So the previous broadsheet closed with a question: will our proposed public debate about Marriage Equality include discussion about the way Australia relates to our regional neighbours and the consequences for how the region’s international relations are to be formed? This has not been part of the discussion thus far.
But having mentioned our regional neighbours, we are reminded that there are also neighbours to respect within the massive expanse of land and sea that constitute this Australian Commonwealth, and we may well overlook these relationships, as we have traditionally done, if we are not careful. For instance, the Torres Strait Islander flag may be flown from the flagpoles of our national, state and local government offices from Cooktown to Fremantle to Geelong to Hobart to indicate that the 1992 Mabo judgment has had an impact upon our national identity?
But have we really grasped the fact of it? Whatever else Mabo legally confirmed, with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples to their own lands, it also places us, the Australian Commonwealth, within the South West Pacific, within Melanesia. It also sends a strong message to Indonesia about Jakarta’s neo-colonial alienation of the lands of West Papua. [It should also be noted that Mabo strengthened efforts to reassert native title rights of indigenous lands and adjacent seas in Fiji, proposed legislation that was denounced as racist and resisted by entrenched commercial elites as a proposed positive rebalancing to Fijian public policy during the years following the December 5th. 2006 coup.]
Are we even vaguely aware that the proposed public discussion about marriage that will be required for the plebiscite will have to include reflection about how we see ourselves as a political community within our regional community? Will neighbouring island states of the Pacific Islands Forum find us truly respectful of their views about marriage and family life, views that many Christian islanders learned from our own “western” ancestors? Should they, as our closest neighbours be allowed to give their views of what this proposed change would mean for them?
Will our political leaders, already so firm in their commitment to “marriage equality”, be active in soliciting the views of President Widodo of what this change would mean in the eyes of 250 million Indonesians? Will it confirm the prevalent view that we in this country are simply on a decadent western trajectory? Let’s not pretend that this is simply a matter to be decided without such opened-up regional discussions? And what of Malaysian views?
This, of course, cannot be anything other than about “the way we feel about each other, how we treat each other”. “Marriage equality” advocates will no doubt tell us that New Zealand, located geographically within Polynesia with 20% of its population of Maori and South Pacific descent, has been a “marriage equality” trailblazer. Really? So what about analyses pro- and con from within the polity of Aotearoa? What has been the result after their much trumpeted “progressive initiatives”? Previously, when it suited our Government under Mr Hawke back in the 1980s, when nuclear ships were the issue, we quite happily distanced ourselves from New Zealand. Do we now simply get in step with their misstep?
But the proposed reform to the Marriage Act will indeed set the Australian parliament on a path that will intensify the legal and political pressures upon our conduct of international affairs and therefore will have impacts upon how we relate subsequently to the societies of our South Pacific neighbours, both those that get in line with this neo-colonial imposition and those that don’t. Are we up to thinking about that heightened level of diplomatic sensitivity?
Such a change must have significant and continuing impact upon all organisations, not just churches but also Christian organisations involved in Aid and Development. We should be asking ourselves whether we want to get in step with the world-wide march of neo-colonial liberalism, and its effort to remake marriage into a human right and a creature of governments. Does this mean that Australian Christian efforts in A&D will become more and more captive to the rampaging neo-liberal ideology that ascribes creative power to individual rights?
And so the debate will need to be sharpened considerably, that is if our political leaders want to engage in a genuine political discussion rather than merely a nation-wide exercise in elite sentimentalism. And then of course we can expect that the question will be raised about what this change will mean for those whose familial and cultural backgrounds already put them on the margins of this multi-cultural society. Will it add fuel to the already smouldering discontent of young people who find themselves psychologically alienated by this country’s “progressive” toleration of libertarian mores in advertising, public relations and mass-media? And are we Christians who are seeking to promote a just political community able, at this point, to actually enter into meaningful complex discussion about marriage?
In this series of Nurturing Justice I have tried to clear the decks to suggest that a Christian political contribution to the impending “marriage equality” plebiscite requires deepened understanding of the complex interweaving of public policy and its administration. That is what is needed for integral Christian discipleship from here on. Such a contribution should be framed in order to carry on after the plebiscite, after the result is announced, after the legislation is declared passed in the Parliament. And so, what we are in fact talking about is nothing other than the beginning of a sustained long-term Christian political option, even if, as seems likely, there will be a majority of “Ayes” voting for this deeply mistaken proposal.
So the question is: do we genuinely want to find a new Christ-honouring political perspective that actually gives cogent respect to marriage as integral to the public interest, the region’s public interest as well? Are we going to be serious and develop an integrally Christian understanding of what marriage truly means for public justice, and which will be as much if not more applicable after the error is legislated?
With such questions, I have to call a halt for the time being. Here I am particularly concerned to address fellow Christians. We need a much deeper and comprehensively nuanced understanding of what this means for our political lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, those the New Testament writers were bold to call “agents of reconciliation”, the brothers and sisters of Israel’s Messiah, the now-ruling Prince of princes. For some churches such a public-legal change is going to confirm directions that have already been set and which, in some ways, are adding significant support to “marriage equality” already. And so we can expect in such churches there will be further implicit and explicit divisions and parting of the ways. As I have tried to suggest, pronouncements by church leaders on these matters to their own members, let alone the wider community, still lack credibility and it will take a long time for the impression of scandalous hypocrisy to disappear.
Some churches while holding to Jesus’ teaching which, only ever contemplates marriage as a union between one man and one woman as “at the beginning” (Matthew 19:4-6), will set about developing pastoral and teaching programmes that reckon, as they should, with the decades-long impact of humanist and pagan world-views and practises upon the nurture of children. To develop a truly Christian understanding of being created in the image of God, of being male and female, of being husband and wife, of having children, of taking on the roles of father and mother, let alone nurturing brother and sister, requires a new day in authentic Christian education and schooling, a new-found basis for compassion, mercy and solidarity in the Gospel itself. It will require fresh wisdom about how to address and counter prevailing mis-understandings, and in the first instance Christian misunderstandings, that is the practise that take a path other than the direction indicated by the teaching of Jesus and those He sent to proclaim good news.
Such a proposed educational and teaching initiative must also mean challenging ourselves with respect to what Christian discipleship should mean for this region. And in particular that means a long-term struggle to clarify what it should mean for our political service as citizens, moving on to decisively form a Christian political option as an integral part of our Christian way of life here, in this polity, in this region, on this earth, for as long as it takes until Christ Jesus returns.