Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Same-Sex Marriage: A Case of Dodgy Science and Theology

On 2 September 2013, Kevin Rudd, in his role as the prime minister of Australia seeking to be re-elected, appeared on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Q&A program (see Kevin Rudd on Q&A between minutes 55:23 and 59:33). Mr Rudd is a Christian, but has recently become a political advocate for same-sex marriage. On the program he was asked a question by Matt Prater, a Christian pastor, about how Mr Rudd could support same-sex marriage while claiming to be a Christian.

Mr Rudd responded as follows: “Number one: I do not believe that people when they are born choose their sexuality. They are gay if they are born gay. You don’t decide at some later stage of life to be one thing or the other. It is, it is how people are built. And therefore, the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that. I think that is just a completely ill-founded view.”

“Secondly, if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here who are in love with each other and are of the same gender should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration of their relationship by having marriage equality.”

After this response, Matt Prater was given the opportunity to present his own view. He pointed out to Mr Rudd that Jesus’ definition of marriage (in passages like Matt 19:4–6) involved a man being married to a woman, and he politely asked Mr Rudd: “if you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?” Mr Rudd answered quite vigorously as follows: “Well mate, well mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St Paul said in the New Testament, ‘slaves be obedient to your masters.’ And therefore we should’ve all fought for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War. I mean for goodness’ sake! The human condition and social conditions change! What is the fundamental principle 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, is all about. And therefore, I go back to my question. 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’ve reached is that they should.”

Mr Rudd asserted three fundamental points in his answer. Firstly, he believes that science has found that homosexuals are born gay; secondly, that the New Testament’s teaching on homosexuality was culturally conditioned; and thirdly, that the fundamental principle of the New Testament is universal love for one’s fellow man. On all three points Mr Rudd’s opinions are deficient.

Regarding what science has found, I wonder whether Mr Rudd has actually read any of the research. It is fashionable following Lady Gaga and others these days to assert that homosexuals are born that way. The problem with this view is that current scientific research does not actually assert this. While the studies into genetic influence on sexual orientation vary in their results, there is a growing consensus, based mainly on studies into the degree of concordance of sexual orientation in twins, that genetics only plays a minor role in sexual orientation. The major factor seems to be individual environmental factors (see Peter S. Bearman and Hannah Brückner, “Opposite-sex twins and adolescent same-sex attraction,” American Journal of Sociology 107 [2002]: 1179–1205; and N. Långström, Q. Rahman, E. Carlström, and P. Lichtenstein, “Genetic and environmental effects on same-sex sexual behavior: a population study of twins in Sweden,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 39 [February 2010]: 75–80). The 2010 study cited above, which studied more than 7,000 twins, concludes that genetics accounts for at most around 40% of the variance in sexual orientation in men, and less than this in women. A 40% genetic predisposition, for example, is similar to or slightly weaker than the genetic predisposition to aggression. If certain people are born with an aggressive personality, surely, following Mr Rudd’s logic, they should also be able to claim to have been born that way. Why, therefore, should their aggression not be legally recognized as a mitigating factor when it comes to sentencing at law, for example? We do not hear Mr Rudd making this argument.

Regarding Mr Rudd’s assertion that the biblical teaching against homosexuality was culturally conditioned in a similar way to how the early church thought about slavery, this manner of argument is also incorrect from an orthodox Christian point of view. It is true that the Apostle Paul taught that slaves should be obedient to their masters (e.g., Eph 6:5). But contrary to Mr Rudd’s assertion, the Bible does not teach that slavery is “a natural condition.” Mr Rudd has been selective with what the Apostle Paul actually taught. Alongside of teaching that slaves should be obedient to their masters, the Apostle also taught that human slavery is fundamentally incompatible with Christ’s redemption of individual Christians.

This can clearly be seen in Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 7:21–23. Paul argues firstly in 1 Cor 7:21 that Christian slaves should continue on in their current situation. Short of rising up in rebellion, running away, saving up enough money to buy back their own freedom, or gaining manumission, slaves were in no real position within the Roman empire to gain their own freedom, so Paul’s instruction at this point makes sense in the society of his day. At the same time, however, Paul states that Christian slaves should avail themselves of any legitimate opportunity to gain their freedom (1 Cor 7:21). He also asserts the value of every individual who found himself or herself enslaved by reminding Christian slaves of their freedom in Christ (1 Cor 7:22). Furthermore, in 1 Cor 7:23, Paul asserts that, because all Christians (including those who are slaves) have been redeemed through the precious blood of Jesus on the cross, then Christians should not literally be slaves to anyone. Through his death on the cross, Jesus has purchased every individual Christian. It is as if spiritually every Christian has become a slave of Christ. Being free as a slave of Christ is incompatible with being a slave to anyone else. Therefore, Paul supported the emancipation of slaves where it was possible to achieve this. This is borne out in Paul’s letter to Philemon, where Paul asks Philemon to receive back his runaway slave, Onesimus, “no longer as a slave, but … as a dear brother” (Philemon 16). He asks Philemon to welcome Onesimus back as he would have welcomed Paul himself (Philemon 17), and to charge any debt owed to him by his runaway slave to Paul’s own account (Philemon 18). Paul also strongly hints that he wanted Philemon voluntarily to set Onesimus free, and to allow Onesimus to help him while he was in prison for the sake of the gospel (Philemon 13–14, 20–21). Mr Rudd has seriously misrepresented, therefore, the Apostle Paul on the issue of slavery. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, may have argued that some people are “by nature slaves” (Aristotle, Politics, 1.5–7); but it is incorrect to attribute this view to the Bible.

Regarding the fundamental principle of the New Testament being universal love for one’s fellow man, there is some irony in Mr Rudd’s language at this point. Presumably Mr Rudd does not think that on the lips of New Testament Christians the teaching of love for one’s fellow man included homosexual love, but at the very least he is suggesting that the Christian teaching on love should be supportive of same-sex love relationships. But Mr Rudd has overlooked an important consideration at this point. The New Testament concern with love comes from Jesus. And Jesus’ concern with the love of human beings for one another is linked to the importance of human love for God. In fact, according to Jesus, human love for one another is only the second greatest commandment (Matt 22:39). The greatest commandment is love for God (Matt 22:37–38); and as Jesus has said: “if you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Loving God involves being obedient to what God has instructed. How we fulfill the second greatest commandment, therefore, must be consistent with our obligations under the greatest commandment. The greatest commandment requires us to follow God’s instructions on how we are to love other people, and not to reject or ridicule God’s instructions in the face of contrary human opinion.

What then is God’s instruction concerning marriage? As Jesus clearly states: “Have you not read that in the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and unite with his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not humans separate” (Matthew 19:4–6). In advocating same-sex marriage, Mr Rudd has clearly rejected Jesus’ definition of marriage, which involves a man leaving his father and mother to be united to his wife (literally his woman—the word for wife and woman is the same word in Greek). Mr Rudd may claim to be a Christian, but he has in effect separated what God has joined together. His view on same-sex marriage is inconsistent with the teaching of Christ and the New Testament. If Mr Rudd were honest, he should acknowledge his disagreement with Jesus and the Bible rather than misinterpreting the Bible or chiding Christians who still hold to a view that he also supposedly believed in as recently as only three months ago.

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