Preacher: Dr Baden Teague, Lay Preacher

Christian Behaviour

Our New Testament reading set for this evening is from St Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, where he addresses the question of ‘Christian behaviour’. What does it mean to love your neighbour? St Paul said, Christian behaviour is to be accepting of others, not judgemental, but compassionate, just as the Lord is compassionate to us all. Remember, Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven,… forgive us our sins in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us”. Paul is now adding the parallel, teaching us to be compassionate to others just as the Lord is compassionate to us.

Christian behaviour is not to be aloof or self righteous but to be loving and considerate. In particular, Christians are called to be inclusive. We sing the hymn: “Just as I am without one plea, I come to thee.” Yes, just as I am….whether young or old, weak or strong, shy or robust, immature or wise, single or married, homosexual or heterosexual..

Paul illustrates his teaching by considering two examples of difficult behaviour. The first example is about the food we eat. He recognizes that some people eat just about anything, whereas other people have careful rules about what is acceptable to eat. The second example is about recognizing high days or special days, on which to do things. Some people treat all days alike, but others hold to a calendar of special days for remembrance, for worship and for celebration.

For some, every Sunday is a special day. For many, Christmas and Easter are special days. Then there is a whole calendar of saints’ days recognised by some but not by others. Also Ramadam and Passover are special days for some. But for others these high days are not at all recognised and these days can become ‘just another day’ like any other.

Paul teaches that a Christian’s behaviour in response to these two challenges, ‘food’ and ‘high days’, is to be considerate of difference, allow both kinds of approach and not be judgemental. The Christian is to be compassionate. Paul insists, “Who are you to pass judgement on the Master’s servant? It is the Master who will judge all his servants, not you.” Paul is saying, “Who do you think you are? Do not usurp God’s place in this. Do not judge others”. Similarly for ‘high days’ or none. Paul teaches us to allow both approaches because both can give thanks to God.

Paul goes on to elaborate three guidelines for Christian behaviour:

First, no-one lives or dies alone. Rather we live for the Lord. Also, we will eventually all stand before the tribunal of God himself. Then each person will answer for themselves.

Second, do not put a stumbling block in another person’s way. Paul said, I am myself convinced that no food is impure of itself, but it is impure if a person conscientiously thinks it is impure. If your brother is outraged by what you eat, then your conduct is no longer guided by love. Do not, by your eating, bring disaster to a person for whom Christ died. What (for you) is good, should not become a stumbling block for another. After all, the Kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking; but it is about justice and peace and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Third, pursue what makes for peace and is constructive. Do not ruin the work of God for the sake of food. Happy is the one who behaves with a clear conscience. Yes, you strong ones who have a robust conscience, do not put a stumbling block in the way of the weak ones who have tender scruples. Be considerate. Consider your neighbour and do what is for his good and what will build up the common life. Finally, be of one mind by having the mind of Christ Jesus.

Last week I attended our Anglican General Synod meeting in Queensland. There were twenty South Australians present and two hundred and fifty of us in all. It was a positive, achieving, even enjoyable week – five days and nights with a long agenda of decisions to make on behalf of all Australian Anglicans.

Only one item, the one last of all considered, became a sad missed opportunity. This item was a debate about the best way forward to apologise to gay people (who we know are everywhere among us) for our own past failures, and to apologise for our less than Christian behaviour.

I strongly believe that, just as it is not right to condemn people who happen to be born left-handed, so it is not right to condemn gay people who happen to be born with a minority sexuality. We should not condemn. We should be truly inclusive.

The proposition we were considering at the Synod had seven numbered parts to it. Six of these parts amounted to a genuine apology, and it appeared from the debate that these positive words in all six parts would be approved unanimously. However, the seventh part of the proposition had been added by some inconsiderate conservatives as their own price for coming on board to accept these other six parts of the apology.

I have time only to mention a few of the words involved. For example, the positive parts of the apology began like this:

This General Synod affirms that all people are made in the image of God

regardless of their race, sex and economic background….We offer a

heartfelt apology to those who have been hurt by our failure to treat all

people as precious in the sight of God. In particular we apologise to and

seek forgiveness from people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,

intersex or queer whom we have hurt by words and behaviour that have

not displayed the love of God.

But then came the offensive part, that had been added (unwisely in my view) and which provocatively said this:

Scripture teaches the proper expression of human sexuality is between a

man and a woman within the covenant of marriage.

Well, how very controversial these additional words are! About half of our Anglican Synod rejected this dogmatism, this arrogant use of the word ‘proper’ and this failure to be inclusive. When we tried to amend the proposal by trying to leave out these offensive words, our amendment was sadly lost, 104 to120.

Our only remedy remaining was then to move that the whole proposition be no further proceeded with. We preferred no proposition at all if the conservative words remained as a contradiction and as an insult. Happily this procedural motion was agreed to by the Synod, but only by a small margin, 116 to 108.

Sadly then, this debate became a missed opportunity. No apology was given, and no inclusion was offered.  And all this has been done on the eve of all Australians now voting Yes or No in the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Our own Anglican Church representatives appear to be divided about 50/50 on this question. May I now urge that every voter come to their own considered view. May I add that on theological grounds, as well as on all the other grounds, I will be voting Yes.

Paul’s teaching about Christian behaviour should lead all of us to be considerate towards both the Yes-voters and the No-voters. But we are also called to be just and to be theologically sound in determining our own view. We are to search for the truth on this issue and to be fearless in debate. But yes, we are also called to speak that truth in love. Our behaviour will involve being considerate to the advocates of reform (including me) and, as well, to the conservatives who are slower to move forward.

We need to advocate the truth and bring the truth to the debate. But also, in the face of all our challenges, may our Christian behaviour be both loving and considerate, compassionate and sound. May we (in St Paul’s words) grow in compassion, in consideration of others, in justice, peace and joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.