Margaret Court Needs to be More Biblical on Gay Marriage

Margaret Court is right to stand up for a traditional view of marriage, but needs to nest that conviction in a Christian ethic of love for one’s neighbour, including one’s LGBTI neighbour.

The controversy surrounding Margaret Court’s open letter to QANTAS about its support for marriage equality, and the resulting furore about whether to rename Margaret Court Arena, is a reminder that our community is still deeply divided over marriage equality and the Bible is a playing field in that debate.

Personally I think Court went about it all wrong.

If you want to orchestrate a boycott of QANTAS, it is relatively easy. Just sit down with Alan Joyce over a beer, discuss your differences in polite fashion, agree to disagree at the end, post the video online, and some LGBTI activists will call for boycott of QANTAS faster than you can say, “Where’s my Coopers beer?”

What is more, some of Court’s religious critics are not necessarily convincing. My fellow Melbourne Anglican, Robyn Whitaker, tried to argue that the Bible endorses all sorts of things like polygamy and concubinage. She claims the Bible exhibits a “culturally bound ideology” which is “precisely why biblical scholars and mainstream Christian churches do not adhere to a literal interpretation of this ancient and diverse text.” In other words, don’t get too flustered, don’t take this stuff literally, even many Christians don’t believe everything the Bible says about marriage and sexuality.

The issue is not about whether one takes the Bible literally, but whether one takes it seriously. To take it seriously means recognizing the cultural frames the Bible is lodged in as well as the cultural frames of any reader. It also means refusing the temptation to re-make the Bible or even Jesus in our own image.

So, yes, there is polygamy in the Bible, but some parts of the Bible are reluctantly permissive (this was not ideal, but it was the least worst option available at the time) or merely descriptive (this is what happened, not necessarily how one should live). Yes, there is some weird stuff in the Old Testament that we’d never contemplate now, but the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament have been regarded by the universal church as the fullest expression of God’s purposes for human beings, and those purposes include the instruction that marriage is between a man and a woman (see Matthew 19:5-6, 1 Timothy 3:2, 12, 5:9, and Titus 1:6). In addition, Jesus was not a twenty-first century social progressive with liberal views of sexuality and a champion of identity politics. He was a first-century Aramaic-speaking Galilean peasant who probably had the same attitudes that other Jews of his day had about marriage. As Australia’s William Loader has shown, the world’s leading expert on Jewish and Christian views of sexuality in antiquity, a wide range of homosexual acts were proscribed by these communities.

So at this point, as a self-confessed “evangelical catholic” I agree with Margaret Court about marriage being between a man and a woman.

Where I disagree with Court is the spirit and tone of her discourse.

Let us remember that Jesus happily dined with prostitutes, tax-collectors, lepers, and outcasts. He even reached out to Samaritans, the main religious rivals to the Jews. Jesus wanted his disciples to be fishers of men and women, and he regarded no-one as beyond the pale. Or as I like to say, Jesus accepts the fish that John West rejects.

Court should feel free to stand by a biblical model of marriage, but only as long as she’s emulating the biblical love ethic of Jesus, which majored on love for neighbour. That means loving her LGBTI neighbour. If we are to love the “least to these” as Jesus commanded that will mean listening to and caring for those who have experienced rejection and marginalization. And the LGBTI community are among the best contemporary examples of modern outcasts if you ever care to listen to their stories. It’s easy for conservatives to whinge about the ubiquity of marriage equality campaigns, but it’s harder to be like Jesus, and welcome LGBTI people and even wash their feet. The Pharisees were good at pointing out who the sinners were, but Jesus excelled in loving the downtrodden and discarded, and letting the magnetism of his own presence drive people to follow his teaching (see Luke 19:1-10).

The problem with Margaret Court’s views is not that they are biblical, the problem is that they are not biblical enough. We’ve heard about God’s law about marriage, but where is the grace, love, and mercy that is scandalous in its scope because it dares to give hope to those who were supposed to have none? That’s what Jesus was known for.

Photo: ABC

  • Debbie S

    I agree.

    Regardless of whether or not this is a sin, those who are criticising or judging are actually hypocrites – and ironically are further sinning themselves.

    “Let he who is without sin – cast the first stone.” Thankfully Jesus was there – there was no stoning on that particular day, people were too sensible to be hypocrites in front of him.

    “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Not only does this mean that people are looking for faults in others (hence they may see the tiniest *speck* of a sinful trait), it means that they’re so busy doing so, whilst all the while they have a HUGE log in their own eye. This means they don’t see their own faults/sins, and can therefore never approach another in the way they should, they’re too blind.

    Even though the Bible may tell us to correct and rebuke one another, I believe it is referring to Christians. Regardless, it means to do it in a loving way, privately, in order to help the person make a choice themselves. It also means that you yourself have first done the “hard yards,” and are therefore in a “position” to do so in an effective way. More could be said on this, but that is the necessary foundation.

    If we judge each other harshly, or before we ourselves are in a position where we can approach issues with the correct attitude – humble, loving, and with wise authority – we are going to end up warring with others. This is the opposite of what Jesus taught. It’s a lose-lose situation. We are creating division, alienation, and often hatred if the issue is complex. No one “wins.”

    In regards to non-Christians, if you jump on someone and tell them how to live – is it really any wonder we now live in a post-Christian culture? We in the west live in an autonomous culture, which means we each get to choose who we hang out with, who we date, who we marry, how we dress, which spiritual path to follow, or not., etc. If you don’t like this way of living, and wish to tell others how to live, then you need to consider how this works for other cultures.

    When Stanley Jones, a missionary, met with Mahatma Gandhi he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ.” — “The Knights Templar & the Protestant Reformation” by James Edward Stroud.

    It seems there are a lot of people throwing stones these days, and it’s not only at the unbeliever. I guess we are only human, afterall. Perhaps this is why we were never meant to eat from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” God is the only one who really can righteously sit in judgement of another. That’s why he wanted us to come to him, and not be our own judges.