the only definition of marriage that Jesus gave – not merely for His followers, but for all people whom He created. When Christians endorse Christ’s statement about marriage and sexuality, we are not being the enemy, we are showing fidelity to Christ and compassion for all people – all people.
As I have spoken with my non-Christian friends who have disagreed with me about same-sex marriage, we have soon found ourselves looking at Christ’s view on sexuality and marriage, which has surprised them because they had been led to believe that Jesus was all about unconditional acceptance (commonly confused as being “love”) and that He actually said nothing about marriage. When they discover that neither is the case they also find that the motive of most Christians is not intolerance, bigotry, or phobia, but genuine care.
Pain and brokenness
When a person has experienced the opposite of what Professor Maslow described as the basic needs of every human – wellness, safety, acceptance, and love – they experience deep pain. Some wounds are obvious but some of the most painful are not. Many of these wounds result in brokenness, particularly sexual brokenness. This leads to the very misguided notion that safety, wellness, acceptance and love can only, or even ultimately, result through sexualisation. This is broken thinking. Some of the most hurt and lonely people in the world are those who have sexualised their pursuit of these basic human needs rather than discovering how to truly have these needs met.
I have been careful to state that no other human being can ultimately satisfy our basic human needs. This is because we are all created for these needs to be met in our relationship with God. Yet our first forebears skewed this relationship with our Creator when their rebellion embedded into our “spiritual DNA” the seeds of human brokenness that necessitated the Creator becoming our Law Giver to protect us against ourselves. This is why God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to the world as the Atonement for all human beings who turn to Him and receive His Lordship and forgiveness.
Many sexually broken people (those who have sexualised their relationships in the hope of having their needs met) have come to the end of themselves, and from the darkness of their sadness, loneliness, and rejection, have turned to Jesus and begun to find the wellness, security, acceptance and love that they had always craved.
For most of these people a consequence of their brokenness is that they will then struggle for the rest of their lives with inappropriate sexual desires (this is not restricted simply to those with same-sex attraction, of course). Acclaimed Christians, such as spiritual writer Henri Nouwen (1932–96), may live with this struggle for all their lives. It is an extremely important distinction to make that attraction and action are not the same.
Often we have to struggle to do what’s right. When it comes to matters like these, not struggling in the guise of “being who I really am” has simply not worked for many broken people. Despite the hope that advocates have held that same-sex marriage will alleviate the pain of those who are several hundred per cent more likely to suffer depression and its consequences, the data is overwhelming: it hasn’t.
To those in the LGBTQ communities, we in the Church are not your enemies. We want for you what you want at the core of your soul – to be well, to experience acceptance, to know love, and to discover meaning in your life. We are not being bigots when we say that same-sex marriage will not deliver you these needs. It has not. It cannot. But there is Someone who can.
Dr Andrew Corbett is Pastor of Legana Christian Church, Tasmania.