On Saturday, Australians will go to the ballot box, and for evangelicals this will have been one of the most divisive elections to date. Whilst there are undoubtedly many reasons for it being so, chief among them are the dual issues of religious freedom and the place of a plebiscite in the marriage debate. The possible marriage plebiscite has aroused differing opinions by Christians of all-stripes as to whether it is useful or not to support or push for one. On the one hand, there have been those who have been saying that this plebiscite is needed in order safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage. Whereas on the other side, there are those who think that a plebiscite is unhelpful and will, in fact, be detrimental to the Christian cause and gospel proclamation.

While I find the anti-plebiscite arguments generally unpersuasive, it is certainly possible that many pro-plebiscite arguments are a drastic overreach in what they contend are the consequences of a change in marriage redefinition. However, for theological reasons, I find myself very much in the pro-plebiscite camp. This is not because I believe that a plebiscite would be effective in preserving the classical and God-given understanding of marriage per se, but rather because I think that as Christians, we are called not only to be ambassadors relaying God’s truth, but also stewards of God’s creation – including the institutions that he has graciously given us.

 

Why support a plebiscite?

Well, as other proponents have suggested, the plebiscite matters because the institution of marriage matters. It is a gift which was implemented by God for the prospering of humanity. And as such, it is only right for Christians to want to support and honour this God-given institution by encouraging its continuity. This rightly qualifies as an act of stewardship in that we are seeking to preserve that which God has created, and that which he has also imparted to us to manage. Coupled with its precise purpose to benefit all humanity, this presents a reason as to why we ought to keep promoting it within the public sphere.

As stewards and also ambassadors for Christ, we must speak on the things of God whenever they are threatened. For example, if we are willing to speak on potential environmental damage because we, rightly, understand the significance of the impact to God’s creation, then all the more we should be willing to encourage the protection of God’s given institutions for the very same reasons. Certainly, speaking on environmental challenges is easier and more acceptable to do within the public sphere, however this does not negate the equal responsibility in doing the latter, which, arguably, has better theological reasons for doing so.

Thus, in the midst of an election where so many other topics contend for our focus, promoting the continuity of God’s definition of marriage should be front and centre. As whilst the matter of refugees, medical care, education, and so forth are important and can be defended on principles distilled from scripture. None of them necessarily have the same level of sociological impact that a redefinition of marriage would have; nor, arguably, do they have the same degree of prominence within scripture.[1]Whilst, there is plenty in scripture regarding looking out for our fellow man, how this looks on a myriad of topics may differ. For example, as Christians, we should acknowledge that refugees need to be treated with care and dignity, but how this should affect our immigration policy may differ from person to person and can be a fairly complicated issue. The topic of marriage, however, is not. It is forthright that it is an institution given to humanity as a benefit (Gen 2:18,24), and it was something that Christ himself affirmed (Matt 19:4-6). Marriage was created as a universal good and to tweak it in a way which is contra to how God himself defined it will only cause detriment to society.

This is why I think Christians should look to support, and also encourage, a plebiscite. As it is the only avenue we have left to push for the preservation of the right understanding of this institution within society. It also provides Christians a wider platform in being able to speak God’s truth in explaining precisely why it should be protected and why the institution actually matters. Eventually, we will likely not be able to speak on the topic in the public sphere at all.

That said, we must also be aware of the reality that a plebiscite will, humanly speaking, ultimately achieve nothing in the grand-scheme of society. If a plebiscite is held and even succeeds, the government could choose to disregard it, due to its non-binding status. Additionally, even if the plebiscite was acted upon and the understanding of marriage was not redefined, same-sex marriage would, in all likelihood, be legislated eventually. Labor, the Greens, and other parties have already made it known that legislation is only a matter of time if they were to be in any semblance of power.

So, why vote for a plebiscite which may have no lasting societal impact? Because by doing so, you are fulfilling part of your Christian duty for standing up and speaking out on the matters of God. It should come as no surprise that when we speak in accordance to the Bible, that not much of what we say will be accepted. Most of the time it won’t be, and in fact, I think that it is guaranteed to be as such.[2]As Christ has said, “if the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first” (John 15:18). This is because we, like Christ, speak on the things of the father, which is unpopular to man’s sensibilities. We speak on such things because we are ambassadors of Christ, following his lead in all that we say and do. This is why our message will be disdained (Matt 10:22). However, as ambassadors, we are called to speak on the whole counsel of God even to non-believers, because whilst they may reject or dismiss it, it is still of substantial relevance to them.

This is where those who reason that a plebiscite is bad idea have erred. In that, whilst, they are correct in saying that a plebiscite may be divisive and paint Christians in a relatively bad light; it is for no other reason than for speaking God’s truth. A truth which, like the message of the cross, is foolishness to an unregenerate heart. This should not stop us from talking on such matters, however. Indeed, to imply that the plebiscite will be detrimental to gospel proclamation because of the way it may impact Christians socially is sheer folly. By arguing as such, a pelagian view of man is proffered – where one only needs to present themselves and the gospel as relatively ‘clean’ by worldly standards in order to be able to retain a position in the public sphere and have souls, subsequently, saved. It’s almost as if to imply that all that individuals needed was a polite, ‘loving’, and ‘winsome’ presentation of Christ in order to help them come to faith.

This has the unfortunate implication in that it puts the onus of regeneration on the action of the proselytiser, and in that doesn’t view man as being entirely morally bankrupt in the first place. All they need is just a good push in the right direction, and that’s why, in order to keep him engaged, we apparently just need to ensure our message is palatable by not speaking up on divisive matters. Whether this is what is intended by opponents is a different story, but it is why I suspect there is a different theological framework underpinning the assumptions of those who are supportive of a plebiscite and those who oppose it. Whilst, it is absolutely true that we need to have genuine concern for non-Christians and society as a whole, this focus should not override our commitment to speaking on the matters of God.

Indeed, as we are called to place God first, this means valuing the institutions that he has put in place for the prosperity of humanity – because these institutions are to the benefit of all. They are good for all of us because God said it is good, and he ultimately knows what is best for mankind.[3]Ultimately, how can we discern what is good? Only from what God has told us is. Therefore, things that God implements are to our benefit, and when we stray it is to our detriment. This is why we must endeavour to speak on the sanctity of marriage as any deviation from God’s intention does affect all. Furthermore, speaking on the matter of marriage is useful for gospel proclamation because it provides yet another illustration as to where we have deviated from God, and where we fall short. This focus on the shortcomings of mankind must remain a crucial component of how we speak. Whenever we talk on the things of God, they should always be contrasted with the state of man, thus demonstrating the necessity of a Saviour to restore things to how they should be. Indeed, when we do not speak on the things of God in contrast to the ways of man, we present an anaemic gospel, one that loses its graciousness because it misconstrues that man has erred in the first place. Gospel proclamation, for it to be such, must always include the contrast to the stark reality that mankind is in – and the only way for non-believers to know of such is by Christians declaring what God actually says.

Yet, it would be ridiculous not to acknowledge the context that we find ourselves in. We are in an ever-secularising society that is becoming increasingly antagonistic to the message of the gospel. A shift which is, in all likelihood, going to continue. This means that whilst we must be dogmatic on substance – in affirming and voicing the things of God, we must do so in a way which is respectful – thus, our mode does need to be winsome. A mode that says: “I love you, but I disagree with you.” Thus in all the arguments and discussions on this topic, we must endeavour to use the right language whilst not compromising an inch on our beliefs. I simply do not believe that there are some subjects we should be silent on if the Bible is crystal clear. Instead, as Christians, we acknowledge that everything God has said should be spoken on, as all of it is relevant to believer and non-believer alike. Because, as we know all “scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).[4]Whilst, scripture is intended for all mankind, ultimately it is only those who are of God who will adhere to it, and thus be “equipped for every good work“(2 Tim 3:17).

This plebiscite is the only avenue we really have left in attempting to preserve, and encourage the preservation of, marriage as God instituted it, and as stewards of his creation, this is why we must strive towards making the plebiscite a reality. I do not believe that staying silent on this matter and letting it pass in parliament without voicing our dissent is a legitimate option. Likewise, a pragmatism which encourages us to stay silent on this topic in order not to rock the boat in our evangelistic efforts is absolutely antithetical to the Gospel.[5]Additionally, claims that Christians ought not to say anything because this is not a theocracy is absurd. We are participating in a democratic process where we are supposed to be able to put forth our ideas. Just because they are informed from our understanding of God does not mean they should be countered as any less legitimate. In fact, we put forth these ideas because we genuinely think they are for the betterment of all mankind. On Saturday, I encourage you all to vote according to your conscience, but a conscience rightly informed by the word of God.

“Every God fearing man should give his vote with as much devotion as he prays.” 

Charles Spurgeon

Edit: I forgot to add a link to Tony Payne’s excellent article – “Why Saturday’s election is like all the others, and yet not

References   [ + ]

1.Whilst, there is plenty in scripture regarding looking out for our fellow man, how this looks on a myriad of topics may differ. For example, as Christians, we should acknowledge that refugees need to be treated with care and dignity, but how this should affect our immigration policy may differ from person to person and can be a fairly complicated issue. The topic of marriage, however, is not. It is forthright that it is an institution given to humanity as a benefit (Gen 2:18,24), and it was something that Christ himself affirmed (Matt 19:4-6).
2.As Christ has said, “if the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first” (John 15:18). This is because we, like Christ, speak on the things of the father, which is unpopular to man’s sensibilities. We speak on such things because we are ambassadors of Christ, following his lead in all that we say and do. This is why our message will be disdained (Matt 10:22).
3.Ultimately, how can we discern what is good? Only from what God has told us is. Therefore, things that God implements are to our benefit, and when we stray it is to our detriment.
4.Whilst, scripture is intended for all mankind, ultimately it is only those who are of God who will adhere to it, and thus be “equipped for every good work“(2 Tim 3:17).
5.Additionally, claims that Christians ought not to say anything because this is not a theocracy is absurd. We are participating in a democratic process where we are supposed to be able to put forth our ideas. Just because they are informed from our understanding of God does not mean they should be countered as any less legitimate. In fact, we put forth these ideas because we genuinely think they are for the betterment of all mankind.