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Headings: a chapter in red, sub-chapter in blue, section in bold.
Table of Contents
The Prodigal Appears
Church Leadership Meeting
Give unto Caesar
Won the Battle and Lost the War
Headings: a chapter in red, sub-chapter in blue, section in bold.
Author’s Note: I’m very much aware there are many varying views on Christian theological issues. One is the concept we no longer need the Old Testament of the Holy Bible, due to the content of the New Testament. It is my personal view the Old Testament is a very useful historical work as well as a good back up for what’s in the New Testament, and the Old Testament also helps to provide some things in easier to understand detail. It is also my view, based on many of the scriptures quoted in this story, where Jesus states something it overrules anything in the Old Testament said by a prophet, but not the direct word of God. It is also my personal view the statements by the prophets do not override anything noted as the direct word of God or Jesus.
The Prodigal Appears
This morning’s service is finished, and Pastor James Phillips is at the door to greet the people when they leave the church. Most of the people are regular members of the church who attend most of the services, and, as usual, there are a few visitors today. The last in line is a tall man who’s almost as tall as Pastor James. After bending down to shake hands with, and talk to, the one and half metre tall Mrs Walters Pastor James looks up at the next person. His hand is already up to shake hands, his normal smile is on his lips, and it suddenly gets a lot bigger. Grabbing the hand offered to him Pastor James pulls the man to him, and reaches around to give him a hug while pounding his back. This change in the pastor’s behaviour is noticed by the regulars waiting to speak with him after the greetings are done. The very staid pastor is being extremely physical today, so they wait and watch the two men.
The stranger looks a bit familiar, but no one can place him. The new man says, “Glad to see you looking so well, James. How’s the family?”
“They’re all well, and will be happier on seeing you, Gary! What are you doing back here? I thought we’d never see you again! I also thought you’d given up on the Church and God!” is Pastor James’ response, and all the watchers wonder who this man is.
“I never gave up on God, or the Church. I only gave up on the Church leadership taking the people astray, as I saw it.”
“Well, come meet our members.” Pastor James turns to the waiting people, “This is my brother, Gary. I’ve not seen him for twenty years.”
Suddenly it’s a semi-organised pandemonium while they all meet him and head to the hall for refreshments at the same time. Many ask him how he’s doing and how things are going, but none ask why he’s here today. They all want to know, but don’t ask, they’ll leave that up to Pastor James to find out. Most of the scene is repeated when they get to the hall, and Gary can meet the rest of the people who went straight to the hall to prepare it for the post service refreshments period. A long time is spent talking about what’s gone on in the last couple of decades.
Many hours later, after a nice dinner, Gary and James are sitting in the lounge room of James’ house when he asks Gary, “Now, brother, why are you here?”
“James, I’m here to convince you to refuse a job I expect you to be offered next week. I also hope to get you to back off on your talks to the media. I don’t expect you to change your views, just how you present them to others and the media.”
“I see! Since my only media comments, at the moment, are on the same sex laws before Parliament I gather that’s what you’re on about.”
“Yes! And before you start, I agree with you that same sex marriage is not allowed by the Bible or God. However, neither is the way you and the Church leadership are dealing with the issue.”
Pastor James sits up straight, “What do you mean by that?”
“James, it all comes down to whether you’re a Christian following the teachings of Christ, or a hybrid Jewish-Christian following the Old Testament with a smattering of Christ’s teachings, or a Faux Christian who replaces most of Christ’s teachings with Church Doctrine made up in the middle ages to increase the power of the Church. Which is it?”
“I’m a Christian, but why do you say there’s a difference?”
“You know I got High Distinctions doing my Doctorate of Theology and then I had a falling out with the national leaders soon after I went to my first assignment!” He gets a nod in reply. “Did they ever tell you what the problem was?” A shake of the head this time. “We had some big issues with people attacking locals in same sex relationships, so I gave a few sermons on the teachings of Christ and accepting people for what they are. One of the members who hated homosexuals, and I believe he was behind the attacks, complained to the State Council and I was removed from the assignment after I refused to change my point of view on the issue of same sex couples.”
“Oh, dear! Knowing you, I can understand how hard you dug your heels in when they spoke to you. But I don’t see how you support the view from the scriptures!”
“I’ll totally ignore the possibility of translation changes or errors because the Church leadership do that to use the King James version of the Holy Bible. The main quotes against homosexuality are Leviticus eighteen, twenty-two and twenty, thirteen; with Deuteronomy twenty-three, seventeen; plus Isaiah three, nine. They all speak of same sex sexual relationships as being an abomination. There’s no dispute with that.” He gets a nod from James. “These are from the Old Testament, and are what are relied upon as the source scriptures in the Epistles. In the New Testament Jesus gives us the Two Great Commandments in Matthew twenty-two, thirty-six to forty, which say,” and he quotes:
‘36. Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’
‘37. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’
‘38. This is the first and great commandment.’
‘39. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’
‘40. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Gary is pacing while he talks, he stops, turns, looks right at James, and says, “They summarise God’s laws as ‘love God’ and ‘love your neighbour.’ Nothing about any restrictions in there, and they’re what all the laws hang on. Also, in Matthew five, seventeen, he tells us he fulfils all the old laws, thus they’re complete and ended.” Then he quotes:
‘17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.’
Resuming his pacing, Gary says, “However you try to slice things, everything in the Old Testament is now null and void by Jesus because he fulfilled them, thus they have no relevance to Christians. When you obey the two commandments of Jesus you also obey all the laws from the Old testament, although the Old Testament still makes a good guide to follow in life. Then you throw in the parable of the Good Samaritan helping a traditional enemy. Also, in John eight, seven Jesus said, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.’ The teachings of Matthew seven, two and three on not judging and having a mote in your eye. Nowhere in the Bible does it say marriage before God must be linked with marriage in the civil community. In fact, Jesus tells us the opposite!”
James butts in, “What’s that! Where does he say that?”
“I’m sure you remember Matthew twenty-two, twenty-one!”
James quotes from memory:
‘21. They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.’
He shakes his head, “I’ll give you that one, but marriage is God’s.”
“Yes and no. Marriage before God and in a church or by a minister is God’s; but marriage before Caesar is Caesar’s, not God’s. The Christian Church went almost a millennium without any marriage ceremony or service at all. Then the Church leaders found they had more power if they approved, held, and recorded the marriages, because that gave them power over the inheritances of the rich and powerful. That took hundreds of years to spread to the poor. It’s all there, in full detail, in the history books.”
James stands and paces the floor for several minutes while he thinks on all this. He knows all the passages mentioned, but hadn’t linked them in this way - until now. He turns to Gary, “There’s got to be more to this, or you wouldn’t have come so far to talk with me!”
“True, brother, true. This very public dispute in the media is causing dissension amongst the people and a lot of anger. The public heads of both sides will become targets for the more militant and angry of the other side. The National Council knows this, and it wants someone else to be the target. They claim the lead should be by a grass-roots minister, but the real reason is they’re afraid of reprisals against themselves. I’m telling all the ministers I know not to lead this fight, and you’re the first. You can’t win the fight, and all you’ll do is cause trouble. Stop the vote today and it only comes up again in a few years’ time. Now is the time to end all the anger and the trouble. Let them have their civil marriage. After all, the current laws give them the exact same rights, anyway!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“All the state and Commonwealth laws on de facto or common law marriages recognise same sex relationships as legal, because they don’t require the relationship to be heterosexual. Also, the Family Law Act had an amendment by Kevin Rudd to give same sex couples the same legal rights to property and custody as those with marriages under the Commonwealth Marriage Act. All they don’t have is the piece of paper saying they’re married before the court.”
“There must be more to it than that!”
“Oh, yeah! There is! Once this new law is passed the laws on discrimination apply to marriages to their fullest extent. When a same sex couple is refused the right to be married by a registered marriage celebrant they’ll be able to sue that person’s arse off for discrimination. If that person has the authority to permit the use of a hall, then they can sue for not being allowed to use the hall, as well. It’ll take a few court cases to establish it all, but that’s how it’ll go.”
“Damn! What can we do about it?”
“That’s very simple, James. Write a letter to the relevant agency and resign as a Marriage Celebrant under the Commonwealth Marriage Act. That means you won’t be able to conduct a marriage under the law, only before God. All those you marry in the church will then need to get a civil celebrant to conduct a marriage under the Commonwealth Marriage Act, or they can just ignore it and go with their church issued certificate while they save some money. That will mean you can legally refuse to conduct a marriage for a same sex couple, and also refuse to use your private hall for their service, because you aren’t the semi-public servant you are as a registered celebrant under the civil law.”
“I think I need to talk to our local Church leaders about this.”
“I’m sure you do. I also have the details of what we talked about in a set of papers you can give them to read.” After some more small talk they both head to bed for the night.
Church Leadership Meeting
The next Wednesday evening is when the local Church leadership have the special meeting called by Pastor James. All of them have read the document he gave them on Monday, and none like it or its contents. But none of them can dispute the scriptures, the analysis, or the recommendation. It just bugs them because it goes against what they were taught and believe to be the proper Church Doctrine. All have had informal discussions with others on the matter, and see no alternatives.
The meeting is called to order, and the current committee chairman says, “Much as I hate to admit it, what Gary Phillips has laid out for us is a very good analysis of the situation. What we need to discuss is how this is likely to affect our Church and members, as well as what we should do about it.” They talk for another twenty minutes before they vote on some actions.
Pastor James summarises the actions by saying, “I want to confirm you agree on the following points. I’ll resign as a marriage celebrant for the government. All future media statements will be along the lines of: the Church disagrees, but accepts the legislation is a matter for Parliament and not for the Church. We do not approve of, and will not conduct, same sex marriages on our property, as is our legal right. All agree?” They all give a verbal agreement to those actions and positions.
The chairman says, “I don’t like this, but it does offer our members the best protection, and it’s in line with the scriptures. This meeting is now closed.”
The next day Pastor James sends in his letter of resignation to the government agency administering the register of celebrants.
Note: Pastor James sends all the other ministers of religion he knows copies of his letters, minutes of the meeting, and Gary’s documents on the subject.
After consulting their local Church leadership all the ministers of religion contacted by Pastor James and Gary take the same actions as James. For some weeks the papers are travelling about from minister to minister at the local level. Many also copy them and send them on to the others in their area. It’s over two months before the information starts to find its way further up the Church hierarchies. The first to hear of the actions is a Catholic Bishop when a member complains to him, because they have to have a second wedding for the civil side. Most of the priests within his authority have resigned as civil celebrants, so the bishop asks the priest concerned why. He’s not happy when given the paperwork. He reads it all, can see why the actions have been taken to protect the local churches, but still feels the Church should fight it. He copies it on to the other bishops, and up the line. He also contacts his equivalents in the other churches to let them know about the issue.
Within three months 70% of all ministers of religion in the local churches are no longer registered marriage celebrants. Some high level Church leaders think this is a good idea, because it protects the Church and its property while still allowing the upper levels to fight the law. A few of the Churches send out instructions to their ministers to resign as civil celebrants under the civil laws.
Six months after Gary speaks with James there’s not a minister of religion in Australia who’s authorised as a marriage celebrant under the Commonwealth Marriage Act, or any other civil law. The high level Church leaders are still fighting a media campaign against the law change, but no one on the local level is saying much about it.
Note: One oddity arising from the situation is the number of marriages in a church goes up a little, while the number of registrations for marriage certificates under the act drops by twenty percent.
One enterprising group of people creates a centralised database for the church marriages to allow people to register their marriage and get a fancy certificate with a unique number on it, so the information is on record showing the marriage details. The people can enter the data, have it confirmed by the minister of religion, and print out a certificate in a range of colours of their choice. The cost is only $25.00, or another $10.00 if the website owners print it and mail it to you. The government official registry system costs you hundreds of dollars, so this system is a lot cheaper than the government one. The owners make a lot of money from their new marriage registration system.
The business and registration system is called Australian Religious Marriage Service (ARMS) and welcomes any religious groups. It has a number of certificates aimed at each of the registered religious groups in Australia. Although all the numbers are sequential and unique, they cover the whole country and provide certificates personalised to the religion chosen by the couple when they register with it. They do say they aren’t official government records, but are personal records of a religious ceremony.
When the details and rate of usage of the service become known to the various state governments they’re upset, and pass laws against the use of the service; only to have the laws challenged and struck down by the courts as invalid laws due to unfair restriction of trade. Which upsets various bureaucrats unhappy at having a large part of their income not occurring due to people not using the official systems now. The bureaucrats are angry their empires are under attack, and they may reduce in size due to the lower usage rates.
Give unto Caesar
After many months of argument on the issue in the media the law change is put to Parliament, and narrowly passes. Its proponents enjoy their victory with street parties. There are several very public same sex marriages with lots of media attention. All is calm and well for several weeks. Then the inevitable happens.
Some same sex couples speak to ministers of religion about having a wedding in their churches. They’re refused the use of the premises and the ministers refuse to conduct the weddings, saying they’re against same sex sexual relationships for religious reasons. The couples go to their solicitors and the media to complain, plus they start lawsuits under the state and federal discrimination laws.