In 2012 a private members bill was put forward in New Zealand called the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. This was passed in April 2013 allowing same-sex marriage. I believe the dominant church response to this bill in the public sphere was an example of bad communication.
This is another post in a series where I give some real-life true stories of what I call cringe communication from the church. The first one was called Cringe communication #1: Student survey tricksters where I introduce this series and basically say I believe we can improve the communication of the church by eliminating cringe communication.
I want your feedback: do you agree that my example in this post about same-sex marriage is bad communication? Or communicates the church in a bad way to those outside the church. If not why not? Vote in the poll below and feel free to comment.
The purpose of the bill:
This bill seeks to amend the Marriage Act 1955 to ensure that its provisions are not applied in a discriminatory manner. The bill aims to ensure that all people, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity will have the opportunity to marry if they so choose. [From the New Zealand Parliament website]
Who was actually against the bill?
There was a noticeable Christian voice in the media against the support of same-sex marriage, but it turned out that only 14.57% of a population sample opposed both same-sex marriage and also claimed to be religious or spiritual. This data comes from a ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll that interviewed 1,005 eligible New Zealand voters. Of the 31% who did not support same-sex marriage, 47% of them identified with a religious or spiritual group. 47% of the 31% is 14.57% meaning 14.57% of the total sample were religious or spiritual and did not support same-sex marriage. This shows 31% of people did not support the change, with approximately half of those people being religious or spiritual.
Interestingly, if you look at the ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll and compare the response of different age-groups, you will see the largest group against same-sex marriage will all be dead in 40 years. If society were to stay static, same-sex marriage will become a non-issue in a few decades by default simply due to the death of the largest opposing group. The result of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Bill was inevitable.
A failure of democracy?
The bill passed in April 2013, and was followed by comments such as that of Conservative Party leader, and Christian, Colin Craig saying the gay marriage vote is:
…a failure of democracy when those paid to represent the people end up making decisions the public oppose.
With the regular church attendance in New Zealand being approximately 10% of the adult population, in a post-secularised social context, the church voice is a minority of New Zealanders. I personally feel democracy has been well and fairly played with this new bill passing because in a representative democracy like New Zealand, I would expect approximately 10% of politicians to be church going Christians, with the potential of sharing some of the strong feelings expressed by some of the church on the topic of same-sex marriage.
Also considering the ONE News Colmar Brunton Poll, with 31% of the sample not supporting same-sex marriage, a more than two-thirds majority is a healthy affirmation for representative democracy to follow.
My point is that Colin Craig and any Christian/church that suggests there was a failure of democracy is wrong. Saying such in the public square is cringe because it shows a lack of understanding of the context and supporting data.
Through the eyes of the majority of New Zealanders
When viewing the dominant communication of or from the church on this Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill – from the public square, as opposed to viewing it from inside the church, my conclusion is that much of the public church voice on this matter has been out of touch with reality. In an earlier post called ‘One way to think of communication‘, I suggest successful communication occurs when there is shared understanding and common ground.
Much of the communication from the church around this issue ignored any attempt to find a place of common ground to even begin the sharing of feelings and ideas.
Comments like that of Colin Craig’s make me cringe
Notwithstanding my criticisms here, I do not necessarily doubt the sincerity of the Christian beliefs underpinning the communication I am taking issue with: I am sure that if I were to have an open conversation with Colin Craig he would have well-intentioned reasons backed with passionate commitment to the cause of his interpretation of the Christian church and tradition.
However, the nature of this cringe communication is, in my opinion, through my own observation and understanding, at odds with the kind of communication that could be successful with people outside of the church, or at least done in a way that shares common ground and understanding.
How to find common ground in this situation
One way to form common ground in this situation would be for the church voice to acknowledge a few realities:
- Within the wider Christian community there are a variety of ideals formed about marriage from different interpretations, traditions, and ethics. There is not a single Christian/church voice.
- In a post-secualirsied (post-Christendom) societal context, if there is a place for traditional Christian ideals of marriage, it is within the Christian faith community.
- People who do not sign up to Christianity (regardless of its form) should not be expected to follow Christian ideals.
Could anyone seriously disagree with any of these points?
I believe acknowledging and engaging with these points is a good starting place for Christians to begin dialogue around this subject beyond the church context.
Same-sex marriage and the church
Notice that in this post I am highlighting the communication issues of the church around the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill – how some of the church was seen at the time by those outside the church. I am aware that within the Christian faith community there are different opinions on how marriage could be defined, and how this has created tension within ‘the family’. This post is not about that, but rather what people outside the church see when they notice the ‘church’ point it’s seemingly collective finger.
Do you agree?
I’m interested in your feedback, please take a second to anonymously vote in the poll below, or leave a comment sharing your own stories or experiences: