We continue the analysis of the neo-liberal ideology and how Christian citizens stand in need of a coherent response to its ongoing impact upon the dominant way of life in our South West Pacific polities. It is the view developed here that the neo-liberal view of human rights as an individual entitlement that has for some considerable time being part of the widespread political reconsideration of the institution of marriage. In terms of our broadsheet’s heading, a new generation has decided that since we will not be subject to laws to which we have not first given our consent, that this therefore means that the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act (i.e. in Australia) is in need of being redesigned to enable same-sex people who wish to do so to partake of this institution.
The preparation has similarly been a long time coming. It has also included a continued subterranean denigration of the marriage institution since the 19th century that, in many respects, continues unabated and unchallenged as a “normal” part of popular culture. A new Christian aesthetic has not arisen to offset the perpetual slide into the quasi-pornographic depictions that have become standard fare in film and magazines, in advertising and even every-day conversation. It is a pervasive world-wide trend where commercial interests dominate.
And the preparation has also been aided and abetted by Christian churches of all stripes and persuasions and the undisciplined conduct of office bearers in their own furtive and secretive denigration of marriage under the protective cover of denominational employment or “holy service” in a local church. We hear almost daily reports of how church and school officials have condoned, hid and engaged in systematic sexual abuse. Denominational statements have decreed that marriage is a holy and chaste institution. “Marriage is to be held in honour and the marriage bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount updated “Thou shalt not commit adultery” with a penetrating critique that forbids making another image-bearer of the Lord into an object of sexual desire. But denominational practise, and the widespread accommodation to trends now deemed “natural”, renders appeals to “a Christian view of marriage” a somewhat compromised ideal if not a complete shambles of duplicity, hypocrisy and corruption. Are not the scandals merely a symptom that the Christian way of life, rather than hallowing God’s name, finds itself hollowed out?
And that is why, in trying to find a political path for ourselves to preserve Christian marriage, we must also face up repentantly to these fearsome facts about our way if life and our political failure as a distinct people. It would seem that the Christian way of life is at a cross-roads in Australia and across the region as well. As ever we cannot but bow in repentance before the throne of grace and seek cleansed lips so that we can humbly and truly confess “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us.” And such prayer from such cleansed lips must move on: “But Thou, O Lord have mercy upon us miserable offenders.”
One of the “things” that we Christians have left undone is the development of a coherent and comprehensive public policy for marriage, family and household that comports with our 21st century way of life, now mired as we are in the contradictions we inherit from our enlightened 20th century Christianity. Nurturing Justice has given itself the task of developing such a political perspective on marriage, family and household as a most important facet for the development of a sustainable Christian political option for Australia and the South West Pacific. But it is not a task that can be resolved by a blog, or even a point of view that goes “viral”. We are seeking something with greater staying power than that!
Will not such resistance also coincide with a re-discovery of how to read the Bible’s revelation about marriage and family life in God’s Kingdom. Allusions to the purpose and destiny of the Lord God’s male and female image-bearers are basic and integral to the message of the Gospels and the New Testament. The lingual demands of the neo-liberal “marriage equality” ideology have authoritarian and totalitarian overtones, as N. T. Wright has acutely observed. This is a timely warning.
As we have suggested: there are good reasons for believing that Australia will soon have a legal definition of marriage that not only makes room for a same-sex relationship to be viewed in law in ways that are equitable with marriage as hitherto understood, but will also declare that such same-sex relationships are marriages because the Parliament has declared them to be on the basis that a majority of Australian citizens have said it should be defined in this way. And moreover, the change in the law as the advocates of a plebiscite envisage it, will give expression to a decided Parliamentary endorsement that it is not the political parties themselves that can take responsibility for this “reform”. And so these public funded associations that back parliamentarians will seemingly be able to avoid responsibility for their own contribution to the social and cultural consequences. In this instance the Liberal Party’s concordat decrees that it will be the voice of the people, measured by majority vote, that will have to be obeyed! A truly religious confession will ring out across the nation and throughout the region:
“We will not be subject to a law that we do not make for ourselves!”
And that is what Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop, have in mind. And all others supportive of “marriage equality” are implicitly in line with this confession: the voice of the people is the voice of god – vox populi, vox dei. But as we have pointed out after Parliamentary votes that have time and again refused to change the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act, Australian citizens will, in the main, not have any idea how to politically defend the viewpoint that has been implicitly deemed “out-of-date”, “anti-progressive”, and even a “denial of basic human rights.” They can no longer rely on the presumption that because it is a “private matter” it is outside the political realm. As the definition itself indicates: it has never been a matter without public and legal consequences.
It is hard to see how Australia can now avoid this mistake by a political rejection of the political assumptions of “marriage equality”. In my view, Australia is destined to go this way because, quite frankly, we as a national political community do not actually know how to have it any other way. In a nutshell I am suggesting that the reason we will join these other polities and affirm “marriage equality” for same-sex couples is that we do not have any coherent, comprehensive and viable political defence of the current definition.
Do we have within this country the intellectual resources to actually defend the current definition of the 1961 Marriage Act against this pervasive interpretation that has also been manufactured by the pagan world-view endorsed by decades of popular culture? Is there a significant belief and commitment to the political defence of an institution described by that Marriage Act as a life-long commitment of a man to a woman? Are we prepared to defend that view with a comprehensive “all of government” policy framework, in order to conclusively demonstrate that such a definition is integral to the national interest, the common good, and should certainly not be confined to the historical WPB?
One really intriguing question concerns whether Australia is capable of resisting the latest neo-liberal manifestation of a neo-colonial ethic? What is this that I am suggesting? It is this: implicit in this political attempt to subjugate marriage and turn it into the creation of national parliaments is a wider global neo-liberal agenda. But would the people of this country, many of whom are the graduates of the nation’s reconstructed post-modern academies of the 1980s, going to stand with non-western world and resist this imperious “reform”. Is it going to be with Canada, the UK, New Zealand and the US? Or shall we actually show a bit of political courage and stand with Polynesia and Melanesia in our region?
Let me give just a few examples to encourage readers to think about the ways in which political expediency prevents genuine debate about the issues for which we are supposed to be accountable as citizens. These are given to indicate a persistent trend in the way in which political debate is malformed and then resolved within this polity so that it has an inordinate influence upon our ability to remain accountable for the policies we are said to endorse by our votes at election time, and the subsequent inability to reckon with our own complicity in the disastrous decisions that are then made by those we elect to represent us.
When the US President Ronald Reagan leant on Australia to allow nuclear armed and powered naval ships to dock in our ports back in the 1980s, did our Government join New Zealand and ban nuclear ships? Did we agree that such a visit would make our major population centres possible nuclear targets? In the long term, New Zealand’s stand was vindicated – the madness of Mutually Assured Destruction dissipated, even if now Australia and the US, (let alone New Zealand) conveniently forget that they expelled the country of Prime Minister David Lange from ANZUS.
Soon after his re-election in 2001, and presumably after receiving deputations from pharmaceutical and other medical research companies, the Australian PM John Howard, confined his “no embryonic stem-cell research” promise to the category of “non-core promises”. At that time it also became evident that Australia, via its universities and bio-research institutes, was already involved overseas in embryonic stem-cell research, and in some still undisclosed way had facilitated this research by the export of human embryos. Prominent “Noe” voters, claiming that their religious convictions did not allow them to vote “Aye” in the subsequent Parliamentary “conscience vote”, nevertheless knew about this but failed utterly to present such facts to the Parliamentary debate at the time. This would have disclosed that there were no controls at our country’s ports on the import or export of human embryos. And so instead of resigning his seat because of a change in his election platform, the PM proceeded to force a bitter debate upon the nation and its parliaments which he subsequently “won” even if the research that he and his pharmaceutical company apologists anticipated is no longer considered viable!
So I close this fourth broadsheet with those two examples that illustrate Australia’s distinctive style of pragmatic political cowardice. If such a trend is followed here, Australia will join the “advanced Western” democracies rather than taking sides with those polities that do not view marriage as a human right, many of whom are index still among those the Caribbean Franz Fanon described as the “wretched of the earth”. Or are we, as Jean-Paul Sartre poignantly introduces that book, to face up to our own individualistic wretchedness before it buries us in our presumption?