You wouldn’t normally expect video of the Australian prime minister appearing on a talk show to become an Internet phenomenon, but that’s what has happened this week with an exchange between PM Kevin Rudd and a pastor who questioned Rudd’s support for marriage equality.
The exchange begins with an audience question from a pastor who works for a Christian radio network. He tells the Prime Minister that many people are disillusioned because he has changed his beliefs for political advantage, particularly on marriage. Rudd responds that he came to his decision “through an informed conscience, and a Christian conscience, that it was the right thing to do.” Rudd goes on to say he doesn’t think people choose to be gay. “It is how people are built,” he says, adding that he considers it a “completely ill-founded view” to think of homosexuality as abnormal.
But things get really interesting when the moderator asks the pastor, “What is it that you believe Christians in particular are upset about?” The pastor responds by quoting the Bible and saying, “I just believe in what the Bible says, and I’m just curious, for you Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?”
Well, mate, if I was gonna have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St. Paul says in the New Testament, slaves be obedient to your masters…
I mean, for goodness’ sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the fundamental principal of the New Testament? It is one of universal love, loving your fellow man, and if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality, then I think we’re missing the centrality of what the gospel, whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel or a spiritual gospel is all about….
If you think homosexuality is an unnatural condition, then frankly, I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science. And therefore if a person’s sexuality is as they are made, then you’ve got to ask the second question: should therefore their loving relationships be legally recognized, and the conclusion I have reached is that they should.
In the video, Rudd also points out that he has been very open about his change of heart, which he says “was the product of some many many months and years of reflection, in good Christian conscience.”
Indeed, Rudd described his journey in a long essay published in May, which approaches the marriage question both as an interrogation of his own faith position and from a perspective of church-state separation. The whole thing is worth reading. Here are some excerpts:
I have come to the conclusion that church and state can have different positions and practices on the question of same-sex marriage. I believe the secular Australian state should be able to recognise same-sex marriage.
I also believe that this change should legally exempt religious institutions from any requirement to change their historic position and practice that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.
For me, this change in position has come about as a result of a lot of reflection, across a long period, including conversations with good people grappling with deep questions of life, sexuality and faith…
The Christian tradition since Thomas Aquinas is based on a combination of faith informed by reason. If the latter is diminished, then we are reduced to varying forms of theocratic terrorisms, where the stoning of heretics and the burning of witches would still be commonplace.
In fact, if we were today to adhere to a literalist rendition of the Christian scriptures, the 21st century would be a deeply troubling place, and the list of legitimised social oppressions would be disturbingly long.
Slavery would still be regarded as normal, as political constituencies around the world, like the pre-civil war American south, continued to invoke the New Testament injunction that “slaves be obedient to your masters” as their justification. Not to mention the derivative political theologies that provided ready justifications for bans on inter-racial marriage and, in very recent times, the ethical obscenity that was racial segregation and apartheid.
Similarly with the status of women. Supporters of polygamy would be able to justify their position based on biblical precedent. Advocates of equality would also have difficulty with Paul’s injunction that “wives should be submissive to their husbands”….
The Bible also teaches us that people should be stoned to death for adultery (which would lead to a veritable boom in the quarrying industry were that still the practice today). The same for homosexuals. And the biblical conditions for divorce are so strict that a woman could be beaten within an inch of her life and still not be allowed to legally separate.
The point is that nobody in the mainstream Christian church today would argue any of these propositions. A hundred years ago, that was not necessarily the case. In other words, the definition of Christian ethics is subject to change, based on analysis of the historical context into which the biblical writers were speaking at the time, and separating historical context from timeless moral principles, such as the injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself”…
In the essay Rudd credits his re-thinking to a conversation with a respected former political staffer, a Pentecostal Christian, who came out to him and told him that he’d like the ability to be married.
Encouraging more Christians to challenge their friends’ thinking is also the idea behind The NALT Christians Project (www.NotAllLikeThat.org). The project, following the model of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, asks Christians to post videos of themselves explaining why their faith calls them to support for LGBT equality. The project has been launched by Christian author John Shore and activists Wayne Besen and Evan Hurst of Truth Wins Out. Cosponsors include Reconciling Ministries Network, Faith in America, The Evangelical Network, GLAD Alliance, Methodists in New Directions, Covenant Network of Presbyterians, Many Voices, and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.