I’m a married to a loving wife. I’m a white male living in middle class
, with two kids, two fish and a cat. I live in an inner city suburb of the largest city in Australia Australia, . I was born in Sydney Australia ( , no less, but that still counts) and have lived here all of my life. All of those factors combined put me in a position of power. Power I didn’t choose, or fight for, but power I’ve been given nonetheless. Add to that the fact that I am an Officer in The Salvation Army, which as an institution has earned a powerful voice in this country and my position of power is enhanced dramatically. Adelaide
I don’t have to fight for my voice to be heard. I don’t live on the margins of society, and by and large I’m not prejudiced against, except perhaps that I’m not allowed to become a member at a one of those "women-only" gyms… not that I really want to.
So that means that I need to be careful in the way that I speak. By virtue of who I am and where I’ve been born I need to be careful that my voice does not drown out the voices of those who are not in the same position of power as me. Because I’m male, I need to listen to the voice of women. Because I’m a parent, I need to listen to the voice of my children, but also those who do not have children (for whatever reason). Because I live in the city, I need to listen to the voice of those who live in regional areas. Because I live in a first world country I need to listen to the voice of those who do not. I need to be active in listening first before speaking, simply because my voice is louder than others. I may not necessarily like that, but this is the reality of the distorted world we live in. Some are in positions of power. Most are not. I just happen to be one who in many of life’s arenas has a powerful voice.
I have to be honest and confess that I’m not always good at using my voice wisely. It’s very easy to write a paragraph like the last one, but very difficult to live that way every day. It’s much easier to exploit a position of power than to use it for the benefit of all.
Which brings me to a very contemporary topic at the moment; that being marriage. In particular, whether or not marriage should be reserved exclusively for female and male couples or should legislation be changed to be opened to same-sex relationships.
On Sunday night the Compass program on the ABC aired a discussion on this topic between 6 people of various opinions, chaired by host Geraldine Doogue. For those who don’t know, Compass is a TV program that discusses religious issues. I didn’t see the full episode on Sunday night, but did manage to view it all online here. (The transcript is also available in case it cannot be viewed in other countries).
I found the discussion mostly helpful, with the relevant issues raised and many of the participants being very honest and open about their own experiences. Since Compass is a religious program it is natural that there be clergy present in the discussion. This was fair. It was also good that there were two homosexual people represented, and one father (and self-confessed, former homophobic) of a gay man present at the table. That was necessary and welcomed. I also appreciated the chosen forum – a meal table. This is something I think is worthwhile exploring in any debate. As a side issue, this is a consideration that rarely enters into sacramental theology. If Jesus did institute a participatory and memorial meal as a primary means of Christians retelling his death and resurrection and anticipating his return, then why did he choose a meal? It’s an interesting question, but one for another day. For this program, the meal worked because it acted as a leveller between all the parties involved.
What did concern me, though, was the abuse of power from the one who held the most of it. I don’t think there was an intention to be abusive, but nevertheless it was there. That’s the insipid way that power subtly takes over. I suspect the white, middle-class, heterosexual, married, male minister approached this discussion with every intention of being respectful, but I don’t know that he properly acknowledged that he was the one with the most power at that table and so he needed to be the one that listened better than anyone else. I’m speaking in this specific instance about Rt. Rev. Robert Forsyth, not to “name and shame” him but simply because he was representative of a view that has been most dominant in the church for a long time. I acknowledge that there are personality issues, and many other factors at play here (including how the discussion was edited by the ABC), but his voice was the most dominant one at that table.
And he made it known.
The number of times in this program where Julie McCrossin had to say to Rev Forsyth “let me finish” or “let him finish” on behalf of someone else was really quite disturbing. Furthermore, Prof Dennis Altman remarked (after having been prompted by the host) “I’m finding this very difficult actually to say anything.” Admittedly, there was some humour in his comment, and his exclusion from the discussion wasn’t all Rev Forsyth’s fault, but still I suggest that his comment was representative of how the LBGT community has been made to feel by the church on this and other related issues.
I’m not going to provide my own opinion on same-sex marriage. To be honest, I don’t have one. I’m waiting for the day when I can have an open conversation with homosexual Christians to help form and inform an opinion. Perhaps around a meal table or over a coffee, where I can listen respectfully to their views first. The problem is I don’t really know any homosexual Christians. I know they exist, but I just don’t know where. Shame on me. Shame on the Church for being so opinionated on the “issue of homosexuality” (way to impersonalise the discussion) that we’ve excluded the people themselves from the place where they should be the most included.
Forgive me Lord. Forgive us Lord. God help us to be more loving. God help me to be more loving.
What I do want to suggest, though, is a way potential forward for the church in these sorts of discussion when they arise. Here it is.
Shut up and listen.
Stop speaking over other voices. Stop interrupting. Stop having duelling monologues and actually enter into dialogue with the other voice. Please, just shut up and listen.
I’m not saying “don’t ever talk again about this matter”. That would be completely unproductive. What I am suggesting, though, is that the church has held the power when it comes to marriage for 2000 years and we’ve not been good in the way we’ve used (and abused) that power. We need to realise that we hold the balance of power in this discussion and we should be using it in the same way that Jesus did. Not to exploit it over and against the powerless, but rather to give them a voice. To give them that dignity. To listen to them. To even sit down and have a meal with them. Jesus didn’t “name and shame” people as “tax collectors and sinners”. The Pharisees did a pretty good job at that. Rather, he sat down to eat with them as an equal. Something tells me that the church could learn something from Jesus’ approach. Maybe, just maybe, we might learn what it means to be an inclusive community first, rather than a dogmatic one. Perhaps we might just be able to be a place that everyone, including the LBGT community, looks at and says “look how they love one another – they must be Christians.” (John 13:34-35)