MP Louisa Wall's proposal to allow homosexual relationships to be solemnized as marriages has opened up some surprises. The first surprise has been the political weakness of social conservatism within its former bastions, the mainstream churches, the National Party and the "centre right" generally. Gay marriage is endorsed by a significant section of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, and the opposition from the more fundamentalist churches has been weak.
However, opposition has not been totally absent, even within the Anglican church. One Anglican vicar of a a large congregation has written to me re-asserting the traditional article of faith that homosexuality is "abominable to God", and members of many congregations - among them Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians and members of the Church of Christ, and a number of pentacostal churches - have told me of their strong opposition to the measure.
Opposition is broader and deeper than many secular liberals are able to recognise. However, it has been effectively undermined by the determination of church leaders not to publicly criticise homosexuality or homosexuals, but to restrict themelves to "protecting marriage" from "redefinition". It is easy to see why the churches have taken this line. It is consistent with the themesong of liberal Christianity "All you need is love, acceptance, toleration and diversity". It spares the church from accusations of bigotry, prejudice and intolerance. "Hate the sin but love the sinner" becomes "Ignore the sin and love the sinner" and then finally, and rather incongruously "There is no sin because all have sinned".
It is, perhaps, not so easy to see why opposition to gay marriage must fail when divorced from criticism of homosexuality itself, but the weakness in the liberal Christian argument is quite simple. If homosexuality is not a bad thing, if it is not damaging to the social order, and if it is not an affront to God, then any move to refuse homosexuals the sacrament of marriage appears to be just mean-spirited and unreasonable. The strength of "tradition" on its own is never a strong argument, and sheer traditionalism essentially reduces to the statement "We don't want you to join us in the institution of marriage because marriage has always been between a man and a woman, it has always been a heterosexual institution, and we heterosexuals want it to stay that way" which will not wash with the general public. Only if homosexuality can be shown to have adverse social consequences will opposition to gay marriage be sustained, and the churches have studiously avoided any investigation of or reference to such consequences. There has been a second pitfall for the churches: they have failed to confront the fact, well-recognised by the gay-marriage lobby, that marriage is fundamentally concerned with sex. "Loving committed relationships" and the procreation of offspring are closely associated with marriage as an institution but they are not central to it. The gay marriage lobby talks about committed relationships, well knowing that the only real effect of gay marriage will be to sanctify the homosexual act, while the churches remain stubbornly and willfully blind to that obvious conclusion. Being unable to state the real consequences of the measure, the Christian churches are unable to effectively oppose it.
The underlying problem for the churches is that, in common with New Zealand society as a whole, they have become intellectually impoverished. They engage in very little if any theological discussion, just as there is little serious political debate in the New Zealand parliament, the political parties, or the mainstream media. The "old" protestant churches (Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist) serve up a steady diet of insipid liberalism while the pentacostals rely on proudly parroted dogma and glossalalia (speaking incoherently "in tongues"). The old church hierarchies have become spiritual shepherds with pitiably small flocks:. On a typical Sunday only the first few rows of pews will be filled with worshippers. Meanwhile a vast number of "charismatic" churches have opened up on the right as vehicles for the egos and ambitions of pastors who, while publicly endorsing the virtues of pastoral diversity, privately view all other churches and their pastors as rivals to be beaten off rather than Christian brethren.
In many ways, the state of the churches reflects the state of politics in New Zealand. Mainstream Europeans have deserted the political parties as they have deserted the churches. Both churches and parties have become like those once flourishing New Zealand manufacturing companies, which now consist of a small administrative staff who simply oversee the importation and distribution of goods from overseas. There is nothing actually happening on the ground politically or religiously, no doctrine is being thrashed out, and no rank and file workers are being trained, disciplined and employed. Assets are sold off or rented out as organisations "downsize" and in the absence of mass employment there is a substantial public relations and advertising budget, which the rump company, party or church uses to establish its "brand" within an amorphous market place.
All this is immediately apparent to any social observer. What is not apparent is the deep disquiet and even disaffection which subsists within this amorphous mass of New Zealand society. Some ministers have told me quite frankly that the reason they have not joined in political opposition to the gay marriage bill is that they no longer have any faith in the political process. They see their churches as existing independently of, and in isolation from, the goings on of parliament and the political parties. This is more than an articulation of the principle of separation of church and state. It is an expression of fundamental distrust, which will be exacerbated by the passing of the Wall bill. I have written elsewhere of how gay marriage, when seen as a liberal secular takeover or invasion of religious institutions, may give fresh impetus to the thing which it is ostensibly designed to reduce, namely popular prejudice against homosexuals and homosexuality.
I don't want to waste time bemoaning the state of affairs. It is just the way things are at the moment, and it must change because it is not stable and it is not sustainable in either its economic, political, or religious expressions.
One of the reasons it has persisted as long as it has is that like any socially dominant but intellectually flawed ideology, secular liberalism in New Zealand has actively contrived to stifle debate. This is very evident in the mass media, where the coverage has been one-sided in favour of gay marriage, and there has been virtually no space given to the rational arguments against. One Anglican vicar, a supporter of gay marriage, advised her congregation not to speak with me, as a critic of gay marriage, and warned me against coming to her church. Supporters of gay marriage carried out "denial of service" attacks on the anti-gay-marriage "Family First" website. The New Zealand Herald and DominionPost newspapers portrayed Christian opponents of gay marriage as child molesters and malevolent racists respectively, using cartoons copied from anti-Jewish "black propaganda" cartoons of the German Third Reich.
One of the saddest cases of "liberal bigotry" came from an erstwhile colleague in the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand, Savage. RMANZ, as readers of this website will know, engages in quite arbitrary and inconsistent censorship of posts made to its own website republic.org.nz. When I exposed the manner in which the RMANZ executive suppresses comment from its own membership on republic.org.nz, Savage asked for a right of reply on republican.co.nz. However, Savage never took up that right, I assume because there was simply nothing he could say to refute the facts, and no argument which he could muster to defend such arbitrary political censorship. So in the end he chose to remain silent, as is his right.
Evidently Savage continues to read republican.co.nz, because he took exception to my comments on the gay marriage issue, and told me so in an email. When I invited him to post his comments on the website, however, he once again backed off. Savage is different to the his RMANZ associates such as Lewis Holden and David Farrar in that he goes to the very brink of publicly debating his position, before recognising the fundamental weakness of his arguments, and deciding that discretion is the better part of valour. Holden and Farrar, rather more pragmatically, simply decide to stifle debate wherever they are able.
I would like to post Savage's comments, but in the end the strongest
refutation of his arguments comes in the form of his failure to enter into
public debate on the issue. Essentially, he argued that opposition
to gay marriage was an expression of prejudice. To be prejudiced
is to make a judgment in a particular case without regard to all the evidence
and without paying heed to all the arguments for and against a proposition.
In this particular debate it is the liberals who are prejudiced, because
they have not allowed the facts to emerge, or the arguments to be made
public. In the end, prejudice, bias, and suppression of dissent will
avail the liberal establishment nothing. Gay marriage will be just
another shovelful of dirt out of the great black hole into which the regime
is digging itself.