The long awaited and long lasting national postal survey on same sex marriage in Australia is finally over. The results are clear. More than 70 percent of Australians participated in the non-binding referendum and an overwhelming 61.6 percent voted to allow same sex couples to wed.
Polling in late September suggested “no” votes were growing and the number of people planning to participate was shrinking, sending fear throughout the LGBT community. Those trends did not hold.
For Australian Christians, and in fact Christians worldwide, how church leaders responded to the same-sex marriage survey was as important as the vote itself.
Brian Houston, head of the Hillsong Church Movement, waded into the debate in August supporting traditional marriage as the biblical example. He also encouraged his Australian congregants to voice their opinions, “whatever your view.”
STATEMENT CRITICIZED BY BOTH SIDES
The criticism from many in the church was immediate and forced Houston to clarify his position.
He was also criticized by homosexual marriage supporters. Chris Graham of the liberal website New Matilda.com called Houston’s missive, “How to dog whistle hate without even really trying.”
Houston said in the statement released on Wednesday: “I believe every person is created by God with a plan and purpose, and the focus of Hillsong Church has always been—and will always be—to point people to Jesus.
“As we move forward as a nation and put what has been at times a divisive debate behind us, my prayer is that we replace anger, criticism, hatred and intolerance with love, understanding, acceptance and kindness.”
However, Houston maintained that his personal belief on the biblical definition of marriage will not change and urged the government to protect churches who do not agree with gay marriage.
He added: “The work of our church will continue as usual as it does in many parts of the world where same-sex marriage is legal.
“It is vital however, that legislation protects the rights of churches, pastors and others to hold contrary beliefs based on the traditional teachings of scripture.
“Freedom of religion is a fundamental part of a democratic society and must be upheld. Any attempt to force Christians to compromise their faith would be wrong.”
Houston reminded Christians, “Jesus taught us that holding firm to our convictions, and respecting and appreciating other people who hold different views, are not mutually exclusive.”
MISSION OF THE CHURCH UNDAUNTED
Whether you agree with Houston’s recent positions on homosexuality or not, it is clear he is not going to allow this decision to impede the work of Hillsong and what he believes they’ve been called to do around the world.
Perhaps that is also the takeaway for church leaders following the Australian same sex marriage survey; no matter what position you take you will be criticized, but the criticism should never stop you from fulfilling your God-given ministry.