Why Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland is nothing for Christians to be afraid of.


Some people would have woken up in Northern Ireland yesterday morning, excited and hopeful of real change coming.

Others, not so much.

Two day ago in the Houses of Parliament, London, MP’S voted with a huge majority to start the process of legalizing marriage for everyone and to allow women for the first time to be able to control their own bodies without having to cross the water.

This, all depending on whether NI can finally get their devolved government back up and running by October.

A possibility, but not particularly likely. At least not based on the signs so far.

As a Northern Irish Christian, all be it, now living in Detroit, the issue over marriage equality has always seemed a strange battle for Christians to choose. Putting aside theological arguments for whether it is right for two people of the same sex to be married for now, it’s always felt a little inconsistent.

You can hold the view for example that the Bible is clear in teaching that homosexuality is wrong, yet still understand that two men or two women marrying each other is not going to destabilize the institution of marriage for a lovely Christian couple from Ballymena who have been married for 30 years.

When I think about how we’ve dealt with the issue of Marriage equality as a church especially back home in NI, the one thing I find hard to get my head around no matter how much I try, is why we are afraid of it. How does it affect us whether two people of the same sex get married?

After much thought on this, I just don’t think it does.

Except in perhaps one way.

By allowing us to continue to hide the deeper pain we experience in Marriage as heterosexual Christians. There is a common idea that if you’re in pain or unhappy or frustrated with aspects of your own life, you will use that energy to attack others.

If you feel like your purpose in life is not being fulfilled you are more likely to try and mock, deny and ridicule others’ when they experience their own fulfilment.

The church certainly has a history of this and I wonder how much healing we could bring to the world, especially to those who think differently than us, if we did the hard but yet relatively simple work of becoming conscious to our own pain.

On the flip side, those who are conscious to their own pain and doubt, are more likely to heal and find joy in their relationships and jobs, friendships and marriages. And are less likely to want to deny those same things to others.

When Jesus talked about removing the plank of wood from your own eye, before you can even contemplate removing the splinter from someone elses, I am certain he was not talking about the traditional Christian approach to Marriage Equality. Yet it’s applicable, I think.

There is a certain hypocrisy in telling other people how they can or can not run their lives, when we’re still struggling to figure out this marriage thing ourselves.

Also, the sight of Muslims or Hindu’s or even atheists getting married doesn’t provoke the same reaction from us as much as two men getting married does. Why is this? Many Christians would be quick to label them as lost and needing of salvation, yet we seem fine with them getting married even when their perception of the divine is at such odds with ours. Is it because, these faiths generally prohibit gay marriage also, or is there something about two men getting married that simply disgusts us deep down?

Maybe both.

If marriage is God ordained, then why are more Christians not up in arms about atheists getting married?

And of course, it’s difficult to talk about any of this as Christians without going to the Bible. This is not the time or place to make huge theological arguments about this and others have spent a lot of time articulating them much better than I could. (Check out Matthew Vines’ “the Gay Christian” as a good starter).

That’s not to say they’re not important but rather that there is only so much progress we can make by simply digging our heals in and repeatedly pointing to those few, rare and often misunderstood passages in the Bible that we think address Gay relationships in the 21st Century.

Small spoiler alert, they don’t.

We need to do a better job of engaging with what the Bible says about all of this.

It’s not good enough to just say that the Bible is very clear that marriage should be between one man and one woman, because biblically it rarely is.

Polygyny is common in the Old Testament; men are often permitted to have not just many wives but concubines also. Even rape victims are commanded to marry their rapists.

These cases don’t involve evil characters in the Bible who are enemies of God. These are God’s people. People like David, Jacob and Abraham.

I’ve listened to Christians bring out the same verses over and over, without really engaging with the LGBTQ community. You can have the best arguments for why Biblically, gay marriage is wrong but if you’re aim is to stop Marriage equality, what good has that done?

Where has it led you?

To a point where we are on the verge of Marriage equality in Northern Ireland.

If your goal is to prevent this, it clearly hasn’t worked.

I’m not going to lie to you. I am in total favor of gay marriage back home. Even if I did believe that marriage was ideally between one man and one woman, why should I stop someone from experiencing marriage? How does it hurt me? How does it harm me? It doesn’t. The success of my marriage and others or the presence of God in it, is completely unrelated to whether two women can marry each other.

The alternative approach for Christians who disagree with marriage equality is clear.

The Church needs to listen more and talk less.

Everyone knows where a lot of Christians land on gay marriage. Repeating it over and over, every time this comes to the front of the news is boring and unproductive, serving only to alienate the LGBTQ community from the Church. Especially LGBTQ Christians.

You could be led to believe that there is only one belief about this in the Church as the same voices are invited to contribute their thoughts.

But that is not the whole story. If you are gay, you have friends in the church. Friends who believe in you and love you, support you and believe you should have the same rights as everyone else.

The Church and its leaders should take time to listen to the stories of the LGBTQ community.

Stories are powerful because stories remove nice neat lines. Those lines are useful in protecting us from hearing something that might cause us to see the other person as human. Which would then mean we’d have to question what we believe about them.

But life is never neat and once you start to see the LGTBQ community, not as a group who are trying to undermine your beliefs, but who just want the freedom to express and experience their own, they stop being a threat and become human.

This is why some of us need to stop talking. This is why we need to start listening.

I’m going to bet that we’ll see some of ourselves in their stories and their experiences.

And even though this might be frightening, it may also be truly healing.

And that’s nothing to be afraid of.

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